Personality Development from Theoretical Perspective


Theories of personality development enable one to understand and explain the behavioral patterns of individuals. Psychology is a science that focuses on the study of the mind, especially on issues of perception, behavior, emotion, and cognition. According to Vega-Gea, Ortega-Ruiz, and Sánchez (2016), psychology is one of the fields that require extensive use of theories. It seeks to investigate the mechanics of the mind that is beyond the physiological study of the brain. The ability to analyze, understand and predict the pattern of events in the human mind requires extensive knowledge of the factors that influence the feelings and behavior of people. Engler (2014) warns that an understanding of these factors alone may not be enough to predict the behavioral pattern of an individual because of the differences in personalities and many other socio-economic and cultural forces. The following theories are crucial in describing the development and dynamics of the personality of people.

Comparative Analysis of the Theories

Eysenck’s Personality Theory

The personality theory explores a broad range of behavioral elements that define an individual’s traits. According to Eysenck (2015), every person has unique characteristics that make him or her different from others. Eysenck argues that some of the attributes that people have are inherited (Slonim, 2014). The behavior of a person is often influenced by a set of biological attributes that determine an individual’s ability to learn various environmental factors such as religion and adopt as would be necessary. Beyond the inherited traits, Rock (2013) admits that some behavioral patterns are learned from one’s environment. The experiences that one has gone through define how one approaches different issues in the environment. Eysenck classified varying behavior of individuals into two categories of extroversion versus introversion, and neuroticism versus emotional stability.

Extroversion versus introversion

According to Eysenck (2015), one of the broad ways of classifying people’s traits is as introverts or extroverts. These are two extreme traits and classes of people. Engler (2014) argues that introverts “have a higher natural base level of excitation, and therefore, do not need to seek out stimulating environment” (p. 34). These individuals tend to prefer solitude to the social environment and are less likely to make numerous friends. They keep to themselves because they do not need other people around them to feel complete. The theory holds that the high base level of arousal makes them independent-minded, and as such, they keep few friends if any. On the other hand, extroverts have low base arousal and prefer being in an environment that can offer them stimulation. They need to be close to friends to feel complete. They naturally develop traits that enable them to interact with people easily even when they are in a new environment. They do so because they are seeking emotional arousal that can only be achieved through active engagement with others. This knowledge makes it easy to understand why some people prefer being in the company of friends and family while others prefer a solitary lifestyle.

Neuroticism versus emotional stability

In this category, Eysenck focused on explaining a person’s ability to withstand environmental stimuli. He classified people into two broad categories. Emotionally stable individuals are less neurotic. Their nervous systems are often less reactive to stressful situations, and they always remain level-headed and calm even when faced with great challenges (Slonim, 2014). They do not easily get upset because of the environmental forces they encounter. On the other hand, individuals who are neurotic are less emotionally stable. They often overreact to stimuli, are quick to anger, fear, and worry (Eysenck, 2015). These individuals are highly emotional and do not easily calm down when they are upset. Rock (2013) attributes this trait to their desire to be perfect. They always want to ensure that things are done properly and tend to blame themselves when there are failures. They try to avoid possible failures by trying to take on too much and please everyone. Knowledge of these factors helps in managing patients who are often unstable because of the stress they have to bear at work or home. A psychologist may need to help neurotic individuals to overcome their conditions by explaining how to confront various issues in their lives.

I have retained most of these traits to this day. I like achieving success in everything that I do. I tend to feel frustrated when it takes longer than expected to realize my goals. I sometimes work on multiple projects at a time because of the desire to be seen as a winner. The feeling of insecurity is another issue I have to deal with, especially when I fail in a given project. I would rather push myself to the breaking point and strain in the process than fail to achieve success. I am also battling a constant fear of rejection by my peers, a feeling that has made me lead a fairly isolated life. I have been warned that people with such traits have a high risk of suffering from depression, especially when responsibilities become overwhelming.

Extroversion and neuroticism are part of the Big Five dimensions of personality. The other three include openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness. An open person enjoys learning and having new experiences (Eysenck, 2015). Such an individual is often imaginative and has a wide range of interests. Conscientiousness is a trait that emphasizes being vigilant and efficient in undertaking a given task. Such individuals are prompt, reliable, methodic, thorough, and well-organized (Slonim, 2014). They are people who can work with minimal supervision in case it may be necessary. Agreeableness is a trait of being compassionate, friendly, and cooperative. Such individuals tend to be affectionate and sympathetic. Horney’s theory of neurotic needs sheds light on this issue (Engler, 2014). The desire for power, prestige, and affection can only be fulfilled if one is liked by others. Sometimes one may develop a pathological desire to be liked by people around them. It may be a way of dealing with the anxiety of a feeling of being less worthy than one’s peers.

