Andras Angyal

A Theoretical Model for Personality Studies




The main concepts of this essay are those of self-determination and self-surrender as the basic aspects of personality development. The tendency towards self-determination makes the individual unique and the one towards self-surrender allows him to participate in society, sharing ideas and ways of life. The development of only one of those tendencies produces an unhealthy personality and a distasteful society. But this is precisely what the state and the state-oriented education do by fostering the emergence of power-hungry people (that become then political leaders) and power-prone masses (that become then the indistinct magma of state subjects).



In this paper I shall present a particular model which I have advocated previously for the formulation of a theory of personality (1), reformulating certain aspects of this theoretical orientation and illustrating my points with pertinent examples taken mainly from the field of psychotherapeutic theory and practice.

Personality may be described most adequately when looked upon as a unified dynamic organization - dynamic, because the most significant fact about a human being is not so much his static aspect as his constituting a specific process: the life of the individual. This process, the life of the person, is an organized, patterned process, a Gestalt, an organization. A true organization presupposes an organizing principle, a unifying pattern. All part processes obtain their specific meaning or specific function from this unifying over-all pattern. Therefore it seems plausible that a tentative phrasing of the nature of this total pattern - the broad pattern of human life - may serve as an adequate model for the formulation of the problems pertaining to the study of personality.

The over-all pattern of personality function can be described from two different vantage points. Viewed from one of these vantage points, the human being seems to be striving basically to assert and to expand his self-determination. He is an autonomous being, a self-governing entity that asserts itself actively instead of reacting passively like a physical body to the impacts of the surrounding world. This fundamental tendency expresses itself in a striving of the person to consolidate and increase his self-government, in other words to exercise his freedom and to organize of self. This tendency - which I have termed "the trend toward increased autonomy" - expresses itself in spontaneity, self-assertiveness, striving for freedom and for mastery. In an objective fashion this tendency can be described as follows: the human being is an autonomous unity that, acting upon the surrounding world, molds and modifies it. His life is a resultant of self-determination on the one hand and the impacts of the surrounding world, the situation, on the other. This basic tendency, the trend toward increased autonomy, expresses the person's striving from a state of lesser self-determination (and greater situational influence) to a state of greater self-determination (and lesser situational influence) . Seen from another vantage point, human life reveals a very different basic pattern from the one described above. From this point of view the person appears to seek a place for himself in a larger unit of which he strives to become a part. In the first tendency we see him struggling for centrality in his world, trying to mold, to organize, the objects and the events of his world, to bring them under his own jurisdiction and government. In the second tendency he seems rather to strive to surrender himself willingly to seek a home for himself in and to become an organic part of something that he conceives as greater than himself. The superindividual unit of which one feels oneself a part, or wishes to become a part, may be variously formulated according to one's cultural background and personal understanding. The superordinate whole may be represented for a person by a social unit - family, clan, nation - by a cause, by an ideology, or by a meaningfully ordered universe. In the realm of aesthetic, social, and moral attitudes this basic human tendency has a central significance. Its clearest manifestation, however, is in the religious attitude and religious experience.

I wish to state with emphasis that I am not speaking here about a tendency which is an exclusive prerogative of some people only, e.g., of those with a particular religious bent or aesthetic sensitivity, but of a tendency that I conceive as a universal and basic characteristic in all human beings.

These two tendencies of the human being, the tendency to increase his self-determination in his expanding personal world, and the tendency to surrender himself willingly to a superordinate whole, can be summed up by saying that the human being comports himself as if he were a whole of an intermediate order. By this I mean a "part-Gestalt" like, for example, the cardiovascular system, or the central nervous system, each of which is a whole, an organization of many parts, but at the same time a part with regard to its superordinate whole, the body. The human being is both a unifier, an organizer of his immediate personal world, and a participant in what he conceives as the superordinate whole to which he belongs.

