The Notion of Personality

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For many centuries people have been trying to understand how human psyche and mind work, and how personality is formed. According to religion people were created by God. According to genetics individuality is a unique combination of genomes. Sociologists view personality in the context of culture, and psychologists consider it as a combination of a variety of subconscious patterns that influence human behavior. In all cases, human attempts to determine themselves and find “the real self” are indispensable parts of introspection. Philosophers, ideologists, writers and psychologists propose a great number of theories regarding self-determination. Different approaches to personality study will be discussed and analyzed in the current research paper.

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It is necessary to note that the perception of “self” depends upon many details. That is why an attempt to analyze the problem from several points of view, using the knowledge proposed by science, philosophy and psychology will be the most efficient way to understand what is true in regard to personality's formation. According to the hypothesis of this paper, the real self is determined by the following aspects: social and cultural context, behavioristic patterns, archetypes, the unconscious and collective conscience. The analysis will feature the ideas of Freud, Levi-Strauss, John B. Watson, Jung, Derrida and Durkheim.

General Overview

People often say that they have lost themselves or they have not found themselves yet. From the psychological perspective, such statements are incorrect, because personality is determined by numerous aspects, as it was mentioned earlier. People change with the course of time, and it is not a problem for an individual to find his/her new self the next day without any efforts.

First, it is necessary to investigate the notion of personality, which is not that simple, as it seems. The definition of real self depends on a viewpoint that is analyzed. As mentioned above, for many centuries people have been trying to answer the questions related to the nature of their personality and the ways of searching for their real self. Nowadays in the developed countries like the United States there is obviously a cult of individuality.

There is nothing worse for a person than to be similar to the others and that is why almost everyone tries to find something peculiar and strange in their inner world. It is possible to say that modern tendencies in understanding the real self are introspective, as people try to find their individuality or difference from the crowd in their subconscious. However, the importance of the conscious life of a person and external influences also affect his/her individuality. It forms general structures and patterns, according to which almost all people develop their differences and it is crucial to pay attention to both the inner side of a person and his/her shared knowledge in order to understand what the real self is.

The Church, philosophy and ideology investigated the problem of the human nature throughout history. The philosophers of Ancient Greece paid attention to the spiritual life and development of people. In the medieval era, the Christian religion started to dominate philosophy regarding the questions of worldview in Europe. Religion became the central idea that could give an answer to all questions. The answer to the question related to searching oneself in life was quite simple, as everything was considered to depend from the will of God. Every historical period of time had its main ideas about the nature of human personality that were actively taught to everyone and defined the current system of values and beliefs. Though, despite the big number of ideas that attempted to answer the main questions of human life, like “who are we”, there was no definite solution to this problem. It is possible to say that the only thing that is evident from this historical flashback is that each epoch determines the way in which people percept themselves. It proves that human personality is formed not only by the inner subconscious processes, but also by the outer cultural context.

In general, the problems of losing one`s personality or searching for the right one are almost always provoked by a person’s anxiety in the face of serious changes or by fear of not corresponding to the expectations of others. The main principle related to finding the real self is total acceptance of the current state of things. Nobody can change his/her personality only because he/she does not like it. A personality is a set of individual characteristics that were partly inherited or developed gradually through the life time. For this reason, a real self can be called a comparatively constant set of characteristics.

The second notion that is important in regard to personality is culture. It forms the sociological context, which determines the way in which people think and act. In the article The nature of culture Kroeber (1987) writes that culture is a complex notion that influences the formation of personality in many aspects. People always try to fit into the society, and to share customs, traditions, beliefs, law and other things that characterize their community. It guarantees social heredity and the knowledge regarding what qualities a person should have derives from this tradition.

