Sigmund Freud and Freudian Personality Theory

Sigmund Freud, Jung and Horney notes were taken from the fantastic Maltby, Day and Macaskill ‘Individual Differences’ textbook (click image).




Conscious thought: things that we’re actively aware of at any given time

Preconscious mind: unconscious thoughts that can be easily recalled to conscious thought

Unconscious mind: things we’re unaware of because they’re actively kept in our unconscious

Repression: active dynamic process keeping unacceptable things in our unconscious

– repression may weaken under stress, drugs


Primary process thinking: irrational mental activity linked to the pleasure principle

Pleasure principle: our urge to have our drives met, avoid pain & keep equilibrium

Secondary process thinking: rational thought

Reality principle: acting in line with the current situation/ facts; linked to secondary process

– pleasure principle is innate whereas reality principle is learned as we grow up


id: raw, uninhibited, instinctual energy; present at birth; pleasure principle

ego: executive part of personality; mediator with outside world; develops later; reality principle

superego: conscience; internalised parental judgements; opposes id


– most of our behaviour is driven by unconscious motives, which are repressed

– sexual, life-preserving and self-destructive drives are the primary motivators of behaviour

– personality is made up of id, ego & superego; defence mechanisms deal with conflict caused between them

– neurosis caused by inability to cope with sexual impulses

– ‘penis envy’ >> inferiority traits & modesty (to hide no penis)

– unconscious has death & sex instincts

– personality develops through 5 stages



erogenous zone: the single part of the body where libido/energy is focused at a certain stage


Oral stage (to 1 year):

– mouth, lips and tongue are erogenous zones

– for normal development infants must have enough oral stimulation >> trust in others

– precise amount not specified, but over or under >> fixation (libidinal energy not moved on)

oral receptive character: overindulgence – overly dependent on others, gullible

oral aggressive personality: under-indulgence – exploitative, dominating, sadistic


Anal stage (18m to 3yr):

– anal region is erogenous zone

– toilet training is key; should be relaxed about training and reward success

anal retentive: obeying parents – orderly, stingy, stubborn, hoarder, delayed gratification

anal-expulsive: resist parents – disorganised, ignore rules about cleanliness and behaviour


Phallic stage (3 to 5yr):

– genitals are erogenous zone

– oedipal /electra complex rivalry >> identification with father/ mother

– fixation for males >> promiscuity, femininity & homosexuality

Latency stage (5 to 12yr): resting period in development; socialisation & learning prioritised

Genital stage (12 to 18yr): libido awakened; oedipal/ electra conflicts may resurface

– earliest stages are the most important: adult personality formed by age 5




– good descriptions of personality development inc. complexity of its functioning e.g. defence mechanisms

– describes why same motives can lead to different behaviour



– vagueness e.g. what is sufficient oral stimulation?

– defence mechanisms seem to be good explanations of behaviour & are commonly referenced

– sexual & aggressive instincts are sole motivators: can’t cover complexity of our behaviour

– social context ignored; pessimistic view of human nature; focus on irrational behaviour


empirical validity & testable concepts:

Silverman (1976): showed subliminally upsetting messages that influenced behaviour

Reason (2000): Sigmund Freud nearly correct in linking cognition, emotion and unconscious

Reason (2000): unconscious is auto mental processing, not Freud’s dynamic unconscious

Hunt (1979) – R – anal characteristic observed but no link to toilet training

Fisher & Greenberg (1996) – R – evidence for oral & anal personalities, not Oedipus & Electra

Maltby et al (2007) – large parts of Sigmund Freud’s work remains untested


applied value:

Fonagy et al (1999) – R – some support for effectiveness but not unequivocal







– disagreed with Sigmund Freud’s negative view of human motivation with 3 competing structures

– unity in personality, we know what type we are & work to maintain it

– ‘social context’ crucial in who we become and our problems in living



– people compensate for inferiorities in same way blind man does with other senses

– imaginary/social inferiorities would cause us to compensate

– inferiority starts at birth (big brother, dad) and so we strive for superiority in all contexts

– our perception important: admitting inferiority is useful; preoccupation>>inferiority complex

– unsuccessful adjustment could otherwise >> superiority complex

– ‘style of life’ is our basic attitude towards life determined by how we approach our inferiority



– family relationships & treatment received vary depending on birth order >> kid’s interpretation of treatment >> goal/style of life >> personality

– family are role models for life, work, friendship, love >> attitude to life/ ‘style of life’  

– neurotic personality develops from uncompensated inferiority, neglect & pampering



– associated with inferiority/ superiority complexes

– neurotics feel strong inferiority and try to compensate; are tense, fearful, indecisive

– healthy development needs ‘social interest’ (sense of community, cooperation, helping)

