Why Are People Like This? 4 Historical Antecedents

Millon begins with the humoral theory of personality, which continues to appear. The following table is illustrative:

Table of Hippocrates’ Four Humours

Image from Hippocrates, Galen & The Four Humours

In this table we can see how persistent this way of classifying personalities has been. It connects everything from the bodily to the spiritual, from values to function types. Admittedly, pretty much any combination of two variables with ordered values can be made to fit the metaphors, and with any collection of four types, it’s tempting to find a meaningful way to make them fit the pattern. I’ll skip ahead now to late nineteenth-century France, where Ribot (1890) varied sensitivity and activity to construct several types.(Millon 2011 7-8) I organize Ribot’s types in the following graph.

Graph of Ribot’s Character Types

“a decade or so later were a number of theorists from other European nations. Most notable among them were the Dutch psychologists Heymans and Wiersma (1906–1909). On the basis of a series of highly sophisticated empirical studies, they identified three fundamental criteria for evaluating character: activity level, emotionality, and susceptibility to external versus internal stimulation. These criteria anticipated identical threefold schemas (each based, however, on highly dissimilar theoretical models) developed by McDougall (1908/1932), Meumann (1910), Freud (1915/1925b), and Millon (1969). By combining these criteria, Heymans and Wiersma deduced the presence of eight character types: 

1. The ‘‘amorphous’’ character, reflecting the interplay of passive, nonemotional, and external susceptibility.

2. The ‘‘apathetic’’ character, developing from a passive, nonemotional, and internal orientation. 

3. The ‘‘nervous’’ character, a product of a passive, emotional, and external responsiveness. 

4. The ‘‘sentimental’’ character, who is passive, emotional, and internally impressed. 

5. The ‘‘sanguine’’ character, noted as active, nonemotional, and externally receptive. 

6. The ‘‘phlegmatic’’ character, typified by active, nonemotional, and internal tendencies. 

7. The ‘‘choleric’’ character, reflecting an active, emotional, and external susceptibility. 

8. The ‘‘impassioned’’ character, representing an active, emotional, and internal sensitivity.” (Millon 2011 8)

I organize their character types into the following table.

Table of G. Heymans and E. Wiersma’s Character Types
Low Activity/PassiveHigh Activity
Low EmotionalityHigh EmotionalityLow EmotionalityHigh Emotionality
External orientationInternal orientationExternal orientationInternal orientationExternal orientationInternal orientationExternal orientationInternal orientation
AmorphousApatheticNervousSentimentalSanguinePhlegmaticCholericImpassioned

This turns out to be awfully close to what we end up with, but there’s still some steps left to go. Still, it’s worth noting that a jump in empirical verification scale went into developing this typology. 

Contemporary Proposals

We can move along now to the current main schools of personology: Psychoanalysis has continued to be highly productive and insightful, especially by ego-analytic theorists and the British object-relations school. (Millon 2011 23) Otto Fenichel classifies character traits into sublimation and reactive types, and thus recognizes that instinctual energy can develop into character forms free of conflict resolution. (Millon 2011 23-24) Hartmann (1958), Rapaport (1958), and Erikson (1950) recognize the origins of character may be found in instinctual energies free of conflict resolution. For Hartmann and Rapaport, the ego and id instincts derive from a common matrix of biological potentials, differentiating into separable energies for adaptive functioning “‘preadapted to handle average expectable environments.’’” (Millon 2011 24) Klein (1948), argues that fantasy was a major primitive ability that exhibits a regular developmental sequence reflecting the infant’s relationship with her mother. On her object-relations theory, the mind is composed of “preformed internal representations of the infant’s external relationships”. Thus the mind possesses ‘‘prewired’’ fantasies, which in turn implies unlearned knowledge that shapes the child. (Millon 2011 24) Kernberg constructed a framework for organizing types by level of severity and proposed a dimension of structural organization as primary. (Millon 2011 24-25) Factor and cluster analyses calculate intercorrelations among a large group of variables such as traits, behaviors, and symptoms. (Millon 2011 26)

