Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality

We couldn't talk about theories of personality or psychology without mentioning Freud. Sigmund Freud is one of the most famous (and controversial) minds of the 20th century. His psychoanalytic perspective of personality offers a unique way at looking at the body and mind connection to personality.

What is the Psychoanalytic Theory of Personality?

In order to know Sigmund Freud's theory of personality, you have to know the following three terms: Id, Ego, and SuperEgo. These are the three parts of your personality driven by unconscious energy. All three are all silently going through a struggle to influence our decisions and behavior.


The Id is the “bad boy” of our subconscious. It is an impulsive part of the psyche that seeks pleasure and avoids pain at all costs. The Id wants instant gratification - it is the part of you that grabs for food as a baby or acts to satisfy sexual desires without thinking.


The SuperEgo lies on the opposite side of the spectrum. This part of the psyche wants to control the Id. If humans acted only based on receiving instant gratification and immediate pleasure, we would all be in a whole lot of trouble. The SuperEgo unconsciously and consciously acts to follow the rules of society and keep the Id from causing some serious damage.


The Ego lies in the middle of these two entities. It is in a constant struggle to balance out these two forces and make pleasurable decisions without causing too much damage. It's like a well-minded adult standing in the middle of two children wanting to overthrow each other. 

Freud and Personality

How do Freud’s ideas influence the way that we shape our personality? One of his theories was that as a child grows into an adult, they encounter five psychosexual stages of development. During each stage of development, the Id is focused on a specific erogenous zone.

The Ego must struggle to balance out the pleasure-seeking Id and the moral SuperEgo. During each phase, internal conflicts will result in many struggles. Freud said personality is formed by the process and results of these struggles.

Stage 1: Oral

Stage 2: Anal

Stage 3: Phallic

Stage 4: Latency

Stage 5: Genital

Freud believes that most of our personality has been formed by the time we are five. At the age of five, a child has gone through the oral, anal, and most of the phallic stages. If the child continues to struggle with balance during these stages, they will develop “fixations.”

Oral fixations include smoking or problems with eating.

If someone fails to master potty training or still struggles during the anal stage, they may be a sloppy or lazy person.

During the phallic stage, Freud believed that boys and girls start to notice the difference in each other and develop The Oedipus Complex and penis envy. The Oedipus Complex is the idea that unconsciously, young boys feel possessive of their mother and as a result, feel aggressive toward their father. Freud also believed that young girls experienced a penis envy and due to their lack of penis, developed fixations that follow them until they are an adult.


If Freud’s ideas make you uncomfortable, either for the fact that he focuses explicitly on sex or that he seems to frame women as the lesser sex, you’re not alone. Freud has never ceased to face criticisms for his work. Unlike many psychologists, he did not use empirical research to back up his theories. He worked solely with adults on a case-by-case basis. Since Freud has introduced this theory, it has been largely replaced by humanistic and cognitive approaches.

Why Is Freud’s Theory of Personality Important? 

The psychoanalytic perspective remains as one of the top personality theories to date, alongside behaviorism and humanism. Unlike humanist theory, Freud’s focus remains in the unconscious. He explores the idea that in order to discover the root of our personality, we have to dig deeper than what we experience on “the surface.”

Psychoanalytic therapy grew out of Freud’s theories. This approach involves a therapist questioning their patient about childhood memories or possible events that led to struggles between the Id and the SuperEgo. Freud believed that humans repress many of their emotions; his goal during therapy sessions was to bring the unconscious feelings into the conscious mind.

This last theory gives us a lot to think about when it comes to the development of our personality. How many events in your life can you point out as “defining” moments that shaped your personality? How many events could have changed your personality without your knowledge?

About the author 


Theodore created PracticalPsychology while in college and has transformed the educational online space of psychology. His goal is to help people improve their lives by understanding how their brains work. 1,700,000 Youtube subscribers and a growing team of psychologists, the dream continues strong!

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