Barking up the Learning Tree: Dogs, Cats, and Rats
Me, You, and Everything in Between
The Five Personality Traits of Humanity
Openness to Experience: Curious and open to new ideas and novelty
Conscientiousness: Organized, thoughtful, dependable
Extroversion: Outgoing, sociable, and stimulation seeking
Agreeableness: Tolerant, sensitive, warm
Neuroticism: Anxious, temperamental, moody
Developing an Award-Winning Personality
In This Chapter
Realizing that the song remains the same
Recognizing the power of the ego
Greeting the people and objects around us
Learning behavior from others
Being a good representative
Discovering the personality traits you’re born with
Your old friend Mary contacts you out of the blue. You’re excited to hear from her so you decide to meet up for coffee and catch up. While waiting for her to arrive at the coffee shop, someone taps you on the shoulder.
You turn around to face a stranger and ask, “Can I help you?”
“It’s me, Mary!”
You realize it’s your friend, but you didn’t recognize her. She’s older; she’s put on some weight and has a different hairstyle. She looks really different. It seems that so much has changed, but has it?
After sitting and talking for a while you see that “old friend” again. She’s got that same smile, the same twinkle in her eye, same laugh, same sense of humor, same warm heart, and same passion for life. If you closed your eyes and only listened to her words and her voice, ignoring the physical person you didn’t recognize at first, you’d know her in an instant.
Mary changed in some dramatic ways. But you recognize how she hasn’t changed as well. You realize that she’s the same person you befriended all those years ago. Her body, appearance, address, clothing, and relationships changed, but her “self,” her “Mary-ness,” the essence of who she was continues to be the same.
These stable characteristics are what famous psychologist Philip Zimbardo describes as a complex set of unique psychological qualities that influence behavior, thinking, and emotions across situations and time — which is an excellent working definition of personality.
A personality is a stable system of tendencies to act, think, and feel a particular way.
Describing someone’s personality is, in essence, developing a whole person picture out of the various bits of information available about them that hold true through the passing of time and changes in circumstance.
Personality theories assume that a particular set of general characteristics can serve as a summary for what a person is like. The qualities that first come to mind when you think about a person are usually the qualities that are most central to him. The more central that quality is, the more useful that aspect is in predicting the individual’s behavior and distinguishing him from other people.
Mary’s “Mary-ness” is her personality. It’s what makes her unique in the world. Personality is what makes you unique. Tens or hundreds of people around the world may have the same name as you or may look like you, but nobody has your identical personality.
If you go to a party after work, are you the same person as you are at work? Of course, you may act a little different, but most likely you’re still the same basic person. This is because of your personality, your unique set of psychological and physical components that determine who you are.
In this chapter, I describe the field of personality psychology and cover various grand theories of personality, including psychoanalytic approaches, social learning approaches, and trait-based approaches.
As you read about these personality theories, keep in mind that nobody fits perfectly into these categories. An important concept in psychology is the principle of individual differences. No one is a personality theory: The theories are tools for understanding the complexity of human behavior, thoughts, and emotions.
Knowing Who’s a Nerd
Whether you realize it or not, you have a theory of personality that you use to classify people and tell them apart.
When I was in high school, common classifications were nerds, jocks, and partiers. A simple-minded scheme, indeed, but it came in handy from time to time as a shortcut of sorts to getting to know people. I wouldn’t know them individually, of course, but I may know a little something about them to get the relationship ball rolling.
Each person is a personality theorist with varying degrees of sophistication, and specific groups of personality theorists are out there. Astrologers, psychics, theologians, poets, and others have been trying to classify people for centuries, each using a different kind of insight into personality to develop theories.
Consider the following personality description:
You have a great deal of unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage.
Sometimes you have doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
At times you are sociable; at other times you keep to yourself.
Security is one of your goals in life.
Do these characteristics describe you? If so, are you thinking that a secret personality-analyzing computer chip is imbedded in the binding of this book? Or are the above descriptions so vague and general that they apply to pretty much anyone?
I vote for the latter.
The Barnum effect refers to personality theories that are so general that they can apply to most everyone; these theories provide very little specific information about a particular individual. It was named after P. T. Barnum, the famous circus owner who allegedly perfected a personality-description technique in his sideshow fortunetelling acts.
After learning about the Barnum effect, I hope you never again see another fortune cookie or horoscope in the same way.
Personality theories can be classified into the following broad categories:
Psychoanalytic and psychosocial theories
Social learning theory
Getting into the Mood with Freud
Sigmund Freud, a 19th-century neurologist from Austria, formulated one of the most comprehensive theories of human personality ever created. The depths of his analysis and range of ideas are yet to be rivaled.
This section explores Freud’s theories on memory, instincts, and the famous defense mechanisms (actually much of the work was done by his daughter, Anna Freud) and how these concepts contribute to a one-of-a-kind personality.
And of course, no discussion of Freud would ever be complete without mentioning his theory of psychosexual development and the ideas about Oedipus and sex.
Having unique memories
What kind of personality would you have if someone erased all of your memories? Your 16th birthday? Your high school prom? Moving into your first apartment? Would you just be a blank blob of eating, sleeping, and wandering flesh?
Freud believed that memories and how they are arranged in the mind are vital parts of personality. He proposed three basic divisions of memory that are differentiated by how aware or conscious each person is of the context of those divisions:
Conscious: Your active awareness constitutes your conscious level of awareness. Here, you’re aware of those things that are current and in the moment, like the book on your lap, its yellow cover, the typeface in horizontal rows, and your stomach growling because you haven’t eaten in six hours. Your conscious awareness is dominated by the things you’re hearing, seeing, and feeling.
Preconscious: The preconscious is made up of ordinary memories, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and how to ride a bike. People are rarely actively aware of memories in the preconscious, unless deliberately conjured up or activated. But preconscious memories still play a powerful role in shaping personality.
Unconscious: The memories and experiences that you’re not aware of are part of your unconscious collection. These memories are deep inside your mind and difficult to access. So the next time you can’t answer a tough question, just simply tell the inquirer that the answer is locked away deep inside your unconscious. Thousands or even millions of things go on inside your mind that you’re not aware of; you’re unconscious or unaware of them.
