When you first think of personality, what comes to mind? When we refer to certain people as being “personalities,” we usually mean they are famous, people like movie stars or your favorite band. When we describe a person as having “lots of personality,” we usually mean they are outgoing and fun-loving, the kind of person we like to spend time with. But does this tell us anything about personality itself? Although we may think we have an understanding of what personality is, professional psychologists always seek to move beyond what people think they know in order to determine what is actually real or at least as close to real as we can come. In the pursuit of truly understanding personality, however, many personality theorists seem to have been focused on a particularly Western cultural approach that owes much of its history to the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud.
Freud trained as a physician with a strong background in biomedical research. He naturally brought his keen sense of observation, a characteristic of any good scientist, into his psychiatric practice. As he worked with his patients, he developed a distinctly medical model: identify a problem, identify the cause of the problem, and treat the patient accordingly. This approach can work quite well, and it has worked wonderfully for medical science, but it has two main weaknesses when applied to the study of personality. First, it fails to address the complexity and uniqueness of individuals, and second, it does not readily lend itself to describing how one chooses to develop a healthy personality.
The diversity that is the human experience can be seen in the faces of the people around us.
Quite soon in the history of personality theory, however, there were influential theorists who began to challenge Freud’s perspective. Alfred Adler, although a colleague of Freud’s for a time, began to focus on social interest and an individual’s style of life. Karen Horney challenged Freud’s perspective on the psychology of women, only to later suggest that the issue was more directly related to the oppression of women as a minority, rather than a fundamental difference based on gender. And there were Carl Jung and Carl Rogers, two men profoundly influenced by Eastern philosophy. Consequently, anyone influenced by Jung or Rogers has also been influenced, in part, by Eastern philosophy. What about the rest of the world? Have we taken into account the possibility that there are other, equally valuable and interesting perspectives on the nature of people? Many fields in psychology have made a concerted effort to address cross-cultural issues. The primary purpose of this textbook is to address some of these different cultural perspectives, and to compare them to, and contrast them with, the traditional Western perspectives. In addition, we will examine the relationships between the traditional approaches as well. In particular, the final section of this book introduces a number of paths developed throughout history to help people choose how to live their lives. Although each path is intimately identified with a religious perspective, the paths themselves represent more of a style of life. As we examine these perspectives, you will see that they are all quite similar in their essential elements, making it clear that the principles involved transcend religious culture. My hope is that when you have read this book, you will have a broad understanding of the field of personality, and an appreciation for both what we have in common and what makes us unique, as members of our global community.