Cattell’s 16PF trait theory is critical of Eysenck’s approach of classifying personality into two broad dimensions. This theory argues that between two extremes, there are other traits, some of which may not conform to the classification given by Eysenck’s theory (Eysenck, 2015). Using a mathematical model of analysis, Cattell identified 16 traits that define different people. The theory draws a distinction between source and surface traits. Surface traits can easily be identified, and can sometimes be misleading because they may be meant to achieve a given short-term goal. On the other hand, source traits may be less visible, but define the real personality of an individual. The 16 factors that define personality traits include warmth, intellect, emotional stability, aggressiveness, liveliness, dutifulness, social assertiveness, sensitivity, and paranoia. Others include abstractness, introversion, anxiety, open-mindedness, independence, perfectionism, and tension (Slonim, 2014). In each of the 16 categories, Cattell classifies individuals as having a high or low score.

Allport’s concept also delves into the analysis of the traits of people. According to Engler (2014), this theory “emphasizes the uniqueness of an individual, and the internal cognitive and motivational processes that influence behavior,” (p. 41). It argues that every person is unique and cannot be rigidly classified into various classes as suggested by Eysenck. This theory claims that personality is defined biologically at birth. Some traits such as intelligence, attitude, unique skills, and temperament come naturally. They are then honed or discouraged by environmental forces. A child may be born with unique oratory skills. However, constant rejection, rebuke, and an unhealthy environment can easily act against such natural talents as one grows (Rock, 2013). On the other hand, a child may be offered a perfect environment to train as an orator, but lack of natural capacity to do so may make it difficult to realize the goal.

Psychosexual Stages of Development

According to Freud, a child’s psychological development takes place in a series of stages which include oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital (Rock, 2013). He referred to them as psychosexual stages of development because they represent sexual instincts (fixation of libido) on different parts of the body (Slonim, 2014). The growth of a child is often characterized by the development of certain parts of the body becoming potential sources of pleasure, frustration, or both. The theory holds that life is based on pleasure and tension. People often prefer pleasure over tension. They try to experience pleasure using different body parts. Figure 1 below identifies the psychosexual stages of development, as defined in this theory.

Stages of psychosexual development.
Fig. 1. Stages of psychosexual development (Rock, 2013, p. 58).

The oral stage of development, which is the first step in personality development, occurs among children aged zero to one year. The center of pleasure at this stage is the mouth. A child of this age tends to put everything it gets to hold into its mouth. Sucking and biting are the most common practices. At this stage, one is driven by the id. The person acts by instinct and does not care about the consequences of their actions. This trait is characterized by aggressiveness, primitiveness, and impulsive actions. I cannot remember my actions at this stage of development. The second step, which Freud calls the anal stage, affects children between 1-3 years and is characterized by a situation where a person derives pleasure from defecating. Children of this age start to understand their environment and the conflict that may exist between what they want and what is expected of them. Their ego develops, and so they become conscious of their actions. Engler (2014) defines the ego as an id that is modified by external forces. Children would like to do what they desire, but the constant reminder of the consequences of their decisions makes them restrained in their actions. They still lack a clear understanding of why their actions should have consequences. I do not have a clear memory of my behavior at this stage.

The phallic stage of psychosexual development affects children aged between 3 to 5 years. Rock (2013) says that the sensitive parts of the body change from the anus to the genitals. Actions such as masturbation may be the primary source of pleasure in both young boys and girls. They become aware of their anatomical differences that bring about rivalry, jealousy, erotic attraction, and fear. Children of this age will try to address the conflict by adopting the behavior of the same-sex parent (Wu, Appleman, Salazar, & Ong, 2015). A boy will try to behave like the father, and a girl would imitate the actions and characteristics of the mother. It is at this stage that a child develops instincts of the superego. Engler (2014) defines the superego as the ability to embrace societal morals and values as learned from parents and adults who interact with the child. The superego, as Rock (2013) observes, controls the impulses of the id, and especially acts that are forbidden by society.

The latency stage affects children between 5 to 6 years. Freud argues that the libido remains dormant and that the child experiences no psychosexual development. Sexual impulses are replaced by hobbies, friendship, and school work. They spend most of their time acquiring new knowledge and developing new skills. The genital stage is the last step of development as defined in this theory, and it affects people from the stage of puberty to adulthood. At this stage, I spent most of my time either playing or reading storybooks. The adolescent tends to experiment at this stage, and sexual pleasures shift from the personal to a partner. The superego largely drives the actions of individuals at this age.

