Introduction to Psychodynamic Approaches to Personality

What you’ll learn to do: define personality and the contributions of Freud and neo-Freudians to personality theory

Sigmund Freud presented the first comprehensive theory of personality. He was also the first to recognize that much of our mental life takes place outside of our conscious awareness. He proposed three components to our personality: the id, ego, and superego. The job of the ego is to balance the sexual and aggressive drives of the id with the moral ideal of the superego. Freud also said that personality develops through a series of psychosexual stages. In each stage, pleasure focuses on a specific erogenous zone. Failure to resolve a stage can lead one to become fixated in that stage, leading to unhealthy personality traits. Successful resolution of the stages leads to a healthy adult.

The neo-Freudians were psychologists whose work followed from Freud’s. They generally agreed with Freud that childhood experiences matter, but they decreased the emphasis on sex and focused more on the social environment and effects of culture on personality. Some of the notable neo-Freudians are Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Erik Erikson, and Karen Horney. The neo-Freudian approaches have been criticized because they tend to be philosophical rather than based on sound scientific research. You’ll learn about Freud and the neo-Freudian perspectives on personality in this section.

Watch It

Watch this CrashCourse video for an excellent overview of these concepts:

You can view the transcript for “Rorschach and Freudians: Crash Course Psychology #21” here (opens in new window).

Learning Objectives

  • Define personality and describe early theories about personality development
  • Describe the assumptions of the psychodynamic perspective on personality development, including the id, ego, and superego
  • Define and describe the defense mechanisms
  • Define and describe the psychosexual stages of personality development
  • Summarize the contributions of Neo-Freudians to personality theory, including Adler’s inferiority complex, Erikson’s psychosocial stages, Jung’s ideas of the collective unconscious and archetypes, and Horney’s coping styles