What’s Different about Personal Concerns?
Recently, many researchers have begun analyzing personality in ways that are explicitly contextual, in contrast to work on dispositional traits, which ignores context. This recent work emphasizes the importance of sociocultural influences on development that shape people’s wants and behaviors (Hooker, 2002). For example, Thorne (Thorne & Klohnen, 1993) showed that when people talk about themselves, they go well beyond speaking in dispositional trait terms. Rather, people provide more narrative descriptions that rely heavily on their life circumstances, that is, the sociocultural experiences they have had that shape their lives. Moreover, people are highly likely to describe developmentally
linked concerns that change over time. Cantor (1990; Cantor & Harlow, 1994) highlighted this aspect of self-descriptions in differentiating between “having” traits and “doing” everyday behaviors that address the strivings, tasks, and goals that are important in everyday life. This latter aspect of personality emphasizes the importance of understanding culturally mandated, developmentally linked “life tasks” that reflect these changing concerns.
Although relatively little research has been conducted on the personal concerns level of personality, a few things are clear (Hooker & McAdams, 2003; McAdams, 1999). Personality constructs at this level are not reducible to traits. Rather, such constructs need to be viewed as conscious descriptions of what a person is trying to accomplish during a given period of life and what goals and goal-based concerns the person has. As Cantor (1990) notes, these constructs speak directly to the question of what people actually do in life. Moreover, we would expect that considerable change would be seen at this level of personality, given the importance of sociocultural influences and the changing nature of life tasks as people mature. Accompanying these goals and motivations that define personal concerns are the self-regulation processes implemented to effect change in personal concerns. For example, the transition from primary control to secondary control or from assimilative to accommodative coping discussed in Chapter 8 enable people to recalibrate their goals and personal concerns in later life. This process serves the important function of maintaining satisfaction and meaningfulness in life (Hooker & McAdams, 2003).
In contrast to the limited empirical data on the development of personal concerns, the theoretical base is arguably the richest. For the better part of a century, the notion that people’s personality changes throughout the life span has been described in numerous ways, typically in theories that postulate qualitative stages that reflect the central concern of that period of life. In this section, we will consider several of these theories and evaluate the available evidence for each. Let’s begin with Carl Jung’s theory—the theory that got people thinking about personality change in midlife.
Jung represents a turning point in the history of psychoanalytic thought. Initially allied with Freud, he soon severed the tie and developed his own ideas, which have elements of both Freudian theory and humanistic psychology. He was one of the very first theorists to believe in personality development in adulthood; this marked a major break with Freudian thought, which argued that personality development ended in adolescence.
Jung’s theory emphasizes that each aspect of a person’s personality must be in balance with all the others. This means that each part of the personality will be expressed in some way, whether through normal means or through neurotic symptoms or in dreams. Jung asserts that the parts of the personality are organized in such a way as to produce two basic orientations of the ego. One of these orientations is concerned with the external world; Jung labels it extraversion. The opposite orientation, toward the inner world of subjective experiences, is labeled introversion. To be psychologically healthy, both of these orientations must be present, and they must be balanced. Individuals must be able to deal with the external world effectively and also be able to evaluate their inner feelings and values. When people emphasize one orientation over another, they are classified as extraverts or introverts.
Jung advocates two important age-related trends in personality development. The first relates to the introversion-extraversion distinction. Young adults are more extraverted than older adults, perhaps because of younger people’s needs to find a mate, have a career, and so forth. With increasing age, however, the need for balance creates a need to focus inward and explore personal feelings about aging and mortality. Thus, Jung argued that with age comes an increase in introversion.
The second age-related trend in Jung’s theory involves the feminine and masculine aspects of our personalities. Each of us, according to Jung, has elements of both masculinity and femininity. In young adulthood, however, most of us express only one of them while usually working hard to suppress the other. In other words, young adults most often act in accordance with gender-role stereotypes appropriate
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Solitude becomes more precious as one grows older.
to their culture. As they grow older, people begin to let out the suppressed parts of their personality. This means that men begin to behave in ways that earlier in life they would have considered feminine, and women behave in ways that they formerly would have thought masculine. These changes achieve a better balance that allows men and women to deal more effectively with their individual needs rather than being driven by socially defined stereotypes. This balance, however, does not mean a reversal of sex roles. On the contrary, it represents the expression of aspects of ourselves that have been there all along but that we have simply not allowed to show. We will return to this issue at the end of the chapter when we consider gender-role development.
More recently, Jung’s ideas that self and personality are organized by symbols and stories and the notion that we transcend the dualities of femininity – masculinity, conscious-unconscious, among others, have become active areas of research (Labouvie – Vief & Diehl, 1999; McAdams, 1995). However, as Labouvie-Vief and colleagues (Labouvie-Vief & Diehl, 1999; Labouvie-Vief & Medler, 2002) point out, most empirical evidence suggests that these reorganizations proposed by Jung are more indicative of advanced or exceptional development (Labouvie – Vief et al., 1995).
Jung stretched traditional psychoanalytic theory to new limits by postulating continued development across adulthood. Other theorists took Jung’s lead and argued not only that personality development occurred in adulthood but also that it did so in an orderly, sequential fashion. We will consider the sequences developed by two theorists, Erik Erikson and Jane Loevinger.