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Children and Personality Development

2898 words (12 pages) Essay in Psychology

15/07/17 Psychology Reference this

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Factors shaping Child’s Personality Development

Personality could be defined as ‘a dynamic organisation, inside the person, of psychosocial systems that create the person’s characteristic patterns of behaviour, thoughts and feelings’ (Allport, 1961, p.11). Personality is a comprehensive concept and yet there is not a universally accepted definition of personality. However, major assumptions are that personality is stable, consistent, internal and different (Hampson, 1992). Personality plays an important role in one’s life, such aspects include health, personal and social relationships and success in business. Over the past few decades, studies showed that psychopathologies could be traced back to or identified by unhealthy personality development in childhood or adolescence years, thus explaining the increased interests psychologists have towards studying personality development in children (Penke, Denissen, & Miller, 2007). Another reason could be due to the increasing appreciation of complexity of gene and environmental causes with regards to an earlier onset of mental disorders in children (Kessler, Berglund, & Demler, 2005). With relevance to this, multiple theories could provide concrete support. Freud (1940, 1969) sees personality as a result of developmental process, giving rise to his Psychoanalytic Theory (PAT) which theorized that powerful biological instincts, be it sexual or aggressive, are the sole motivators that underlie all human behaviour. Adler (1979), however, disproved Freud’s negative view of human motivation and instead, his individual psychology (IP) proposed that healthy personality development is highly reliant on parenting roles and styles as well as factors predetermined at birth or innate. In complementary to their varied views, Horney’s (1950) own version of PAT maintained that the destination of personality development is a successful creation of real self supported by healthy parenting. The aim of this essay is to show how PATs and IP factors are involved in shaping a child’s personality. Therefore, significance of Freud’s psychosexual stages, Adler’s theorized innate inferiorities, innate social interest, social interest as well as Horney’s concept of neurotic needs, healthy and unhealthy parenting styles in relation to a child’s personality development and lastly, the proposal of an idealized self will be discussed. Finally, it will be concluded that good parenting significantly determines one’s personality, as supported by Freud’s, Adler’s and Horney’s theories but not all hope are lost as personality development is a lifelong process, thus personality itself is malleable to changes, even in adulthood.

Biologically, a human is referred to as a child in the first two decades of his or her life, between the stages of birth and completion of puberty (Shiner, 2009). Freud (1940, 1969) took on the biological perspective, stating that personality is a result of developmental process and thus was primarily concerned with the development of sexual drives. He proposed the psychosexual development of five distinct stages to explain for abnormalities in a child’s personality in later part of life. Freud (1940, 1969) suggested that at each stage the libido is invested in a specific part of the child’s body, or better known as the erogenous zone. Such zones, acting as source of gratifications, are determined by the child’s biological development and, at designated periods, are most sensitive to stimulations. A child at a given stage of development has certain needs and demands, such as emotional and attachment needs. Frustration and anxiety occurs when these needs are not satisfied. Conversely, overindulgence in meeting these needs foster a reluctance within the child to progress beyond the stage. Both frustration and overindulgence lock some amount of libido permanently into the stage in which they occur, resulting in fixation. If a child resolves the conflict at each stage and progressively move on to the next, little libido remains invested in each stage and instead gets transferred to the next stage, thereby encouraging normal or healthy personality development. However, should fixation occurs, the method of obtaining gratification which characterized the stage will dominate and impact his or her personality in adulthood.

During the oral stage, marked by the period between birth and 1 year old, pleasure is focused on feeding and the child gratifies this need through stimulations of the erogenous zones, namely the mouth, lip and tongue. When infants are being fed and cared for, some of their libidinal energy becomes focused on their providers. This process known as cathexis claims to first introduce the concept of trust to the child and acts as the first source of human attachment (Freud, 1901; Freud, 1965). Ainsworth and Wittig (1969) designed the Strange Situation Procedure as a mean of assessing individual differences in attachment behaviour, giving rise to four attachment styles. Reconciling with Freud’s stand that caregivers should respond appropriately to child’s needs in order to foster trust, maternal negligence would not only result in developmental fixation extremities such as oral receptive or aggressive personalities but also insecure attachment patterns such as anxious, avoidant or ambivalent/resistant, which may further implicate social and interpersonal relationships later on in life. Parents extend its influence to the child’s attachment styles as their own attachment histories accurately predict their children’s classifications 75% of the time (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985; Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, 1991; Steele, Steele, & Fonagy, 1996). This brings forth the thought or possibility of a bad parenting chain effect, which negatively affects the child’s personality development by instilling mistrust or gullibility, until the parent’s fixated needs are resolved and satisfied.

During the phallic stage of 3 to 5 years old, a child’s genitals begin to physiologically mature and gratifications are met through masturbation. Unlike males, females do not have penis and this deprivation resulted in the penis envy where females wish to possess one to make up for the feelings of deficiency. Adler’s (1979) concept of organ inferiorities could further back this information up, as overcompensation for these inferiorities in females are increasingly evident in workplace where females strive to do better, if not equal, as their male counterparts. Horney (1993), however, disagreed with Freud’s literal interpretation of penis envy. She, agreed with Adler, argued that females do not want to own the literal penis but instead, longed to enjoy the power, qualities and privileges attached to males in society. Horney (1993) even suggested that males could in fact be envious of females for their maternal and nurturing roles but is camouflaged through the labelling of females as masochistic.