Kroeber (1987) states that culture can be characterized as a super individual notion. Knowledge is transmitted from one member of a society to another without becoming their personal material possession that can be automatically transferred to their offspring. Knowledge is above all individuals, but it still affects everyone. Culture is almost always connected with history, which makes it impossible to understand culture without certain social context. Kroeber (1987) also emphasizes that culture exists only if there are people who share its common values and beliefs. That is why it is essential to understand that culture has a great influence on the formation and development of one`s personality, and it is crucial to take all its components into consideration while analyzing one`s individuality.

The current research is mainly focused on the notions of personality and culture. They can be called the basic concepts that determine the direction of further investigation of the problem relate to self formation. A number of concepts that will be analyzed in the paper derive from the notion of personality. Among them are the notions of personal conscience and unconscious, ego, super ego and id, various behavioristic patterns etc. The notions of experience, cognition, socialization, collective conscience, ideology and traditions refer to the cultural sphere.

Detailed Exploration

As mentioned above, the cultural context influences the process of formation and development of individuality. Many philosophers and sociologists studied the connections between the society, its culture and the inner processes of self determination. Emile Durkheim was one of them. This French sociologist studied people from the viewpoint of the collectivist approach. According to Durkheim, it is difficult to underestimate the level of influence of the society on one`s personality.

Most values, beliefs and desires that a person considers to be individual are the results of people's life in the society. Its structures and forces are not fully examined by sociology, but their impact is evident. According to Durkheim, each person exists outside the society and interacts with it during all his/her life. The society is viewed as a separate thing that consists of imagery, attitudes and beliefs. All these components form morality and culture, and are naturally imposed on personality of all the members of a particular society. Durkheim also introduced the notion of collective conscience that determines the formation of the real self without individuals' desires (Masse 2001).

The influence of the collective conscience becomes evident in such aspects of social life as traditions, ideology, religion and mentality, and it combines all the notions mentioned above. A person`s mentality as well as the society, in which here the person lives, are crucial for the formation of the ideal self. Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama explain the difference between the Americans and the Japanese using the following example, which illustrates the range of problems social psychology studies:

In America, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In Japan, “the nail that stands out gets pounded down.” American parents who are trying to induce their children to eat their suppers are fond of saying “think of the starving kids in Ethiopia, and appreciate how lucky you are to be different from them.” Japanese parents are likely to say "Think about the farmer who worked so hard to produce this rice for you; if you don't eat it, he will feel bad, for his efforts will have been in vain". (Hazel 1991)

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of life experience and the desire for cognition as its main moving power. These concepts were analyzed by Derrida in the essay Theorie d'ensemble (1968). In this work Derrida introduces the new term of differance, which is the misspelled French word for to differ. This mistake in writing was made by the philosopher to emphasize the subversion of the traditional priority that speech has over writing. Though, the notion of differance can be analyzed deeper in the context of Husserl's phenomenology. Husserl emphasized the importance of returning to the initial experience, that is the one of cognition. He defines the self as the transcendental personality and cognition is its main characteristic.

In this article, Derrida denies the initial experience and the concept of personality that needs knowledge to be formed. He builds his argument as the denial of everything. According to him, self-experience, becoming, world view and soul are not important in the process of personality formation. On the contrary, only the opposition of absence and presence create the true self. The philosopher stated that differance can not be understood in the context of traditional signs and notions, it is an unexplainable issue. This point of view seems to be very interesting in the context of the current research, because it proposes a post-modern philosophical idea that corresponds to the spirit of modern time. In my opinion, there are no objective ways of defining such ambiguous notions as individuality, subconscious and even conscious, despite the fact that cognition structures are considered to be similar for everyone.

Another aspect related to the analysis of the conscious level of personality is the notion of behavioristic patterns. The ideas of behaviorism explain many aspects of the personality formation. In the article Behaviorism for new psychology: what was wrong with behaviorism and what is wrong with it now (2004) Harzem investigates the main issues of behaviorism that is one of the major branches of the scientific psychology. The author describes the evolution of the psychological ideas proposed by John B. Watson in 1913 and the methodology used by the researcher. The methods proposed by John B. Watson are of great importance to our research of the process of self formation, because they are scientific and logical. It is necessary to note that before the popularization of behaviorism psychology was not considered to be a science.