Actually, Freud thought that the unconscious mind is filled with all the memories, thoughts, and ideas that are too troubling, disturbing, and horrible to keep in conscious awareness. This is where you harbor your most basic desires and conflicts and your truest feelings, unfiltered and unedited by the niceties of everyday life. Your unconscious does not lie!
Your conscious, preconscious, and unconscious memories help make you a unique individual, giving you all the special personality quirks that your friends love so much.
Getting down with id, ego, and superego
Freud would have been a great Hollywood screenwriter. His “story” of personality is one of desire, power, control, and freedom. The plot is complex and the characters compete. Personality is a drama of sorts, acted out in the mind. According to Freud, “you” are a product of how competing mental forces and structures interact.
The ancient Greeks thought that all people were actors in the drama of the gods above. Freud proposed that you and I act out the drama of our minds, pushed by desire, pulled by conscience. Under the surface, a person’s personality represents the deeply internal power struggles.
Three main players carry this show:
Id: Controls drives and impulses
Ego: Negotiates with the id, pleases the superego
Superego: Keeps individuals on the straight and narrow
Each of these characters — or parts of a person — has its own idea of how the story should unfold. Each has powerful motives and is out for itself.
Wanting it for the id
The initial structural component and first character in Freud’s drama of personality is the id. Has an urge, impulse, or desire so strong that it just had to be satisfied ever overpowered you? A new car, sexual desire, a dream job? The answer is probably a resounding “yes!”
Where does such desire come from?
According to Freud, desire comes from the part of your personality called the id, located in the deep seat of the mind. The id contains all of the most basic animal and primitive impulses that demand satisfaction. It’s the Mr. Hyde emerging from the restrained Dr. Jekyll. It’s that little devil that sits on your shoulder, whispering temptations and spurring you on.
The id is a container of sorts that holds desires. Relentlessly driven by a force Freud called the libido, the collective energy of life’s instincts and will to survive, the id must be satisfied! You are born with the id in full force. It’s unregulated and untouched by the constraints of the real world.
When a baby gets hungry — I mean really hungry — does she sit quietly, understanding the adults are busy at the moment, and wait until someone can feed her? Anyone who’s ever gotten out of bed in the middle of the night to feed a baby knows the answer to that.
But I don’t want to give the id a bad rap. Where would you be without desire? Desire pushes you through life; it leads you to seek the stuff you need to survive. Without your id, you’d die — or be really boring until that happens. A large part of your personality consists of your desires and your attempts to satisfy them.
Feeling okay with ego
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get everything you wanted, whenever and however you wanted it? The id wants what the id wants, after all.
Unfortunately most of us know otherwise. It can be frustrating when a desire goes unmet or gets stifled. Blame your ego for that.
The ego is the second mental apparatus of personality. The ego’s main function is to mediate between the id’s demands and the external world — reality. (Cue the Rolling Stones’ song “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)
The ego is like a sports agent for a really talented athlete. Even though the athlete may demand a multimillion-dollar contract, the agent reminds him that he could price himself out of a job. So the ego negotiates with the id in order to get what it wants without costing too much in the long run. The ego accomplishes this important task by converting, diverting, and transforming the powerful forces of the id into more useful and realistic modes of satisfaction. It attempts to harness the id’s power, regulating it in order to achieve satisfaction despite the limits of reality.
The final judgment
The ego’s job of mediating the near-constant bickering between the id and reality is relentlessly micromanaged and judged by the superego. Superego is another name for your conscience. It expects your ego to be strong and effective in its struggles against the libido’s force.
Usually, a person’s conscience comes from his parents or a parental figure. As he grows, he internalizes their standards, those same standards that make him feel so guilty when he tells a lie or cheats on his taxes. But does everyone have a conscience? Conscience can vary by degree, some people have less and some have more. Certain people throughout history have committed such horrible acts of violence that it seems they are void of conscience. A strong bet is that such people lack the basic capacity to feel guilt, so nothing stops them from acting out violent fantasies.
This is a key feature to the psychopathic personality (for more about personality disorders, see Chapter 13).
Thinking about sex
It can read like a newspaper headline: “Sexual Satisfaction Fuels Personality Development!”
Well not really, but Freud’s psychosexual component of personality development was definitely about pleasure. Freud’s search for the answer to the question of what makes one person’s personality different from others led him to theorize that the clues to understanding the uniqueness of an individual’s personality are found in infancy and childhood. Eureka, childhood is destiny!
The personality that you live with today — the one that charms in order to get dates, makes lists and never gets anything done, ensures that the bathroom is always sparkling clean — was forged and molded in the fires of infancy and struggles of your childhood. In fact, according to Freud, you were a unique final product by the time you hit puberty.
Freud’s model of personality development proposes a series of stages in which people grow and mature. Within each stage, a person is particularly focused on a part of the body known as an erogenous zone. It’s kind of like focusing on your washboard stomach when you’re 18 years old and your love handles when you’re 40; each stands out at a different time in your life. The pleasure sought by your inborn instincts is focused on sexual desire and gratification, through proper stimulation of each erogenous zone. If properly stimulated, you progress to the top of Freud’s psychosexual peak, sexual and psychological maturity. If not, you’re fixated on that particular zone and stuck in that particular stage of personality development.
Here are the stages by ages:
Oral: Birth to 18 months
Anal: 18 months to 3 years
Phallic: 3 years to 7—8 years
Latency: 7—8 years to puberty
Genital: Puberty to adulthood
Freud’s personality development model is like having five miniature personalities that each lasts a couple of years until you reach maturity. The model is reminiscent of a typical high school freshman who begins school with one personality only to have an entirely new persona by the end of the year, complete with wardrobe and a secret language. It’s Geek Von Bookworm one minute and Joe Slick the next.
Each personality stage presents you with a unique challenge, and the theory says that if you successfully overcome that challenge, you acquire a fully mature personality. (That’s Mr. Joe Slick to you!) But, if you somehow fail to overcome the challenge of a stage, you’ll be stuck, or fixated, there. This is where a lot of your personal uniqueness comes from, your “stuckness” or fixation at a particular stage of personality development.
Opening your big mouth
The oral stage is Freud’s first stage of personality development. From birth until about 18 months of age, an infant’s life centers on his mouth. The main task of this stage is to satisfy oral desire by stimulating the erogenous zone of the mouth. Notice the infant’s reflexive sucking and the way his head and mouth turn toward his cheek as it’s gently brushed. Infants are born with a very well-developed sense of taste, and their mouths are the most sophisticated tools they have to explore their world. Their mouths far outperform their hands and fingers in grasping the world around them.
