Sigmund Freud and Personality Development

Sigmund Freud and Personality Development




Sigmund Freud and Personality Development


Sigmund Freud was born in Czech Republic. His mother was Amalia Nathanson and his father was Jacob Freud. His father had two previous wives in two separate marriages. Therefore, Freud grew up in a strange family environment with a very young mother and several brothers. Later on, Sigmund Freud moved to Vienna in Austria. Freud studied at a local elementary school followed by Sperl Gymnasium from 1866 to 1870. The subjects he studied included several languages such as Latin and Greek, natural sciences, history, and mathematics. After passing the examinations, he progressed to the University of Vienna (Allen, 2006). His family had noticed his academic competence from the start and facilitated his studies at home and in school. He stayed at home until he was mature. Vienna represented a global hub of medicine, and Sigmund Freud started his studiesin the laboratorydealing with pure sciences instead ofclinical practice. This extended hisdoctorate duration to seven years instead of the usual five years (Allen, 2006).

In his personal life, Freud met and fell in love with Martha Bernays but lived separately for the greater part of their engagement until their wedding in 1887 (Allen, 2006). The couple had six children with one of their daughters Anna assuming her father’s role. His initial employment stint consisted of three years working in the Allgemeine Krankenhaus as a resident physician within Vienna (Shaffer, 2009). During this time, Freud mostly focused on emotional and mental health of his patients. At the time, the practice of psychiatry was relatively strict and explanatory. Sigmund Freud was influential in transforming the perception of psychological studies to increase the significance of behavior (Allen, 2006). Previously, behavior was not considered essential. However, with his contribution, psychology became an independent field of study. The next section discusses the way in which different theories would explain Freud’s personality development.

Psychoanalytic and Neoanalytic Theories

The psychoanalytic theory was first established by Sigmund Freud in the 19th century. The psychoanalytic theory of personality development can be used to explain Freud’s personality development using five stages. Freud’s oral stage occurs between birth and one and a half years. This phase is characterized by a fixation on oral aspects in the environment; a habit which if neglected could lead to unconstructive oral behavior. His next level is the anal stage that is characterized by learning good toilet habits (Allen, 2006). Freud’s third stage is the phallic stage in which he replaced the healthy sexual attractions he had towards his parents. Stage four is called the latency stage and was denoted by the emergence of positive inactive sexual feelings for the opposite sex, in this case, Martha Bernays. The genital stage is the last one and for Freud, contained an integration of the tasks from the four previous stages (Shaffer, 2009). In this last stage, Freud illustrated healthy and complete sexual feelings and conduct. Freud’s argument is that each of the three levels the symbiotic relationship among these plays a role in personality development (Simanowitz & Pearce, 2003). Captured in this theory is the capacity of an individual to decipher internal conflicts at particular stages of their development and the effect of these stages on the management and functioning capability when they are fully-grown.

Psychosocial Theories

This theory is proposed by scholars such as Erik Erikson and is closely related to the Freudian theory. However, it contains eight stages. Erikson would have argued that Freud’s childhood was an essential stage in personality development. Erikson embraced a greater section of Freud’s theories, together with the three components of the mind and infantile sexuality theory (Allen, 2006). However, Erikson refuted Freud’s efforts to explain personality development exclusively based on sexuality. However, Erikson felt that personality development progressed after the initial five years since birth (Shaffer, 2009). All of the phases in Erikson’s epigenetic school of thought are existent at birth, but open out based on an inherent scheme, with every phase adding to the previous stages, and creating the way for succeeding phases (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). Each level in Freud’s life is denoted by a psychosocial problem that is founded on physiological development, as well as burdens placed on the individual by his family members and the community. In an ideal world, the predicament in each level should be handled by the personality in that phase to ensure that development flows in an appropriate manner (Shaffer, 2009). The results of each stage are not eternal, but can be changed by succeeding experiences. Every individual has a combination of the qualities acquired in each level (Allen, 2006). However, personality development is deemed successful if the person has more of the beneficial features than the negative traits.

