Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Freudian Personality Psychology

Psychoanalysis is the first formal approach in the study of personality psychology. The emphasis of this approach is on unconscious forces within an individual. Sigmund Freud is universally considered the founder of the psychoanalytic school. According to Freud, the basic elements of personality are instincts, a driving force or impulses that mediate between the mind and the body (Schultz & Schultz, 2001). In addition, Freud proposed the three levels of personality: the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, while the structures of personality were explained by the concepts id, ego and superego.

In analysing the psychoanalytic approach to the study of personality from the Islamic perspective, one has to first consider the differences in the understanding of the concept of human nature. The psychoanalytic approach has a very pessimistic view of human nature as the ultimate goal of all human behaviours according to Freud is to reduce anxiety (Freud, 1926). In addition, on the issue of free will and determinism, Freud believed that human personality is determined by the life and death instincts, and the invincible and inaccessible unconscious forces within an individual.

Islam believes man's nature is inclined towards good since the essence of man is spiritual goodness (Ali, 1995). On free will and determinism, the emphasis is more on free will. An essential element of man's free will is imbued in the term ikhtiyar, derived from the root word khayr (good). Hence ikhtiyar is not merely about exercising choice but choosing what is good and beneficial (Al-Attas, 1990).

On the influence of unconscious forces, Ibn al-Qayyim in his book Al-Fawa'id acknowledged that all behavioural actions begin with wasawis (concealed whispers) (Badri, 200). This unconscious element however, is not viewed as the powerful deterministic force in the magnitude described by Freud. These inner fleeting thoughts, which may incline towards both good and bad behaviour, can be easily steered towards good and away from evil by an individual's deep sense of faith (iman) and religiosity.

In explaining personality development, Freud introduced the five psychosexual stages starting with the oral stage followed by the anal, phallic, latency and genital stages. Freud believed that an individual's personality is largely shaped by the experiences in the first five years of a person’s life (encompassing the first three stages of the theory).

This huge emphasis on early childhood experiences is not in harmony with the perspective of Islam. Islam's view on human nature is more optimistic where human beings are deemed to be naturally incline towards goodness and are always capable of improving. Every living individual has continuous potential for growth and self-development which can never be exhausted. The spectacular transformation in the personalities of the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Umar al-Khattab and Abu Dhar al-Ghifari in particular; transformed from the greatest of bullies during the Jahiliyyah period to amongst the most pious Muslims upon conversion to Islam, are outstanding examples of how radical personality changes and improvements can occur even during adulthood.

(The above is an excerpt from an unpublished paper entitled 'Personality Psychology From An Islamic Perspective' written in 2007)

No comments: