Overview of Personality theories

Personality can be defined, very simply, as a unique set of characteristics that determines a person’s identity and behavioural patterns. The 4 major theories of personality were proposed by:

matryoshka-970943_960_720Sigmund Freud – according to him personality has 3 components – the id, ego and superego. The id is driven by Will to Pleasure while the superego always tries to restrain this.  The main task of the ego is to achieve a realistic balance between the two. To cope with constantly changing – or dynamic – psychological conflicts among these 3 components, humans develop characteristic defences. So according to the psychodynamic theory of personality, personality is the individual’s pattern of behaviour to resolve these conflicts.

Carl Rogers – Rogers and Maslow propounded the Humanistic theory of personality.  According to them humans strive towards an ideal of self-fulfilment or self-actualization. Personality thus depends on a person’s unique perceptions and experiences.


Alfred Adler – He said that the drive to overcome inferiority and the ‘Will to Power’ provides the primary motivation behind human behaviour. Adler started out as a Freudian but then went on to develop his own theory of personality, sometimes known as Individual Psychology.

Victor Frankl – A survivor of Nazi concentration camp, Frankl believed that the Will to Meaning provides the fundamental motivating drive,  since people are confronted with the need to detect and find meaning or purpose all their lives. This provided the basis for Logotherapy devised by Frankl. He is associated with Existentialist theory of personality.


3 Stoic Lessons for Today

Recently I finished The Manual for Living by Epictetus, the 1st century Roman Stoic philosopher. Stoics in popular usage now unfortunately signify dour-faced, kill-joys, intent on adopting a long-suffering attitude of forbearance.



Image Courtesy: iamfearlesssoul.com

Nothing could be farther from truth, though. Stoicism actually is all about treading lightly through the minefield of human drama, taking pleasure in the simple fact of existing today without pining for the past, nor obsessing about the future. But while such equanimity holds good for all ages and places, here are 3 precepts by Epictetus that could light the way in this day and age.

  1. Use Reason – in these times when emotions run high on matters of food, dress, temple visits, movies and governance, no wonder we are quick to give and quicker to take offence. Epictetus advises to be guided only Reason and nothing else. This will help you differentiate between fact and opinion, truths and falsehoods besides training your mind to think clearly and for yourself alone.
  2. Avoid popular entertainment – in our times, this would cover the mind-numbing hours spent on social media, aimless party-hopping, futile shopping – all indulged in order to fill a fundamental vacuum in the spirit. Instead take charge of your self-development – read good books, practice music or a sport, support a cause or even travel to connect with other cultures and people.
  3. Decide who you want to be – if anything, today we are confused by too many choices. Do you want to be like that celebrity singer, scientist, entrepreneur, sportsperson – so many idols and options to choose from!
Who Do You Want to Be?

Which could be good in a way – even 50 years back, life, career and relationship choices were starkly limited for many people around the world. But unless you first define who you want to be, you will end up with indecision and many false starts. So identify your goals first, write down all that it would take to reach there, make a plan based on your resources and then – get moving!

How Kids Grow…Erikson’s theory explained

At a time when Sigmund Freud was the toast of the Viennese scientific society, a young artist quietly worked as a tutor for a family friend of the reputed psychologist. Known to Freud socially, this young painter could not help being influenced by the former’s psycho-sexual theory of the development of children. And yet Erik H. Erikson – the young artist – would fundamentally differ by placing more importance on the social component of childhood influences. The resulting psychosocial theory of development would eventually go on to become a highly influential, if not a rigorously researched, explanation of development of human behaviour.

