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Sigmund Freud


History and Correlation


Finding the Sexual Basis of Neurosis 


Freud was discouraged from pursuing his intended career in scientific research when his major professor told him that it would be many years before he could obtain a profes-sorship and support himself financially. Because he lacked an independent income, he believed his only choice was to enter private practice. A further impetus was his engage-ment to Martha Bernays, which lasted 4 years before they could afford to marry. Freud established practice as a clinical neurologist in 1881 and began his exploration of the personalities of people suffering from emotional disorders.

He studied several months in Paris with the psychiatrist Jean Martin Charcot, a pio-neer in the use of hypnosis, who alerted Freud to the possible sexual basis of neurosis.Freud overheard Charcot say that a particular patient’s problem was sexual in origin. “In this sort of case,” Charcot said, “it’s always a question of the genitals—always, always, always” (Charcot quoted in Freud, 1914, p. 14).

Freud noted that while Charcot was discussing this issue he “crossed his hands in his lap and jumped up and down several times…. for a moment I was almost paralyzed with astonishment” (Freud quoted in Prochnik, 2006, p. 135).

When Freud returned to Vienna, he was again reminded of the possible sexual origin of emotional problems. A colleague described a woman patient’s anxiety, which the ther-apist believed stemmed from her husband’s impotence. The husband had never had sex-ual relations with his wife in 18 years of marriage.

“The sole prescription for such a malady,” Freud’s colleague said, “is familiar enough to us, but we cannot order it. It runs: Penis normalis dosim repetatur!” (quoted in Freud, 1914, p. 14). As a result of these incidents, and his own sexual conflicts, Freud was led to consider the possibility of a sexual basis for emotional disturbance.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

Childhood Sexual Abuse: Fact or Fantasy?

After several years in clinical practice, Freud was increasingly convinced that sexual con-flicts were the primary cause of all neuroses. He claimed that the majority of his women patients reported traumatic sexual experiences from their childhoods. These events resem-bled seduction, with the seducer usually being an older male relative, typically the father.Today we call such experiences child abuse, and they often involve rape or incest. Freud believed that it was these early sexual traumas that caused neurotic behavior in adulthood.


About a year after he published this theory, Freud changed his mind and announced that in most cases the childhood sexual abuse his patients told him about had never really happened. They had been telling him fantasies, Freud claimed. At first, this was a stunning blow, for it seemed that the foundation of his theory of neurosis had been undermined. How could childhood sexual traumas be the cause of neurotic behavior if they had never happened?

On further reflection, Freud concluded that the fantasies his patients described were quite real to them. They believed that the shocking sexual events had actually happened.Because the fantasies still focused on sex, then sex remained the cause of adult neuroses.In 1898, he wrote that “the most immediate and most significant causes of neurotic ill-ness are to be found in factors arising from sexual life” (quoted in Breger, 2000, p. 117).

It is important to note that Freud never claimed that all the childhood sexual abuses his patients reported were fantasies; what he did deny was that his patients’ reports were always true. It was, Freud wrote, “hardly credible that perverted acts against children were so general” (Freud, 1954, pp. 215–216).

Today we know that childhood sexual abuse is much more common than once thought, which led contemporary scholars to suggest that Freud’s original interpretation of the seduction experiences may have been correct. We do not know whether Freud deliberately suppressed the truth, perhaps to make his theory more acceptable, or whether he genuinely believed that his patients were describing fantasies. It may well be that “more of Freud’s patients were telling the truth about their childhood experiences than [Freud] was ultimately prepared to believe” (Crewsdon, 1988, p. 41).

Ten years after Freud changed his mind and announced that childhood seduction sce-narios were fantasies, he admitted in a letter to a friend that such traumatic experiences were frequently genuine. A few years later he confided to another friend that “I have myself analyzed and cured several cases of real incest (of the most severe kind)” (quotes from Kahr, 2010, p. 4).

