An individual’s behavior, motivations, and way of thinking are highly influenced by his personality. It is therefore important to develop further awareness about the different personality theories in order to understand the factors that affect our personality and that of the people around us. This paper provides a discussion of the various personality theories, and use the individual psychology theory of Alfred Adler to offer an analysis of the life of Malala Yousafzai. A discussion of the eight personality theories and using one of them to analyze the life of a famous individual relates to the objective of this course about the application of the theories in learning about personalities.

Psychoanalytic Concepts

The psychoanalytic theory according to Freud refers to the concept which holds that the development of human behavior is highly dependent on the interactions of the three mind components which are the id, ego, and superego (Siegfred, 2014). Based on Freud’s arguments, personality development starts early during childhood and is continuously shaped by the person’s experiences that goes through the psychosexual stages. The different stages put the child through a conflict between the biological elements and social expectations. The mastery of the different stages helps the person achieve full maturity in the process. Freud suggested that the interaction of the three components will likely to cause conflict, but they will eventually work harmoniously to reach a resolution (Siegfred, 2014). Freud’s psychoanalytic theory is still being widely used by researchers today, and this is because of its major strength in its usefulness in explaining human development as a result of cognitive functioning. The key weakness of this theory, however, is that it is too generalized and fails to consider that no one person is similar. In addition to that, an individual has different life experiences as well as physical and biological processes that makes it difficult to solely use this theory to examine their behavior.

Individual Psychology

The key concept of Adler’s individual psychology is constructed on the theory that people’s behavior are shaped by dynamic forces. These dynamic forces refer to each individual’s want to strive for superiority, their subjective perceptions and the uniqueness of each personality. As pointed out by Adler, people are always striving to achieve goals and objectives. Therefore, “knowing the goal of individuals and knowing also something of the world, enables us to understand the meaning of the ways they express themselves, and of the direction their life takes…” (Adler, 2014). Based on this theory, a person’s action was perceived to be directly influenced by elements that had been ingrained in the mindset since childhood. The strength of this theory is that many people can relate well into the idea that their childhood had a considerable impact on their development as an adult. On the other hand, Adler’s concept is criticized for focusing on the development of personality during early childhood. That is, other theorists suggest that personality development is an ongoing process and it is possible to encounter experiences that can change one’s personality in the process.

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Lifespan Theory

The lifespan theory by Erik Erikson provides that the personality development goes through several stages, and each stage presents a conflict. There are external factors that are present in these stages and the ability to resolve the conflict can strengthen the personality. Further, this can help the person in facing further challenges in the next stage. Nevertheless, the failure to successfully complete the challenges at each stage can have a detrimental impact on personality development, though Erikson surmised the possibility of resolving the conflict in later stages. The strength of Erikson’s theory is that it includes the visible phases of development through each stage, however, the eight stages of his theory also poses some weaknesses. This is, each stage stands for may not be accepted by other people, especially that each developmental phase may differ from one culture to the other.

Biological Aspects of Personality

The biological aspect of personality focuses on the influence of the brain and genetic elements in personality development. In contrast to the environmental factors, this theory posits that personality traits are dictated by the DNA and cognitive processes. The strength of this theory is that it adheres to scientific methods, which used quantifiable measurements in defining personality. On the other hand, its weakness is that it highly focuses on the biological factors, and fails to consider the environmental factors that have a considerable impact on an individual.

Behaviorist and Learning Theory

In the behaviorist and learning theory, it was posited that people are generally passive and all their behaviors are a result of their response to external factors. The learners start off at zero, and the negative and positive reinforcement shapes their overall responses to stimuli. The strength of this theory is that it is based on apparent behaviors, which makes it easier to collect and measure data that can be used in a research. Its weakness, however, is in being focused on the use of a single dimension in analyzing human behavior. It failed to consider that people have free will and they may respond to external factors differently. In addition to that, there are unseen factors that can also affect the personality development.