One of the first objects out there in the world that provides an infant with oral satisfaction is his mother’s breast, which is his main source of connection and satisfaction. But eventually, all infants must be weaned from their mother’s breast. I mean, when was the last time you saw a 10-year-old breast feeding? But the weaning process presents the infant with his first conflict between desire and reality.
If an infant fails to wean or is weaned harshly or incompletely, he may become fixated at the oral stage. He will develop an oral character in which he’s dominated by feelings of dependency and helplessness. Infants are not able to provide themselves with autonomous satisfaction; as long as they are in the oral stage, they depend entirely on (m)others.
For a lot of people, the first human they ever meet is their mother. With the exception of the nurses and obstetrician in the delivery room, mom’s face is the first face you see. You’re dependent on her for everything — she’s the center of your world — for a pretty long time. Throughout most of the world, moms are held in pretty high regard. I once heard that the most common tattoo in the United States is “Mom” inside a heart.
Ultimately, as an infant successfully overcomes the challenge of weaning and gains control over the ability to satisfy oral desires, he moves on to the next stage of personality development.
Take a minute to reflect on your childhood. It may be difficult to remember infancy, but most of people can conjure something up from the ages of 2 to 3 years. Did you have a pacifier? How long? Did you suck your thumb? Just how oral were you? Do you chew your pens now? Are you bitingly sarcastic? Freud may be tempted to say, “You are fixated!”
Taking control of your poop
Freud’s second stage of personality development is all about the erogenous focus of the anal stage. Think about pleasure and your relentless libido striving for satisfaction. Think about defecation. Say what?
That’s right, Freud emphasized a person’s control over defecating as the pleasure center from 18 months to 3 years old. The central conflict for toddlers is control! Kids in this stage want the ability to poop whenever they want and wherever they want. Like in their pants! But the reality that they have to hold it sometimes creeps in, conjuring images of long trips in the family car, “Are we there yet? I have to go!”
Who and what withholds the pleasure of pooping at will? Our parents and the constraints of reality do. (Find information about reality constraints in the section Getting down with id, ego, and superego earlier in this chapter.) In fact, some of your adult characteristics may be the consequence of how your parents handled your toilet training. According to Freud, your creativity and productivity are indicators of how well you’ve successfully navigated the anal stage.
If you’re stuck in the anal stage, you’re dominated by anal satisfaction. This satisfaction can come in one of two ways:
If you’re messy, sloppy, or careless, it indicates an expulsive rebellion against parental control.
If you’re withholding, obstinate, and obsessed with neatness, you’ve learned control in reaction to your toilet-training experience.
Either way, you’re in control. Maturity and success in the anal stage result in your ability to control yourself. So let go, but make sure you do it in the right place and at the right time.
Marrying your mom
Just when you thought that all of your personality traits had been described, Freud comes up with his third stage: the phallic stage. I promised you sex, and it’s time to deliver — well, sort of. The 3- to 5-year-old child is focused on the erogenous stimulation of the genital area, the penis and vagina specifically.
Freud found ancient support for his ideas about a child’s sexual desire for his or her parents in the famous (or maybe not) Greek play, Oedipus Rex. The basic story is about a king who has a male child who, prophets predict, one day will kill the king and marry the queen. To prevent this, the king takes the child to the woods and leaves him to die. The child is discovered by some peasants in the woods, however, and is raised to be a healthy adult. One day, the child returns to the city to make his fortune. On the road to the city, he encounters the king; neither of them is aware of his relation to the other. There is a scuffle, and the king is killed. As the son arrives in the city, he soon makes his fortune, rising to the top of civic society. He attracts the eye of the mourning queen and eventually marries her, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
In the phallic stage, gratification begins with autoeroticism. That means masturbation to the rest of you. But the need for satisfaction soon turns toward our parents, typically the parent of the opposite sex. As sexual satisfaction expands, a child finds himself within the realm of one of Freud’s most controversial and strange contributions to the study of personality, the Oedipus complex, which essentially states that a male child sees his own mother as a sexual object of desire, causing inevitable conflict with his own father of course.
As adults, many people cringe at the idea of marrying someone like their mothers or fathers; the idea of having sex with someone who reminds you of a parent probably seems gross, but you’ve all known a little boy or girl who wants to grow up one day and marry his or her parent.
There’s just one problem: Nearly every culture on the planet has a taboo against sex between parents and their children.
Freud observed that children in the phallic stage of personality development shift from self-gratification to seeking gratification from their opposite-sex parent. But the taboo is not the only thing that stands in the child’s way; the other parent seems precariously in the way, an obstacle. How would your father feel, you think, if you tried to make a move on your mom? However, the libido knows no bounds and must have satisfaction. It figures that the opposite-sex parent is its rightful object of desire.
This is where Freud gets a little complex. Basically, all children are initially attracted to their mothers because she’s often their primary caregiver. She’s their primary source of pleasure and satisfaction. She’s the end all and be all of satisfaction. From there, kids split by sex (or gender, as most people refer to it).
Boys: For the male child, the attraction to the mother continues to develop into what Freud called the Oedipus complex. The male child’s father blocks him from his mother. This gets to be really frustrating for the male child. It’s so bad that the frustration eventually blossoms into full-blown hatred for the father.
This complex is riddled with conflict as boys find themselves afraid of their fathers because they want their mothers all to themselves. Freud called this fear castration anxiety. The male child is afraid that his father will cut off his genitals. Because of this fear, the male child takes an alternative route: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Junior learns to identify with his father, adopting his masculinity and seeking his own “mother” of sorts. He can’t have sex with his mother, but he can live vicariously through his father. This supplies him with symbolic access to his mother and satisfies his libidinal desire at this stage of personality development.
Girls: Freud was thoroughly criticized for his neglect of female sexuality. So he consulted the Greeks again, finding a similar Oedipal tale about a woman named Electra. Electra gets someone to kill her mother to avenge the death of her father.