The conclusion that child sexual abuse occurred more often than Freud was willing to admit publicly was reached by one of Freud’s disciples in the 1930s, and Freud tried to suppress the publication of his ideas. It has also been suggested that Freud changed his position on the seduction theory because he realized that if sexual abuse was so wide-spread, then many fathers (including perhaps his own) would be considered suspect of perverse acts against their children (Krüll, 1986).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


The Final Years


 During the 1920s and 1930s, Freud reached the pinnacle of his success, but at the same time his health began to deteriorate seriously. From 1923 until his death 16 years later, he underwent 33 operations for cancer of the mouth, perhaps as a result of his smoking 20 cigars daily. Portions of his palate and upper jaw were surgically removed, and he experienced almost constant pain, for which he refused medication. He also received X-ray and radium treatments and even had a vasectomy, which some physicians thought would halt the growth of the cancer.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they expressed their feelings about Freud by publicly burning his books, along with those of other so-called “enemies of the state,” such as the physicist Albert Einstein and the writer Ernest Hemingway.“What progress we are making,” Freud wrote. “In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me; nowadays they are content with burning my books” (Freud quoted in Jones, 1957, p. 182).

In 1938, the Nazis occupied Austria, but despite the urgings of his friends, Freud refused to leave Vienna. Several times gangs of Nazis invaded his home. It was not until his daughter Anna was arrested (and later released) that Freud agreed to leave for London. Four of his sisters died in Nazi concentration camps.

Freud’s health became even worse, but he remained mentally alert and continued to work almost to the last day of his life. By late September 1939, he told his physician, Max Schur, “Now it’s nothing but torture and makes no sense any more” (quoted in Schur, 1972, p. 529). The doctor had promised that he would not let Freud suffer needlessly. He administered three injections of morphine over the next 24 hours, each dose greater than necessary for sedation, and brought Freud’s long years of pain to an end.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

Freud Theories


The Levels of Personality 


Freud’s original conception divided personality into three levels: the conscious, the pre-conscious, and the unconscious. The conscious, as Freud defined the term, corresponds to its ordinary everyday meaning. It includes all the sensations and experiences of which we are aware at any given moment. As you read these words, for example, you may be conscious of the sight of the page, a message you want to send to a friend, and someone playing loud music next door.


Freud considered the conscious to be a limited aspect of personality because only a small portion of our thoughts, sensations, and memories exists in conscious awareness at any one time. He likened the mind to an iceberg. The conscious is that part above the surface of the water—the tip of the iceberg.

More important, according to Freud, is the unconscious, that larger, invisible portion below the surface. This is the focus of psychoanalytic theory. Its vast, dark depths are the home of the instincts, those wishes and desires that direct our behavior. The unconscious contains the major driving power behind all behaviors and is the repository of forces we cannot see or control.

Between these two levels is the preconscious. This is the storehouse of all our memo-ries, perceptions, and thoughts of which we are not consciously aware at the moment but that we can easily summon into consciousness. For example, in the unlikely event your mind strays from this page and you begin to think about what you did last night, you would be summoning up material from your preconscious into your conscious. We often find our attention shifting back and forth from experiences of the moment to events and memories in the preconscious.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

The Structure of Personality 


The Id 


Freud later revised this notion of three levels of personality and introduced in its place three basic structures in the anatomy of the personality: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id corresponds to Freud’s earlier notion of the unconscious (although the ego and superego have unconscious aspects as well). The id is the reservoir for the instincts and libido (the psychic energy manifested by the instincts). The id is a powerful structure of the personality because it supplies all the energy for the other two components.

Because the id is the reservoir of the instincts, it is vitally and directly related to the satisfaction of bodily needs. As we saw earlier, tension is produced when the body is in a state of need, and the person acts to reduce this tension by satisfying the need. The id operates in accordance with what Freud called the pleasure principle. Through its con-cern with tension reduction, the id functions to increase pleasure and avoid pain.


The id strives for immediate satisfaction of its needs and does not tolerate delay or postponement of satisfaction for any reason. It knows only instant gratification; it drives us to want what we want when we want it, without regard for what anyone else wants.The id is a selfish, pleasure-seeking structure—primitive, amoral, insistent, and rash.

The id has no awareness of reality. We might compare the id to a newborn baby who cries and frantically waves its legs and arms when its needs are not met but who has no knowledge of how to bring about satisfaction. Hungry infants cannot find food on their own. The only ways the id can attempt to satisfy its needs are through reflex action and wish-fulfilling hal-lucinatory or fantasy experience, which Freud labeled primary-process thought.

primary-process thought Childlike think-ing by which the id attempts to satisfy the instinctual drives.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

The Ego


 Most children learn that they cannot grab food from other people unless they are willing to face the consequences. For example, kids learn that they have to postpone the pleasure obtained from relieving anal tensions until they get to a bathroom, or that they cannot indiscriminately give vent to sexual and aggressive longings. The growing child is taught to deal intelligently and rationally with other people and the outside world and to develop the powers of perception, recognition, judgment, and memory—the powers adults use to satisfy their needs. Freud called these abilities secondary-process thought. 


