The approach of Erich Fromm (1900-1980) to the study of human personality starts from an evolutionary perspective. Specifically, Fromm maintained that humans, like all other living creatures, are motivated to survive and that survival requires adaptation to their physical surroundings. Humans are, however, unique in that they substantially alter their physical surroundings through the creation and maintenance of cultural institutions. Consequently, Fromm believed, human adaptation occurs primarily in response to the demands of political, economic, and religious institutions.
Fromm made a distinction between adaptations to physical and social surroundings that have no enduring impact on personality (static adaptation—for example, an American learning to drive on the left side of the road in England) and adaptation that does have an enduring impact on personality (dynamic adaptation—for example, a child who becomes humble and submissive in response to a brutally domineering, egomaniacal parent). Fromm consequently defined personality as the manner in which individuals dynamically adapt to their physical and social surroundings in order to survive and reduce anxiety.
Human adaptation includes the reduction of anxiety for two reasons. First, because humans are born in a profoundly immature and helplessly dependent state, they are especially prone to anxiety, which, although unpleasant, is useful to the extent that it results in signs of distress (such as crying) which alert others and elicit their assistance. Second, infants eventually ma ture into fully self-conscious human beings who, although no longer helpless and dependent, recognize their ultimate mortality and essential isolation from all other living creatures.
Fromm believed that humans have five basic inorganic needs (as opposed to organic needs associated with physical survival) resulting from the anxiety associated with human immaturity at birth and eventual self-consciousness. The need for relatedness refers to the innate desire to acquire and maintain social relationships. The need for transcendence suggests that human beings have an inherent drive to become creative individuals. The need for rootedness consists of a sense of belonging to a social group. The need for identity is the need to be a unique individual. The need for a frame of orientation refers to a stable and consistent way of perceiving the world.
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