For girls, attraction shifts from the mother to their fathers because female children come to resent their mothers for a very strange reason, penis envy. According to Freud, little girls stop desiring their mothers because they realize that they lack a penis. How can they have sex with their mothers without a penis? So what about that “can’t beat ’em, join ’em” philosophy? Unlike little boys, little girls can’t identify with their fathers because they lack a penis. So what are they supposed to do? They spend the rest of their lives looking for a penis. Essentially, they spend the rest of their lives looking for a man to make them complete.
You may be sitting there right now saying to yourself, “Come on, this is too much!”
That’s a common response to Freud’s ideas. To benefit from Freud’s ideas and get past the preposterous nature of such a thing as wishing to have sex with your mother and murder your father, think metaphor; think analogy. Freud’s ideas are best understood when processed symbolically. For example, try to picture Oedipus as a frustrated little kid who needs to share his mother’s attention with his father. Daddy stands in the way; he needs to get lost. Don’t get caught up in the theatrics.
That’s a lot to take in, I know, and it all seems a little weird. Did I say a little? Okay, it seems really weird! How does it relate to personality?
Freud believed that if a boy or man successfully aligns himself with his father, he turns his conflict into a deep striving for success and superiority in society. At one point in history this may have meant conquering women, conquering the business world, and becoming the captain of the football team. This superiority may mean something different in today’s culture context, perhaps mastering one’s own limitations or overcoming some significant personal challenge. This, he considered to be a successful response to the male castration anxiety of the phallic stage.
But not all men get to this point. If a male child fails to join forces with Dad and finds himself fixated, he’s emasculated, according to Freud. He becomes a “failure at life,” unable to strive for achievement because of the disabling guilt generated from competing with his father for his mother’s attention.
With successful resolution of the Electra complex, a girl finds herself equipped to deal with her adult sexual and intimate relationships. She turns her penis envy into a healthy search for a good “fatherly” husband. But if she fails, she becomes fixated and possibly overly seductive and flirtatious. I know, I know . . . but women’s liberation happened a long time after Freud!
Taking a time out
With successful resolution of the conflicts of each previous stage, children enter into a more quiet time of psychosexual development called latency. The libido loosens its grip on the personality, and sexual impulses cease to dominate. Kids find more freedom to explore and expand on the skills they’ve gained from each subsequent stage.
Latency lasts from about six years old until puberty. Things cool down, so to speak. There’s no rivalry with the opposite-sex parent. There’s no battle for control over satisfaction. It’s a time for basic social exploration like making friends and forming social cliques. I think this time period matches everyone’s basic notion of childhood a little better than Freud’s previous stages. It’s less perverse and conflict ridden for sure.
With the onset of puberty, the smooth ride of latency turns turbulent again. The flames of earlier conflicts are rekindled. Desire begins to dominate the picture again in the genital stage, but this time it’s different. The self-centered pleasure-seeking child of earlier stages gives way to a more mature form of satisfaction. A concern for the pleasure of others begins to shape the direction of psychosexual development, and the child is now open to learning how to engage in mutually satisfying love relationships.
Freud never proposed that all people reach this point of full maturity. It’s more like an ideal, something to strive for, a lifelong project. But if somebody doesn’t make it (at least some of the way), he can easily drift back into selfish phallicism, which seems to conjure images of the selfish lover who doesn’t care about the pleasure of his partner: As long as he gets what he wants, he’s just fine. But if you make it, eat your heart out, Don Juan! You’ll be attentive and actually care if the other person in the interaction is enjoying his or herself.
Freud’s little girl
Anna Freud was Sigmund Freud’s daughter. She followed in her father’s footsteps and made some substantial additions to his theory of personality. For some reason, the Freuds emphasized anxiety and protection in their work on personality. Kind of makes you wonder what kind of home Anna grew up in.
I can see it now. She brings home a C- on her psychology final. How could she have missed that question on the id, ego, and superego? Maybe she was too busy thinking about defense mechanisms!
Anna took much of what her father created and applied it to children’s problems and helping them in therapy. Her additions to Sigmund’s theories supported and expanded his earlier work. Many people have never heard of her, but make no mistake about it — Anna seemed to inherit her father’s gift for understanding the human personality.
Being defensive? I’m not defensive!
So you’re walking along your favorite hiking trail in the mountains and a bear jumps out, rises up on its hind legs, and looks really hungry. What do you do? Stand and fight or take off running?
If this situation poses a real threat to your survival, then you may have to defend yourself. But is defending your body from physical harm the only time you go on the defensive? Sometimes a person’s reputation or standing in the community can be challenged. No question, sometimes you have to defend or protect yourself psychologically. This is an important aspect of personality.
Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter) developed the concept of defense mechanisms. You can be afraid of anything: bears, bullies, or gossip. Some people even scare themselves. You can fear the wrath of your own conscience — or its tool, guilt.
“Stop being so defensive!” is something you’ve probably heard, but don’t worry; everyone is defensive. Freud believed that your characteristic ways of defending yourself against your anxieties are strong determinants of your overall personality. How do you cope? How do you psychologically defend yourself? How do you protect yourself from painful thoughts, impulses, or urges?
The Freuds proposed several important defense mechanisms. Keep in mind however that defense mechanisms are not used consciously. A person does not decide to engage in one; rather these happen on an unconscious level:
Repression: Keeping a thought, feeling, or memory of an experience out of consciousness. It’s the “forget about it!” approach. Many things may be the objects of repression, including forbidden desires or a painful, emotionally difficult situation.
Denial: Refusing to accept that something exists or happened. Denial can also involve altering the meaning of an event so that its impact is diverted. If something important to you goes wrong, you may just say to yourself, “That’s not so important after all.” This is the common “sour grapes” response.
Projection: Attributing a threatening urge, impulse, or aspect of oneself to someone else. If you think that the best offense is a good defense, you may use projection a lot. Instead of acknowledging that you’re mad at someone, you may accuse him or her of being mad at you.
Rationalization: Creating an acceptable but incorrect explanation of a situation. I once knew a habitual thief who only stole from big businesses. He would never think of robbing the Smiths, but super-megastores look out! He explained that big business makes money from “ripping people off,” so he’s just trying to even the score. A modern day Robin Hood, I guess. Unfortunately for him, the judge he faced for his crimes was not a fan of fairy tales.
Intellectualization: Thinking about something logically or coldly and without emotion. For example:
Therapist: “Mr. Jones, your wife has left you, and you’ve recently lost your job. How does that make you feel?”