Trait, Evolutionary, Genetic/Biological Approaches

The evolutionary theory of personality development focuses on elements of human behavior and tries to elucidate individual inconsistencies in terms of substitute adaptive approaches. The evolutionary perspective argues that evolution through sexual selection is the best way of ensuring that the most adapted beings survive while the less adapted die out. This school of thought argues that personality traits are inherited from parents (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). Sigmund Freud had a set of personality traits unique to the evolution system. However, it can be argued that he occupied a higher rank compared to non-scholars. For instance, Freud’s parents had a significant influence on him. Sigmund acquired numerous skills from his parents including moral decisions, survival expertise and coping methods (Allen, 2006). These skills and abilities were consequently taught to his children when they were growing up. The genetic/ biological theory of personality stresses the biological perspectives of personality disparities. Based on this theory, Sigmund Freud was born with innate traits, inherent predispositions, and abilities and later on, influenced by the Vienna environment (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). His parents directly influenced Freud’s genetic composition through genes and indirectly through other ways. Therefore, Freud’s innate predispositions combined with his environmental settings in Vienna, the resultant behavior determined his analytical and creative personality. Freud’s parents may have contributed to his genes, but Freud’s final personality was ultimately determined by living and working in Vienna (Shaffer, 2009).

Cognitive, Behavioral, and Social Learning Theories

The behavioral theory of personality development proposes that the behaviors of human beings are influenced by their settings, based on the reinforcement system. Behaviorists argue that Freud’s parents, teachers, and other stakeholders determined Freud’s personality through conditioning his behavior using structured reinforcements (Shaffer, 2009). For instance, the degree of punishment Freud was subjected to because of certain behaviors is directly connected to the level of obedience and compliance in him. The extent of parental influence on Freud’s personality is frequently undermined. Some behaviorists identified decisive occasions in Freud’s development when significant reinforcement efforts by his parents were permanent (Allen, 2006). Common examples include his parent’s obsession with proper eating habits, hygiene, and sex training. Consequently, his siblings did not go through these fundamental reinforcement processes and subsequently exhibited negative behaviors. Behavioral theories of personality development are very complicated as they generate diverse results even within similar parameters and settings (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). Punishing a child for making a mess can generate two possible outcomes: they may learn to avoid parents or they may learn to be cleaner.

Humanistic Theories

Humanistic psychologists attempt to perceive people’s lives by concentrating on the capability of human beings to think intentionally and logically, to manipulate their biological demands, and to realize their full potential. In the humanistic outlook, Sigmund Freud was responsible for his life and behavior. Therefore, he possessed the freedom and motivation to change his approaches and behavior (Shaffer, 2009). The focus of this theory is the human being and his inherent worth and therefore, regardless of their actions, they are still valuable beings. The most popular human psychology theory that seeks to understand personality development is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow argues that all human beings are born with innate needs (Allen, 2006). If these initial needs are not met, people are unable to progress in life and move upwards. The first level comprises of Freud’s basic physiological needs necessary for survival including food, shelter, clothing, and security (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). He received these at home until he was about 23 years of age. Freud then moved to the second level of satisfying safety and security needs by moving out. At the third level, Freud satisfied his need for belonging and love marrying Martha and having children. The fourth level was a need for esteem, a need which he satisfied by publishing academic papers and achieving a social status as a scholar. The last and topmost level was a need for self-actualization. It is unclear if Freud achieved this last level. Maslow argued that personality development was shaped by the specific level occupied by each individual.




Sigmund Freud was a key contributor towards the understanding of psychology in general and personality development in particular. His efforts in the discipline contributed towards the creation of personality development theories (Shaffer, 2009). These different schools of thought attempted to explain how human beings formed their personalities. Psychoanalytic and psychosocial theories were introduced by Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson to explain personality development from birth to five years (Allen, 2006). However, Erikson’s theory progressed beyond five years into adulthood. The evolutionary and biological theories propose that man’s adaptation was responsible for shaping their personalities (Simanowitz, & Pearce, 2003). Behavioral theories argued that people’s personalities were determined by their conditioning while humanistic theories endorsed a human-centered approach.



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Allen, B. P. (2006). Personality theories: Development, growth, and diversity. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Shaffer, D. R. (2009). Social and personality development. Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth.

Simanowitz, V., & Pearce, P. (2003). Personality development. Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

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