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Chapter: Psychology: Personality

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Psychodynamic Approach: Probing the Depths

The comic theater of the classical and Renaissance ages presented personality types as stable and well-defined.

THE PSYCHODYNAMIC APPROACH :PROBING THE DEPTHS

 

The comic theater of the classical and Renaissance ages presented personality types as stable and well-defined. Once a character entered, the audience knew what to expect of him. If the actor wore the mask of the cowardly soldier, he would brag and run away; if he wore the mask of the miserly old man, he would jealously guard his money.

 

As we have seen, the trait approach has amended this view in important ways but has still left one crucial claim: We are who we seem to be, and our various traits and motivations are in plain view for all to see. Indeed, the trait approach often relies on self-report data—a reflection of the assumption that we can perceive ourselves with relative accuracy.

 

According to the psychodynamic approach, however, we need to revise this under-standing both of personality and of self-knowledge—and shift to an understanding that parallels a more modern approach to drama, in which nothing is quite what it seems. In this approach, actors playing a character must pay attention to the subtext, the unspoken thoughts that go through the character’s head while she speaks her lines. And many actors are interested in a still deeper subtext, the thoughts and wishes of which the character is unaware. According to the psychodynamic approach, this deeper subtext is the wellspring of all human personality.

 

Adherents of the psychodynamic approach do not deny that some people are more sociable than others, or that some are more impulsive or emotionally unstable. But they contend that it is superficial to explain such tendencies as either the expression of a personality trait or the product of situational factors. In their view, what people do and say—and even what they consciously think—is only the tip of the iceberg. As they see it, human acts and thoughts are just the outer expression of a whole host of motives and desires that are often derived from early childhood experiences, and that are for the most part unknown to the person himself. They believe that to understand a person is to understand these hidden psychological forces or dynamics.

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