Humanism, Personality Psychology, Psychodynamics

Personality Theory Analysis

Throughout the time of the human existence, individuals have continuously exerted effort to figure out who they are.  An exact science to precisely identify individuals is non-existent, but researchers continue to probe deep into the human mind in combination with observing behavior to determine the causes of human personality.  The study of personality includes identifying the individual differences in thought, feelings, and behavior (APA, 2015).  Additionally, personality psychologists attempt to learn how all different parts of a person integrate to produce the unique individuals in society (APA, 2015).  Personality is exclusive to each and tends to remain consistent throughout the life and has, therefore, has become psychologist’s primary focus to explain behavior.  Several theories attempt to explain the development of personality and its effect on behavior, but the two most contradictory approaches are the psychodynamic approach and the humanistic approach.


The fundamental characteristics of personality include consistent thought patterns and traits. Psychological and physiological constructs which impact behavior, action, personal expression, thoughts, and social interaction comprise personality (Feist, 2009).  Personality, described through temperament and character, is exclusive to the individual.  Temperament is composed of a biological basis and described emotions within a person (Feist, 2009).  Character is the personal attributes of self-based on morals, ethics, will power, and integrity (Feist, 2009).

Humanistic Approach

The humanistic approach to personality emphasizes free will and individual experience. Individuals exercise free will through the choices made in life and the consequences of those choices.  Humanism focuses on the person as whole, rather than just a certain aspect of the individual (McLeod, 2007).    They believe that the individual behaviors originate from inner feelings and thoughts of self.  The primary focus of this approach is self-concept and self-actualization. (McLeod, 2007).  Self-concept is who an individual thinks they are.  Self-actualization refers to the ideal self, or who an individual wishes they were (McLeod, 2007).  The humanistic approach is an optimistic approach that views individuals as good with an innate desire to reach their maximum potential while making others’ lives better (McLeod, 2007).  This approach declares individual continually strive for life improvement through obtaining set goals allowing the individual a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

In an effort to learn what motivates individuals, Abraham Maslow develops the hierarchy of needs.  Maslow’s hierarchy emphasizes that individuals are not necessarily motivated by unconscious desires or rewards, but to achieve meeting needs.  His hierarchy is set up in five stages that are necessary to reach self-actualization. Psychologists believe that individuals must meet all needs in the hierarchy before moving on to the next need.  Failure to meet the needs results in the hindrance of later development (McLeod, 2007).  An individual’s primary need is to satisfy physiological needs that are necessary for survival (Feist, 2009).   Once the survival need is fulfilled, the individual can advance to the next need.  Once the lower level needs are satisfied, the individual has the potential of self-actualizing, meaning he or she has reached maximum potential and has found a clear understanding of themselves and their place in the world.  However, according to Maslow, very few people reach this level in their life span (Feist, 2009).

Psychodynamic Approach

Sigmund Freud founded the psychodynamic approach to personality.  It is a group of all the human functioning theories combined into one.  The psychodynamic approach is based on the interactions of unconscious drives and motives that produce behavior (McLeod, 2007).  Freud believed that all behavior has a cause, though one may not be aware of the unconscious motivations (Rana, 1997).  Behavior and feelings are affected by unconscious motives, and early childhood experience affects adult behavior.  It is the unconscious drives and motivations that establish what behaviors will be displayed (Feist, 2009).  Freud developed the constructs of the Id, ego, and superego believing that the three work together to maintain a balance of emotion.  He believed the Id makes up the biggest portion of personality as it seeks out pleasure and immediate gratification despite potential consequences (Rana, 1997).  He further believed that the id developed a life and death instinct in all humans and that instinct provides all motivation (Rana, 1997).

