Reflections on Personality Theory, Blatt’s Polarities of experience, Hoffman, et al’s Toward a sustainable myth of self, and Patterson’s Person-centered personality theory

What is personality? It is made up of thoughts, ideas, relationships, feelings, dreams, aspirations, environment, even rebellion. At the same time, it is nothing but the figment of our dreams if one takes the Eastern and Buddhist view of existence. The readings here are becoming more fascinating and challenging, though I still find flaws in the Western bias (Blatt, 2008), though it is probable that personality is viewed differently in the East, but defining personality as it has developed in Western culture alone, necessarily denies the inclusion of the Middle East and parts further west that are not Western Europe as well as Eastern cultures themselves. While individuality was suppressed in the Middle Ages, I have to wonder if it actually suppressed all of society. I suspect individuality was not completely suppressed in isolated pockets of community who did not adhere to the dictates of the political church until they were forced to. And please remember that Africa and Muslim Enlightenment was dominant in Europe for 700 years. This is never mentioned, not even in passing.

I posit that that fierce independence was not completely killed or suppressed or the Renaissance would not have occurred. The historical record that is referenced is incomplete and those pockets of resistance most decidedly had an influence on the future, and what of the illiterate who were unable to read the thoughts of the day? Were they influenced just the same? These questions are not asked. Blatt (2008) further articulates that the emphasis on the centrality of the power originates with Nietzsche and his “will to power as an ethical, religious, and psychological imperative that inspired men to passion, pride, revenge, anger, adventure, war, destruction, and knowledge,” but this seems presumptuous with the history of violence and conquest within the history of the world. However the emphasis upon individualism is again, still very dominated by a Western bias, Blatt’s (2008) stated challenges to that theory by Darwinian, Marxian, and Freudian thought to the contrary notwithstanding. It still fails to take into account the emphasis on collectivism of the East and traditional African cultures. When it is mentioned at all (Blatt, pp. 35-36, 2008), it is in context with studies of family groups with infants and primates, but other non-Western cultures are not. This disturbs me. Is it perhaps that the overviews discuss in such a project cannot cover every aspect of the topic in the limited space?

The ideas of a mythological self, and even the Eastern idea of no-self mentioned in Hoffman, et al (2008) are getting closer to right and makes the most sense to me, but when discussing the “self,” the physical, the imaginary, and the elusive, the interpretation and understanding of it, are individually and collectively necessarily complex. While the reliance upon definitions in the article is necessary for a clear understanding, outside of the article there is cultural social constructs as well as spiritual so the inquiries don’t stop with this article. They continue as we explore what it means to each of us as we learn more about ourselves and the cultures around us, but it is puzzling yet again, that any talk of myth does not include any referent material to Joseph Campbell and his various works, especially his most famous expansive work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1972), because any talk of self necessarily must include a discussion of self as it relates to the collective society.

And there is a problem when the authors claim that, “Throughout the premodern and modern periods there was agreement by the majority of [Western] authorities that truth, even ultimate truth, existed and could be definitively known.” Hoffman et al (2008). Again, this is a disturbingly Western bias to dismiss any authority or knowledge that is not Western based, though the authors pay passing reference to Eastern ideas in Buddhist and Taoist thought. If we are going to seek knowledge, we cannot limit it. The authors admit (Hoffman, et al, 2008) admit that the self is not an easy thing to locate, but I would have appreciated a concentration upon one or three main concepts rather than an infinite.

Person-centered theory is thankfully the primary focus of Patterson &Joseph (2007). In light of the myriad theories that were discussed above where ideas seemed to be forced into a theorist’s or philosopher’s box, the person-centered theory of Carl Rogers allows much more for an individual to assess themselves from a perspective of positive evolutionary, acknowledge vulnerability and personal development needs, the positive therapist acting in some ways as an actualization mentor. Intriguingly, out of all the theories presented in these readings, this is the one that makes the most sense to me; given that self-actualization is prominently acknowledged (N.B. Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is also the first psychological concept I was introduced to many years ago, though Rogers introduces some further nuances to this concept in Patterson &Joseph, 2007). How important is personality theory for my work. For the work I want to do in the community, I can see that I may need to explore persona-centered theory much more than the present reflection allows.

References:

Blatt, S. J. (2008). Polarities of experience: Relatedness and self-definition in personality development, psychopathology, and the therapeutic process. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (Chapter 1: “Fundamental dimensions in personality & social theory”

Campbell, J. (1972). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hoffman, L., Stewart, S., Warren, D. & Meek, L. (2008). Toward a sustainable myth of self: An existential response to the postmodern condition. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 49, 135-173.

Patterson, T. G., & Joseph, S. (2007). Person-centered personality theory: Support from self-determination theory and positive psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47, 117-139. doi:10.1177/0022167806293008

 

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