Patient: “I’ve found that the organization in my home has been much improved, less clutter now; her things took up so much room. As for the job, the economy had been slowing down for some time, I could sense that it was coming.”
Reaction formation: Doing the opposite of what you would really like to do. Ever gone out of your way to be nice to someone you really disliked? That’s an example of reaction formation.
Regression: Returning to an earlier or more childlike form of defense. Physical and psychological stress may sometimes lead people to abandon their more mature defense mechanisms. If you’ve resorted to whining when asking your boss for a raise, consider it a display of regression.
The Freuds made unparalleled contributions to understanding how people’s characteristic ways of coping comprise basic personality. It would be a mistake to assume that psychologically defending oneself is a negative behavior; it is basic to survival. Defenses protect and keep you from becoming overwhelmed. Without them, you’re on a fast track to a nervous breakdown.
Going Beyond Freud
Do you know ego? That symbol of American freedom and the US Postal Service? No, that’s an eagle. The ego is Freud’s master negotiator between desire and morality.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, a scientist named Franz Joseph Gall tried to classify people’s personalities based on the shapes of their skulls and the unique patterns of lumps on their heads. Don’t worry, though, no one is using that technique anymore — apparently lumps tell us very little. Actually, many thinkers who made legitimate contributions in other areas came up with relatively useless theories for personality. Bad personality theories are often guilty of something called the Barnum effect (described in the section Knowing Who’s a Nerd earlier in this chapter). Although a good personality theory is tough to come by, it leads to accurate descriptions of individuals and makes it possible to distinguish people from one another.
Even though a lot of people were and still are pretty impressed with Sigmund’s ideas, many of Freud’s colleagues and contemporaries decided to go their own way and develop other personality theories. Many of these individuals felt that Freud did not give the ego enough credit in shaping personality. Most of these people believed that ego was more than just a mediator. For some, the ego became synonymous with personality itself.
Heinz Hartmann was a follower of Freud who led the dissent and march toward emphasizing the ego in personality. For Hartmann, the ego played two key roles in shaping personality:
Sigmund Freud talked a lot about conflict among the id, the ego, and the superego. He basically proposed that a lot of tension exists between a person’s desires and the reality of satisfying those desires in a socially acceptable and appropriate manner.
Hartmann’s idea of ego is similar to Freud’s in that it helps to satisfy the id’s desire and appease the superego’s rules. But Hartmann’s ego was out for itself in a way that Freud never mentioned.
According to Hartmann, the ego is a central part of the personality that has its own desire or need for satisfaction; Freud’s ego is more like a referee with no real agenda of its own. What satisfies the ego according to Hartmann? Thinking, planning, imagining, and integrating are all the sexy stuff of Hartmann’s ego. Built-in satisfaction occurs when humans engage in these processes, and this accomplishment pushes people toward greater independence and autonomy. Being independent and self-sufficient is a satisfying feeling. Children get pretty happy at the prospect of being seen as as big kids instead of babies. Little do they know what’s waiting for them when they are actually grown up . . . poor things.
In the 1950s, Robert W. White, another psychoanalyst, added to Hartmann’s ideas about the ego. This strive for self-sufficiency and the satisfaction that comes with it stem from a drive White called effectance motivation — the motive or need to feel like you can make an impact or have an effect on your surroundings. It’s like having a little community activist inside all of us, pushing us to make a difference but in a personal and individual way.
White added another need to this idea, the competence motive — the need to make an effective impact on the world. So, having an impact is not good enough; it’s more satisfying to have an effective impact. And this is more than the effectance motivation; you need to have a competent effect. It makes me wonder if teenagers who paint graffiti aren’t just out to satisfy their effectance motive without much regard for the competence motive. Call me crazy, but scrawling your name on a wall is not very artistic. Don’t get me wrong, though; I’ve seen some pretty impressive graffiti art. I’m just wondering about those “taggers.”
The need for effectance and competence push people toward mastery, a desire to be an effective person. Children’s games such as King of the Hill and Follow the Leader seem to reflect a need to be in charge. But Hartmann and White weren’t saying that everyone has a need to be a leader, just a need to be leaders of themselves — to have self-control. People actively seek information and stimulation in order to master their world and themselves — the Manifest Destiny of personality.
Domination is not the issue either. Healthy satisfaction of these motives is adaptation acquired through proper impulse control and flexibility when faced with necessary adjustments and challenges. I can feel like a master if I subject other people to my will, but this would not be a healthy satisfaction of mastery need.
The ability to control your impulses and to adapt to the demands of a situation is called ego control. But don’t get carried away with too much ego control; it can turn into over-control. And all work and no play make Johnny a very dull boy. (I always wondered where that saying came from. I don’t think it came from psychologists.) Balance between complete lack of control and being too rigid is important. Flexibility is the key!
Erik Erikson had close ties to the psychoanalytic/Freudian theory of personality but he’s typically not considered a psychoanalyst per se. Nevertheless, Erikson had some very influential ideas that are rooted in psychoanalytic personality theory. He didn’t spend much time talking about the lustful id or the judgmental superego though; Erikson was focused on the ego — in a very different way from Freud.
Erikson viewed personality as a product of social interactions and the choices a person makes in life. He presented the ego “in development” as personal identity, shaped and molded by an individual’s experiences. In other words, as you relate to other people, you go through a series of eight stages in which the goal is to develop a coherent sense of self, a firm recognition of who you are.
Each stage presents a challenge or a crisis in which you go in one direction or another. When you reach a personality fork in the road, your choices have a strong impact on who you are.
Here are Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development:
Basic trust versus mistrust: In the first year of life (unless someone is fixated or stuck in a particular stage), the basic experience of interacting with an attentive, consistent, predictable, and trustworthy caregiver turns into a basic trust of the world. This basic trust includes trusting yourself and knowing that, when caregivers are not available, you can take care of yourself.
But what if mom and dad drop the ball? If a child experiences a consistent lack of responsive care giving and her needs are not adequately met, she may never learn to trust her environment. Inconsistent or intermittent care can also lead to a lack of trust. Either way, when a child’s sense of basic trust is undermined, it can lead to withdrawal and sometimes even to a full walling-off from relationships.
