Many psychologists have proposed theories that try to explain the origins of personality. One highly influential set of theories stems from the work of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, who first proposed the theory of psychoanalysis. Collectively, these theories are known as psychodynamic theories. Although many different psychodynamic theories exist, they all emphasize unconscious motives and desires, as well as the importance of childhood experiences in shaping personality.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Freud developed a technique that he called psychoanalysis and used it to treat mental disorders. He formed his theory of psychoanalysis by observing his patients. According to psychoanalytic theory, personalities arise because of attempts to resolve conflicts between unconscious sexual and aggressive impulses and societal demands to restrain these impulses.
Freud believed that most mental processes are unconscious. He proposed that people have three levels of awareness:
Example: The words Dan is reading, the objects in his field of vision, the sounds he can hear, and any thirst, hunger, or pain he is experiencing at the moment are all in his conscious.
Example: Linda’s telephone number, the make of her car, and many of her past experiences are in her preconscious.
Example: Stan’s unconscious might contain angry feelings toward his mother or a traumatic incident he experienced at age four.