The basic human attitude that makes man behave as a part of a larger whole reflects itself also in his "horizontal relationships," that is in his relationship to the other "parts," to other persons. Were man's behavior determined exclusively by his urge for mastery, his attitude toward others could be only as toward means to his ends. Experiencing others as coparticipants in a larger whole brings, however, another facet of his nature into manifestation. To avoid the coining of some outlandish term, we call this basic relation "love." In common usage this word has been badly misused to denote not only cheap sentimentality but even relationships that are actually founded on exploitation, possessiveness, helplessness, and similar destructive attitudes. The basic nature of love consists in a recognition of the value and acceptance of the otherness of the loved "object" while at the same time one experiences an essential sameness that exists between oneself and what one loves.

To recognize and to accept the otherness of a person means to respect him as a valuable being in his own right, in his independence. This attitude is incongruous with any idea of possessiveness or any tendency to use him as means to an end, be this in the form of exploitation, domination, possessiveness, or some other attitude. In other words, it is incongruous with the nature of love to try to reduce the loved person to "an item in one's personal world," or to try to make him comply with one's demands, or to try to exert power over him in whatever way. Love has to be recognized as a basic human attitude which is quite distinct from and irreducible to man's self-assertive tendencies.

The recognition and acceptance of the otherness of the person implies, furthermore, an understanding of him. There can be no real love without understanding of the other person, only some sort of deceptive feeling based on an illusion. One does not recognize the otherness of a person as a reality by projecting into him one's fantasies, however flattering they may be. And when one sees in a person one's mother or father or anyone else, one ignores the person as he really is. In the last analysis this is a fundamental disregard for and destructive attitude toward the other person. The understanding of the other person - as we are now using this expression - is not some sort of shrewd "practical psychology" which has a keen eye for the weakness of people, but a deep perception of the core, of the essential nature of the other person. In love this essential nature of the other person is experienced as a value, as something that is very dear to one. Love is not "blind" but visionary: it sees into the very heart of its object, and sees the "real self" behind and in the midst of the frailities and shortcomings of the person.

Love has a second basic component which is complementary to respect for the otherness of its object: the experience of a certain fundamental belongingness and sameness between lover and the loved. Experientially, this is not "identification," that is, an identity that is more or less artificially created, but an existing identity that is acknowledged. Man behaves in certain fundamental respects as if he were a part, a shareholder in some kind of superordinate unit, in some kind of commonwealth. When two persons love one another they clearly or dimly have the feeling that something greater is involved therein than their limited individualities, that they are one in something greater than themselves or, as the religious person says, they are "one in God." [This statement does not have to be understood in a theological  sense. In this context it is not our concern, e.g., whether or not the "superordinate whole" is reality or not; we state only that man appears to function as if he were or would experience himself as a part of a superordinate whole.]

Without such an implicit orientation all interests of a person would be centered in himself alone as an individual. He, as an isolated entity, would be facing an alien world and his reaching beyond himself would be only to possess, master, and govern the surrounding world. He would compete with other people or he would calculatingly cooperate with them, but he would not love them. In order to love, it is essential that a man come out of his shell, that he transcend his individuality, that he "lose himself." Somehow this self-abandonment is the precondition to a broadened existence in loving. One rejoices in the characteristic ways, in the real being, beyond the surface of pretense, of the other; one suffers in the other's misfortunes and in his misdeeds: therein one gains a whole new life with its joys and sorrows. One is enriched through a vital participation in another life without wanting, however, to possess the other person. The significant truth is expressed in the paradox that the one "who loses his life [of isolation], will gain it [in a broadened existence]." The paradox is resolved by recognizing that man functions as a part of a large whole. He has a life as a part- and that is all he has, as long as he remains in his self-enclosure. But it is possible for him to have a greater life, the life of the whole, as it is manifested in himself, in the other "parts," and in the totality. I have described the over-all pattern of personality functioning as a two-directional orientation: self-determination on the one hand and self-surrender on the other. The first is the adequate attitude toward the items within one's individual world, the second, toward the greater whole toward which one behaves as a part. A particularly important aspect of this second orientation is the "horizontal" relatedness of the parts to other parts within the whole. I spoke in some detail of love because I believe - largely in agreement with current clinical views - that this is the crux of the entire problem of personality and of interpersonal relationships.

