Theories of Personality Development: From Past to Today

This content includes all the personality development theories that have contributed to Theories of Personality Development history. It is constantly updated as new personality theories are added.

Personality development theories are about how personality is formed in humans and how it develops from infancy to adulthood. After Freud, many theories emerged. After reading the article, you will gain some ideas about Personality Development and Personality Development Theories. 

What are Personality Development Theories?

The theories of personality development form a category of models which attempt to describe the causes underlying an individual’s behavior and cognitions. There are three main theories in this field, psychosexual theory, psychoanalytic theory, and superego development respectively. 


Freud examines personality from three perspectives with his psychoanalytic theory. Approaches to the structure, organization, and development of personality theories: topographic, structural, and psychosexual development theories.

sigmund freud - theories of personality development
sigmund freud – theories of personality development

Topographic personality theory (Consciousness classification)

This theory of personality development is related to the cognitive activities of the individual. This theory emphasizes that human behavior is related to the subconscious rather than consciousness. Freud aimed to determine the distance of the individual’s various cognitive activities to consciousness and also said that the cognitive contents are in certain cognitive regions.

Consciousness: It is the place where the individual lives at any moment.

Pre-Consciousness: This is the place where the individual can remember only by forcing his attention.

Unconscious: It is the place where the individuals are not aware of, they cannot bring to consciousness even if they are forcing their attention.

Structuralist personality theory (personality structure)

According to this model personality, it consists of id, ego, superego. These three systems of personality constantly interacting with each other to direct the individual’s behavior.

theories of personality development: from past to today 1
theories of personality development

Id: It is the primitive aspect of personality. Id always acts according to the principle of pleasure. It makes unrealistic and irrational requests. It wants the immediate impulses of the individual to be fed at any cost.

According to Freud, in the first days of life (in newborn infants), the primitive structure consists of a complete id that forms the ego and the superego.

Ego: This is the part of the personality structure that acts according to the principle of reality and is partially conscious. The Ego determines how the needs of reality are met in an appropriate way, without a difficulty, resulting from the individual’s internal impulses. The individual seeks solutions that will not cause problems.

Superego: Represents the moral aspect of personality. Based on the principle of morality in all of its decisions, it opposes the fulfillment of excessive demands and demands that cannot be accepted under strict moral rules, in particular by checking the demands of the id regarding sexuality and aggression.

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theories of personality development

Psycho-Sexual Development Theory

Oral Period: Involves the period of one or one and a half years after birth. In this period, the first pleasure center is the mouth. For him, sucking, chewing, and biting are the main sources of pleasure.

Anal Period: Involves the age range of 2-3 years. The child is satisfied with the anus and anus-related actions. So, in this period, it is important not to make mistakes in toilet training.

Phallic Period: Involves the age range of 3-5 years. During this period, the child’s source of pleasure is his genitals, and he finds it enjoyable to play with them.

Latent Period: Involves 7-11 age range. It is the development phase in which the features gained in previous periods are reinforced. The interest of the child who starts to identify with his teachers and other adults besides his parents concentrates on acquiring social and intellectual skills.

Genital Period: It includes the years of young adulthood. The sexual focus of the young person is now other than himself and his family. In this period, it is possible to old unfixed problems emerge again. 

Psychosocial Development Theory

Eros Erikson’s psychosocial theory emphasizes the determinant role of social factors as well as biological factors in the formation of personality. According to Erikson, the main forces that affect human behavior are not impulses of biological origin. He argued that man has gone through eight stages of development throughout his life and that each individual stage faces a new complexity that one must deal with.

  • Insecurity against trust (from birth to one year old)
  • Guilt Against Assertiveness (Period from three to six)
  • Sense of Inferiority to Success (Lasts from six to twelve)
  • Shame and Skepticism Against Independence (from twelfth to three years) Identity Role Complexity (Twelve-Eighteen)
  • Loneliness versus Friendship (Eighteen to twenty-six years old)
  • Productivity Pause (Covers mid-adulthood)
  • Despair Against Self Integrity (Includes advanced adulthood)
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theories of personality development

Attachment Theory

The first research on attachment was made by John Bowlby. According to Bowlby, a secure attachment relationship between mother and child provides the child with the opportunity for healthy psychological development. Bowlby believes that there is a similarity between this attachment relationship in Rhesus monkeys and the first attachment processes in humans. He claims that incorrectly developed or intermittent attachment relationships may lead to personality problems and mental illnesses. For example, according to him, insecure attachment forms the basis for the development of a neurotic personality.

