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Chapter 14
Theories of Personality






Rollo May combined psychoanalytic traditions of psychology and the existentialist movement to explain his view of psychology.


The Existentialists philosophy emphasizes "existence" rather than "essence". It suggests that there is no truth or reality except as we participate in it. Knowledge is an act of doing.

The Latin word "exsistere", which means "to standout or "to emerge", and the existential approach focuses upon the human being as he or she is emerging and becoming.

Existentialists point out that a law can be true and still not be real. (Can you give an Example of this?)


"Two unicorns plus two unicorns equal four unicorns" is a logically true statement but it does not talk about anything that is real.



Rollo points out that the central problem that we face is a feeling of "powerlessness", a "pervasive conviction that the individual cannot do anything effective in the face of enormous cultural, social, and economic problems". Our feelings of powerlessness are compounded by anxiety and the loss of traditional values.


In the early 1950s, May observed many patients who came to see him were suffering from inner feelings of emptiness. May predicted that these experiences of emptiness and powerlessness would in time increase and of course it did.

The 1970s saw considerable talk about human potentialities, yet, very little confidence on the part of the individual to make a difference. This feeling of powerlessness continued throughout the 1980s and even into the 1990s. Example:

The Vietnam War, unrest in the Middle East, the threat of nuclear War

With our increase in technology, power has become impersonal, an autonomous force acting on its own behalf. No one person or group feels capable of exercising significant power.

Our feeling of powerlessness subsequently leads to "Anxiety".



Even though it is commonplace to describe our age as an anxiety age, only two books had been written dealing with the subject prior to 1950 (Freuds The Problem of Anxiety and Kierkegards, The Concept of Dread).

The Meaning of Anxiety (1950) a book written by May spurred major research in this area.

Anxiety according to May, is the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value that the individual holds essential to his or her existence as a person.

May suggests that Anxiety is an inevitable characteristic of being human. It is innate, although the particular events that may become threatening are learned. ( To support this notion, May emphasizes A primary source of anxiety in our time is not necessarily the source of anxiety in all times or cultures ).


Another source of our problems rest in the loss of values. Western society was built on competition and prestige (measured in terms of work and finance)

"I have a better jog than You"

"I make more money than You"

"My religious belief more valid than Yours"

Today, many people are more comfortable conversing with a computer than with another human being.

These values no longer work in a society where we must learn to get along with other people in order to survive.

According to May, because we have no "essence", and we have no pre-established "values" to which we can turn to. We can no longer reaffirm our human essence, because there is none; human beings are forever in the process of becoming. We have to choose our values in the process of living.

Example: How did the Sept 11th terrorist attack change our values of the following







May suggests we must rediscover ourselves:

What does this involve?




Rediscovering selfhood involves rediscovering our own feelings and desires and fighting against those things that prevent us from feeling and wanting.

May suggests four stages of consciousness of self:


Innocence (characteristic of the infant before consciousness of self is born)

Rebellion (the individual seeks to establish some inner strength where defiance and hostility is commonplace which we can sometimes see in toddlers)

Ordinary consciousness of self (stage most people refer to when they speak of a healthy personality. It involves being able to learn from ones mistakes and live responsibly)

Creative consciousness of self (it involves the ability to see something outside ones usual limited viewpoint and gain a glimpse of ultimate truth as it exists in reality)

Not everyone achieves each level of consciousness. The fourth stage, is achieved only rarely, and it is somewhat analogous to Maslows self actualization stage.


The therapeutic process of the existentialists seeks to understand the patients mode of being in the world. It's the context that distinguishes the existential approach rather than any specific technique. Much of the psychotherapeutic devices of both Freud and gestalt psychotherapists have been used.

May criticized contemporary psychological research for being impressed with data and uninterested in theory.

Mays theory is not a scientific theory of personality giving us a series of hypotheses that may be tested by an empirical procedure. Instead he suggested a philosophical picture of human nature that is coherent, relevant, comprehensive, and compelling.

The existentialist view in my opinion is rather vague and difficult to understand. Consequently only two question for test are taken from this Chapter.

In the interest of time, we will not cover Chapters 15, 16, 17.

If you have a textbook, you might want to review these Chapters on your own.

Chapter 15 Personal Constructs features Theorist George Kelly

Chapter 16 Cognitive Behavioral Theories feature Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and Arnold Lazarus

Chapter 17 Zen Buddhism















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