Only after a certain research related to behaviorism was undertaken, it became the branch of natural science. Harzem emphasizes the connection between the behavioristic patterns and the cognitive processes. It is possible to consider behavioral characteristics as the issues that determine conscious motives of creating the real self. Behaviorism can be proved in all educational institutions. Children`s psyche is flexible and teachers almost always use traditional methods of praising and punishment to stimulate the effective work of students. As a result, children get used to such patterns, where they receive a good mark for good work and where they are punished for lack of diligence. This system influences their personality with time and becomes a reflex, which moves from the conscious level to the subconscious one as the child grows.

The inner processes that determine the formation of the real self are the subjects of interest for psychologists, psychiatrists and philosophers. Freud was the first scientist to introduce the notions of the conscious (ego) and the unconscious (id). The article investigates the connections between contemporary non-clinical psychology and Freudian theory. Cognitive psychology was chosen for the analysis. Freud did not pay much attention to consciousness in his works. He supposed that the role of consciousness is purely epistemological, which means that its duty is to check a person`s mental state at a specific moment. The role of consciousness is only to control the state of psyche, while all processes take place in a person`s subconsciousness. This statement supports the idea of our research that subconsciousness is very important in the process of self formation. However, the representatives of cognitive psychology argue with Freud's position concerning the unconscious. They state that the consciousness percepts the biggest part of the surrounding information from culture and society (Sousa 2011).

The notions of id and ego are of great importance to understanding the work of the subconscious. These concepts became the basic concepts of psychology and Jung was one of the scientists who developed the ideas of Freud and used the notions to create his own theory. The theory of archetypes proposed by Karl Jung is well known to the wide audience, which clearly shows the importance of these ideas to understanding the way human mind functions. It determines the profound cultural layer in the historical dichotomy that influences the concept of the self, which people want to find. First, it is necessary to define that an archetype is a subconscious pattern of behavior that is characteristic to a certain personality that was formed in ancient times and is reflected in the majority of myths and tales created by people. The examples of the well-known archetypes are the following: the Great Mother, who gives birth and, at the same time, takes life away; the Shadow that is the personification of all evil thoughts and powers of a person, which he/she wants to hide in the subconsciousness; the Hero and the Damsel in Distress.

According to Jung, the archetypes form the deepest subconscious level of human psyche that influences the formation of personality and determines a person`s main behavioristic patterns (Frager 2005). Among the main archetypes are the Self, the Anima/Animus, the Shadow, the Persona and the Ego. Even the enumeration of the basic subconscious symbols supports the idea that human personality is a complicated phenomenon and it requires a thorough investigation from all possible perspectives. The archetype of the Ego is responsible for the consistency of one`s personality, and it analyzes experience from the consciousness. The Persona is the mask people show to others, and it often consists of the characteristics of a person's desired self or super ego.

The Anima/Animus represents male and female images that are deeply subconscious and determine the image of a person's desired partner of the opposite sex. The Self is the central archetype and it consists of a variety of the previously mentioned issues. All the enumerated archetypal symbols show how diverse is the basis of human subconscious. Perhaps, every person can find those components in his/her mind, if he/she tries to do it. This fact will prove that despite the visible difference of people, all of them share the same cultural background, which influences their behavior and self perception.

The reality of contemporary life makes many archetypes, proposed by Jung, unnecessary for surviving in the society. Though, these symbols do not perish form the collective unconscious and change with time. For example, the Heroes, the Kings and the Warriors often become criminals in a modern civilized country, where the society rejects violence, rude force and great deeds that seem to be revolts in the majority of cases. According to a research conducted by Shadraconis (2013) archetypes determine the way of conduct and self perception of people. Nowadays the archetypes of mighty warriors, heroes and wise kings become the ideas people try to find in the media products. Such a consumption becomes a way in which people try to compensate the inability to become what they initially want to be and helps to create the idealized self-image (Shadraconis 2013).