Jung’s concepts provide a direct response to Freud’s psychosexual stages of development and other assumptions. Jung agreed with various fundamental principles put forth by Freud. For instance, both theorists agree on the argument that a person’s past experiences, especially as a child, have a significant influence on their future behavior (Slonim, 2014). However, Jung disagreed with many other principles presented in Freudian theories. Jung argues that although childhood experiences largely shape the behavior of a person, future events, especially one’s aspirations, also influence their behavior. A young man who seeks to become a lawyer may start embracing a different set of behaviors from the other who wants to become a driver.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may help in understanding Freud’s theory of development and the actions that are common in each stage. Maslow believes that the physiological needs of food, water, rest, and warmth are the most basic (Pachankis, Hatzenbuehler, Rendina, Safren, & Parsons, 2015). Everyone, irrespective of the stage of development, must meet these requirements to survive. Safety and security needs are also basic and should not be ignored. The tendency to avoid risks would characterize the actions of an individual trying to meet these desires. Having a sense of belonging, love, and care are essential psychological needs (Engler, 2014). This is a critical stage of development among adolescents who want to feel accepted by their peers. Most of their actions tend to focus on winning the approval of friends and family members. Esteem needs involve the feeling of accomplishment and prestige. A person at this stage feels that he or she has made impressive steps in trying to achieve something in life (Slonim, 2014). This is common for adults who feel that they have realized most of their career dreams and have little regrets about their lives. The last stage is self-actualization, which is at the apex of all needs. People at this stage feel that they have realized their full potential. Rock (2013) says that very few adults can self-actualize, including some of the most successful politicians and businessmen. Figure 2 below identifies the different hierarchies of needs as identified in Maslow’s concept.

 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Fig. 2. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Rock, 2013, p. 67).

According to Slonim (2014), the concept of self-actualization is also discussed by Adler’s theory. The theory focuses on the main driver which propels one to achieve a given set of goals. Everyone strives to realize self-actualization. The desire depends on what one considers to be of priority to help in the self-actualization process. However, Rock (2013) warns that it is crucial to moderate one’s desires because being obsessed with them may lead to anxiety. Healthcare workers need to understand these forces to help their patients overcome them, as explained in Roger’s concept. This concept outlines the process that should be taken in developing knowledge in nursing (Slonim, 2014).

Personality Theory versus Psychosexual Stages of Development

The comprehensive analysis of the two theories outlines the dynamics of personality development. They are both viewing humanity from the perspective of a manner in which people act, their needs, and their ability to relate to others effectively. One of the common areas of argument in both theories is that personality is developed based on childhood experiences. Individuals who are subjected to pain, torture, and limited exposure at tender ages find it difficult to lead social lives in their adulthood because of the impact of childhood trauma. These two theories are in agreement on the issue of environmental influence on a person’s personality. It is true that some people are born with specific traits. However, the forces that they encounter in their lives also define who they become.

Eysenck’s personality theory has a few fundamental differences from psychosexual stages of development. As Rock (2013) notes, psychosexual stages of development analyze human behavior by arousals and how they are met. It looks at how people of different ages have varying arousal needs and how they act upon them. On the other hand, personality theory defines the traits of people based on broad classes of extroversion and neuroticism. It looks at how individuals tend to be social or unsocial based on their unique characteristics. It is also clear that psychosexual stages of development give an analysis of the behavioral patterns of individuals from infancy to adulthood. That is not the case with personality theory that majorly focuses on the traits of rational adults. This theory only uses past (especially childhood) experiences to explain the current personality without dwelling on the personality of a child. Engler (2014) argues that the character of children may significantly change when they become adults because of the experiences that they have yet to encounter. As such, the best time of determining one’s personality is in adulthood. Despite these differences, both theories complement each other in explaining the behavior, attitude, and needs of people.


A comparative analysis of theoretical perspectives on personality development makes it possible to have varying ways of explaining the behavioral patterns of an individual. A counselor should be able to understand the events going on in the mind of a patient, their possible causes, their impact, and how they can be managed. Having a wide approach to understanding human personality, including needs and actions, makes it easy to help different patients with varying problems. Eysenck’s personality theory and Freud’s psychosexual stages of development are some of the leading theoretical models that are widely used by counselors, nurses, physicians, and other practitioners in the field of human science to explain the actions and reactions of people. This paper has outlined different personality traits and behavioral patterns as it is defined by the two theories.


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