We can sum up these characteristics as reason or rationality, and they are contained in Freud’s second structure of personality, the ego, which is the rational master of the personality. Its purpose is not to thwart the impulses of the id but to help the id obtain the tension reduction it craves. Because the ego is aware of reality, however, it decides when and how the id instincts can best be satisfied. It determines appropriate and socially acceptable times, places, and objects that will satisfy the id impulses.


The ego does not prevent id satisfaction. Rather, it tries to postpone, delay, or redirect it in order to meet the demands of reality. It perceives and manipulates the environment in a practical and realistic manner and so is said to operate in accordance with the reality principle. (The reality principle stands in opposition to the pleasure principle, by which the id operates.) 


The ego thus exerts control over the id impulses. Freud compared the relationship of the ego and the id to that of a rider on a horse. The raw, brute power of the horse must be guided, checked, and reined in by the rider; otherwise the horse could bolt and run, throwing the rider to the ground.

reality principle The principle by which the ego functions to pro-vide appropriate con-straints on the expression of the id instincts.

The ego serves two masters—the id and reality—and is constantly mediating and striking compromises between their conflicting demands. Also, the ego is never indepen-dent of the id. It is always responsive to the id’s demands and derives its power and energy from the id.

It is the ego, the rational master, which keeps you working at a job you may not like, if the alternative is being unable to provide food and shelter for your family. It is the ego that forces you to get along with people you dislike because reality demands such behav-ior from you as an appropriate way of satisfying id demands.

This controlling and postponing function of the ego must be exercised constantly. If not, the id impulses might come to dominate and overthrow the rational ego. A person controlled by the id can easily become a danger to society, and might end up in treat-ment or in prison. Freud argued that we must protect ourselves from being controlled by the id and proposed various unconscious mechanisms with which to defend the ego.


So far, we have a picture of Freud’s view of the human personality as being in a con-stant state of battle. It’s trying to restrain the id while at the same time serving it, per-ceiving and manipulating reality to relieve the tensions of the id impulses. Driven by instinctual biological forces that it strives to satisfy, the personality walks a tightrope between the demands of the id and the demands of reality, both of which require con-stant vigilance.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


The Superego


 The id and the ego do not represent Freud’s complete picture of human nature. There is also a third set of forces—a powerful and largely unconscious set of dictates or beliefs— that we acquire in childhood: our ideas of right and wrong. In everyday language we call this internal morality a conscience. Freud called it the superego.


He believed that this moral side of the personality is usually learned by the age of 5 or 6 and consists initially of the rules of conduct set down by our parents. Through praise, punishment, and example, children learn which behaviors their parents consider good or bad. Those behaviors for which children are punished form the conscience, one part of the superego. The second part of the superego is the ego-ideal, which consists of good, or correct, behaviors for which children have been praised.

In this way, Freud believed, children learn a set of rules that earn either acceptance or rejection from their parents. In time, children internalize these teachings, and the rewards and punishments become self-administered. Parental control is replaced by self-control.We come to behave at least in partial conformity with these now largely unconscious moral guidelines. As a result of this internalization, we feel guilt or shame whenever we perform (or even think of performing) some action contrary to this moral code. 


As the ultimate arbiter of morality, the superego is relentless, even cruel, in its con-stant quest for moral perfection. It never lets up. In terms of intensity, irrationality, and insistence on obedience, it is not unlike the id. Its purpose is not merely to postpone the pleasure-seeking demands of the id, as the ego does, but to inhibit them completely, par-ticularly those demands concerned with sex and aggression.

The superego strives neither for pleasure (as the id does) nor for attainment of realis-tic goals (as the ego does). It strives solely for moral perfection. The id presses for satis-faction, the ego tries to delay it, and the superego urges morality above all. Like the id, the superego admits no compromise with its demands.

The ego is caught in the middle, pressured by these insistent and opposing forces.

