Dictionary of Theories, Laws, and Concepts in Psychology

By Jon E. Roeckelein | Go to book overview

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RANK’S THEORY OF PERSONALITY. The Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank (1884–1939) formulated a theory of personality that may be characterized as an intrapsychic conflict model (Maddi, 1972) where all functioning of the individual is expressive of the dual tendency to minimize both the fear of life and the fear of death. According to Rank (1929, 1945), life is equivalent to the processes of separation and individualization, whereas death is the opposite processes of union and fusion. The two opposing fears of life and death are experienced as uncomfortable tension states, much as the concept of anxiety has been stressed by other conflict theorists. However, Rank prefers the more definite term fear over the diffuse term anxiety. While the individual does possess biological instincts, they do not provide the intrinsic basis for conflict. More important for conflict is the tendency for living things to individuate and separate. Rank (1929) asserted that the mere act of being born is a deeply traumatic experience because the newborn must relinquish the warm and relatively constant environment of the womb where one’s needs were met automatically. Rank initially considered the birth trauma to be the most significant event in one’s life. However, later in his career, he came to consider birth only the first in a long series of separation experiences that are caused by biological, psychological, and social factors that are indistinguishable from life. Another important core characteristic in Rank’s theory is the concept of will, which is analogous to Freud’s concept of ego, and to Sullivan’s concept of self. Rank’s concept of will refers to an organized sense of self-identity and functions consciously to aid in the development of a basis for minimizing both the life and death fears. Rank argued that the highest form of living involved a mature expression of will—over that of counterwill and guilt—where it provided the basis for successful expression of the core tendency of minimizing both fear of life and fear of death. In general, Rank’s personality theory has never been very popular in mainstream psychology. However, in at least two research cases, Rank’s theo-

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