According to attachment theory, for human life, attachment has three basic functions;

1- While exploring the world, having a safe harbor to return to.

2- Meeting physical requirements.

3- The chance to develop a sense of security about life.

Bowlby argues that if these requirements are not adequately met, pathology may develop in connection with the self-perception of the child. Many theorists who are interested in the attachment process also accept that it is the attachment relationship that one establishes with his mother in the early stages of his life, which determines the quality and expectations of the person’s relationships with other people in adult life.

Also, people who have a secure attachment style are more compatible with their family and friends, have more confidence in themselves and others, and have fewer social problems. Those who have an insecure attachment style are those who are uncomfortable with getting close to others, have difficulty in completely trusting them, have less adaptation to social life, cannot control their emotions too much, and are more sensitive to stress.

Unorganized binding is the third type of binding. For example, the child is afraid of the caregiver, the caregiver is indifferent and frightening. 

heinz kohut
heinz kohut

Self Psychology Theory

Self-psychology is a psychoanalytic theory developed by Heinz Kohut in the 1970s. This theory, which was originally proposed to understand the development of narcissistic personality, was later expanded to address other psychopathologies.

In this theory, the basic element of the spiritual structure is the self within the self. From the birth of man, there is an undeveloped self-structure. For the development of the self, other people need the object. However, Kohut sees the relationship between the infant and the object of the self as the basis of spiritual development.

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theories of personality development: from past to today 9

Nancy Chodorow Personality Theory

Nancy Chodorow: She is the founder of gender theory. According to Nancy Chodorow, there is a relationship between the attachment of the baby to his parents at an early age and the definition of himself as a man or woman.

Although Chodorow criticizes Freud, he emphasizes the importance of the mother rather than the father.

In the early stages of life, a child tends to emotionally attach to the mother because of the influence the mother has on it. If this attachment breaks at some point to reach a separate sense of self, the child may enter into a less strict dependence.

Chodorow reverses Freud’s emphasis to some degree. Masculinity, instead of femininity, is defined by a loss, the loss of strict attachment to the mother.

Separation forms the male identity; therefore, when men engage in close emotional ties with others later in life, they might find it compromising.

Women, on the other hand, feel that the absence of close relationships with another person threatens their self-esteem. People transfer these patterns from one generation to another because of the primary role played by women in the socialization of children at an early age. Women define and express themselves primarily in terms of relationships. Men suppress these requirements and adopt a more motivating attitude towards the world.

Other Theories

According to Jung, personality consists of many interacting systems. Ego, personal subconscious, collective subconscious, and archetypal systems have introversion-extraversion attitudes, emotion, intuition, and thinking functions. Their unified personality, which is a combination of these, also forms the self.

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theories of personality development: from past to today 10

According to Adler, the human is a social being.

According to Adler, personality is the product of the attitudes that an individual develops toward himself/herself, other people, and society. The center of personality is consciousness. The individual is a conscious being. So it’s aware of his/her behavior. Every human being has a sense of deficiency. He/she is in despair because of his/her childhood inadequacy and his/her dependence on the environment. Throughout his life, he/she strives to establish superiority over individuals and also prove his/her strength. Alfred Adler claims that people want to be perfect.

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theories of personality development: from past to today 11

According to Eric Fromm, personality forms due to experience as a result of social influences. Permanent personality is the common product of social and cultural influences and hereditary aspects that make up the individual’s physical structure and temperament. According to Eric Fromm, the main problem of psychology is to examine how an individual establishes a relationship with society, the world, and himself/herself. The individual’s environmental relations are in two directions. The first is socialization and the second is assimilation.


Last Updated on December 10, 2022 by Lucas Berg


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