The Freudian Theory of Personality

Freudian Theory of Personality

Sigmund Freud is considered to be the father of psychiatry. Among his many accomplishments is, arguably, the most far-reaching personality schema in psychology: the Freudian theory of personality. It has been the focus of many additions, modifications, and various interpretations given to its core points. Despite many reincarnations, Freud’s theory is criticized by many (e.g. for its perceived sexism) and it remains the focus of hot discussions on its relevance today.


Freud was a one of a kind thinker. There can be little question that he was influenced by earlier thinking regarding the human mind, especially the idea of there being activity within the mind at a conscious and unconscious level yet his approach to these topics was largely conceptual. His theoretical thoughts were as original as they were unique. It is a testament to Freud’s mind to know that whether you agree, disagree, or are ambivalent about his theory, it remains as a theoretical cornerstone in his field of expertise.


Human Personality: The adult personality emerges as a composite of early childhood experiences, based on how these experiences are consciously and unconsciously processed within human developmental stages, and how these experiences shape the personality.

Not every person completes the necessary tasks of every developmental stage. When they don’t, the results can be a mental condition requiring psychoanalysis to achieve proper functioning.

Stages of Development

Believing that most human suffering is determined during childhood development, Freud placed emphasis on the five stages of psychosexual development. As a child passes through these stages unresolved conflicts between physical drives and social expectation may arise.

These stages are:

  • Oral (0 – 1.5 years of age): Fixation on all things oral. If not satisfactorily met there is the likelihood of developing negative oral habits or behaviors.
  • Anal (1.5 to 3 years of age): As indicated this stage is primarily related to developing healthy toilet training habits.
  • Phallic (3 – 5 year of age): The development of healthy substitutes for the sexual attraction boys and girls have toward a parent of the opposite gender.
  • Latency (5 – 12 years of age): The development of healthy dormant sexual feelings for the opposite sex.
  • Genital (12 – adulthood): All tasks from the previous four stages are integrated into the mind allowing for the onset of healthy sexual feelings and behaviors.

It is during these stages of development that the experiences are filtered through the three levels of the human mind. It is from these structures and the inherent conflicts that arise in the mind that personality is shaped. According to Freud while there is an interdependence among these three levels, each level also serves a purpose in personality development. Within this theory the ability of a person to resolve internal conflicts at specific stages of their development determines future coping and functioning ability as a fully-mature adult.

Super ego

Each stage is processed through Freud’s concept of the human mind as a three tier system consisting of the superego, the ego, and the id. The super ego functions at a conscious level. It serves as a type of screening center for what is going on. It is at this level that society and parental guidance is weighed against personal pleasure and gain as directed by ones id. Obviously, this puts in motion situations ripe for conflict.


Much like a judge in a trial, once experiences are processed through the superego and the id they fall into the ego to mediate a satisfactory outcome. Originally, Freud used the word ego to mean a sense of self, but later revised it to mean a set of psychic functions such as judgment, tolerance, reality testing, control, planning, defense, synthesis of information, intellectual functioning, and memory.


The egocentric center of the human universe, Freud believed that within this one level, the id is constantly fighting to have our way in everything we undertake.


So where does this leave us? In the words of Jim Morrison in a song he wrote for the Doors “I want the world and I want it NOW!” seems to be on the tip of many persons lips. It could have been entitled Ode to the Id.

There are many mental illnesses that place the id in the forefront decision making. In particular, there are those whose lives are lived on a totally narcissistic level. Then there are those with anti-social personalities, psychotic like illnesses, and more. In the world of Freud, it is the neurotic person that is most affected by the principles of his theory.

As a result Freud laid out his plan for treatment: psychoanalysis. The treatment has been in use for many years with many adaptations given to it. On the plus side, psychoanalysis do present a client with the structure and time to resolve neurotic issues. On the negative side there is always expressed concern over the cost. Being that it does take time for psychoanalysis to be effective there is an associated cost that can be prohibitive.