Thus, the ego has a third master, the superego. To paraphrase Freud, the poor ego has a hard time of it, pressured on three sides, threatened by three dangers: the id, reality, and the superego. The inevitable result of this friction, when the ego is too severely strained, is the development of anxiety.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

Anxiety: A Threat to the Ego 


You already have a general idea of what the word anxiety means because you know how you feel when you’re anxious about something. Anxiety is not unlike fear, but we may not know what we’re afraid of. Freud described anxiety as an objectless fear, meaning that we cannot point to its source, to a specific object that caused it.


Freud made anxiety an important part of his personality theory, asserting that it is fundamental to the development of all neurotic and psychotic behavior. He suggested that the prototype of all anxiety is the birth trauma.

The fetus in its mother’s womb is in the most stable and secure of worlds, where every need is satisfied without delay. But at birth, the organism is thrust into a hostile environment. Suddenly, it is required to begin adapting to reality because its instinctual demands may not always be immediately met. The newborn’s nervous system, immature and ill prepared, is bombarded with diverse sensory stimuli.


Consequently, the infant engages in massive motor movements, heightened breathing, and increased heart rate. This birth trauma, with its tension and fear that the id instinct won’t be satisfied, is our first experience with anxiety, according to Freud. From it, the pattern of reactions and feelings that will occur every time we are exposed to some threat in the future develops.


When we cannot cope with anxiety, when we are in danger of being overwhelmed by it, the anxiety is said to be traumatic. What Freud meant by this is that the person, regardless of age, is reduced to a state of helplessness like that experienced in infancy.In adult life, infantile helplessness is reenacted to some degree whenever the ego is threatened. [1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

The Purpose of Anxiety


Anxiety serves as a warning to the person that something is amiss within the personality.Anxiety induces tension in the organism and thus becomes a drive (much like hunger or thirst) that the individual is motivated to satisfy. The tension must be reduced.


Anxiety alerts the individual that the ego is being threatened and that unless action is taken, the ego might be overthrown. How can the ego protect or defend itself? There are a number of options: running away from the threatening situation, inhibiting the impul-sive need that is the source of the danger, or obeying the dictates of the conscience. If none of these rational techniques works, the person may resort to defense mechanisms—the nonrational strategies designed to defend the ego.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

Defenses against Anxiety


 We saw that anxiety is a signal that impending danger, a threat to the ego, must be counteracted or avoided. The ego has to reduce the conflict between the demands of the id and the strictures of society as represented by the superego. According to Freud, this conflict is ever present because the instincts are always pressing for satisfaction, while the taboos of society are always working to limit such satisfaction.

Freud believed that the defenses must, to some extent, always be in operation. All behaviors are motivated by instincts; similarly, all behaviors are defensive in the sense of defending against anxiety. The intensity of the battle within the personality may fluc-tuate, but it never stops. Freud postulated several defense mechanisms (see Table 2.1) and noted that we rarely use just one; we typically defend ourselves against anxiety by using several at the same time. Also, some overlap exists among the mechanisms.


Although defense mechanisms vary in their specifics, they share two characteristics in common: (1) they are all denials or distortions of reality—necessary ones, but distortions nonetheless, and (2) they all operate unconsciously. We are unaware of them, which means that on the conscious level we hold distorted or unreal images of our world and ourselves.




 Some Freudian defense mechanisms 


Repression: Involves unconscious denial of the existence of something that causes anxiety


 Denial: Involves denying the existence of an external threat or traumatic event 


Reaction Formation: Involves expressing an id impulse that is the opposite of the one truly driving the person 


Projection: Involves attributing a disturbing impulse to someone else 


Regression: Involves retreating to an earlier, less frustrating period of life and displaying the childish and dependent behaviors characteristic of that more secure time


 Rationalization: Involves reinterpreting behavior to make it more acceptable and less threatening 


Displacement: Involves shifting id impulses from a threatening or unavailable object to a substitute object that is available 


Sublimation: Involves altering or displacing id impulses by diverting instinctual energy into socially acceptable behavior[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


Lying to Ourselves


 As we have seen, these defense mechanisms are unconscious denials or distortions of reality. We are lying to ourselves when we use these defenses, but we are not aware of doing so. If we knew we were lying to ourselves, the defenses would not be so effective. If the defenses are working well, they keep threatening or disturbing material out of our conscious awareness. As a result, we may not know the truth about ourselves. We may have a distorted picture of our needs, fears, and desires.

There are situations in which the truth about ourselves emerges, when our defenses break down and fail to protect us. This occurs in times of unusual stress (or when under-going psychoanalysis). When the defenses fail, we are stricken with overwhelming anxi-ety. We feel dismal, worthless, and depressed. Unless the defenses are restored, or new ones formed to take their place, we are likely to develop neurotic or psychotic symptoms.

