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Week 1: What is personality?

Personality is difficult to define. Is personality who you are or is it what you do? Is there a difference? Carl Jung says that we put on a mask to hide our true selves. I ask you to think about it. Are you the same person at work that you are at home? Are you the same person at home that you are when you are out with your friends? Those questions are what make the concept of personality so fascinating.

We could do this entire class on Carl Jung; we could have this entire class on the theory of the mask. At the same time there are many personality theorists that we will study. These theorists include Jung, Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson and Albert Ellis among others. All of these theorists have their own distinct view on personality and we will look at all of them during this class.

Erik Erikson: Erik Erikson was a personality psychologist that said we have eight stages of life that determine our personality and behavior. Indeed Erikson was one of the first psychologists that were also “life-span” theorists. In each stage we have a crisis and we can’t move on to the next stage of life until we solve the crisis.

The first stage is trust versus mistrust: This occurs during someone’s first year of life. The baby is at its most dependent during this stage. If the baby’s needs of food, safety and comfort are not met, the child may never learn to trust as they go forward in life.

The second stage is Autonomy versus shame/doubt: In this stage the child is beginning to become independent. The key here is that when the independence manifest itself, that the child does not feel ashamed of anything that they may do or more to the point uncertain about anything that they do.

The third stage is initiative versus guilt: In this stage the child is around preschool age and here the challenge for the child is to control their impulses because they are at the age where they are developing the motor skills to act on their impulses. At the same time the child’s imagination also begins to develop and children should not feel guilty about their desires.

The fourth stage is competence versus inferiority: In this stage children should be using tools, learning to make/create things and learn skills that will help them as they go through life. The challenge is acquiring the skills, if the child cannot acquire the skills, then he or she may feel inferior.

The fifth stage is identity versus role confusion: This stage takes place during adolescence and the key here is for the person to find their identity. For example at this stage someone thinks about what they want to study when they go to college or what they want to do with their life. There are some that find their sexual identity during this time. The problem that those in stage five could potentially run into is what happens when he or she does not find their identity. Those that cannot find their identity end up having trouble making decisions.

Stage six is intimacy versus isolation: This stage defines our young adulthood. Young adults want to develop new relationships (i.e.: romances). Those that cannot find relationships/friendships become isolated from society even if they are successful in work or school.

Stage seven is generativity versus stagnation: In this stage which defines our middle age, Erikson believed that people need to contribute to the next generation. One way to achieve generativity is through parenthood, another way is through being a mentor and a third example would simply to be someone that gives advice to those that ask (or don’t ask). People that cannot find a way to help others become stagnant, which leads to selfishness, in other words when people can’t find a way to be unselfish it leads to selfish.

Stage eight is integrity versus despair: In this stage, which takes place during old age, people late in life either face their mortality with integrity because they are proud of what they have done or they are depressed at the idea they will die without accomplishing everything that they wanted. The other thing that an older person may despair is death. In other words, someone that fears death has not passed stage eight (and maybe never will).