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.


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.

Personality – in the stars? Or me?

There was a time I used to write about zodiac signs – not so much because I was an avid believer in human destiny ruled by stars but because I was paid to do so!

Soon though my web content-writing assignment topics – strange though they initially seemed to me – piqued my interest and I began wondering whether there was any truth to the notion of behavioural traits influenced by zodiac signs.

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With my birthday a couple of days away, I thought this would make a timely topic for a blog post. So let’s see how much I do and do not agree with characteristics typically ascribed to a Sagittarian:

Most definitely, a higher purpose in life motivates me – what I do, has to be more than about just making money, interacting socially, keeping home and so on. Like the Archer’s gaze, I like to aim higher and like Jupiter – the reigning deity of this zodiac – it is usually at something that will further my search for wisdom. Naturally my greatest pleasure is travel and fear, being constrained emotionally, psychologically, physically. Among the usual Sagittarian follies are an incorrigible tendency for social faux pas and I guess, a limited ability to see into people.


Then again, there are so many traits supposedly associated with this zodiac which I barely find within myself – optimism is unfortunately not my strong point and neither do I badger people with my lets-save-the-world ideas. I don’t gloss over details in a project; nor do I forget to pick up the laundry! Again, though I value the truth, I hardly go around forcing it down others’ throats.

…so what can we make of such zodiac personality traits? Astrologers and experts will point out that there are complex factors involved in the determination of a personality type – the date of birth being only one among many. My own studies in psychology have acquainted me with a plethora of personality theories ranging from psychoanalytic and behaviourist to humanist and those based in physical traits and genetics.

At the end of the day, I like to believe that rather than being cast in a type I am a work in progress – I think, do, bond – sometimes goof up, other times succeed – but most importantly, I never stop trying!