According to Erikson, a person passed through eight stages of development through life – each stage was marked by contrary impulses and presented both an opportunity and challenge, that he termed ‘crises’. He theorized that an individual’s experience at each stage helped determine the broad traits of his/her personality in future stages. The five stages of childhood were:

  • Trust/mistrust
  • Autonomy/shame, doubt
  • Initiative/guilt
  • Industry/inferiority
  • Identity/role confusion


Erikson also differed from Freud in including the adult years also in his theory of development. These were marked by

  • Intimacy/isolation – the young man or woman who achieved a strong sense of personal identity and productivity in the previous teen phase now turns to forming stronger ties with others – especially intimate ones like romance, marriage but also others like camaraderie of young soldiers or workers. The failure to develop a sense of self during adolescence can result lingering role confusion, leading to a sense of isolation and loneliness.
  • Generativity/self-absorption – At middle age, the individual tends to develop a greater desire of contributing to future generations – whether their own growing children or taking mentor roles in workplace and larger society. The other side is a deeper self-absorption making the middle-aged person turn inwards – characterized by workaholism for instance.
  • Integrity/despair – Finally an individual reaches the stage where he/she pulls the strands of a lifetime together – if he/she finds only lost opportunities and failures, this last stage is marked by despair but if he/she sees success and a life well lived, this stage is characterized by integrity.


Recent social trends however has led to re-evaluating by researchers of the boundaries of “middle age” and “old age”. While advancing years do increase the likelihood of physical problems, modern developmental researchers emphasise that elderly humans can continue to develop.

Understanding Attachment Theory

The other day, I was teaching Inter-personal Behaviour and one of the theories that explained it was Attachment Theory. Considering how extensive and complex this theory is, I merely touched upon its meaning and passed on to others like Uncertainty Reduction, Social Exchange and Dialectical theories.


Here is then a little more on Attachment Theory.

According to proponents of Attachment Theory, the quality of the early parent-child relationship influences later social relationships of all kinds. Thus children with “secure attachments” – whose needs of hunger and comfort were definitively met – are believed to fare better in their adult relationships as compared to children with “anxious attachments” – whose needs are unfulfilled or under-fulfilled.

Children closer to mothers were found in some research to be comparatively more socially active. They were more likely to be sympathetic to problems of their friends, to make suggestions and even more sought out by peers. This led psychologists to believe that it was possible to predict future social adjustments by examining parent-child interactions during the early months of life – in other words the kinds of attachment individuals form at beginning of their lives with their primary care-givers impacts their future inter-personal relationships.

Image Courtesy: ckwsaxton.wordpress.com

Apart from explaining inter-personal relationships, Attachment Theory plays a significant role in Family Therapy – as in the works of John Bowlby who was actually the first to coin the term. In fact a variation, propounded by Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, also figured as a possible cause for schizophrenia.  However later psychologists have pointed out that the theory places the entire burden of social adjustment of the child on a single gender – the mother. Nevertheless Attachment Theory is often thought to be quite effective in understanding how adult relationships continue to be influenced by one’s experiences with primary care givers in early childhood.

So let me know more about your attachment styles and how it has played out on your relationships…


Self-Motivation Simplified

Motivation, at its simplest, can be understood as a set of conditions which activate, direct and maintain behaviour towards some goal.


Self-motivation is a little different – it happens when motivation is conscious and self-generated.

Here are a few ways to bring about a self-motivation spike:

  • Choose goals wisely – Make sure you keep working towards your goals by linking them to your core values. If you enjoy financial success, it will be hard to remain motivated by working for someone where you are paid less than the market standard. On the other hand if prestige and influence over people is important to you, then you can remain motivated in a position even if it doesn’t pay well.

Again be open to tweaking your goals as you move ahead. For example if the world           vacation that you had planned for your 40th birthday appears to be getting pricier,           rather than slaving at work for the next 10 years, adjust your goal to maybe 5 of                 your favourite cities in a continent. Naturally, goals are not meant to be changed                 entirely, just adjusted from time to time.

  • Enhance the journey – Begin the day right – perhaps with a stroll in the sun, a ten-minute chat with your plants or a steaming cup of your favourite brew without any disturbance. When the going gets tough, link the process of working to your goals to good feelings – like soothing music and pleasant fragrances.
  • Seek help -There are self-help resources galore these days – inspirational books, podcasts, online videos and of course blog posts like these 🙂 to keep you going.