However, the archetypes are not the only things that influence the development and formation of human unconscious. Levi-Strauss introduces the notion of structural anthropology, employing the methods used in structural linguistics and applying them in the context of community to investigate the process of self formation from the sociological point of view. The problem of finding the real personality can be analyzed in accordance with the system proposed by Levi-Strauss. He proposes to pay more attention to its unconscious infrastructure than to its conscious representation. Much attention is paid to the relationships between the terms, not to their definition. The terms with their interconnections form the system, in which general laws can be analyzed with the help of logical deduction. Another issue that has to be underlined in regard to the theory of structural anthropology by Levi-Strauss is the presence of the so-called binary oppositions in the general structure of the society (or a person's psyche, in our case). The example of such an opposition is the conscious vs. the subconscious (Dant 2013). The ideas expressed by Levi-Strauss support our argument that it is necessary to divide the research of the self into unconscious and conscious parts.

Levi-Strauss stated that people have the same schemes of cognition and thus all people share the basic characteristics of personality. Though, the deeper levels of human psyche like the unconsciousness are still unknown. In the article The unconscious in the anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss (Rossi 2000), the ideas of the philosopher about the unconsciousness are analyzed. According to him, unconscious ideas are complicated and are influenced by a variety of factors. They form one`s personality more than general conscious characteristics. Unconsciousness determines the physical and psychological image of a person. It supports the hypothesis that subconsciousness is one of the most important parts of creating the real self, and it is difficult to study because of its unique and vague nature. The theory of Levi-Strauss is based upon Kant`s postulates of isomorphism of physical and mental laws. He also refers to mental constraints which influence the unconsciousness. In his theory, the anthropologist emphasizes the symbolical nature of the society, its norms and relationships. This makes individual mental constrains more important.

The theory of archetypes, proposed by Jung, and the ideas, expressed by Levi-Strauss, are similar in many aspects, and the author of the article Jung and Levi-Strauss revisited: an analysis of common themes (1991) argues who was the first to propose those ideas. Nevertheless, those similarities emphasize the importance of subconscious general patterns in the process of personality formation. The archetypes create behavioral structures, shared by all people regardless of their origin or level of intellectual abilities. Levi-Strauss called this aspect of human psyche the unconscious, and Jung defined it as the collective unconscious. These layers exist in the bottom of subconsciousness, and they are followed by the layer of the content that was partly forgotten, but still forms the traditional patterns of human behavior. The information contained on this transitional layer can be described as the ideas that are evident to every member of the society, but no one can explain their origins.


The notion of personality is rather complex and consists of a variety of components that determine the formation of the real self. The ideas expressed by Durkheim, Freud, Jung, Derrida and Levi-Strauss support the claim that the most efficient way to analyze personality is to divide its internal and external influences. The social and the cultural contexts, the collective conscience and behavioristic patterns belong to the external aspects that form the real self, while the unconscious and the archetypal basis are the main the external aspects. Only the combination of these perspectives can show approximate mechanisms of self development, determination and perception.


The level of the development of the society is directly proportional to the interest its members have in expressing their individuality. Nowadays in the context of the global culture, when national differences are constantly fading and everyone uses the same information, people try to find at least something that makes them unique. That is why the problem of self determination is urgent not only for psychologists, but also for sociologists, psychiatrists and philosophers, who try to understand the mechanisms of the process of personality formation. The current research has proved the idea that the nature and the mechanisms of functioning of the human subconscious, as well as its conscience, are still unclear, despite the great number of attempts the scientists have undertaken.

There is evidence that self determination is influenced by the archetypal symbols all people share, the collective conscience, the personal unconscious, that consists of individual associations, the culture and the behavioristic patterns. It is possible to assume that the results of the research in regard to conscious mechanisms of self formation are clearer than the ones in regard to the unconscious. It shows that despite all patterns and schemes of cognition people share, the human mind converts general knowledge into unique material.