Personality, Lifestyle, and The Self

19 Theories on Personality

One of the most important psychological approaches to understanding personality is based on the theorizing of the Austrian physician and psychologist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), who founded what today is known as the psychodynamic approach, an approach to understanding human behaviour that focuses on the role of unconscious thoughts, feelings, and memories.

Freud attracted many followers who modified his ideas to create new theories about personality. These theorists, referred to as neo-Freudians, generally agreed with Freud that childhood experiences matter, but deemphasized sex, focusing more on the social environment and effects of culture on personality. Two notable neo-Freudians featured in this section include Erik Erikson and Carl Jung (pronounced “Yoong”).

Sigmund Freud

Many people know about Sigmund Freud because his work has had a huge impact on our everyday thinking about psychology, and the psychodynamic approach is one of the most important approaches to psychological therapy (Roudinesco, 2003; Taylor, 2009). Freud is probably the best known of all psychologists, in part because of his impressive observation and analyses of personality (there are 24 volumes of his writings). As is true of all theories, many of Freud’s ingenious ideas have turned out to be at least partially incorrect, and yet other aspects of his theories are still influencing psychology.

In terms of free will, Freud did not believe that we were able to control our own behaviours. Rather, he believed that all behaviours are predetermined by motivations that lie outside our awareness, in the unconscious. These forces show themselves in our dreams, in neurotic symptoms such as obsessions, while we are under hypnosis, and in Freudian “slips of the tongue” in which people reveal their unconscious desires in language. Freud argued that we rarely understand why we do what we do, although we can make up explanations for our behaviours after the fact. For Freud the mind was like an iceberg, with the many motivations of the unconscious being much larger, but also out of sight, in comparison to the consciousness of which we are aware.

The Id, Ego, & Superego

Diagram of an iceberg, showcasing ego, id, and the superego.
In Freud’s conceptualization of personality, the most important motivations are both out of site and unconscious, just like the majority of an iceberg which sits under water hidden from view. In comparison, our consciousness, which is visible, only represents a smaller portion of who we are, based on what we are willing to reveal to others

Freud proposed that the mind is divided into three components: id, ego, and superego, and that the interactions and conflicts among the components create personality (Freud, 1923/1949). According to Freudian theory, the id is the component of personality that forms the basis of our most primitive impulses. The id is entirely unconscious, and it drives our most important motivations, including the sexual drive (libido) and the aggressive or destructive drive (Thanatos). According to Freud, the id is driven by the pleasure principle — the desire for immediate gratification of our sexual and aggressive urges. The id is why we smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, view pornography, tell mean jokes about people, and engage in other fun, harmful, risky, or “taboo” behaviours, often at the cost of doing more productive activities.

Advertisements Targeting the ‘Id’

Ads that signal to consumers that their products will make them look more attractive and appear more desirable speak directly to the id. Consumers are drawn to the gratification, or “pleasure principle” these kinds of advertisements represent. Product categories geared towards maximum pleasure are desirable results include clothing, cigarettes, cars, makeup, and perfume.

Man holding a cigarette against their mouth.  Mens' luxury blazer and suit tops on hangers in a closet.

In stark contrast to the id, the superego represents our sense of morality and oughts. The superego tell us all the things that we shouldn’t do, or the duties and obligations of society. The superego strives for perfection, and when we fail to live up to its demands we feel guilty.

Advertisements Targeting the ‘Superego’

The superego, representing consumers’ conscience, tells us what we ought to do. It has or best interest in mind and seeks to counter the allure and seduction of the “id.” Advertisements appealing to our rational and balanced sensibilities include health food, self-care, charitable donations, and PSA’s (public service announcements) such as anti-smoking campaigns.

A knife and chopping board with various vegetables and two eggs.  Women striking a yoga pose.

In contrast to the id, which is about the pleasure principle, the function of the ego is based on the reality principle — the idea that we must delay gratification of our basic motivations until the appropriate time with the appropriate outlet. The ego is the largely conscious controller or decision-maker of personality. The ego serves as the intermediary between the desires of the id and the constraints of society contained in the superego. We may wish to scream, yell, or hit, and yet our ego normally tells us to wait, reflect, and choose a more appropriate response.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are unconscious protective behaviours that work to reduce anxiety. Freud believed that feelings of anxiety result from the ego’s inability to mediate the conflict between the id and superego. When this happens, Freud believed that the ego seeks to restore balance through various protective measures known as defense mechanisms (see table below for explanations and examples). When certain events, feelings, or yearnings cause an individual anxiety, the individual wishes to reduce that anxiety. To do that, the individual’s unconscious mind uses ego defense mechanisms — unconscious protective behaviours that aim to reduce anxiety. The ego, usually conscious, resorts to unconscious efforts to protect the ego from being overwhelmed by anxiety. When we use defense mechanisms, we are unaware that we are using them. Further, they operate in various ways that distort reality. According to Freud, we all use ego defense mechanisms.