Freud believed that Id controls the majority of personality because it seeks immediate gratification for selfish wants.  The ego serves as the regulator for personality and control center for the Id.  The superego is the judgment center and delivers internal feelings of punishment or gratification which determines self-worth.  Freud also placed emphasis on early childhood development because he believed that unresolved trauma in these early stages of life reflected in adult personality and behavior (Feist, 2009).  The trauma would cause a fixation in the individual that would hinder growth and advancement until the traumatic experience was recognized and dealt with (Feist, 2009).  Finally, Freud thought that individuals develop a defense mechanism known as repression.  Individuals who experienced a traumatic event would repress the memory deep in the unconscious mind as an avoidance effort. However, unless the repressed memory is brought to the conscious level and dealt with, Freud believed that an individual would not successfully transition to the next phase of life (Rana, 1997).

Humanism versus Psychodynamics

The humanistic approach and psychodynamic approach are notably the two most contradicting theories of personality psychology.  Humanism set out to disprove the psychodynamic approach as it evolved from the complete opposite beliefs of the psychodynamic approach.  Humanism took the optimistic approach that human nature is fundamentally good, and individuals are born as such.  It held the belief that humans can grow and maximize full potential over the lifespan through the choices made by their free will.  Humanism perceives societal as a destructive force that carries the potential to destroy the good in people as a society is highly influential over individuals as they strive to fit in (Feist, 2009).  On the other hand, the psychodynamic approach claimed individuals are born as evil, selfish beings who operate on principles of pleasure.  Individuals seek personal satisfaction even if means harm or pain to another individual.  Freud believed that moral values are instilled by society as the ego and superego develop.  He also believed that environmental and social interaction introduced the belief system which generates the moral code of the ego and superego.  Successful development mandates successful coping in the world. (Feist, 2009).

Humanism took the approach that personality took a lifetime to develop as individual’s progress and regress through the levels of the hierarchal needs developed by Maslow.  Maslow believed that reaching self-actualization is a difficult task accomplished by very few individuals (McLeod, 2007).  Freud’s psychodynamic approach found that an individual develops his or her personality in early childhood.  However, he also believed that any tragic events would interfere with the development of personality until the trauma is resolved.

The humanistic approach believed that motivation did not derive from incentive and rewards at the conscious level.  Maslow believed that humans had an internal desire to achieve personal satisfaction within themselves which causes motivation to activate within an individual.  He believed that physiological needs were necessary needs and the motivational factors developed as the individual attempts to achieve the basic necessary survival skills (Feist, 2009).  Freud believed the opposite.  He believed that motivation derived from selfish wants and obtaining gratification is the motivation (Ranan, 1997).  Obtaining gratification is the individual’s goal by any means possible, and little care is given to those who get hurt in the process.  Psychodynamists also believe that sex drive is a major motivational factor for humans.  Aggression and manifests itself in sex drive.  Today sex is a major motivator in media, entertainment, and personal satisfaction (Rana, 2015).


Although there are so many differences between the two approaches, it is important to know that both approaches do have broad similarities allowing for further research to be conducted.  Both theories iterate the importance to view personality as an individualistic phenomenon of development (Feist, 2009).  The primary goal is to find the individual differences among people.  Both also approaches point out the importance of proper early development and the means it uses to prepare individuals for adulthood.  There is an agreement that development manifests at different stages and all stages must be completed in order for personality to completely develop and allow for individuality among societies (Rana, 1997).  As Freud failed to research the good in people, Maslow failed to research the bad in people which leaves both approaches unfinished and partially biased (McLeod, 2007).  Critics claim both approaches to be too philosophical with little objectivity.  The philosophical approach does not allow the research to be verified or falsifiable rendering both approaches as having a lack of scientific evidence.


Personality has its roots in philosophical ideas that psychologists could not resist.  Psychologists have dove deep into the human mind to learn what makes a human behave how they do and why humans behave how they do.  There are many theories and ideas of psychic bearings, and unconscious reciprocities, mixed with the intertwining of external factors to explain the possibilities of personality.  Unfortunately, psychologists have yet to declare a definitive definition.  The theories and ideas have opened infinite doors and guidelines for future understanding. 


Feist, J.  & Feist, G.  J.  (2009).  Theories of personality (7th ed.).  New York, NY:  McGraw Hill.

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Humanism. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved from

Rana, H. (1997). Muskingum. Retrieved from