Autonomy versus shame and doubt: When a child is 13 to 36 months old, her rapidly expanding abilities can develop into a sense of independence from caregivers or a sense of shame or self-doubt and insecurity. If mom and dad are too overbearing, constantly telling kids in this age range not to touch things, not to talk, and not to try on their newfound confidence, children may develop a sense of shame and doubt in themselves.
Initiative versus guilt: This stage is characterized by continued expansion of a person’s sense of independence through channeled, purposeful, and responsible behavior. Actions contain less of a sense of rebellion and more of a sense of self-initiative. During this period, which occurs when a person is 3 to 6 years old, the unique desires of a child emerge and really start to give definition to their little personalities.
I’ve got to admit, I have issues. I hate being called irresponsible. Maybe I’m stuck in this stage, but no matter; I feel really guilty when I fail to act responsibly. This is what can happen when a preschooler fails to develop a sense of initiative. Guilt can arise from feeling too anxious or misguided in your actions. It’s the feeling of letting yourself down. You’re not cutting it! You’re lazy! You’re irresponsible! Help, I need therapy!
Industry versus inferiority: “Time to shape up!” — that’s what Erikson says people hear most between the age of 6 and adolescence. Playing around and experimenting with the environment is no longer tolerated. Parents expect a child to achieve something when he or she engages in an activity. Color inside the lines.
If a child views playtime as a chance to unwind and relax from the pressures of the school day, is he heading toward inferiority? No, using playtime to relax is purposeful and important. But if an apparent lack of goal-directedness in a child’s overall most-of-the-time behavior exists, then a sense of being a slacker or being without purpose can lead to feeling inferior.
Identity versus identity confusion: During adolescence, teenagers experiment with new identities and views of themselves. There’s a push at this age to find out who you really are and what you’re all about. Erikson called this an identity crisis. If a teen successfully navigates the abysmal waters of teenage identity confusion, she emerges with a more solid sense of self and a clearer identity. If not . . . well, identify confusion is the state of unresolved identity crisis. Sometimes teenagers get lost in the confusing search for a genuine identity; some of these kids withdraw and never really feel a true sense of self.
Intimacy versus isolation: According to Erikson, the wild single days must come to an end, and one’s ability to find and develop intimacy becomes the primary task of personality development. After somebody knows who she is, she turns to developing close relationships with other people who know who they are. The goal of this stage is intimacy.
Generativity versus stagnation: At some point, a person needs to be needed and to feel like she’s guiding the next generation. A desire to leave a legacy and impact younger people develops during middle adulthood. When people feel that they’ve done nothing or can do nothing for the next generation, they develop a sense of stagnation instead of generativity.
Integrity versus despair: As life winds down and old age creeps in, people often sit back and reflect on things they’ve accomplished. They think about whether their life was well spent or wasted. If someone feels a sense of satisfaction with the way she lived her life, she feels integrity, a basic sense of wholeness or of being complete. If not, despair is likely to follow. Ever wonder why elder adults like to tell stories from their lives?
Relating to Object(s)
Still other expansions of Freud’s theory emerged among the most dominant forces in personality theory during the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st. The works of contemporary theorists are considered more “interpersonal”; two of the most popular are the Self Psychology of Heinz Kohut and Object Relations theory.
In both Self Psychology and Object Relations theory, personalities are the product of how the mental representations of a person’s self and relationships with other people, and the interactions of these concepts in a social setting, are stored and play out. That is, the focus is on an idea of self in terms of the actual people and our relationships with them.
Heinz Kohut proposed that a person’s subjective experience of self is a core feature of personality. Kohut’s self is essentially synonymous with personality. And he proposed that in order for a person to develop and maintain an experience of a cohesive self, two needs must be met: a need to be “mirrored” (have one’s actions and desires reflected by caregivers) and a need to experience an “other” as idealized.
Mirroring happens when a caregiver bonds with, reflects back, and accepts the person. This satisfies the need to feel ultimately valued and leads to a healthy version of self worth (not overblown). This is referred to as healthy grandiosity. I once witnessed a father encouraging his son during psychological testing. Every time the boy answered a question, right or wrong, he would say, “You are my champion!” The boy beamed! One need met, one to go.
Even though the self is feeling grandiose, a need to experience the caregiver as idealized, larger, and stronger remains. For healthy personality to develop there should be a balance between the grandiose self and the idealized other. A person can be both confident and secure with others at the same time, and these two poles form the core of the personality, according to Kohut.
Object Relations theory is not really one theory but rather a collection of theories from a variety of thinkers. Four well-known contributors to this body of thought are Melanie Klein, Ronald Fairbairn, D. W. Winnicott, and Margaret Mahler. Mahler developed a nice synthesis of much of the others’ works, so she is the main focus for this discussion.
All of the object relations contributors basically share two broad emphases:
The idea that a person’s pattern of relating to others is established during the interactions of early childhood
The assumption that whatever pattern is formed, it tends to recur over and over again throughout a person’s life
Mahler stated that babies are born without the ability to distinguish themselves from things that are “not self.” This proposes that infants are in a virtual state of psychological fusion with the objects in their environment.
For those of you who are mothers and have carried a baby, you may know a little about this. In reality, a mother and her fetus are biologically intertwined. They’re not joined at the hip, just seemingly everywhere else. They are physically connected; when one thing happens to the mother, it also happens to the fetus and vice versa.
Mahler extended the idea to a more psychological sense. When an infant is born, she is in a state of personality fusion with her mother or primary caregiver. Is this because of the beautiful, harmonious love that they share for each other? Not exactly. This fusion is more a function of the dependency of the infant and her undeveloped survival skills.
As a person grows and personality develops, this fusion breaks down, and an infant gradually develops a more differentiated personality that is separate and distinct from her mother’s personality — and others’ as well.
With the goal of a completely differentiated personality in mind, here are the stages of personality development presented by Mahler:
Autistic stage (birth to 2 months): The infant is in a sleeplike state of psychological isolation that’s similar to being in the womb. This is a time of total union; the baby can’t tell the difference between himself and his mother. In the infant’s mind, the mother is an extension of himself. The autistic stage is a closed system, and all emotional energy remains referenced to the baby’s own body, not directed outward to external objects.
Symbiosis (2 to 6 months): Now, a dim awareness of an “other” begins to emerge. This other is experienced as something that satisfies hunger, thirst, and other discomforts. The relationship is as if the other exists only to serve the baby’s needs. (Sometimes I think old-fashioned husbands think this about their wives!) There is still no distinction made between “I” and “you,” though. We are one and the same.