Explanations and Examples of Defense Mechanisms

Table that explains and provides examples for varying defense mechanisms
Denial Transferring inappropriate urges or behaviours onto a more acceptable or less threatening target During lunch at a restaurant, Karn is angry at his older brother but does not express it and instead is verbally abusive to the server.
Projection Attributing unacceptable desire to others Yumi often cheats on her girlfriend because she suspects she is already cheating on her.
Rationalization Justifying behaviours by substituting acceptable reasons for less-acceptable real reasons Kim failed his history courses because he did not study or attend class, but he told his roommates that he failed because the professor didn’t like him.
Reaction Formation Reducing anxiety by adopting beliefs contrary to your own beliefs Nadia is angry with her coworker Beth for always arriving late to work after a night of partying, but she is nice and agreeable to Beth and affirms the party is “cool.”
Regression Returning to coping strategies for less mature stages of development After failing to pass his doctoral examinations, Zeming spends days in bed cuddling his favourite childhood toy.
Repression Suppressing painful memories and thoughts Navroop cannot remember her grandfather’s fatal heart attack, although she was present.
Sublimation Redirecting unacceptable desires through socially acceptable channels Yikang’s desire for revenge on the drunk driver who killed his son is channeled into a community support group for people who’ve lost loved ones to drunk driving.

Neo-Freudian Theories

Freudian theory was so popular that it led to a number of followers, including many of Freud’s own students, who developed, modified, and expanded his theories. Taken together, these approaches are known as neo-Freudian theories. The neo-Freudian theories are theories based on Freudian principles that emphasize the role of the unconscious and early experience in shaping personality but place less evidence on sexuality as the primary motivating force in personality and are more optimistic concerning the prospects for personality growth and change in personality in adults.

Erik Erikson

As an art school dropout with an uncertain future, young Erik Erikson met Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, while he was tutoring the children of an American couple undergoing psychoanalysis in Vienna. It was Anna Freud who encouraged Erikson to study psychoanalysis. Erikson received his diploma from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute in 1933, and as Nazism spread across Europe, he fled the country and immigrated to the United States that same year. Erikson later proposed a psychosocial theory of development, suggesting that an individual’s personality develops throughout the lifespan — a departure from Freud’s view that personality is fixed in early life.

In his theory, Erikson emphasized the social relationships that are important at each stage of personality development, in contrast to Freud’s emphasis on sex. Erikson identified eight stages, each of which represents a conflict or developmental task (see table below). The development of a healthy personality and a sense of competence depend on the successful completion of each task.

Erikson’s Psychological Stages of Development

Table that lists Erikson’s Psychological Stages of Development
Stage Age Developmental Task Description
1 0-1 Trust vs. mistrust Trust (or mistrust) that basic needs, such as nourishment and affection, will be met.
2 1-3 Autonomy vs. shame/doubt Sense of independence in many tasks develops.
3 3-6 Initiative vs. guilt Take initiative on some activities, may develop guilt when success not met or boundaries overstepped.
4 7-11 Industry vs. inferiority Develop self-confidence in abilities when competent or sense of inferiority when not,
5 12-18 Identity vs. confusion Experiment with and develop identity and roles.
6 19-29 Intimacy vs. isolation Establish intimacy and relationships with others.
7 30-60 Generativity vs. stagnation Contribute to society and be part of a family.
8 65- Integrity vs. despair Assess and make sense of life and meaning of contributions.

