Carl Rogers (1902-1987): Rogers’ personality theory was one based on empathy as he believed that the only way to understand someone’s personality was through that person’s own point of view, and that present feelings and emotions greatly impact personality. Rogers believed that every person was driven by the innate tendency towards self-actualization, or what Rogers called a fully-functioning person, so as to develop physical and psychological abilities and potentials. Important proponents to Rogers’ theory include: unconditional positive regard, positive self-regard, conditions of worth, and conditional positive-regard. The premise of the theory is that individuals can strive towards self-actualization if they are provided with unconditional positive regard, which refers to receiving approval regardless of behavior. If a person receives continual unconditional positive regard, they will eventually develop positive self-regard where they will view themselves in a positive light, thus paralleling self-esteem. However, if conditional positive regards demonstrated, meaning that approval is given only if certain behaviors are satisfied, and disapproval is provided when other behaviors are performed, it sets conditions of worth and thus impedes self-actualization (Corey, 2001).
Albert Ellis (1913- ): After experimenting with psychoanalysis, Ellis, who is known as the grand-father of cognitive behavior therapy, decided to combine humanistic, philosophical, and behavioral techniques to develop the rational emotive therapy in 1955, now referred to as the rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). The basic assumption of REBT is that through their interpretations, people contribute to their own symptoms and disorders, and the basic hypothesis of the theory is that emotions develop from beliefs, interpretations, and reactions to life situations. The A-B-C theory of personality argues that there is an activating event (A), and the beliefs (B) concerning that event lead to emotional and behavioral consequences (C). Thus, the goal of REBT would be to modify the faulty beliefs or cognitions through challenging them, providing cognitive homework, changing one’s language, using rational-emotive imagery, role playing, and practicing shame-attacking exercises. Thus, it is a behavior modification technique which does so by modifying the cognitive processes and irrational beliefs which cause the irrational behaviors (Corey, 2001).
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970): Maslow’s personality theory is referred to as the Hierarchy of needs theory, and in essence it is an arrangement of innate needs, from strongest to weakest, which activate and direct behaviors. The pyramid of needs is structured as follows: the first of the lower or deficiency needs are the physiological needs, which include such necessities as food, water, shelter, and sex; the second of the lower needs are the safety needs which include physical security, order and stability. The first of the higher or growth needs are the belongingness and love needs; the second of the higher needs are the esteem needs; and the highest level needs include the need for self-actualization. Although Maslow argues that the goal of life is self-actualization, he specifies that it is a on-going developmental process, which can never b reached because no-one can reach perfection; there will always be something upon which one can ameliorate. Characteristics of self-actualizers include realistic perception, self-acceptance, spontaneity, focus on external problems, detachment and need for privacy, social interest, meaningful interpersonal relations, creativeness, and resistance to enculturation. It should be noted that self-actualizers can be retrograded in their actualization process depending on the satisfaction of other lower needs (if one no longer has access to food, the focus will be put on getting food rather than self-esteem) (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939): Sigmund Freud is considered as one of the most influential characters in the realm of personality theory, as his system of psychoanalysis was the first formal personality theory. Initially driven towards neurology, Freud reoriented himself towards psychology and the examination of sexual conflicts as the source of neuroses. Freud’s theory argued the effects of the life instinct, the libido, the cathexis, the death instincts, and the aggressive drive. His personality theory was structured upon three levels; the Id, the Ego, and the Superego, which were acted upon by the three types of anxieties (objective, neurotic, moral). Freud also proposed defense mechanisms as techniques used to protect one’s self from anxiety, and the psychosexual stages of development (oral, anal, phallic, latency-genital) which resulted in fixations if the conflicts were not resolved within the developmental stages. Being greatly influenced by the works of Plato, as evident through the Oedipus complex, Freud became one of the most controversial, yet influential figures of the developing field of contemporary personality theorization (Schultz & Schultz, 1998).