Thus, according to Freud, defenses are necessary to our mental health. We could not survive long without them.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

Psychosexual Stages of Personality Development 


Freud believed that all behaviors are defensive but that not everyone uses the same defenses in the same way. All of us are driven by the same id impulses, but there is not the same universality in the nature of the ego and superego. Although these structures of the personality perform the same functions for everyone, their content varies from one person to another. They differ because they are formed through experience, and no two people have precisely the same experiences, not even siblings raised in the same house.

Thus, part of our personality is formed on the basis of the unique relationships we have as children with various people and objects. We develop a personal set of character attributes, a consistent pattern of behavior that defines each of us as an individual.


TABLE 2.2 


Freud’s psychosexual stages of development 


STAGE: Oral     

AGE :Birth–1        

CHARACTERISTIC: Mouth is the  primary erogenous zone; pleasure derived from sucking: id is dominant.




CHARACTERISTICToilet training (external reality) interferes with gratification received from defecation.




CHARACTERISTIC :Incestuous fantasies; Oedipus complex; anxiety; superego development.



AGE: 5–Puberty

CHARACTERISTIC: Period of sublimation of sex instinct.




CHARACTERISTIC:Development of sex-role identity and adult social relationships.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


Scientific Testing of Freudian Concepts


 In the years since Freud’s death in 1939, many of his ideas have been submitted to experimental testing. An analysis of some 2,500 studies evaluated the scientific credibility of some of Freud’s ideas. In this evaluation, case histories were not considered. Every effort was made to restrict the investigation to data thought to have a high degree of objectivity (Fisher & Greenberg, 1977, 1996).

The researchers found that some Freudian concepts—notably the id, ego, superego, death wish, libido, and anxiety—could not be tested by the experimental method. Con-cepts that could be tested, and which evidence appeared to support, however slightly, included the oral and anal character types, the basic concept of the Oedipal triangle, cas-tration anxiety, and the notion that females resolve the Oedipal dilemma by having a child as compensation for the lack of a penis.

Concepts not supported by research evidence include those of dreams as disguised expressions of repressed wishes, resolution of the male Oedipus complex by identifica-tion with the father and acceptance of the father’s superego standards out of fear, and the idea that women have inadequately developed superegos. In addition, researchers found no evidence to support the psychosexual stages of development or a relationship between Oedipal variables and sexual problems later in life.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

The Unconscious 


The notion that unconscious forces can influence conscious thought and behavior is now well established. Current research shows that unconscious influences may be even more pervasive than Freud suggested (Custers & Aarts, 2010; Scott & Dienes, 2010; Gafner, 2012). One personality researcher observed that “today there is agreement that much [psychological] functioning occurs without conscious choice and that some of our behavior actually occurs in opposition to what is consciously desired” (Pervin, 2003, p. 225). Psychologists also recognize that much of the information processing involved in cognitive activities is unconscious (Armstrong & Dienes, 2014). Some even propose that the causal mechanisms underlying all behavior and thought may be unconscious (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Wegner & Wheatley, 1999).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


The Ego 


We noted that Freud viewed the ego’s role as constantly mediating between reality and the insistent demands of the id. The ego is the rational part of the personality that must control and postpone the id’s demands, balancing them against the circum-stances and demands of the real world. Psychoanalytic researchers have identified two components of the ego: ego control and ego resiliency.

Ego control, as you would expect from the name, is close to Freud’s original concep-tion. It refers to the amount of control we are able to exert over our impulses and feel-ings. The degree of ego control ranges from under-controlled (in which we are unable to restrain any impulses and feelings) to over-controlled (in which we tightly inhibit the expression of our impulses). Both extremes are considered maladaptive.

Ego resiliency refers to our flexibility in adjusting or changing our typical level of ego control to meet the daily changes in our environment. Persons with little ego resiliency are referred to as “ego brittle,” meaning they are unable to alter their level of ego control to meet challenges or difficult life situations. Those high in ego resiliency are flexible and adaptable, able to tighten or loosen their degree of ego control as the situation warrants.

