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The Nature of Personality

Two Opinions on the Nature of Personality We often hear that people possess different personalities, but the meaning of this word is not the same when it is used by a common person compared to a professional psychologist. Trying to couch the notion of personality in the right form, many researchers face the misunderstanding of some of their colleagues as everyone sees the heart of the matter in his or her own way. Plenty of personality theories have been put forward since the notion of personality became one of the key questions of psychology. This notwithstanding, there is still a clash of opinions as the nature of identity and the way it forms are the foundation of understanding why we are who we are.

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Alfred Adler’s Personality Theory

In his theory, Alfred Adler reveals the primary reason why people do any acts and singles out different types of personalities. Thanks to his efforts, a new branch called individual psychology appeared. Adler avoided sticking to the common concepts of personality that divided it into basic constituents as he believed each personality to be indivisible. His personality theory is based on four key principles. At first, human personality is integral and unique; it cannot be decomposed as it works as a complex.

A life of any person is aimed at constant striving to reach superiority (Carlson & Slavik, 2013, p. 9). What is more, we all possess our own creative power used to make life better. Lastly, social context has a significant influence on personality formation. Everyone has a feeling of inferiority triggered by an unpleasant experience from their childhood. Struggling with this, all people want to have an ascendance over other people or enjoy the fruits of their self-improvement. In Adler’s opinion, the urgent need for self-affirmation is the primary cause of any actions.

Personality types that he singled out do not define the nature of people; they are frames that are then covered with unique features. People of the first type are aggressive, and their energy can be channeled toward gaining influence or even self-destruction. People of the second type demonstrate protective behavior; they are shy, and they lack energy. Individuals of the third type lack energy so much that they have to avoid activity and communication, and the fourth type is the most acceptable in society as these people possess energy and desire to collaborate with others.

Karen Horney’s Personality Theory

Karen Horney’s work contributed to further development of Freudian theories. Horney believed society to have the most significant impact on personality formation. According to her, an individual’s development is not influenced only by innate desires and instincts but the individual has a certain ability to manage the process of personal becoming. In her opinion, the dominant force that influences a person’s actions and behavior is a feeling of anxiety that is not realized (Schultz & Schultz, 2000, p.135). Horney compares this anxiety to a feeling experienced by a newborn child who sees this dangerous world for the first time.

Horney introduced a notion of self-image in psychology. In her opinion, overcoming a feeling of anxiety requires having a reasonable self-image. It consists of three parts: the perfect self-image of a person, the real one, and the way other people see this person. An individual demonstrating a proper personality development is likely to have no contradictions between these parts of a self-image. Nevertheless, a proper self-image does not occur often, and this is why many people experience various psychological issues.

People whose perfect and real self-images are completely different are likely to feel dissatisfaction with themselves. In her theory, Horney distinguishes three types of defense mechanisms used by people to suppress the feeling of anxiety. Consequently, there are three types of behavior: conformable, aggressive, and standoffish.

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Similarities and Differences

These two theories cannot be called similar as their authors were using different key notions during the research. Regardless, there are some things that they have in common. First, both authors consider society to be one of the factors that have a great impact on our personality development; in their opinion, it is the society that shapes our behavior and reactions to other people and circumstances.

What is more, they both believe that any behavior of an individual is a response to certain undersense that bothers him, and any type of behavior becomes a defense mechanism used to stop feeling helpless. They both consider this negative feeling to appear in one’s childhood. As for the classifications that Adler and Horney offer, they both consider an individual’s way of coming in contact with other people.

The difference between these two theories is derived from the authors’ disagreement on the primary motive of all actions of an individual. Adler supposes a feeling of inferiority to be the focal point of the individual’s development. This feeling is a result of constant pressure that children experience when communicating to adults, who have more authority and power. Unlike Adler, Horney gives the first place to the feeling of anxiety caused by uncertainty and forlornness.

Adler believes an individual’s personality to be an integrity that cannot be divided, whereas Horney develops a self-image concept where the constituents of personality are regarded separately. According to Adler, everyone uses all available means to gain superiority over somebody and satisfy his ego. Horney sees an overall goal of any behavior in experiencing the feeling of safety and winning somebody’s approval. This difference of views influenced their approaches to classifying individuals’ behavior. Adler classifies people in accordance to the energy level that defines their chance to self-actualize, and Horney’s classification describes people in accordance with the degree of their desire to be approved of by other people.

To conclude, both theories touch upon the topic of motivation and the development of individuality, but they have far more differences than similarities as their key notions do not get close to each other. Regardless, each theory is of psychological interest because both authors put significant efforts into explaining the nature of personality as they saw it.


Carlson, J., & Slavik, S. (2013). Techniques in Adlerian psychology. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2016). Theories of personality. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

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