Actual samples of behavior, however, cannot be ascribed exclusively to one or the other orientation. It is only in the counterfeit, the unhealthy, behavior that one or the other of these basic orientations is partially obliterated; in a well-integrated person the behavioral items always manifest both orientations in varying degrees. Instead of conflicting, the two orientations complement each other. As in the tendency toward increased autonomy, one strives to master and govern the environment, one discovers that one cannot do this effectively by direct application of force, by sheer violence, but can do it by obedience, understanding, and respect for the laws of the environment - attitudes that in some way are similar to those of loving relationships. Similarly, bringing one's best to a loving relationship requires not only capacity for self-surrender but also a degree of proficient mastery of one's world, resourcefulness, and self-reliance, without which the relationship is in danger of deteriorating into helpless dependency, exploitation, possessiveness, etc.

The central point of the model which we suggest here for the study of personality is the assumption that the total function of the personality is patterned according to a double orientation of self-determination - self-surrender. In the study of personality as in any other scientific field, model building has its sole justification in its practical applicability, that is, in its suitability for interpretation of the pertinent phenomena and for the formulation of meaningful problems. I have chosen the problem of the neuroses as a testing ground and I hope to demonstrate that the suggested model is useful for clarification of pertinent problems. Needless to say, only a few outstanding aspects of this broad field can here be touched upon, but this consideration may suffice to give a first impression as to the usefulness of the suggested frame of reference. [This nucleus of a model can be broadened and made more detailed. I have made efforts in this direction in the previously quoted book and also in "The Holistic Approach in Psychiatry." (2)]

I suggest the following thesis: The backbone of neurosis consists in a disturbance of the two basic tendencies that we have assumed as forming the over-all pattern of personality functioning. The two cardinal disturbances on which the neurosis rests consist, first, in the person's loss of mastery over his own fate, and second, what is rather generally accepted as a basic factor in the neuroses, namely anxiety. Loss of mastery is another expression for impairment of the capacity for self-determination; anxiety, as we will try to show, is related to the impairment of the capacity for self-surrender and the capacity for love. These points may be best demonstrated by quickly surveying some of the crucial points in the development of a neurosis.

Although we have only vague and inferential knowledge of the infant's subjective experiences, there is sufficient evidence for assuming that his self and the world are not clearly distinguished, but rather blend into a single totality. This differentiation may be near zero in the prenatal life; it is small in the early days of infancy and usually is not quite complete even in adulthood - witness ubiquitous wishful thinking and other autistic phenomena. The gradual birth of individuality may be largely a matter of maturation; but it is also stimulated and precipitated by painful contacts with the surrounding world. The hurtfulness of the environment and their frustrating resistance and independence in regard to one's wishes, so to say their disobedience, are impelling experiences to the recognition of their otherness.

These pains and frustrations - even the pain of being born into an uncomfortable world - are possibly not traumatic in themselves. Their chief significance seems to lie in their hastening both the birth of individuality and the experience of an outside world that is distinct from oneself. And with the birth of individuality the stage is set, the human situation is created. Here for the first time the opportunity is given to the person to manifest and unfold his essential nature. The experience of separateness from the surrounding world, which is governed by forces outside oneself, supplies the impetus to strive for mastery over the environment. At the same time, the experience of oneself as a separated, limited individual gives one the feeling of incompleteness and the urge to seek for a larger life to be part of and to participate lovingly in other lives. The experience of one's separateness represents both the necessity and the opportunity for the person to manifest his basic tendencies.

The real traumatizing factors are those which prevent the person from expressing these basic tendencies. In the neurotic development there are always a number of unfortunate circumstances which instil in the child a self-derogatory feeling. This involves on the one hand a feeling of weakness which discourages him from the free expression of his wish for mastery, and on the other hand a feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with him and that, therefore, he cannot be loved. The whole complicated structure of neurosis appears to be founded on this secret feeling of worthlessness, that is, on the belief that one is inadequate to master the situations that confront him and that he is undeserving of love.

The traumatizing circumstances which condition this loss of self-confidence and of self-respect are many. They have been rather carefully explored by therapists who deal with neuroses. It will be sufficient here to call to mind some of the most common factors.

1. The over-protective attitude of an insecure, anxious parent tends to convey to the child a feeling that he lives in a world that is full of dangers, and with which he is inadequate to cope. When a parent does too much for a child, he is telling him by implication that he is incapable of doing things by himself.