Mothers between the ages of 21 and 27 who rated their mothering experiences as pos-itive and satisfying were found to have high ego resiliency. Mothers who rated their mothering experiences as negative were found to have decreased ego resiliency. The researchers suggested that difficult life situations, setbacks and failures, or other negative experiences tend to lower ego resiliency (Paris & Helson, 2002).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)




 Displacement involves shifting one’s id impulses from a disturbing object that is not available to a substitute object or person. An analysis of 97 studies sup-ported the contention that displaced aggression is a viable and reliable phenomenon.The analysis found that the more negative and stressful the setting or context in which displacement occurs, the greater the intensity of that displacement (Marcus-Newhall, Pedersen, Miller, & Carlson, 2000).


A study of college students found that those in a group that was experimentally pro-voked to anger, and then left to spend 25 minutes focusing their attention on their angry thoughts and feelings, were far more likely to demonstrate displaced aggression than those whose experimental condition did not include the 25 minutes of brooding. The researchers concluded that dwelling on our anger maintains the feeling and is likely to cause it to be expressed outwardly in aggressive behavior (Bushman, Bonacci, Pedersen, Vasquez, & Miller, 2005).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)



Research has provided support for the Freudian defense mechanism of repression. In one study, subjects memorized two lists of words that were flashed on a screen. Some words on the lists were conceptually similar; for example, cats and dogs are both animals. The subjects were then given an electric shock with some words on the first list. No shocks were administered with the words on the second list.


Then they were tested on how well they remembered the words. They forgot the words that had been accompanied by the shock but recalled those not accompanied by the shock. They also repressed words on the second list that were conceptually similar to the words on the first list that had been accompanied by a shock. The researchers concluded that the threatening words had been pushed out of conscious awareness (Glucksberg & King, 1967).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)



 Research on projection—attributing one’s negative traits and behaviors to someone else—have found that accusing another person of lying and cheating in a game increased the amount of blame placed on that person and reduced the amount of blame the subjects placed on themselves for showing the same negative behaviors (Rucker & Pratkanis, 2001). Adults who were of a higher social class as children are more likely to use projection than those who were raised in lower-class families (Cramer, 2009).

Projection can also influence our judgments about our spouses or partners. A study of unemployed job seekers found that they projected their feelings of depression about the stres-ses of unemployment onto their partners when asked to make everyday judgments about them. In addition, the more alike the partners were on a psychological measure of depres-sion, the greater was the tendency for one to project that feeling when judging the other.


The researchers noted: “Individuals seem more likely to assume that their spouses are like them when their spouses actually are like them” (Schul & Vinokur, 2000, p. 997).Thus, in this instance, the subjects were accurate in projecting their own characteristics onto their spouses or partners.[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


A Hierarchy of Defense Mechanisms 


Studies have found a hierarchy among the Freudian defense mechanisms in which the simpler ones are used earlier in life and the more complex ones emerge as we grow older. For example, denial, which is a simple, low-level defense mechanism, is used mostly by young children and less often by adoles-cents. Identification, a more complex defense, is used considerably more by adolescents than by younger children. Denial is also used more frequently by boys. Girls are more likely to use the more complex mechanisms of regression, displacement, and reaction formation (Tallandini & Caudek, 2010).

In research on students from grades 2, 5, 8, 11, and first-year college classes, responses to the Thematic Apperception Test pictures supported the notion of clear age differences in defense mechanisms. The use of denial and projection decreased with age whereas identification increased with age (Porcerelli, Thomas, Hibbard, & Cogan, 1998).A longitudinal study of 150 students ages 11 to 18 found that the projection and identi-fication defenses were used more often than denial, and that their use increased from early to late adolescence (Cramer, 2007).

A longitudinal study of people who were first tested in nursery school and later at age 23 found a link between preschool personality and the use of denial as young adults. As we noted earlier, denial tends to be used as a defense mechanism mostly by children and its use typically declines with age. In this study, however, the male subjects who at age 23 were still using denial had a number of psychological problems that had been identified when they were in nursery school.

Their childhood personalities were high in emotional immaturity and unworthiness and low in personal competence and ego resiliency. For women subjects, no such clear relationship was found between childhood personality and the continued use of denial at age 23. The authors of the study suggested that boys might be more vulnerable to stress than girls (Cramer & Block, 1998).

A study of American adults found that the use of displacement and regression as defense mechanisms decreased from adolescence to early old age in the mid-60s. Subjects older than that, however, reverted to the more maladaptive defenses they had used when they were younger (Diehl, Chui, Hay, Lumley, Gruhn, & Labouvie-Vief, 2014).