  • Reward yourself – only when you have actually achieved a goal or perhaps a part of it; but ensure that your reward is commensurate with the goal.
  • Focus on the positives – appreciate your assets like good health or a supportive family; See far you have come rather than always worrying about how much you should have achieved by now.
  • Finally learn to differentiate between what is in your control and what is not. Be flexible about the latter and work hard to realize the former.


When Worth Meets a Wall – 3 Tips to Help You Bounce Back

Merit + Hard Work = Success/Appreciation.  Right?

Not Necessarily, actually!


One of the biggest myths of contemporary popular culture hinges on a direct causal relationship between merit and success. Shows like Big Bang Theory and movies like The Pursuit of Happyness would have you believe that even if you are socially awkward like Sheldon in the former or on your own like Gardner in the latter, eventually the world is compelled to recognize your worth and reward you.

Fact is, it always doesn’t work like that. If you are good at your work and wish you prove that at your workplace, your co-workers, boss and even the organization may not always be willing to give you the opportunity – no matter that it would benefit others more than anything you would make out of it.

Met with opposition, you prove your superior capability, turn on your charm and when nothing works, You push harder! Of course it all backfires. At best, you end up where you started and at worst, you are thrown out. Before you, even with all your genius and dedication, find yourself with a pink slip, here are 3 ways to meet rejection:

  • First out, do not take it personally. Realize that the organization is not yet ready for your innovation. Your boss may not want you to get credit for any good work while your co-workers may be plain jealous of you being better than them. The rejection is not always a reflection of your worth – it is the outcome of many different emotional and organizational processes.
  • Diversify – Remember the old adage, when a door closes, look for a window! Explore other organizations, mentors or even online platforms where your ideas and skills will be appreciated more. The road is bound to be long and hard but it is better than being stuck at one place. And you never know who might like your vision or where you might be a better fit.
  • Finally, do not anchor your self-worth in work. Be thankful just for the fact that you are alive. Practice gratitude exercises and appreciate all that you have been blessed with – perhaps a loving spouse, loyal pet, pretty home and other skills like baking or photography.


In 1984 the global computer industry was transformed by the launch of the Macintosh computer. But just the next year, the company fired the very man behind the major innovation – Steve Jobs. And yet he went on to design the most iconic devices and emerged as one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all times.

Whether or not you reach such heights, have confidence in your worth – Keep trying but differently!

3 Freedoms for India

Each time I go back to Tagore’s famous poem, ” Where the Mind is Without Fear…” I am stunned into reflection on how vastly relevant it is now, more than a century later when it was written in 1913. After a morning of rumination on Independence Day, here are three freedoms that I believe India needs today.


Freedom from violence

This fundamental trait distinguishes life in a civil society from one in a jungle. Each citizen of India and especially  oppressed and subjugated groups in our country – across gender, class, caste and tribe – deserve freedom from violence. And by this I include violence directed at a woman for travelling in public transport at night, at a child simply for being an orphan, at a Dalit for drinking water from a well, at a tribal for demanding education, at trees and forests to make way for garish hotels, at historical monuments without which we lose our heritage ….and all such atrocities which are simply unacceptable in this age. And the cesspool which feeds this Hydra of Violence is naturally, Corruption – the most insidious, toxic and destructive form of violence perpetuated on the people.

Freedom to lifestyle

If I am not eating your food, wearing your dress, living in your home, playing in your yard  – then I should be allowed to eat, wear, pray, drive, run, sing, write, walk, socialize as and how I please. Work is a contentious issue made murkier by reservation policies – even then if I have all the skills, then my gender and origin should not bar me from working where I want to.


Freedom to opinion

That’s right – you have a right to your opinion as I have to mine. At best we can learn from each other’s point of view , at worst we can agree to disagree. Politely Please. No need to threaten me or my family members with rape. Of course this will be comprehensible only to people who know the difference between expressing an opinion and exhorting multitudes from city pulpits to violence. But there are legal experts who can hopefully clarify such trivial points for those devoid of Reason or Ethics.

There are so many other freedoms that can be added to the list. Can you think of more what India needs today? Tell me….