Assess the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Psychodynamic Approach to Understanding Personality

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Assess the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Psychodynamic approach to understanding personality

The psychodynamic approach was proposed by Freud. This approach towards personality is based on the notion of underlying forces such as the id, ego and superego which are either present from birth or develop during childhood shape our behaviour and personality as such. Experiences in childhood are proposed to be the basis of human personality, according to Freud and as such Psychodynamic theory proposes that some undesirable unbalances between the id and superego can create the arising of ego defence mechanisms which explain individual differences in behaviour. Freudian theory has been adapted by neo-Freudians, however while psychodynamic theories and treatments from which are still often used and widely known across the world, other theories of personality offer completely different approaches to human individuality and explanations diverge and provide weaknesses for Psychodynamic theory.

Firstly, a brief account of psychodynamic theory. Freud proposed that there are three key elements to the structure of a personality; the id, ego and superego. Firstly the id is present from birth and represents the pleasure principle; in other words this aspect of the unconscious involves instinctive and primitive behaviours which seek immediate gratification. The superego on the other hand is the aspect of personality that holds our internalised moral standards, usually developing through experiences and teaching from parents, society and peers. The superego gives humans a sense of right and wrong. Lastly, the ego deals and seeks out reality – encapsulates the reality principle. The ego ensures the impulses of the id are expressed in an acceptable manner, in addition the ego balances the id and superego. The development of the ego and superego alongside the id is proposed via the psychosexual stages of development in which the individual becomes focus on erogenous zones and tackles obstacles which shape the ego and superego; during these stages fixations can occur which can create abnormal behaviour and personality. The stages include the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latency stage and finally the genital stage, by the end of which psychodynamic theory assumes personality is fixed. However, the ego often comes under unconscious conflicts between the id and superego, arising in the use of ego defence mechanisms. These are used when the ego cannot deal with demands of our desires, the constraints of reality and our own moral standards. Defences are used to conserve energy, tackling problems of personality that cause anxiety instead of addressing this explicitly. Defence mechanisms can be mature (highly adaptive, found in emotionally healthy humans) such as sublimation which transforms negative emotions or instincts into positive action, behaviour or emotion, also identification is another in which defences use the unconscious modelling of one’s self upon another person’s character and behaviour. On the other hand they can be immature (highly maladaptive, found in emotionally unhealthy humans) some of these include denial in which material causing conflict is ignored or unacknowledged, or projection by which their own unacceptable impulses are incorrectly thought to belong to another.

The psychodynamic approach’s key strength is that this was the first approach of personality to try and attempt to explain mental illnesses and personality formation in terms of psychology. This psychodynamic theory had enormous influence in the development of the field of psychology today and brought around a new approach to the study of personality and individual differences. The psychodynamic theory cannot be mentioned without the recognition that it has shaped and influenced the majority of psychology, even into modern times. Since Freud’s initial interpretation of psychodynamic approach to personality, many neo-Freudians have...
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