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Understanding Personality In Relation To Counseling

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Understanding Personality


University of Phoenix

CNSL 506/ Personality Theories and Counseling Models

October 18, 2006

Understanding Personality in Relation to Counseling

The dictionary defines personality as, "The totality of somebody's attitudes, interests, behavioral patterns, emotional responses, social roles and other individual traits that endure overlong periods of time (Encarta, n.d.). There has been considerable research on personality and its description and development; a Google search on the internet elicits over 5 million results when the terms 'personality dynamics' are searched. To understand the model of personality one must look at several approaches to classify personality. This paper will look at some important influences on personality development. The paper will also illustrate several ways of describing personality and examine the definition of personality dynamics. Lastly, the paper will discuss how cognitive processes and culture relate to personality.

Personality is affected by internal and external influences. Internal influences include gender and genetics. "Many theorists agree with the psychoanalytic proposition that the personality differences between males and females are fundamentally determined by biology" (Cloninger, 2004 p. 143). Biologically, women are different from men. There is the obvious difference of male and female reproductive systems and how hormones affect each gender. "Neurologically, women possess more connections in the corpus collosum, the tissue joining the right and left-hand side of the brain, making them better, in general, at tasks involving verbal expression and emotional perceptiveness. Men, on the other hand, possess greater ability to solve problems involving spatial relationships and logical reasoning" (Howenstine, 2003). Even without social influences on gender roles, the biological makeup of a person is a fundamental to the foundation of their personality development. Genetics also plays an important role in personality development. According to Freud, everyone is born with id; the raw, unorganized, inborn part of personality that is present at birth (Corey, 2005). "From birth onward, infants begin to show unique, stable traits and behaviors that ultimately lead to their development as distinct, special individuals (Feldman, 2006). Infants show temperamental differences in general disposition from the time of birth, largely due initially to genetic factors. Research has also shown that physical appearance affects personality development, because people form opinions by what they see in a person physically, and respond to that person accordingly (Popkins, 1998).

External influences on personality development work in tandem with genetic predispositions to help form each unique person. Family, culture and the environment all work together to help form personality. Genetic influences notwithstanding, how a child's family and environment react to him will ultimately shape his personality. Erickson articulated the stages and conflicts a person goes through that help determine how his personality will form based on conflicts he encounters and resolutions to those conflicts. If the conflicts are not resolved, then a personality of mistrust, doubt and shame result, depending on the stage of unresolved conflicts. A person's successful progress through the stages of trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame-doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation and integrity vs. despair will determine how positive and confident a person's personality ultimately will develop.

Cloninger (2004) describes personality dynamics as "referring to the mechanisms by which personality is expressed, often focusing on the motivations that direct behavior." Motivation is the key element in personality dynamics. What is the motivation in life that directs personality development? There are many different theories depending on the school of thought; predominant in the field is psychoanalytic theorist Freud who believes the pleasure principle, i.e. reducing tension, avoiding pain and gaining pleasure underlies motivation. Humanists believe that people will naturally seek to reach their full potential. Carl Rogers suggests that motivation is from an underlying wish to be loved and respected. Maslow suggests that self-actualization, i.e. a state of self-fulfillment in which people achieve their highest potential in their own unique way is the primary goal in life (Feldman, 2006). Other theorists suggest that motives will vary from person to person. An important aspect of personality dynamics is a person's adaptation or adjustment to the demands of life. Adaptation is simply the way a person copes with the world, his ability to adjust to the demands and take advantage of the opportunities in his environment.

There is a wide variance in theories related to the cognitive influence on personality dynamics. At one end of the spectrum is Freud with his belief that "conscious thought plays only a limited role in personality dynamics; unconscious dynamics are more important in his psychoanalytic theory" (Cloninger, 2004 p. 6). Classical or Operant theorists would argue the opposite; people are assumed to be affected by the environmental stimuli to which they happen to be exposed (Feldman, 2006 p. 20). Foremost in the arena of cognitive processes as they relate to personality dynamics is Carl Jung. "As Jung was trying to understand the differences between


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