Personality is a crucial factor in how an individual will react in a situation. Situational behavior varies from person to person because of different experiences and how they process emotions. Based on an individual’s personality their reactions to various situations can be predicted and altered. The most commonly seen example of this is when evaluating introverted and extroverted people. In a social situation introverts commonly feel overwhelmed and anxious while extroverts are comfortable. On the other hand, in situations of isolation introverts feel calmer and at peace while extroverts begin feeling anxious and the desire to surround themselves with others.
When it comes to studying personalities there are several methods have been developed over the years. Some of these methods dived the personalities into several parts and examine each part separately while others examine the personality as a whole. Two of these theories developed—psychodynamic theory and the humanistic and existentialism theory—will be discussed to obtain an overview of the differences and commonalities amongst theories and the vast mystery the human personality still presents.
2. PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY
Psychodynamics, as defined by Encarta, is the “interaction of the emotional and motivational forces that affect behavior and mental states, especially on a subconscious level (1).” In other words it is how human behavior or personality is affected by a person’s conscious or unconscious mind. It is believed that as individuals there are events in our life and emotions that are suppressed in the unconscious mind that affect our everyday actions and decisions. Psychodynamics explores the personality by dividing it into three emotional states id, ego, and superego.
Id refers to the unconscious mind that provides impulses to seek pleasure and satisfaction (2). This emotional state contains the rawest human desires. While it is known that this emotional state controls the unconscious mind very little has been discovered about Id through traditional research. In fact, most of what is known about this unconscious part of an individual’s mind has been derived from the interpretation and study of dreams. Many believe that dreams are controlled through the unconscious mind, thus providing an insight into the deepest desires of an individual.
Ego is the realistic portion (or common sense) of an individual’s mind—meaning this emotional state develops a realistic means or plan to fulfill the wants and desires that the Id impulses. This emotional state also controls actions that are intellectual-cognitive, defensive and perceptual. While an individual may be aware of this emotional state or level of consciousness, not all actions performed by the Ego are done consciously. These actions that the ego controls include control, planning, judgment, tolerance, intellectual functioning, processing of information, memory and defense. Ultimately the ego allows an individual to decipher between what is real and what is fabricated by the mind.; and is the middle-man between the Superego and the Id.
Superego is more commonly known as the conscious. This emotional state is what gives the individual the desire to act in a socially appropriate manner. It is also where an individual finds the ideals of their ego as well as their spiritual goals (or morality).
This division of the personality allows an individual’s interpersonal relations to be scrutinized and analyzed. By examining past experiences and the deep confines of the mind one can truly understand their actions. Based on what is found in the various sections of personality, an individual’s actions and relations can be predicted and altered.
3. HUMANISTIC AND EXISTENTIAL THEORIES
Humanistic theory studies the personality holistically. It does this through the examination of freedom, tragedy, values, spirituality, self-actualization, meaning, human potential and personal responsibility. An individual’s interpretation and influence of any of these shapes their personality. The development of the humanistic theory has had several influences and contributors, including Abraham Maslow and Rollo May.
Maslow’s contribution to this theory placed strong emphasis on his popular theory of an individual’s hierarchy of needs and motivation. This theory is often portrayed as a pyramid with five levels from fundamental needs to self-actualization. The bottom most level covers an individual’s physiological needs, such as food, water, sleep, etc. This is then followed by safety, which includes security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health and property. Personal relationships, including friendships, family and mating rank next; followed by an individual’s need for esteem. The pyramid is topped with the last human need—self-actualization, which includes creativity, spontaneity, acceptance of facts and lack of prejudice. Maslow’s hierarchal needs pyramid is a common method to develop a basic understanding the human personality.
The existential theory of analyzing personality was contributed by May. This theory analyzes the personality on the belief that internal conflict is caused by the mind’s quarrel with freedom and responsibility, isolation, meaninglessness and death. Its main focus is on the decisions and actions of the present moment and of the future. The method believes that as an individual reflects and faces their internal conflicts that they will eventually triumph over them. This victory will allow them to overcome and conquer their fears and anxieties and were being caused by these internal conflicts. This theory also believes that this can be done on an individual basis and does not need to be monitored as other theories do.
Both the contributions by Maslow and May examine the personality as a whole, requiring an individual’s interpersonal relations to also be considered holistically. These relations are affected depending upon what needs the individual has met and what needs are unmet. Also, based on this method the individual’s internal conflicts or issues also greatly influence their interpersonal relations.
After examining the psychodynamic theory and the humanistic and existential theories in detail it is easy to see the differences between these methods of examining personality. The first and foremost difference is in examining personality in various stages versus holistically. Another difference is in what personalities are analyzed against.
These differences result in a variance when considering a personality’s situational behavior. With the first method discussed, psychodynamic theory, the division of the personality into segments allows it to be fully studied at a personal, intimate level. It takes into consideration the experiences of the past, the unconscious desires and wants, and the struggle to do what is socially acceptable. All of these factors are taken into consideration when analyzing an individual’s past, present and future situational behavior. Often times with this detailed information about an individual situational behavior can be predicted. Because behavior can be predicted, specific modifications to the environment can be made to alter the behavior to a desired result.
The second set of theories discussed, which take the holistic approach, look at an entirely different set of criteria when analyzing a personality. It does so by measuring the level of satisfaction, or needs that are met, and the amount of internal conflict an individual is experiencing. This set of theories focuses on the personality at the present moment and in the future, but fails to take past experiences and emotions into consideration. Often with this kind of analysis of the personality it is difficult to predict accurately what situational behavior will result. It can, however, make an assumption as to how the individual will react based on a specific set of criterion and conditions. Therefore, situational behavior can only be altered once these specific conditions have been met—meaning needs have been fulfilled and individual internal conflicts have been resolved.
While both sets of methods are effective in their own right, when it comes to predicting how an individual personality will react in a specific situation or in interpersonal relationships, the psychodynamic theory is ideal. This method of personality analysis allows for a closer, more intimate look into an individual’s psyche—both conscious and unconscious. This closer look allows for the manipulation of situations to get desired reactions.
All in all, the human mind and personality are still a mystery to mankind. Theories have been developed over centuries and more will continue to develop in the future. While personality can be analyzed and discussed based on a variety of criteria, there is not one method that is significantly better than the other. There is no real way to delve into the unconscious to study it and to unlock the mysteries it holds. For now we are left to interpreting dreams, developing hypotheses as to what they mean, just trying to understand the complexities of the human mind.
2. ^ Rycroft, Charles (1968). A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Basic Books.