The Psychodynamic Perspective

Psychodynamic theories emphasize the unconscious: Many important aspects of personality are beyond our awareness and can be brought to consciousness only with great difficulty, if at all.

Sigmund Freud

Devised the first theory of personality (and the first psychotherapy), psychoanalysis. Most of personality is unconscious: We hide many unpleasant truths about ourselves from ourselves by using defense mechanisms, and we are driven by wishes, beliefs, fears, conflicts, and memories of which we are totally unaware. Human nature is entirely malignant; our only instincts are sexual and aggressive, and these inborn impulses include powerful desires for the parent of the opposite sex and intense jealousy toward the parent of the same sex (the Oedipus complex). Personality is often a house divided against itself, torn by conflicting wishes and goals, and this is best explained by using the concepts of id, ego, and superego. Personality develops through a series of psychosexual stages and is firmly established by about age 5 to 6 years. Dreams are a “royal road” to understanding the unconscious. Psychopathology occurs when we can’t find ways to channel (sublimate) our malignant instincts into behavior that society will accept.

Carl Jung

At first a supporter of psychoanalysis, then broke with Freud to establish his own theory. Believed that the unconscious is extremely important but disagreed with Freud in many respects: Human nature is both good and bad. There are important instincts in addition to sexuality and aggressiveness (including individuation, the forerunner of the humanistic concept of self-actualization). There is a collective unconscious that contains archetypes, or inherited predispositions to perceive the world in certain ways. Introversion– extraversion is a major aspect of personality. Psychopathology occurs when personality becomes too one-sided, as when we fail to develop important aspects of personality or overemphasize aspects that are contrary to our true (inborn) nature.

Alfred Adler

Adler’s inclusion among the psychodynamic theorists is controversial because he did not believe that the unconscious is important. Personality is shaped by the child’s relationship with his/her parents and by our consciously chosen life goals, rather than by instincts. The most important motive is striving for self-perfection (superior- ity). Cooperation with others is essential for our survival, and we have an inborn tendency to do so. Psychopathology occurs when pathogenic parenting causes the child to develop an inferiority com- plex and refuse to cooperate with others.

Karen Horney

Combined Freud’s belief that the unconscious is extremely important with Adler’s belief that personality is shaped by the child’s relationship with his/her parents. Psychopathology involves a personality that is torn by inner conflicts (but concepts such as the id, ego, and superego are not necessary to explain this); self- hate, which is often concealed by an idealized self-image; and pain- ful anxiety that causes the healthy quest for personal growth to be replaced by an all-out drive for safety and a compulsive desire to be protected, to dominate others, or to be alone.

Erich Fromm

Because humans don’t have inborn instincts that program our behavior, we are more isolated and anxious than any other spe- cies, and we find freedom and independence desirable but threat- ening. Psychopathology is caused by pathogenic parenting and by our poorly designed society, of which Fromm was severely critical, and it occurs when we use our freedom to choose unwisely (as by being selfish instead of loving others). Devised important methods of dream interpretation.

Harry Stack Sullivan

Defined personality in terms of our relationships with other people. Stages beyond early childhood, including adolescence, are important for personality development. Psychopathology is caused by pathogenic parenting that leads to intense anxiety and damaged interpersonal relationships. Made significant contributions to our understanding of the causes and treatment of schizophrenia.

Erik Erikson

Became the leader of the psychoanalytic movement after Freud because he was able to revise psychoanalytic theory in ways that did not offend the establishment. Corrected some of Freud’s major errors: Human nature is both good and bad, and the rational ego is stronger than Freud believed. Personality is shaped much more by the child’s relationship with his/her parents than by instincts and sexuality, and it develops through a series of psychosocial stages that go from infancy to old age. These stages include adolescence and the identity crisis, and there are criteria for determining whether development is successful at each stage. Devised techniques of play therapy for use with children.