Theories and Personalities

By: Clare Slattery

The Psychodynamic Theory

The psychodynamic theory was developed from famous psychologist Sigmund Freud's original theory of psychoanalysis. Freud believed that much of a person's behavior was controlled by unconscious motives in the mind. The psychodynamic theory elaborated on this idea. Using free association, in which the person being treated talks about whatever is on their mind, Freud discovered what he believed to be the foundation of the psychodynamic theory. This is that a person's personality is shaped by the happenings of their youth and simple survival needs. In addition to this, Freud theorized that the mind had three distinct parts that controlled a person's personality. The id, located in the unconscious mind, is driven by survival needs. The superego is located in the preconscious part of the mind, an area that stores information that waits below the surface of consciousness until it is needed. The superego encourages honesty, righteousness, and virtuosity. Finally, the ego, located in the the conscious part of the mind, acts as the mediator between the id and superego.

Learning about the psychodynamic theory has helped me understand more about how I developed my personality. For instance, I grew up as the youngest of nine children, and so growing up I was treated as the "baby" of the family, and got a bit more attention because of it. As a result, my personality is very outgoing and I enjoy being the center of attention. My basic drives have always been cared for, so I never have felt the need to go to extremes to obtain these things. Growing up in a religious family, I have consciously worked on having a strong superego, what I have always referred to simply as my conscience or will. Now that I know about the psychodynamic theory, I will be able to identify how a person developed their personality and be more understanding with them if their personality does not coexist with mine very well.

Defense Mechanisms

After creating the psychodynamic theory, Freud continued to theorize. Elaborating on the relationship between the id, superego, and ego, Freud stated that the mind uses what he penned as defense mechanisms to make sure the ego does not get overwhelmed as it compromises between the id and superego. Freud found there to be ten defense mechanisms. For example, the defense mechanism of compensation is used when the mind tries to divert itself from the reality of failure in a certain arena and compensating by focusing on the person's excellence in another. I do this when I focus on my acting skills instead of my failures in track.

Learning about defense mechanisms has been surprisingly applicable to my life. I realized after learning about these that myself and my acquaintances use them often every day. Now when I am thinking I have been able to recognize the specific defense mechanism I am using and make a conscious effort to deal reasonably with my thoughts and emotions, without inflicting them on others or expressing them in a negative way.


Another influential psychologist was Abraham Maslow, who theorized that each person naturally works toward becoming their the best they can possibly be. This process is called self-actualization. Self-actualization is the highest level of success a person can achieve. According to Maslow, the process of reaching self-actualization is done by fulfilling the hierarchy of needs, a five-level system beginning with the basic needs of a person, to more complex ones, to self-actualization. The hierarchy begins with physiological needs, meaning the needs for food and water, etc. The next level is the need for safety and security, then love needs, such as feeling loved by acquaintances and feeling accepted. A high level need is then self-esteem needs; needing to feel resourceful and accepted by oneself. Finally, at the top level of the hierarchy is self-actualization, in which a person reaches the utmost of their capabilities by utilizing their talents for the benefit of themselves and others.

The hierarchy of needs makes a lot of sense to me. I have been searching for my own mission in the world, and to me, the idea of self-actualization is using the talents I know I have to do missionwork in the world. My physiological needs have been well taken care of, and I have always felt very safe and secure, as well as loved and cherished by others as well as myself. The step between self-esteem needs and self-actualization is a large one, but learning more about psychology has helped me learn more about myself, and work to strengthen the way my mind reacts to everyday encounters. I do desire to use my skills in the most positive way I can one day, and I continue to work towards that goal.