Personality and Essence

Theorists agree that people have an internal "essence" that determines who they are and that guides their behavior, but the nature of that essence differs from theory to theory. Psychoanalytic theory such as Sigmund Freud's see the essence of personality as arising from conflict among internal psychic processes. For Freud, the conflict is viewed as occurring among the urges for instinctual gratification (called the id), the urges for perfection (the superego), and the demands of reality (the ego).

Humanistic theories such as those of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow also see people as often engaged in conflict. For these theorists, however, the conflicts are between an internal self, which is striving for positive expression, and the constraints of a restrictive external social world. In general, the humanists have a much more optimistic outlook on human nature than do psychoanalytic theorists.

Still other theorists are more neutral with respect to human nature. George A. Kelly's cognitive personality theory, for example, views people as scientists, developing and testing hypotheses to understand themselves better and to predict events in their world. Social learning theorists such as Walter Mischel, Albert Bandura, and Julian Rotter see people as developing expectations and behavioral tendencies based on their histories of rewards and punishments and their observations of others.

To some extent, the question of "essence" is also the question of motivation. Psychoanalytic theorists view people as trying to achieve a balance between instinctual urges and the demands of reality. In contrast, humanistic theorists view people as motivated toward personal growth rather than homeostatic balance. Social learning theorists view people as motivated to avoid punishments and obtain rewards.

Related to the question of the "essence" of personality is the notion of whether part, or all, of the personality can be hidden from the individual. Psychoanalytic theorists believe that the driving forces of the personality are in the unconscious and thus are not directly accessible to the person except under exceptional circumstances such as those which arise in therapy. Humanists are much more optimistic about the possibility of people coming to know their inner selves. According to Rogers, parts of the self which were once hidden can, when the individual receives acceptance from others, become expressed and incorporated into self-awareness. Social learning theories do not place much weight on hidden personality dynamics. From the social learning perspective, people are viewed as unable to verbalize easily some of their expectations, but no special unconscious processes are hypothesized.

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