Freud, Berne, Plato and The Bible on Personality

An examination
by Chris Hibbard

Freud, Berne, Plato and The Bible on Personality

Part One – Freud

Sigmund Freud sees a human being as an organism that is guided by its needs – hunger, thirst, avoidance or pain, and of course, sex. To this end, Freud’s take on the human psyche is composed of three separate ‘parts’: the id, the ego and the superego.
The primary part of Freud’s psyche is the central nervous system; the id. The id translates the aforementioned needs into motivational forces recognized as instinct or drive. The id works on the pleasure principle – it doesn’t consciously know what it wants but it wants it now!

During the first year of life, some of the id becomes ego. The ego is the consciousness, that searches for the way to satisfy the needs and desires of the id. The ego works on the reality principle and unlike the id, shows some restraint. Instead of saying “I want it and I want it now!”, the ego says “I’ll fill that hole and satisfy that appetite as soon as the right circumstances come along.” In this way, for all intents and purposes, the ego represents reason. As the ego struggles to keep the id satisfied in these early stages, it encounters many obstacles – most related to mothers, fathers and other parental or authority figures. The ego remembers each of these obstacles, learning as it goes and also remembering any punishments or rewards that affect its progress. These lists of things to avoid and things to do, and related strategies to take to either avoid or embrace; become the superego – acting as both the conscience and the ideal, complete with any and all resulting feelings of pride, shame and guilt.

Part Two – Berne

Eric Berne took Freud’s work and extracted from it his own trinitarian personality – The Child, The Parent and The Adult. The Child consists of three parts in itself. The Natural Child is fun-loving, carefree and impulsive; impatiently seeking pleasure and providing important emotions such as joy, curiosity, anger and vengeance. The Adaptive Child is the child that acts grown up – attempting to please others, do what it’s supposed to do and keeping its world tidy while hiding unpleasant feelings. Yet in it’s efforts to be a good boy or girl, the Adaptive Child may also get the urge to resist orders, procrastinate and become grouchy or moody when it doesn’t get its way – selfish, in other words. The Little Professor is the third part of Berne’s Child personality. This part is clever, manipulative and observant – thinking ahead and learning as it goes how to get what it wants.

Berne’s Parent stage is divided into two parts: the Nurturing Parent and the Critical Parent. The Nurturing Parent is caring, supportive, giving and protective towards others and itself. This part of our psyche talks to ourselves, offers us suggestions and advice on what to go in any given situation – tips on making up our own minds. The Critical Parent on the other hand, is the part of us that criticizes the behaviour of ourselves and others, when we do or see something that seems inappropriate. The Critical Parent is our conscience, filled with ‘shoulds’ and ‘should-nots’. When we do something wrong, the Critical Parent can become quite harsh, leading to shame, guilt and depression. Like Freud’s tripartite psyche, Berne believes that there is a constant struggle between the id and the superego – in Berne’s case the Child and the Parent.

Last but not least, Berne’s Adult stage finds the balance between observation (Parent) and feeling (Child). The Adult is the evaluator, processing stimulating experience and information and filing it away categorically according to previous experience. The Adult is more like a computer that spits out a final decision after computing the information it has received from three separate hard drives – the Parent, the Child and the Adult. If the Child feels a concept, the Parent teaches it and the Adult learns from it.

Part Three – Plato

Plato had his own three-part theory on personality, or as he referred to it, The Soul. Plato argued that the soul is comprised of three parts called Logistikon, Thymos and Epithymia.
Logistikon or reason is the intellectual component; calculating, measuring and decision making. Thymos or emotion is the “structural element of the soul”; the passionate or romantic side that longs for honour, glory and respect. Epithymia or appetites and aversions is the part of the soul that wants and desires things to help us satisfy our biological and material desires.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Chariot, two horses representing Thymos and Epithymia pull The Chariot of the personality or soul. But it is up to the Charioteer, representing Logistikon, to determine direction and speed, coordinating the movement of the two horses and charting the Chariot’s course. Plato argues that in order to live a life of virtue, it is necessary that there be a balance and harmony between the three parts, lest their be chaos, disarray and certain unhappiness in life.

Part Four – The Bible

The Trinity according to Christianity is something else entirely. God, his Son, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, all existing simultaneously and eternally, a communion of One God in Three Persons. Each member of the trinity is equal, uncreated and omnipotent. Since according to The Bible, men are made in the image of God, some assume that men too contain a trinity. The closest reference to a three-part human soul within the confines of Christian theology would involve the mind, body and spirit. The mind should remain focused yet open, the body pure and clean for its is the temple, and the spirit dedicated to God, for he is ever-present and always good. These three parts are quite similar to the Greek notions of Soma, Pneuma and Psyche, translated to mean Body (Carnal), Spirit (Spiritual) and Soul (Natural). The German word Geist is also akin to the Christian trinity, being translatable to mean all these; Mind, Spirit, Ghost and Reality.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on November 24, 2008.

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