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Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality


Personality development is essential in a child and relates to organized behavior and attitudes which distinguish a person from others. Personality is defined by Beckmann and Wood (2017) as the dynamic system of a person that involves the person’s psychophysical systems that influences his thoughts and pattern of behaviors. It is the important and more stable aspect of a person’s behavior and according to some psychological theorists; this can be studied by looking at the person’s social and external behaviors. For example, according to Swartz et al. (2016) personality includes a variety of human actions, practically all aspects of a person – the mental, emotional, social, and physical aspects. This paper summarizes, the Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality, which is one of the most controversial theories of personality development in children.

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Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

The psychoanalysis founder and the proponent of this theory were Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). His psychoanalytic theory is a dynamic theory based on the notion that the formation of personality is governed by primarily unconscious conflicts and events which can only be understood by his thorough research QA (Pascariu, 2019). The psychoanalytical approach to the development of a child’s personality assumes that the structures of personality are mostly uninformed of why they behave in particular and are hence unconscious. In addition to this, the behavior is often heavily influenced by the ongoing struggle and conflict between the person’s instincts, unconscious motives, experiences, and societal standards (Swartz et al., 2016). Freud maintained that the personality is driven by two essential instincts: an instinct for life and a death instinct. Libido is the mental energy from the instinct of life which feeds our need for survival and development and further ensures reproduction while the death instinct represents people’s unconscious wish to die hence the destructive force of human nature.

The Structures of the Freudian Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

The psychoanalytic theory of personality development has three layers, the conscious, the pre-conscious, and the unconscious. According to Freud, the personality structure is based on three structures/characteristics: the id, ego, and superego concepts. Each of these personality traits is linked to the two others (Pascariu, 2019). The Id, Ego, and the Super-Ego are three levels of personality (Swartz et al., 2016). The Id is completely unconscious; Ego is partially conscious and Super Ego is entirely conscious. According to Freud, the interactions between these three structures have led to our personality development. Conflicts between these three structures and our efforts to find a balance between the desires of each of the three structures is what influences human behavior and how we approach it according to Pascariu, (2019). In a particular context, what balance we strike stipulates how we handle the tension between two underlying behavioral trends: our aggressive biological drives and our socialized internal control over those drives.

According to Freud, the most important aspect of the ego is that it balances the id, the superego, and the reality so that the conscious state of the person remains healthy (Swartz et al., 2016). It protects one from the stressors and anxiety by reacting in a way that messes with reality and further protects the individual’s consciousness from the unconscious thoughts and material and often threaten to enter it (Swartz et al., 2016). The id is completely unconscious which involves the instincts and the libido. It works on the principle of pleasure and uses primary thinking processes. The ego is reasonable and based on reality’s needs (the reality principles). It uses the notion of a secondary process. The superego contains the consciousness (the inner code of morality) and the id ego. The ego is under strain from id, super-ego, and reality and functions as a crossroads for all these forces. If the ego is unable to meet these demands, anxiety comes about (Swartz et al., 2016). In essence, it is the role of the ego is to act as a balancing mechanism.

The various forms of protection are reaction, repression, denial, projecting, removal, sublimation, regression, and rationalization (Pascariu, 2019). Repression, according to Freud’s theory, is one of the most powerful systems of defense against irrational impulses from the unconscious mind (Pascariu, 2019). Defense mechanisms play a significant role in driving thoughts from the conscious part. Stressful thoughts that threaten the survival of an individual should be put into an unconscious mind to relieve anxiety by repression.

Freud’s Stages to Personality Development

Freud’s psychoanalytic Theory of Personality involves four stages which a child must undergo and complete to have a fulfilled personality. Freud believed that the conflict that happens between the four stages keeps on changing as the child keeps developing into an adult. He termed these stages of personality development as the psychosexual stages because he considered sexual instinct to be the principal component underlying human development (Singh, 2020). These stages include the oral, anal, phallic, and genital. Freud states that every phase of psychosexual development is related to an erogenous zone and each stage must be resolved and the conflicts and tasks in each stage are resolved before the possibility of progression to another stage (Swartz et al., 2016). Failure to solve the conflicts and tasks of each stage leaves the individual stuck and fixated on that stage. In essence, libidinal energy is engaged in this specific step, leaving less energy for the following stages (Swartz et al., 2016). Freud thought the foundations of many and various adult personalities are linked to unsuccessfully solved psychosexual stages of development.

For instance, an individual stuck on the oral stage may be excessively concerned or fixated on activities involving the use of the mouth in particular eating and drinking (Singh, 2020). These children develop oral-passive and oral-aggressive types of personalities in that they are either dependent or sadistic. They are easily gullible and often rely on other people for gratification and those on the oral-aggressive become excessively pessimistic, hostile, aggressive, and could be manipulative or aggressive (Singh, 2020). Those stuck on the second stage, the anal, often turn out to lack self-control and those with the anal-retentive personality tend to be stingy and typically stubborn. Under the phallic stage, men fixated on this stage are often boastful, vain, and ambitious while the females are flirtatious, seductive, and naive. Furthermore, Freud believes that the fourth stage, the genital stage, requires the formulation of intimate relationships, learning to work, and postponing of gratification, and children that resolve this stage will have mature and responsible social-sexual relations.

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Zhang, (2020) comments that even if most psychodynamic theories did not use experimental research, they contributed to the development of experimental psychology through theories and methods of Psychoanalyst thinking (Zhang, 2020). Many of the personality theories advanced by the psychodynamic philosophers, such as Erikson’s idea of the psychosocial stage and Freud’s notion of the psychosexual stage, still affect today’s area (Zhang, 2020). Psychoanalysis opened up a new perspective on a mental disease that could assist relieve a person’s psychological pain by discussing psychoanalytic difficulties.

Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis has heavily impacted personality theory development especially by other well-known psychoanalytic psychologists like Anna Freud, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank (Zhang, 2020). In psychoanalysis and dreaming, Anna Freud inherited the theory of Sigmund Freud but moved focus to child psychology which is constantly used in the field of child psychology.


Freud is still felt today as a psychological trace. Speech therapy is usually linked to psychoanalysis, but therapists are also using the technique for other therapeutic techniques, such as client therapy and group therapy. It may not have been the strength of psychoanalysis in 1910, but Freud’s theories have lastingly influenced popular and psychology culture as well. While Freud is widely criticized, the significance and impact of his theory on personality psychology cannot be denied.


Beckmann, N., & Wood, R. E. (2017). Dynamic personality science. Integrating between-person stability and within-person change. Frontiers Research Topics. Web.

Pascariu, C. C. (2019). Child Personality Development – A Psychoanalytic Approach. International Journal of Education and Psychology in the Community, IJEPC, 9(1-2), 87-91.

Singh, S. (2020). Psychoanalytic theory of personality.RajRAS. Web.

Swartz, L., Rey, C. D., Duncan, N., Townsend, L., & O’Neill, V. (2016). Psychology: An introduction (4th ed.). South Africa ; New York : Oxford University Press Southern Africa.

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Zhang, S. (2020). Psychoanalysis: The influence of Freud’s theory in personality psychology. Proceedings of the International Conference on Mental Health and Humanities Education (ICMHHE 2020). Web.

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