Sigmund Freud's Theory of Personality

Sigmund Freud's Theory of Personality

Last update: 29 June, 2023

Our creation of our personality is just a product. It’s the result of the way people have of dealing with their internal conflicts and external demands. So someone’s personality will mark the way that they develop in the social realm and face up to all their conflicts (internal or external). 

Freud, an Austrian neurological doctor and the father of psychoanalysis, came up with five models for envisioning personality. There’s the topographic, the dynamic, the economic, the genetic, and the structural. These five models tried to give a complete shape to a framework that could describe each and every one of our personalities.

The models in Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality

Freud’s theory of personality focuses on structures. You shouldn’t take the models we’re going to explain now as an absolute truth. But they’re still extremely useful tools for understanding how the human psyche works. We’re going to explain them all separately, but they’re all related to each other.

1- The topographic model

Freud used the metaphor of an iceberg to make it easier to understand the three parts of the mind. The top of the iceberg, the part you can see, is like the conscious mind. This part has to do with everything you can experience at any particular moment: perceptions, memories, memories, fantasies, and feelings.

The sunken part of the iceberg that might still be visible is like the preconscious part of your mind. It has to do with everything you can remember. These are the times that you can’t experience anymore in the present, but that you can bring towards your conscious mind.

The main part of the iceberg, which hides under the water, is like the unconscious. This is where your mind stores all the memories, feelings, and thoughts that your conscious mind can’t access. It stores things that might be hard to accept, or are unpleasant, painful, unsettling, and above all, distressing for you.

2- The dynamic model

This might be the hardest model to understand out of all the models in Freud’s theory of personality. It has to do with the psychological dynamic that comes from fight between the impulses that look for limitless gratification and the defense mechanisms that try to stop those impulses. 

The basic goal of our regulatory psychological dynamic is to make sure we can develop and adapt to our social environments. The defense mechanisms that come from this model are: repression, reaction formation, displacement, fixation, regression, projection, introjection, and sublimation. They’re a very important part of Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality.

3- The economic model

This has to do with something Freud called “drive.” You can basically think of it as the energy that pushes you to seek a specific goal. Drive is the motor and energy that moves you. In this sense, Freud thought that all our behaviors were motivated by drives. He divided them into the life drive (Eros) and the death drive (Thanatos).

The life drive has links to our instincts for survival, our impulse to  create, protect ourselves, and develop relationships. On the other hand, the death drive has links to our destructive tendencies towards ourselves or other people. He connects that with the concept of Nirvana, which means nothing, non-existence, or emptiness.

4- The genetic model

This model has the five stages of psychosexual development. These all deal with seeking gratification in the erogenous zones of our bodies. They change as we get older, and Freud discovered that not just adults get satisfaction from their erogenous zones, children do too. Too much gratification or a sudden frustration during those stages can lead people to develop certain kinds of personalities.

Here are the stages or phases of psychosexual development in Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality:

  • Oral stage: 0-18 months. The mouth is our source of pleasure: sucking, kissing, and biting. A fixation from this stage might lead to an oral receptive personality. That means a person will look for pleasure through their mouth (smoking, eating too much, etc). On the other hand, a sudden frustration here might lead to an oral regressive personality. That means they’ll look for pleasure by being verbally aggressive towards other people.
  • Anal stage: 18 months-4 years. The anus is our source of pleasure: holding in and pushing out. Too much control here can lead to a retentive, stingy personality. In the opposite scenario it could lead to a lax, wasteful personality. 
  • Phallic stage: 4-7 years. Our source of pleasure is in our genitals. Masturbation is very common at these ages. There’s an identification with our mother or father. This is the stage where we resolve our Oedipus complex. It’s what structures our personality and helps us accept social norms.
  • Latency stage: 7-12 years. During this period Freud thought that we would push down our sexual drive so that we could learn more and adapt better to our surroundings.
  • Genital stage: 12 years and on. This part is when the sexual drive comes around during adolescence, specifically directed at sex. It also reaffirms the man or woman’s sexual identity.
holding hands

5- The structural model

This model from Freud’s theory of personality stands out because it separates our mind into three parts. These three parts all develop throughout our childhood. Each part has it its own specific functions that take place in different levels of our mind But they still all work together to form a single structure in our personality. 

  • The id: this is the primitive, instinctive part of our personality. Its only goal is to satisfy all of our impulses. It also represents our most basic needs and desires, the two drives.
  • The ego: this evolves as we get older. It is kind of like a mediator between the id and the superego. And this represents the way we confront our reality.
  • The superego: this represents the moral and ethical ideas we get from our culture. It also represents laws and norms.

Wrapping up, we want to point out that the models are all linked. They make personality into a dynamic group of psychological characteristics that condition how everyone acts in their specific circumstances. 

T he price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt.”

-Sigmund Freud-

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.