Cognitive Aspects of Personality

The key concepts in the cognitive aspect of personality provides that people learn by observing how others respond to specific situations. In contrast to the idea that personality is shaped by the environment, Bandura suggests that personality is a direct result of people’s experiences. The strength of this theory is that positive reinforcement encourages good behavior, that is people behave better because of the expectation for a reward. The weakness of this theory is that it motivates people to look for rewards, rather than focus on the goodness of engaging in an appropriate action.

Trait Theory-the Big Five

The trait theory of personality provides that there are five dimensions that are used to define personality development. These five factors are, a) extraversion, b) agreeableness, c) conscientiousness, d) emotional stability, and e) culture (John & Srivastava, 1999). The strength of this theory is its applicability in a wide range of cultures and usability in many research. However, the broadness of each category makes it difficult to determine a measure a specific behavioral element.

Humanistic theory

The humanistic theory of personality development emphasizes on the wholeness of an individual through the perspective of both the observer and the person himself. Under this theory, it was surmised that people have free will, and are basically good so that it is inherent in their nature to think about ways to improve on themselves and make a better world. The key concept is that it promotes an optimistic standpoint where man is by nature willing to work towards overcoming difficulties and despair. The strength of this concept is that it focuses on the goodness of man and the inherent willingness to do good in the process. The weakness of the humanistic theory, however, is that it fails to consider that there are people who may not share the same goodness in their hearts.

Individual Psychology of Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai is a young woman born in Pakistan on July 12, 1997 in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan (The Nobel Foundation, 2014). Despite the highly patriarchal society, and the adverse treatment of women in her country, Yousafzai managed to become an advocate for women’s rights in Pakistan. She encouraged the promotion of education, and despite her young age, she risked her life by questioning the Taliban’s reason for taking away her basic right to education.

An analysis of Malala’s personality can be explained through Adler’s individual psychology theory. Based on this theory, personalities are shaped by the unique social environment and interactions, rather than the need to gratify the biological needs (Schultz & Schultz, 2004). This explains why Malala had a considerable thirst for knowledge, despite the fact that she was born in a region where political forces prevented the education of women. She was brought up by parents who extremely inculcated in her the value of education, her father being a passionate educator. Further, education is a big part of the Yousafzai family since her father ran an educational institution in the city. However, things considerably changed for her and her family when the Taliban started to control their province.

Malala was only 10 years old when the Taliban took over, and banned girls from going to school. Other activities were halted such as dancing and watching television, and the Taliban destroyed hundreds of schools to get the message about their opposition towards educating girls. In October 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban while on her way home from school (Yousafzai & McCormick, 2014).

Despite the threats, Malala with the support of her father, stood up to the Taliban and showed how determined she was to insist on her basic rights. A closer examination indicates that Malala’s personality is shaped by her early environment within and outside her family. This is in line with what Adler pointed out as the impact of external factors in personality development. Her father served as a positive motivator for her, but the socio-political setting in her country had always put women at a disadvantage in many aspects.

Being a member of the disadvantage group made Malala realize the importance of fighting for her rights. According to Adler, in instances where people suffer from any form of disadvantage which makes them feel inferior, it is their goal to work towards brining those disadvantages to an end. Further, the individual psychology theory posits that people always endeavor to strive for success, and this must have motivated Malala to defy the policies set by the Taliban. Education had been part of Malala’s upbringing, and the process of taking her right to education away from her is a direct offense that is difficult for her to take. She has set her mind about her future because of how her parents brought her up, and she felt debased by the Taliban’s who tried to take away her dreams from her.


The study of personality theories is important in understanding why people behave in a certain way. These theories paved the way for helping people become aware of their own and other people’s behavior, motivations, and manner of responding to situations. Consequently, these theories explain how the environment, biological factors and other elements can affect an individual’s personality development. An example in this paper showed how the individual psychology theory explains the behavior and overall personality of Malala Yousafzai. It surmises that Malala’s childhood, environment and aspirations impacted her decision to fight for her right for education. It shows how personality can be shaped by environmental factors such as the family and the existing socio-political climate.