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Psychodynamic Theory and Trait Theory of Personality

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2900 words Published: 9th Aug 2018

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The purpose of this paper is to understand the behaviour exhibited in a specific case study using Freud’s psychodynamic theory and Allport’s trait theory of personality. Personality is defined as the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of an individual that perseveres over time and different situations (Perelberg & Ebooks, 2008). Following a summary of the case study the paper will provide a brief overview of each theory and go into detail about how each theory explains the behaviour and personality of Judy, a mother who is the focus of the case study.

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Judy loves cleaning her house. She desires receiving compliments regarding her cleanliness. Judy spends every weekend cleaning. Whenever guests were invited over Judy would spend a lot of time and effort making sure her house was spotless. She would instruct the kids on acceptable conversation and organise frequent family meetings. Judy did not understand why other family members wouldn’t take cleaning seriously. A neighbour once accidently left grass clippings on her front lawn which resulted in Judy ignoring that neighbour for two years. Even though the family were not in any financial troubles Judy would force everyone to take extreme measures to save money. Judy would get mad when her friends didn’t invite her to dinner parties. She frequently criticises her friends and does not understand why someone would not want to be her friend.

The first theory that will be discussed is Freud’s psychodynamic theory. Psychodynamic theory explains personality by focusing on the conscious and unconscious motivation behind human behaviour, feeling and emotion (Shelder, 2010). Freud stressed that the mind is not a single construct, but is in fact made up of separate components. These mental processes are fuelled by sexual and aggressive urges. These urges stem from instinctual and biological drives (Perelberg & Ebooks, 2008). Some of these urges may be unacceptable on a conscious level and are repressed into the unconscious where they build up over time until they influence thoughts, feelings or behaviour.

The mind is divided into three components that house these urges. The id is an unconscious component that seeks pleasure. The superego is constructed from internalised rules and expectations. The ego mediates between the unconscious urges of the id and the firm rules of the superego. The interactions between these components determine human personality and behaviour. This model on human behaviour is called Freud’s Structural Model (Freud, 1961).

Freud proposed that adult human behaviour is influenced by childhood experiences (Freud & Hall, 2014). Specifically he proposed a model where childhood sexual development would influence adulthood personality and behaviour. Inadequate development in a psychosexual stage would result in a fixation that would negatively influence behaviour and personality later on in life.

In order to deal with these issues the mind can employ a range of defence mechanisms. Defence mechanisms are unconscious processes that distort reality to reduce unpleasant feelings and thoughts such as anxiety (Freud, 1992). These processes arise from the ego. Anxiety and other unpleasant feelings are a result of the id or superego becoming too demanding and causing distress.

The second perspective that will be used is Allport’s Trait Theory. Allport’s theory suggests that human behaviour and personality is influenced by emotional, cognitive and behavioural tendencies called traits (Allport & Allport, 1921). A trait can either be a predisposition to behave in a certain manner or it could be a personality characteristic. These traits can be used to obtain an understanding of a subject’s overall personality.

Allport organised these traits into a hierarchical structure with three levels. Cardinal traits lie at the top of the hierarchy and are traits that govern an individual’s whole behaviour or personality (Allport, 1966). Most people don’t have cardinal traits but if they do they generally only have a singular trait that dictates their behaviour and personality. The next level of traits is called central traits. These consist of general characteristics of personality present in most individuals. These traits affect behaviour the most (Allport, 1937b). The last level of traits is secondary traits which are characteristics that are only apparent when in contact with specific external stimuli. These secondary traits can conflict with central traits when activated and account for uncommon displays of behaviour which may contradict overall personality.

A major theme of Allport’s theory is that of functional autonomy, which states that adult behaviour and personality is not related to earlier experiences but behaviour first started as a drive for a separate motive which over time the desire for the drive outgrows the motive resulting in the drive being separate, or autonomous from the original drive (Allport, 1937a). Since the original motive for the behaviour is lost it is difficult to find the source or reasoning behind behavioural traits.

Freud will be the first theorist that will be used to discuss Judy’s behaviours and personality. Freud explains Judy’s excessive cleanliness due to an inadequate development of the anal stage of psychosexual development in childhood (Freud & Hall, 2014). In the anal stage, which lasts from 18 months to three years of age the child is learning to become toilet trained which is the first step in autonomy from parents. Properly developing this skill leads to a sense of accomplishment and independence.

The outcome of this stage is dependent on the methods employed by the parents to teach bowl control (Freud & Hall, 2014). If parents are too strict then the child may develop an anal-retentive personality which results in the child being orderly, rigid and obsessive. In this case study Judy is showing signs of an anal-retentive personality by her obsession on having a clean house and her strict rules on where items go in the kitchen.

This behaviour is maintained by her superego which dominates her thoughts, feelings and behaviour (Freud, 1961). Judy’s strict rules on cleanliness and order may be the reason why she is so controlling in the family’s financial situation, due to her strict nature on cleanliness carrying over to other aspects of her life such as finance.

Judy maintains order by frequently organising family meetings which are an outlet for her unconscious desires of order to manifest. Her feelings regarding her relationships with other people are repressed into her unconscious where they build up and come out via criticism to Sarah, her daughter or to the recipients face.

Judy seeks approval from her guests. This approval is a major part of her id. Judy pursues approval for her id by using strict rules from her superego to gather compliments regarding her home.