– social interest is innate & fostered by family role models

– high social interest is less self-centered, hostile, aggressive; more cooperative & helpful >>

– 4 personality types: ruling type, avoiding type, getting type & socially useful type (healthy)

Crandall (1980) measured social interest: high vs low are better adjusted, more helpful

Ellenberger (1970) reported personality types useful (but not they’ve not been tested)



– personality determined by style of life & social interest so these were the focus

– psychological illness caused by faulty lifestyle; if patients understood this >> social interest >> healthy lifestyle

– earliest childhood memory important as it determines style of life; also birth order

– unusually, he looked at current external factors, which others thought was irrelevant



– good description of personality development, normal & abnormal behaviour

– inferiority/superiority complex part of everyday language

– groundbreaking concept of explaining how birth order >> experience >> personality

– explanations of development and psychopathology not very detailed

– some support for birth order effects, social interest & early recollections

– social interest as the sole motivator for behaviour is limiting

– ‘striving for superiority’ as sole motivator is dubious

– lacking detail e.g. what’s a good role model or good parenting?



CARL JUNG (c1906)

– psyche is complex network of opposing forces: aim is create harmony;

– problems if imbalance so treatment helps client achieve balance in their psyche (which can >> self realisation)

– ‘life process energy’ resulted from conflicts between these forces: ‘principle of opposites’

– personality development continues throughout life: lifespan development

– both the past and future goals affect behaviour: future goals = ‘teleology’

– ‘self-realisation’ is endpoint we work towards: achieving our potential, self-acceptance

– happens in later life because life experience is needed

– ‘entropy of the psyche’: drive to balance energy so we express more of ourselves in our behaviour



Ego (self): unifying force at centre of consciousness; gives feelings of unique identity & enduring continuity

Personal unconscious: blocked experiences because they are unacceptable (like Sigmund Freud)

Collective unconscious: innate, inherited, shared instincts (e.g.fears, good/bad) – ‘archetypes’

– archetypes influence thinking & behaviour >> we behave in set ways (except ‘self’ archetype)

– ‘principle of synchronicity’ e.g. death archetype in coll. unconscious tells of a death via dream and that person actually dies: unpredictability in behaviour



Extraversion: external world focus; outgoing, open, adaptable, friendships, confident

Introversion: internal focus; hesitant, shrinking, reflective, defensive, hide from scrutiny

– 4 key distinctions within these 2 personality types: sensing, thinking, feeling, intuitive

– the 2 personality types interact with the world in those 4 ways



– doesn’t describe personality development in detail (focus on middle-age & self-realisation)

– theory confusing and complex with obscure historical references

– difficult to say why certain behaviours occur (e.g. which archetype(s) causes a man to love a certain woman?)

– believed explanation was pointless: we behave like that because of the way we’re wired

– OC: these criticisms might be why Maltby says theory didn’t stimulate much research

– difficult to test but Myers-Briggs TI etc measure personality types with some success

– Eysenck measured introversion & extroversion with success

– covered lots of ground (e.g. religion, relationships) but superficially




– Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory too limited to explain all psychological disturbance

– attacked Freud’s penis envy & concept of female masochism

– emphasised role of cultural and social factors in personality development

– warm consistent parenting necessary for normal development >> real self


– ‘real self’: ultimate expression of abilities and talents; relating to others easily = goal

– disturbed (poor/imbalanced parent-child) relationships >> unhealthy personality development: neurosis

– ‘defensive attitudes’ used for avoiding pain & giving safety: neurotic needs

– these needs use up child’s energies and they become distanced from real selves

[- each culture produces fears: healthy people cope via defence mechanisms; neurotic can’t]

– neurotics create ‘idealised selves’: images showing themselves as powerful & successful


– ‘tyranny of the shoulds’: neurotic’s drive to become idealised self; if only…then I’d be OK

– 10 neurotic needs e.g. need for power (should be on top); for approval (should be loved)

– needs combine to form 4 personality types: compliant, aggressive, detached, healthy (healthy is adaptable mix of these)

– ‘externalisation’: use of (7) defence mechanisms by neurotics to apply their faults to others

– treatment is about relationships, understanding neurotic conflicts, giving up illusions, finding true self



– description of adult/ neurotic personalities clear and intuitively makes sense

– doesn’t explain how developmental experiences cause specific neurotic needs

– defence mechanisms give good explanations of common behaviour styles

– some evidence for tyranny of the shoulds & neurotic needs

– extreme competitiveness measure has been developed and matches Horney’s desc

– Horney’s concepts too difficult to measure precisely

– not comprehensive/ lack detail on normal personality development (focus on neurosis)

– incorporates social and cultural factors



For exam revision start: here