2. When the parent is too eager for the child to do well and is excessively critical of him, he is likely to instil in the child the feeling that "something must be very wrong with me; I can't do anything right."

3. When parents distort and exaggerate the child's achievement, when they cast him into a superior role and have great expectations of him, they plant the seed of self-derogation in still another way. Deep down the child knows that the parents' picture of him is untrue, and measuring himself by these excessive and often fantastic standards, he secretly begins to feel worthless.

4. The too many "don'ts" which the child hears tend to create in him the feeling that those things which he most wants are the things that are forbidden and evil. This easily can give rise in him to a secret conviction that he is a fundamentally evil person.

5. The ways in which children are being treated without understanding and without respect are many, and these are likely to create in the child the feeling that he just does not matter in this adult world, that he is of no account, that he is worthless. Often one wonders why the child accepts the verdict that he is worthless, instead of blaming the parent for being so obviously lacking in understanding, so wrong and selfish. The answer suggests itself that the child needs so much to feel that he has "good parents" that he tenaciously adheres on this belief and would rather assume himself to be evil or worthless than give up the idea that he has good parents.


The whole complex of self-derogation can be roughly - and admittedly somewhat artificially - divided into a feeling of inadequacy and the feeling of being unloved. The first leads to an impairment of self-determination, the second to the impairment of the capacity to love.

One important way in which self-determination of a person may be impaired is by trading the birthright of mastery over his own destiny for the mess of pottage of protection - and dependency. In addition to the assumption of his weakness, an overevaluation of the power of his parents and of the protection which they can give induces the child to make this fatal bargain. The terms of the bargain are set, at least by implication: "You are weak and helpless against the world which is full of dangers; if you are good, if you do what we want you to do, and don't follow your impulses, we will take care of you and protect you."

Another circumstance that may induce a child to give up or "escape" from his freedom is the exploitation by the adult of the child's loving nature. This is often done by holding up to the child the suffering his behavior may cause to others: "You may do it if I you want to, but mother will be hurt"; or more directly: "What you do shortens my life"; "You put another nail in my coffin," etc. Particularly vicious and destructive is the influence of the "self-sacrificing mother," who holds up to the child the many sufferings, deprivations, and unhappinesses which she has had to endure for the child, implying the tremendous ingratitude that a self-assertion of the child against her wishes would mean.

In response to these and similar emotional insults the child is gradually led to deny himself, to hide his spontaneous impulses - which he assumes to be evil - and to pretend to be or to try to be someone else, a more impressive and a more desirable person. This step is literally suicidal, and it is born out of extreme despair. Indeed, only an extreme despair of any possibility of living in reality can induce a person to content himself with appearances, with the impression he makes. The exaggerated importance and value given to any external trappings with which a person may decorate himself is equivalent to declaring one's naked self worthless. If one basks in some sort of reflected glory, one declares one's real being to be ignominious.

All these various roads lead to loss of spontaneity, initiative, and genuineness. The child loses originality, which should not be the privilege of a few but a rightful heritage of everyone. The neurotic person experiences himself as a straw in the wind who cannot act under his own power but has to wait for things to happen, who is a "victim of circumstances" and whose fate depends on good or bad "breaks."

The discussion of another basic disturbance, the impairment of the person's capacity to love, leads us into the problem of anxiety. It seems to me that the original word-meaning that suggests constriction, being narrowed in (Beengung), expresses best the essential nature of anxiety. A person who feels weak and unlovable and surrounded by an alien and unfriendly world, will draw in his feelers and will surround himself with some protective shell. This shell, however, limits him and narrows him in to such an extent that he can barely move or breathe. We propose to define anxiety as this condition of the person. It seems preferable to use the term in this sense, as a "psycho-physically-neutral" term (William Stern), denoting a condition of the person which may or may not be consciously experienced. This usage would avoid the confusing issues of unconscious anxiety and such manifestations of anxiety that are conscious but not characterized by anxious feelings. Anxiety is not a mental phenomenon but a state of limitation of life. When we have sufficient information about a person's mode of living we can determine whether his life is a narrowed one or not; that is, we can determine the presence and degree of the condition of anxiety, independently of the presence and degree of anxious feelings.