Judy’s quest for approval results in anxiety from keeping a clean house and frustration from guests not inviting her to dinner. Anxiety is a threat to the ego from impulses generated by the id (Freud, 1992). She uses defence mechanisms to reduce anxiety. Defence mechanisms are an unconscious process that distorts reality so that the threat impulses to the ego do not become conscious (Freud, 1992). Whenever someone does not want her friendship Judy uses denial to ignore any criticisms she may have said which resulted in her loss of friendship. She may repress any memories where she acted in a way that is not friendly.

To gain more information a psychodynamic psychologist would use performance based measures such as a projective test or free association (MacCann, Matthews, Zeidner, & Roberts, 2003). Performance based measures reveal underlying attitudes and implicit motivations due to their indirect nature. These tests do not provide information about what the subject is thinking or feeling.

A specific measure that would be used to gather more information is free association (Oxburgh & Dando, 2011). Free association is a psychoanalytic technique where the individual is allowed to talk about whatever thoughts come to mind. This is an indirect measure that can provide information on an individual’s thoughts and feelings. The therapist would listen and take notes to try and find any underlying unconscious motivation to gain a better understanding of the individual’s personality and behaviour. This method can reveal dispositions about personality and behaviour that an individual is not consciously aware of possessing.

The second theorist that will be used is Allport. Judy is obsessive to the point that it is classed as a cardinal trait. Her obsessive trait affects nearly every other aspect of her personality and behaviour. Her main high central traits are authoritative, economical, cleanly and sociable, which are all affected by her cardinal trait. These trait names are from Allport’s list of trait names that best define personality (Allport & Odbert, 1936).

Judy’s authoritative trait is evident in the way she informs her children on proper conversation topics and when organising family meetings to discuss the proper procedure and location of items. Her economical trait is shown through her strict rules governing her family’s finances. This is a clear example of how her cardinal trait has affected a central trait to the extreme. The trait of cleanliness is clearly shown to be an important trait of her personality as evident by her passionate cleaning ritual. Her sociability has a secondary trait where she gets angry when someone disrupts her clean home, shown by the neighbour who she ignored for two years. Judy also gets frustrated when other family members don’t see the value in keeping the home organised and clean, further supporting her secondary trait.

One method to gain more information on Judy’s personality and behaviour can be to administer a self-report inventory such as the California Personality Inventory (CPI). The CPI is an inventory that measures personality traits (Groth-Marnat & Mullard, 2010). The questions on the CPI relate to normal behaviours, feelings and attitudes regarding family and social matters.

Self-report inventories directly measure how a person thinks and feels (MacCann, et al., 2003). Due to this explicit method the inventory is a good way to identify personality states and other behavioural traits that they can recognize about themselves.

The two different perspectives share many similarities in their assessment of Judy’s behaviour and personality. Both perspectives conclude that her obsessive reliance on strict rules is a major factor in her philosophy on financial matters. Both perspectives believe that a certain characteristic (obsessiveness/cleanliness), dominates her whole personality and its effect carries over into other aspects of her personality and behaviour. Lastly both perspectives agree that her frustration at not being invited out to dinner parties by her friends is social in nature.

Although the two perspectives seem to come to similar conclusions regarding Judy’s behaviour there are a couple of major differences. Freud’s perspective believes that her obsession towards cleanliness is due to a childhood experience concerning toilet training while Allport believes that cardinal traits such as this are developed later on in life and due to functional autonomy it is not possible to find out the cause of this trait.

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Freud’s theory has many positive benefits. It is a theory that is based on experimental psychology and it explains characteristics of personality (Freud & Hall, 2014). Unfortunately the theory has an overemphasis on the unconsciousness and relies too heavily on childhood experiences (Perelberg & Ebooks, 2008). The theory is mainly backed by data gathered via case studies and clinical observations which are not reliable as data gathered from a wide range of sources.

Allport’s theory is based on objective and statistical data (Allport, 1966). There are no biases compared to Freud whose relationship with his mother is said to have greatly influenced his work (Allport & Allport, 1921). The theory can account for any behavioural or personality aspect with traits. The theory itself is easy to understand and can be used with many different assessment measures.

There are a few negative connotations with Allport’s perspective. The theory is a poor predictor of future personality and behaviour since the theory does not explain how traits are maintained (Bertocci, 1940). The theory does not discuss how the traits themselves have developed nor does the theory explain how personality works due to functional autonomy. There is also some discrepancy on the consistency of traits although that is partially explained via secondary traits. Allport’s theory does not take into account ecological, social or situational factors that may affect behaviour or personality. The definition of trait is broad and includes attitudes, habit and other tendencies such as need under one classification which may decrease the validity of traits.

Freud’s perspective states that Judy’s major behavioural and personality attributes are due to an inadequate development in her childhood anal psychosexual development stage which has caused Judy to exhibit an anal-retentive personality that affects her behaviour negatively. Her behaviour results in the production of anxiety and Judy uses ego defence mechanisms to reduce anxiety. More information about Judy’s personality and behaviour can be gathered via free association.

Allport’s perspective suggests that Judy’s behaviour and personality is due to a cardinal trait of obsessiveness which affects every other aspect of her personality from keeping her house clean and organised to managing her family’s finances. More information about Judy’s personality can be gained by conducting a self-report inventory on personality.

Both perspectives focused on different aspects of Judy’s personality. Freud’s theory focused on the unconscious motivation behind Judy’s actions while Allport looked at the actions in detail. They both came to similar conclusions in that Judy is obsessive and that this is negatively affecting her relationships.


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