Two studies conducted in Canada demonstrated that adolescent girls with anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder), and older women who had been victims of spouse abuse, were far more likely to use denial as a coping mechanism than were girls or women who were not in these categories. The researchers suggested that by unconsciously deny-ing their difficulties, the girls and women were attempting to minimize or distance them-selves from their situations (Arokach, 2006; Couturier & Lock, 2006).


A study of adult men found that those who tried to protect themselves from feelings of weakness by being more powerful and competitive and avoiding emotional expression tended to use more immature defense mechanisms. Those men who did not feel so great a need to be more powerful than others and who could express their emotions more freely used more mature defense mechanisms (Mahalik, Cournoyer, DeFrank, Cherry, & Napolitano, 1998). Research has also found that parents who abuse their children tend to use the immature defense mechanism of denial (Cramer & Kelly, 2010).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)


Repressed Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse


 In the late 1980s, the issue of repressed memories resurfaced in sensational legal proceedings involving people who claimed they suddenly recalled incidents of abuse that had occurred years earlier.

Women brought criminal charges against fathers, uncles, and family friends; men brought charges against priests, coaches, and teachers. Some of the accused were convicted and imprisoned on the basis of memories of incidents said to have taken place as long as 20 years before. Such accusations and subsequent trials are still taking place today.

Research on repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse has found ample evidence that such abuse can be forgotten for many years before being recalled (Delmonte, 2000).

A study of women who had either repressed their memories, recovered such memories, or had never forgotten the experiences found that those who reported recovered memo-ries scored higher on measures of fantasy proneness and dissociation (a splitting off of mental processes into separate streams of awareness) (McNally, Clancy, Schacter, & Pitman, 2000). Such states could, of course, be attributed to the childhood trauma.

Despite evidence to support the existence of repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse that did occur, research has also demonstrated how easily false memories can be implanted and recollections distorted, to the point where something that never occurred can be made conscious and appear to be genuine (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994; Ofshe & Watters, 1994).

In one study, young children were interviewed 4 years after they had spent 5 minutes playing with a man sitting across a table. The man never touched the children. During follow-up interviews, researchers created a climate of accusation by telling the children they would be questioned about an important event in their lives. “Are you afraid to tell?” they were asked. “You’ll feel better once you’ve told” (Ceci & Bruck, 1993, p. 421).

One-third of the children agreed with the interviewer’s suggestion that they had been hugged and kissed by the man. Two of the children agreed with the suggestion that they had been photographed in the bathroom; one agreed that the man had given her a bath.


A study involving college students in Italy showed that dream interpretation could be used to implant false memories. Half of the students were told by a psychologist who was also a popular radio celebrity that their dreams were manifestations of repressed memo-ries of traumatic childhood events. Examples of these incidents included being aban-doned by their parents or lost in an unfamiliar place. The other group of subjects did not receive such interpretations of their dreams.

All the subjects had been selected on the basis of questionnaire responses completed weeks earlier in which they had stated that no traumatic events had occurred during their childhood. When questioned 10 to 15 days after the dream interpretations, the majority of the experimental subjects agreed that the traumatic experiences had really happened and that they had repressed the memories for years (Mazzoni, Lombardo, Malvagia, & Loftus, 1999).

Elizabeth Loftus, a pioneering researcher in the area, concluded that overall, “there is little support for the notion that trauma is commonly banished out of awareness and later reliably recovered by processes beyond ordinary forgetting and remembering…. There can be no doubt that ‘memories’ for factually fake as well as impossible, or at least highly improbable, horrific traumatic events were developed [or implanted], particularly among persons sub-jected to suggestive memory recovery procedures” (Loftus & Davis, 2006, pp. 6, 8).

However, it is important to keep in mind that childhood sexual abuse does occur. It is a haunting reality for many people and far more widespread than Sigmund Freud envisioned in the 19th century. The effects can be debilitating. Men and women who were sexually abused as children have strong tendencies toward anxiety, depression, self-destructiveness, low self-esteem, and suicide (see, for example, McNally, Perlman, Ristuccia, & Clancy, 2006; Pilkington & Lenaghan, 1998; Westen, 1998).[1]

Source:Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)



[1]Theories of Personality Hardcover – Import, 1 January 2016 by Duane Schultz (Author), Sydney Schultz (Author)

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