Anxiety is dynamically related to fears in a twofold manner: it is born out of fears and it leads to fears. It is fear that makes the person erect his defenses with the resultant state of constriction or anxiety. The person's impulses, however, rebel against the enclosure, against the limitation, and threaten to break through the wall of defenses. This threat from within is experienced in those nameless fears, fears without a conscious object, which one usually refers to as "anxiety."

This narrowed-in condition of anxiety paralyzes the effectiveness of the person in dealing with his environment. He does not really dare to venture into the outside world, but looks out upon it from behind his defenses with suspicion, fear, apprehension, envy, and hatred. The most destructive aspect of anxiety, of this self-enclosure, is however the loss of the capacity or rather the loss of the freedom to love. For love presupposes that instead of anxiously standing watch over one's safety, one dares to go out of oneself, to abandon oneself, to venture out in order to participate in the life of others and in a larger life of which he feels himself a part. It is the nature of the human being that he finds fulfillment only in a broadened existence, and that for him life confined to the limits of one's individuality in segregation from others is worthless. He can find happiness and peace only if he loves, that is, participates in life outside the confines of his individuality; and only if he is loved, that is, received into and held fast and dear by another life.

Summing up this sketch of the origin of the neuroses, we have assumed that certain traumatizing experiences create in the child a derogatory picture, a feeling of the worthlessness of his self. This feeling of worthlessness has two components: first, the feeling that one is inadequate, too weak to cope with the environment; and second, the feeling that one is unloved and unworthy of love. These then lead to an impairment of the person's self-determination on the one hand, and to anxiety with the loss of capacity to love on the other. Neurosis represents a complicated interlocking system of maneuvers that are designed to maintain life in a human sense in spite of the fact that the person is wounded at the very core of his nature. This hypothesis of the origin of the neurosis I believe is more in agreement than at variance with many of the current views on the subject.

This view is also in good agreement with certain current theories of therapy. There are several psychotherapeutic factors to which, in general, a particularly important curative effect is ascribed. We shall mention only two such factors for further illustration of the main points of this paper: first, the patient's expression of anger in the therapeutic setting, and second, the positive relationship of the therapist to the patient.

The expression of angry feelings toward the therapist is assumed to have a beneficial therapeutic effect on the patient. This expression should be, however, more than just "blowing off steam," a catharsis. The patient's experience that he can express anger toward the therapist without being rejected or punished for it - important as it is - is not in itself the crucial therapeutic experience, but only preparatory to it. On the basis of a series of observations I am persuaded that not all forms of angry expressions are therapeutically valuable, but only certain kinds with well-defined differential characteristics. An outburst of anger, if it is not more than a blind expression of impotent rage, does not produce therapeutic effects, but is likely to leave the patient ashamed and guilty and worse off than before. The therapeutically effective anger is always a courageous expression and often clearly expresses the feeling that one would rather die than continue to live in fear and trepidation, tolerate injustice, etc. Such anger says emphatically: "I won't stand for it!" Daring to take this final aggressive stand makes one regain respect for oneself. And therein lies the therapeutic effect of this type of anger: it tends to abolish the feeling of inadequacy which is one component of self-derogation and which in turn is the foundation for the neurosis.

Even more fundamental is, however, the therapist's persistent attitude toward the patient, expressed in respect for him as a person of value, in understanding, in confidence that the patient can be saved, in sincere desire and devoted effort to help him to live a happier life. When the patient reaches the point of being able to trust the sincerity of the therapist's attitude, he will no longer be able to uphold completely the fiction of being unloved and unworthy, undeserving of love. And with this the other foundation of his neurosis begins to crumble.

The above examples, taken from the dynamics and therapy of the neuroses, may serve to illustrate the degree of usefulness and applicability of the model that was proposed here for the study of personality. It is not claimed that this brief exposition proves anything definitely, but perhaps it is sufficient to give a first impression of an avenue of approach which may be worth while to follow.




[1] Angyal, A. Foundations For a Science of Personality. New York: Commonwealth Fund, 1941

[2] Angyal, A. "The Holistic Approach in Psychiatry." American Journal of Psychiatry, 105:178-182 (1948)


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