Using Erikson’s model, it’s clear that some marketing strategies are designed to address the different developmental stages. Consider how different companies design the 4P’s of marketing to fulfill these strategies: toys for 7-11 year olds may include a LEGO set, puzzle, or home chemistry set that helps a child build confidence and competencies. Social media platforms such as TikTok and SnapChat provide 12-18 year olds the opportunity to experiment and develop their identities and roles. Middle and older adults from 30-64 years of age are evaluating how they can better align their roles as consumers with climate action and are targeted with ads for hybrid and electric vehicles, for the good of society. Meanwhile, the older adults and elderly members of society are advertised ways to maintain integrity in life: insurance, cruises, and measures to provide safe and secure independent living.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung (1875-1961) was another student of Freud and developed his own theories about personality. Jung agreed with Freud about the power of the unconscious but felt that Freud overemphasized the importance of sexuality. Jung argued that in addition to the personal unconscious, there was also a collective unconscious, or a collection of shared ancestral memories. These ancestral memories, which Jung called archetypes, are represented by universal themes in various cultures, as expressed through literature, art, and dreams (Jung). Jung said that these themes reflect common experiences of people the world over, such as facing death, becoming independent, and striving for mastery. Jung (1964) believed that through biology, each person is handed down the same themes and that the same types of symbols — such as the hero, the maiden, the sage, and the trickster — are present in the folklore and fairy tales of every culture. In Jung’s view, the task of integrating these unconscious archetypal aspects of the self is part of the self-realization process in the second half of life.

With this orientation toward self-realization, Jung parted ways with Freud’s belief that personality is determined solely by past events and anticipated the humanistic movement with its emphasis on self-actualization and orientation toward the future. Rather than being seen as purely biological, more recent research suggests that archetypes emerge directly from our experiences and are reflections of linguistic or cultural characteristics (Young-Eisendrath, 1995). Today, most Jungian scholars believe that the collective unconscious and archetypes are based on both innate and environmental influences, with the differences being in the role and degree of each (Sotirova-Kohli et al., 2013).

Jung also proposed two attitudes or approaches toward life: extroversion and introversion (Jung, 1923) (see table below). These ideas are considered Jung’s most important contributions to the field of personality psychology, as almost all models of personality now include these concepts. If you are an extrovert, then you are a person who is energized by being outgoing and socially oriented: You derive your energy from being around others. If you are an introvert, then you are a person who may be quiet and reserved, or you may be social, but your energy is derived from your inner psychic activity. Jung believed a balance between extroversion and introversion best served the goal of self-realization.

Characteristics of Introverts and Extroverts

Table that compares characteristics of introverts and extroverts
Introvert Extrovert
Energized by being alone Energized by being with others
Avoid attention Seeks attention
Speaks slowly and softly Speaks quickly and loudly
Thinks before speaking Thinks out loud
Stays on one topic Jumps from topic to topic
Prefers written communication Prefers verbal communication
Pays attention easily  Distractible
Cautious Acts first, think later

Another concept proposed by Jung was the persona, which he referred to as a mask that we adopt. According to Jung, we consciously create this persona; however, it is derived from both our conscious experiences and our collective unconscious. What is the purpose of the persona? Jung believed that it is a compromise between who we really are (our true self) and what society expects us to be. We hide those parts of ourselves that are not aligned with society’s expectations.

Media Attributions

Text Attributions

  • The first opening paragraph; the section under “Sigmund Freud”; the section under “Neo-Freudian Theories”; the section under “Defense Mechanisms” (including the table “Explanations and Examples of Defense Mechanisms”; edited); and, part of the first paragraph under “Carl Jung” are adapted from Introduction to Psychology 1st Canadian Edition by Charles Stangor, Jennifer Walinga which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
  • The second opening paragraph; the first two paragraphs and table under “Erik Erikson”; and, part of the first, second, third, fourth paragraphs (including the table “Characteristics of Introverts and Extroverts”) under “Carl Jung” are adapted from OpenStax, Neo-Freudians: Adler, Erikson, Jung, and Horney, from Rice University, which is licensed under CC BY.


Horney, K. (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: Norton.

Jung, C. G. (1923). Psychological types. New York: Harcourt Brace.

Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. New York: Doubleday and Company.

Roudinesco, E. (2003). Why psychoanalysis? New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Sotirova-Kohli, M., Opwis, K., Roesler, C., Smith, S. M., Rosen, D. H., Vaid, J., & Djnov, V. (2013). Symbol/meaning paired-associate recall: An archetypal memory advantage? Behavioural Sciences, 3, 541 561.

Taylor, E. (2009). The mystery of personality: A history of psychodynamic theories. New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media.

Young-Eisendrath, P. (1995). Myth and body: Pandora’s legacy in a post-modern world.



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