In response to the females’ penis envy, males develop a fear of losing their genitals which is known as castration anxiety. Research has also shown that circumcision during the phallic period stage does not have negative effects on the child’s psychosexual functions in adulthood (Armagan et al., 2014). During this phallic stage, Oedipal complex develops and males begin to see their mothers as sexual objects, vice versa for females, and correspondingly, see their fathers as the powerful one with the ability to castrate him (Rapaport, 1960). The males are thus trapped between the desire for his mother and fear of his father, resulting in anxiety within him. To resolve this anxiety, males identify with their fathers and take up masculine roles, in a way inheriting some power from the father as well as avoiding attacks or castrations. The Electra Complex is equally seen in females as they seek to identify with both the mother and the father. Females wish to identify with their fathers as they wish to obtain the missing penis from him but is impossible, thus Freud states that the Electra Complex, unlike the Oedipal Complex, is never really resolved. This unresolved internal conflict results in weaker ego functioning in females (Freud, 1901; Freud, 1965). Fixation at this stage would either result in promiscuity during adulthood or act as the root cause of homosexuality when the child develops characteristics, whether feminine or masculine, that are opposite to his own sex. The stages mentioned above are the crucial ones that contribute to personality development as Freud sees that by the age of 5, the basic adult personality would have been formed within the child. The latency stage, from 5 to 12 years old, is worth mentioning though. It is when parents have diminishing influence on a child’s personality due to the child’s increased exposure to social environments. During this stage, defense mechanisms mature and are used by the child extensively in a bid to resolve anxiety or as a mean to cope (Freud, 1965).

Freud asserts that adequate and reasonable usage of defense mechanisms, which are mainly unconscious behaviour, are normal and in fact, psychologically healthy. However, excessive usage of defense mechanisms result in personality or social problems. Recent studies have indicated that usage of defense mechanisms by children changes in a predictable pattern (Cramer, 1991; Cramer & Gaul, 1988), a finding that has been validated both cross-sectionally (Porcerelli, Thomas, Hibbard, & Cogan, 1998) and longitudinally (Cramer, 1997). Cognitively simpler defenses, such as denial, predominate during early childhood whereas complex defenses predominate during adolescence and adulthood. Consider a case which a 12-month-old infant has been separated from his or her mother for a period of time and upon the mother’s return, was expected to show sign of relief and eagerness of physical yet did not and in fact, avoided contact with the mother, as indicated by research. As mentioned earlier, this could be perceived as an avoidant attachment style but could be further explained by defense mechanisms as well; the avoidant response was a psychological defense mechanism adopted by the child to defend him or herself against the caretaker who, due to previous experiences of absence, elicited unpleasant emotions in him or her (Colin, 1996). In addition to the initial thought process of bad parenting chain effect, defense mechanisms could also concretely explain why some mothers inculcate in their children similar attachment styles which were instilled in them and why some mothers who were abused in early years become abusive as well (Fonagy, Steele, & Steele, 1991). Logically-speaking, mothers who could recall their negative experiences and reflect on their past as opposed to not remembering them out of defense, would have the choice of deciding not to repeat the act with her children (Eagle, 1995). To consciously not remember is to be at the mercy of self-defense and unconscious driven behaviour. Horney’s (1945) concept of defensive attitudes is somewhat similar to Freud’s idea of defense mechanisms. During negative situations, a child is likely to feel basic anxiety, a term coined for feelings of isolation and helplessness. Inconsistent caregiving behaviour further ascertain the child’s perception of his or her world, thinking that it is an unpredictable place. Such children tend to harbour feelings of hostility and distrust in the form of a protective device to alleviate their pain from loneliness. These defensive attitudes being neurotic needs act as a defense against their basic anxiety and compulsively drive children to achieve their idealized selves of perfection while distancing from their actual selves. Children think that only by achieving their ideal selves, their pain and inner conflicts would then be fully alleviated. This results in children with neurotic personalities, marked by the neurotic needs for power, approval, affection and etc. Neurotic children tend to blame others for their own failures as well. Neither of these neurotic needs are healthy for personality development and discrepancies between idealized and actual selves become more apparent during adulthood which later foster feelings of inferiority, guilt and self-hate.

Horney (1945) further discussed the relationship between parents and children with her version of PAT. As compared to Freud who asserted that neuroses, or psychological disturbance, in children stem from the inability to cope with their sexual drives, Horney (1950) suggested that neurosis in children typically originates from disturbed relationships between their parents and them. Horney (1945) stated that inconsistent parenting styles, either too strict or lax, promote the development of neurosis and faulty personality in children. Adler (1917, 1963) stated that both parenting roles play a part in the child’s development of style of life that is established between the age of 3 to 5. Mothers introduce their children to the social life (Adler, 1964). How mothers perceive their roles directs their children’s personality development in two extremities; if a mother sees her role as a loving and nurturing one, she will impart adequate social skills to the child. Conversely, a mother could be more preoccupied with proving her superiority by placing unreasonable demands and criteria for her child to meet due to her own dissatisfaction. This unwarranted pressure from tough standards could result in inferiority complex within the child. Fathers influence the healthy personality development of a child by being good role models that contribute to the welfare of society and his family. Adler (1964) asserts both parents should see each other as equals in order to foster healthy development in their child. A healthy personality is marked by an innate feeling of social interest, which is to be actively involved in his or her community and are highly driven to reach their potential. On the other hand, poor parenting practices which failed to use positive role models breeds neurotic children who have inaccurate self-concepts and self-evaluations and continually try to compensate for their inferiorities. Such neurotic personality is often characterized by the usage of emotional blackmail.

That said, Freud, Adler and Horney’s theories are not without criticisms. Feasibility of their theories remain questionable as none is comprehensive and thorough in explaining for personality development in a child. Their theories complement one another well due to the equivalent emphasis on good parenting styles and did a good job at churning out concrete support that parenting factors do in fact shape a child’s personality, and this relationship is rather significant too. However, personality development should not be restricted to the parenting factors reported in this essay as personality is malleable and, despite being a stable trait and resistance from childhood experiences, are susceptible to lifelong changes.


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