Hatching (6 to 10 months): At this point, the infant’s world begins to open up a little bit and expand. “Hatching” is a sense of difference between the infant and the objects in her environment. However, this can be a scary thing, and the comfort of symbiosis is not long forgotten.
As infants begin to psychologically open up to the big, bad world, they often require something to take with them on their journey. This comforting thing is called a transitional object. Remember Linus from Peanuts? He took his blanket, his transitional object, everywhere. It comforted him. Linus seemed a little older than 10 months, so he clearly had some issues.
Infants also develop stranger anxiety during hatching. Stranger anxiety is the feeling of being wary and sometimes even fearful of people you’ve never seen or met before.
Practicing (10 to 16 months): This is the stage in which little Johnny gets carried away with his independence. Children are fully aware of their separateness here, and they try out their independence. Some psychologists think that kids go through this stage again when they hit their teens. Ever hear a child at this age use the word no? I bet you have! Repeated use of no is a great example of “practicing” independence. So the next time some bratty 15-month-old kid yells, “No!” at you, just be patient. They’ll soon realize that they’re in this big scary world all by themselves. Sounds a little cruel, huh?
Rapprochement (16 to 24 months): Just when Junior thinks he’s running the show, something starts to happen to his confidence — he realizes he’s all alone. That can be pretty scary for anyone, but especially for a 11⁄2-year-old child. The solution? Reengage with mommy! This is like running back home after not being able to make rent in your first apartment, although I’m not sure how embarrassed the 20-month-old is.
Object constancy (24 to 36 months): After a child returns home so to speak, he is eventually able to develop a strong enough sense of self and security to go out on his psychological own again. This stable sense of self is developed in part by the child realizing that some consistency exists between his fluctuating moods and his mental states. It may sound kind of strange to think that just because there’s a change in mood, a pre-object constancy child would experience a less stable sense of himself, but he does. Before this stage, with each passing mood and thought, children experience uncertainty about their identity. But as this stage begins, children develop a more sure sense of themselves.
Learning from Others
The subject of television and violence has caused a lot of controversy over the last few years. Many people believe that the constant barrage of violent images is creating a more violent character for our society. There’s little argument that violence in US schools is higher today than ever before, but why?
Violence is a complex issue, and many causes and explanations for it have been put on the table. Some theories suggest that there are simply more violent personalities in the world. After all of the personality theories discussed so far, what do you think about the concept of a violent personality?
In 1977, Albert Bandura conducted a now-famous study that looked into the possibility of a violent personality and turned his theory into a broader theory of personality. The experiment is now called the Bobo Doll study. Bobo dolls are those plastic blow-up figures with a weighted bottom that bounce back when you hit or kick them. The experiment consisted of an adult punching and kicking a Bobo doll while a young child watches. Then, the child is put into the room with the Bobo doll by himself. Can you guess what happens? Little Johnny turns into Little Rocky. He punches and kicks that Bobo doll just like he saw the adult do it.
Bandura’s social-learning theory explains this phenomenon. Basically, people can learn something just by watching or observing it. This is one of those “no duh!” theories in psychology. But hey, no one else put the theory out there the way Bandura did. Social-learning theory has become a powerful theory of personality and its development. Our personalities are a product of our observational learning experiences from those around us. We’re all just a bunch of copycats. If you see your parents being obnoxious, you probably act obnoxious, too.
Bandura continued to add to his copycat theory of personality by addressing the question of why people do what they do. In other words, what motivates people to act in certain ways?
He introduced two very important concepts to address this:
Self-efficacy is a personal belief in one’s ability to successfully perform a behavior. This belief is based on what Bandura called the self-appraisal process, which is simply an analysis of one’s actions — an evaluation of successes and failures. A sense of one’s capabilities arises from this process, and a person is motivated by her beliefs about her ability to succeed and inhibited by expected failures. You do what you think you can do and vice versa.
Self-reinforcement is as simple as giving yourself rewards for doing things. Some parents give their children rewards or reinforcement for doing their homework or cleaning their room. Bandura believed that everyone does this for themselves to some extent and that most people would benefit from doing more of it. So the next time you do something, give yourself a little reward. It will help your self-efficacy.
Some psychologists emphasize the way people represent themselves and their experiences of the world as core aspects of personality and behavior. You’ve probably been to an office party or holiday party at school where some genius tries to be helpful by giving everyone a nametag. I’m always tempted to put something goofy on mine or to use someone else’s name.
The tag is a crude form of representation, or presentation, of yourself to other people. Sometimes I put a nickname on mine — I’ve had a few. Nicknames are good examples of a “tag” that tells you a little more about a person than her everyday name. When you meet someone nicknamed “Stinky” or “Psycho,” you get a different impression than you would from “Lefty” or “Slim.”
Nametags, nicknames, and common names are all examples of representations of who you are. They are convenient and shortened ways to organize a whole lot of information about someone. Ever have a conversation about a movie and forget the name of the main actor? “You know, that guy who was in that one movie with that one woman?” Just saying “Brad Pitt” is so much easier than explaining the person’s characteristics every time you want to talk about him. This way of organizing information about people and the world is the product of the human mind’s tendency to impose order and structure on our experiences.
The structured representation of experience is based on recurrences of similar qualities of a person or experience across repeated events. This order takes the form of schemas, or mental constructs for “Joe,” “Brad Pitt,” or “me.” Joe is my neighbor who plays his music too loud. Brad Pitt is a famous actor that every man envies. Me? I’m that guy who envies Brad Pitt. After these structured representations of the self and others are developed, people can use them to recognize and understand newly encountered information; the representations influence how a person interacts with the world.
Unhelpful schemas are emphasized in schema-focused therapy developed by Dr. Jeffery Young.
Cognitive personality psychologists emphasize the schema-based representation of experience as the central organizing construct in human personality. Two basic types of schemas play a role in establishing regularities and patterns of personality: self-schemas and socially relevant schemas.
Self-schemas are the organized units of information about yourself; sometimes these are called self-concepts. What is the concept of “you” or “me”? An in-depth discussion of how a person’s identity is developed is beyond the scope of this section, but, exact details aside, your identity is represented in the form of schemas.
