Personality Theories


Personalities are characteristics consistently displayed and uniquely combined in each of us.
Theorists who study personalities try to
  • discover patterns in behavior
  • explain the difference between individuals
  • use general behaviors to characterize a person
  • explore how people conduct their lives
  • solve why problems arise
  • find ways to improve life

There were three main psychologists involved with the study of personalities. They were: Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler.

Freud was responsible for Psychoanalysis. He spent his years examining the unconscious and the basis of its problems.

Jung studied the positive view of human nature. He looked at the personal unconscious versus the collective unconscious archetype.

Adler determined that the driving force of personality is the desire to overcome feelings of inferiorty. This study led him to investigate what it meant to have an "inferiority complex."

Defense Mechanisms:

Defense Mechanisms are an important part of Personality Theories. They defend the ego from anxiety about failing in its tasks. They can be good (and help a person take steps to solve a problem) or they can be bad (and the problem is solved unrealistically). There are five basic defense mechanisms:
  • Repression: Repression works to push a memory into the unconscious.
Ex: A person who witnesses a shooting and then can't remember the shooting ever happening.
  • Projection: Projection works on the belief that impulses coming from within are really from other people.
Ex: A person who is mad at themselves because they don't understand the material for physics but then they blame their teacher for not explaining it well.
  • Reaction Formation: This defense mechanism replaces a feeling or urge with its opposite.
Ex: When parents divorce, they buy a whole bunch of toys for their child so the child will not be angry at the divorce but happy because they received free toys.
  • Regression: Regression converts a person back to an earlier or less mature pattern of behavior.
Ex: When two people are arguing about whose fault it was that a paper was turned in late and one of them says, "yeah, well it's your fault because you're taller." The fact that a person is taller has absolutely nothing to do with turning in a paper on time.
  • Displacement: When an unconscious wish provokes anxiety which is shifted to the ego to reduce that anxiety.
Ex: When a person really wanted to pass an exam but gets a failing grade, they are really upset about it but instead of dealing with the problem they get agitated with their friends or punch their pillows to get rid of that extra anxiety.

Carl Jung (1875-1961)


For more in-depth information on Carl Jung, please visit:

Jung's Theory
One of the main parts of Carl Jung's theory is the Ego. According to Jung, this is part of a person's conscious mind. This relates closely to a person's Personal Unconscious, which is defined as everything that is not presently conscious but can become conscious.

The Collective Unconscious, as defined by Jung, is a person's "psychic inheritance" (INSERT MLA) that influences all of our experiences and behaviors. Some of these thoughts and emotions can parallel fantasies, fairy tales, and literature and are known as archetypes. For a list of common archetypes, please visit:

Jung also dealt with the idea that people are either "introverted" or "extroverted." According to Jung, Introversion is a characterized by a person who deals more with the internal world of thoughts, feeling, fanatasies, dreams and so on. They tend to like to be alone more than they like to be in the company of others. A person who is extroverted likes to experience the world of external things, including people and activities.

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Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)


For an in-depth look into Freud’s life and theories, visit:

Sigmund Freud spent much of his time working on Psychoanalysis. This theory dealt with the unconscious part of the mind, the part of the mind that Freud believed to be most important because he claimed it housed all of our true desires and fears.

The brain could be divided up into three parts according to Freud’s theory. They consisted of the Ego, the Superego and the Id.

The Id (the “pleasure principle”) is part of the unconscious mind. It looks to satisfy the immediate wants and needs that a person is longing. For example, the Cookie Monster on Sesame Street is always thinking of eating cookies. His Id urges him to get the cookie, to taste the cookie and to eat as many cookies as possible. If this need is not met, a person can experience tension or anxiety. The Id takes up the most space in your mind.

The Ego (the “reality principle”) is responsible for “ensuring that the impulses of the Id can be expressed in a acceptable manner in the real world” (

The Superego is the moral conscious of the two and works to balance out the Id and the Ego. It has presence in both the unconscious and the conscious mind.

Freud estimated that the Superego does not develop until a child is five years of age while the Id is present at birth. The Ego develops sometime in between the two.


Alfred Adler (1870-1937)


Alfred Adler formed the following ideas about people:
  • If they are striving for perfection, they have the desire to fulfill potentials.
  • If they have an aggression drive, the reaction we have when we need to eat, get things done, or be loved, can be frustrated.
  • If they're looking for "Compensation," they're interested in overcoming a problem.
  • If they're striving for superiority, they have the desire to be better than others. (Adler later used "striving for superiority" in reference to unhealthy or neurotic striving.)

Adler was influenced by the writings of Jan Smuts, the South African philosopher and statesman. Smuts felt that in order to understand people, we have to understand them more as unified wholes than as a collection of bits and pieces, and we have to understand them in their environments, both physical and socia. To reflect this idea, Adler decided to label his approach to psychology, individual psychology.

A lack of social concern is the definition of ill mental health. For example, criminals are lacking in social interest, their goal of success is a goal of personal superiority, and their triumphs have meaning only to themselves.

The Inferiority Complex was Adler's biggest study. The following are some of his conclusions:
  • Inferiority – the matter of being overwhelmed by yourself. If you are doing well, you can afford to think of others. If you are not happy, then your attention focuses on yourself.
  • Organ inferiority - the idea that every person has weaker, as well as stronger parts of physiology.
  • Psychological inferiorities - Some of as are told that we are dumb, ugly, or weak. Some of us come to believe that we are just not good. In these examples, it's not a matter of true organic inferiority -- we are not really dumb, deformed or weak -- but we learn to believe that we are. Again, some compensate by becoming good at what we feel inferior about or by becoming good at something else, but some just never develop any self-esteem at all.
  • Inferiority complex - If you are overwhelmed by the forces of inferiority -- whether it is your body hurting, the people around you making you feel bad, or just the general difficulties of growing up and getting older.
  • Neurosis – meaning the inferiority complex in your life is a life-size problem. You become shy and timid, insecure, indecisive, cowardly, submissive, compliant, and so on. You rely on people to carry you along, and even manipulate them into supporting you. When this is the case, most people find themselves ending up alone.
  • Superiority complex - involves covering up your inferiority by pretending to be superior.

Psychological types
  • Ruling type – characterized by a tendency to be aggressive or dominant over others.
  • Learning type - sensitive people who have developed a shell around themselves which protects them, but they must rely on others to carry them through life's difficulties.
  • Avoiding type - the lowest levels of energy. These with this psychological type only survive by essentially avoiding life; especially other people. When pushed to the limit, they tend to become psychotic, retreating into their own personal "worlds."
  • Socially useful type - a healthy person, one who has both social interest and energy.

Adler noted that his four types looked very much like the four types proposed by the ancient Greeks. They, too, noticed that some people are always sad, others always angry, and so on.

Works Cited

Boeree, Dr. C George. "Alfred Adler." Personality Theories. 1997. 15 Jan. 2008

Boeree, C. George. "Carl Jung." Personality Theories. 1997. 15 Jan. 2008 <>.

"The Roman Association for Psychoanalysis Promotion." Sigmund Freud. 1999. 16 Jan. 2008 <>.

Pienkowski, Dyanne. "Alfred Adler." Classical Alderian Psychology. Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco. 16 Jan. 2008 <>.

Blaire E. & Crystal A.