Although the various psychodynamic theories contain many similar assumptions and explanations, each has slight variations in the discussion of personality characteristics and interpersonal relationships. The following proposes some of those variations and similarities.
According to Feist and Feist (2009), Freud fervently believed that humans are destined to follow unconscious directives produced by experiences in early childhood, whereas Jung believed in a worldly collective conscience that affected and determined human personality. Jung sought to nourish humanity and integrated his theories with occult phenomena such as folklore and the mystical. Adler's individual psychology focused on societal and environmental factors that forced confrontations that determine the nature of personality (Feist & Feist, 2009). Adler leaned toward a humanist approach and based his theories on development prior to adulthood, and stressed the affect of abuse and neglect in childhood, physical deformities, and birth order. He claimed individuals must determine their own needs, goals, interests, and growth. Melanie Klein's object relations theory has its basis in observations of young children with emphasis on the first four to six months of life. Klein viewed the human psyche as "unstable, fluid, constantly fending off psychotic anxieties" (Mitchell & Black, 1995, as cited in Feist & Feist, 2009, p. 159). Horney's theory assumed personality was structured and developed according to the quality of the early relationship between children and their parents (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Personality Characteristics According to Various Theories
Freud theorized personalities were created mostly by the influences of the unobservable human unconscious over which people have little to no control. Adler's individual psychology proposed personalities were formed by social and environmental conflicts and confrontations. Jung believed the human psyche was a worldly phenomenon that exerted powerful influence on individual personalities, but understood people are also drawn by internal motivations (Feist & Feist, 2009). According to Adler's theory, an individual's personality develops from the mostly external factors of compensation, defeat, and over-compensation. He believed in a unified personality without the internal conflicting internal factors of Freud's unconscious directives within the person. Klein's object relations theory proposed the human personality is a result of the early relationship between mother and child, and this relationship serves as a prototype for future associations and relationships (Feist & Feist, 2009). Horney's psychoanalytic social theory claimed social and cultural conditions shape the personality during childhood. She believed if children do not have satisfying love and affection they develop hostility and suffer anxiety (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Explanation of Interpersonal Relationships Using Various Theories
Whereas psychoanalytic theory proposed relationships are based on needs and desires created in the past and continue to direct most of human behavior, Adler's individual psychology encouraged psychological health in individuals, couples, and within families as a means to fulfill the ideals of society and inspire social responsibility (Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung believed interpersonal relationships were based on the needs of each person as reflected in each other, even though the needed attributes lay deep within each person. Klein's object relations theory claims the early relationship between mother and child is a prototype for other relationships during the lifetime, and this relationship serves as a basis for future associations and relationships (Feist & Feist, 2009). Horney's psychoanalytic social theory claimed interpersonal relations were based on the love and affection between children and their parents, and the hostility and anxiety created during this time affected future relationships. Sullivan believed individual personalities grow from interactions with others, and such contact helps to establish a healthy personality, which is a way to ease the tensions and anxiety of the human condition (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Reliability, Validity, Strengths, and Limitations
The continued integration of neuroscience and psychoanalysis has enabled the validation of Freud's representation of consciousness as the tip of the iceberg of the human psyche and has produced scientific evidence of Freud's previously unfalsifiable theories (Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung's theories continue to evade falsifiability, although they continue to nourish many individuals in lifestyle and therapeutic applications. Sullivan's theory is neither verifiable nor falsifiable because intimacy and social connections are difficult to measure (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Although most are useful constructs, Adler's theories do not easily lend themselves to verification or falsification (Feist & Feist, 2009). Adler was the first thinker in psychology to posit that health and dysfunction are inextricably related to one’s relationship to the community. Klein's object relations theory does not lend itself to falsification, although attachment theory has generated testable hypotheses and an abundance of research. Horney's theories are based on her experiences with neurotic patients, and are not applicable to healthy populations, but parts of her theories deny verification and falsification. As with most psychodynamic theories, Sullivan's were neither falsifiable nor verifiable. His theory is generally consistent, but lacks organization (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Psychoanalytic theory remains widely used in psychoanalytic applications, although usually with modifications to Freud's original theories. Freud's work is the basis of continued psychological study (Feist & Feist, 2009). Adler's holistic, almost humanistic approach to personality continued to influence psychologists during 20th century counseling and psychiatric applications and continues to remain popular. Jungian theory is still widely applied in family and other counseling therapies, and is the basis for many psychologically therapeutic paradigms that incorporate mysticism, folklore, and mythology. Jung's theory is the basis for the Briggs-Myers Personality Test that is used in both professional and secular applications. Sullivan's approach, which emphasizes the present, focuses on interpersonal relationships as a means to alter maladaptive and inappropriate behavior. Some of his theories are used in contemporary psychological applications. According to Feist and Feist (2009), the most useful feature of Klein's object relations theory is its organization of infant behavior. Object relations theorists have speculated on the gradual acquisition of knowledge and sense of identity more than other personality theorists (Feist & Feist, 2009). Horney's theory remains useful to teachers, therapists, and parents who aim to provide an environment for thriving students, patients, and children.
The central themes to the psychodynamic approach are the internal processes that contribute to and are an inherent quality of human nature. The variety of other aspects within each theorist's ideas creates a broad portrait of this perspective.
Feist, J., & Feist, G. (2009). Theories of personality (7th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.