Social-schemas are integrated conceptual networks that incorporate your own sense of identity and others’ opinions of you. These schemas provide detailed information about someone, ranging from demographics (such as how old someone is) to his values, and this information can be updated automatically through experience or revised through conscious attention and effort.
Socially relevant schemas involve the representation of categories of other people, environments, social behavior, and stereotyped expectations. These are sometimes called scripts, organized sequences of actions typically expected in various situations. Is an actor in a movie presenting his off-screen personality or simply acting out a script that tells him how to act, when to speak, when to cry, and so on? It’s a script, of course.
Imagine, now, that everyone you see in a day is acting out a “personality” script of his or her own, written by the author of experience and development. These scripts determine the how they act out — what they say and do. This is the gist of the scripts theory of personality. Pretty simple, right?
Not so fast! A sense that personalities are actually quite complex holds water. Walter Mischel (1980) attempted to add some flavor to the rather dry basic version of personality scripts. He introduced five ways that an individual person’s personality is more than just scripted by a situation: competencies, encoding strategies, expectancies, subjective values, and self-regulatory mechanisms.
There is so much more to personality than meets the eye, and one important aspect of personality is an individual’s unique collection of skills and abilities for solving problems and analyzing the world. Mischel called these competencies.
How you engage and overcome the challenges in your life, in part, defines your personality. Are you a “go-getter” or an “analyzer”? Have you ever built something like an extra room, a playhouse, or maybe a doghouse? How did you go about doing it? Some people sit down and figure everything out in advance, drawing out a blueprint with precise measurements and specifications. Others just get what supplies they think they may need and figure it out as they go along. A good way to test yourself is with something I call the “Directions Test.” When you buy something that needs to be assembled, do you look at the instructions, or do you toss them to the side?
Because cognitive personality theory puts so much emphasis on information and how it is stored and interpreted, an important aspect of personality involves the strategies and constructs used to organize information. This is the process of building those complex schemas and scripts that eventually guide your behavior. Encoding strategies are a person’s unique way of managing and interpreting the world. It is pretty easy for two people to witness the exact same event and come up with two entirely different interpretations of it. Anyone who’s ever had an argument with a wife, husband, or significant other can vouch for that!
You’re only as special as your expectations of a situation. Are you an eternal optimist or a pessimist? Expectancies consist of expectations or predictions that one event will necessarily follow another. These expectations set up the rules for what to do and how to manage specific situations. If the rules match the reality of a situation, then the behavior will be effective, and a feeling of mastery will develop. If not, I guess the only option is to keep on trying.
Do you work for free? Not many of us do. Most of us work for the incentive of getting paid. Incentives act as motivators toward a certain behavior. People are not all tempted by the same things, though. Subjective values represent what things are important to individuals and determine what they are willing to do to earn them. Hey, if you like getting little golden stars on your paycheck instead of a raise for a job well done, knock yourself out. That’s what makes you so unique.
What are your goals in life? Do you have a master plan or a blueprint? You may not realize it, but according to Mischel, all of us have what he called self-regulatory systems and plans. You set a goal, you go for it, you analyze whether you meet that goal or not, and you make the necessary adjustments. Each of us has a unique way of doing this that characterizes our personal style.
Ultimately, according to this representational view of personality, how a person sees themselves and views the world, and the ways that these views get planned out in the form of behavioral blueprints represent personality.
Getting the Magic Number 5
Aren’t people just born with their personality? Maybe instead of all those psychodynamics of Freud and the relating objects of Kohut and Klein, there are just fixed qualities of “personhood” present from the beginning. This is essentially the position of Trait theories of personality. Trait theories are derived from directly describing and measuring characteristics found in the general population and are not tied to any particular theory such as psychoanalytic or cognitive theory. A trait is a stable feature of someone’s personality that leads him or her to behave or think in a particular way. Traits don’t vary from situation to situation. They travel with a person across situations and circumstances.
Trait theories propose that there are a core set of personality traits that exist to varying degrees in all people as a common and universal feature of being human. Humans walk upright and have one heart, large brains, and personality traits. Dogs, on the other hand, walk on four legs, have one heart, medium brains, and no personality traits. Wait a minute; I know some dog-lovers out there just stopped reading. Relax, I’m sure Rover has some traits, but that’s another subject.
Gordon Allport (1897—1967) approached personality from a different perspective than other psychologists. He studied language as a means to determine what traits constituted the core of personality. Allport examined words used to describe people and pared them down into three essential categories of traits:
Cardinal traits: A single characteristic that guides the majority of a person’s actions. Think of one personality feature that best describes someone you know: cool, kind, hotheaded, or arrogant.
Central traits: The 5 to 10 main traits that make up a person’s major personality features. For example, when describing your sweetheart, you may refer to these characteristics: funny, considerate, intellectual, passive, and genuine.
Secondary traits: Less influential characteristics that affect fewer situations than the more predominant traits.
Allport essentially started the method of trying to filter personality from a large list of descriptors to a core short list of traits. Another psychologist, Raymond Cattell, continued this method and developed a personality test (for details on personality testing, see Chapter 14) that measured 16 (core) traits, called the 16pf (16 personality factors).
Still another psychologist (Hans Eysenck) went even further using the same method and concluded that all personality consists of varying degrees of three traits:
Extraversion: Sociable, outgoing, active
Neuroticism: Tense, anxious, guilty
Psychoticism: Aggressive, cold, egocentric
The culmination of the trait approach over years and years of personality research resulted in an empirically acceptable and generally well-regarded trait model of personality known as the Big Five. This model establishes a set of five traits that are considered the most core features of personality. Think of each factor as a continuum of high and low levels of these featured traits:
Openness to Experience: An “open” person is independent rather than conforming, more imaginative than practical, and prefers variety over routine.
Conscientiousness: A conscientious person is careful rather than careless, disciplined and not impulsive, and well-organized.
Extraversion: Extraverts are talkative, fun loving, and sociable.
Agreeability: Agreeable folks are more sympathetic than critical, kind and not cold, and appreciative.
Neuroticism: Neurotics are characteristically tense, anxious, and insecure.
What’s your “Magic 5” formula? With a list of five factors, there is a wide range of possible combinations. That leaves a fair amount of room for individuality and considering that these are dimensions, it may just cover the billions of people on the planet.
What's your personality like? You can take a free mock personality test online at www.dummies.com/extras/psychology.