 “Despite the decline in the status and centrality of psychoanalysis over the past 30 or 40 years, adherents of this school of thought have continued to be highly productive and insightful. Many of the most innovative and illuminating papers and books on the personality disorders originate in psychoanalytic foundations. Of special significance have been contributions by ego-analytic theorists and the British object-relations school, as well as proposals from a number of contemporary thinkers of special note, each of whom has helped illuminate and organize our understanding of these disorders.” (Millon 2011 23)

 “Otto Fenichel (1945), perhaps the most impressive of psychoanalytic scholars, classified character traits into sublimation and reactive types, depending on whether normally maturing instinctual energies were compatible with the ego, and thereby fashioned into conflict-free or neutral patterns (sublimation), or whether they were dammed up by the aims of the ego and countermanded by conflict-resolving defensive measures (reactive). In making this distinction, Fenichel was the first to recognize that instinctual energy can develop into character forms free of conflict resolution. Although Fenichel considered the sublimation character traits to be as deeply ingrained as the reactive types, he viewed them to be nonpathological and, hence, paid little attention to the diverse forms into which they might take shape. In this regard, he failed to recognize the possibility that pathological personality traits could arise from conflict-free sources, simply as a result of deficient or other inappropriate experiences that set the seeds for maladaptive learnings. Fenichel limited his attention to reactive characters and differentiated them into the avoidance and oppositional types, each representing a major form of defensive control.” (Millon 2011 23-24)

 “Heinz Hartmann (1958), David Rapaport (1958), and Erik Erikson (1950) also recognized that the origins of character may be found in instinctual energies that are independent of conflicts and their resolutions. To both Hartmann and Rapaport, the ego and id instincts derived from a common matrix of biological potentials, differentiating into separable energies for adaptive functioning. Termed autonomous apparatuses, these ego potentials were seen as ‘‘preadapted to handle average expectable environments.’’” (Millon 2011 24)

 “Several major thinkers from Great Britain began to formulate new directions for psychoanalytic theory in the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps the most inventive of these theorists was Melanie Klein (1948), one of the originators of child psychoanalysis. It was her view that fantasy was a major primitive ability; furthermore, that these fantasies exhibit a regular developmental sequence that reflects the infant’s relationship with its mother. The key element of Klein’s object-relations theory is that the mind is composed of preformed internal representations of the infant’s external relationships (i.e., its objects). This contrasted with Freud’s view that the mind possesses instinctual urges that are object-seeking, but are not preformed in their character; in this formulation, objects become part of the mind only secondarily. Klein believed that the mind possessed ‘‘prewired’’ fantasies, implying unlearned knowledge that gave shape to and prepared the child for subsequent experiences.” (Millon 2011 24)

 “Taking steps to develop a new characterology, Kernberg constructed a useful framework for organizing established types in terms of their level of severity. Breaking away from a rigid adherence to the psychosexual model, Kernberg proposed another dimension as primary, that of structural organization. Coordinating character types in accord with severity and structural organization led Kernberg to speak of ‘‘higher, intermediate, and lower levels’’ of character pathology; both intermediate and lower levels are referred to as borderline personality organizations. To illustrate his ordering of types, Kernberg assigns most hysterical, obsessive-compulsive, and depressive personalities to the higher level. At the intermediate level of organization, Kernberg locates the infantile and most narcissistic personalities. Last, clear-cut antisocial personalities are classified as distinctly of a lower borderline organization.” (Millon 2011 24-25)

 “Factor and cluster analyses are statistical methods that calculate intercorrelations among a large group of variables such as traits, behaviors, and symptoms. Patterns or groupings among these correlations are referred to as first-order, or primary: The elements making up these factors or clusters are interpreted to provide them with relevant psychological meaning. Second or higher-order groupings may be derived from the original components by combining them into larger units; it is usually these second-order groupings that possess the scope necessary to encompass the breadth of a concept such as personality.” (Millon 2011 26)

“Cognitivists stress that individuals react to the world in terms of their unique perception of it. No matter how unconsciously distorted these perceptions may be, it is the person’s way of construing events that determines behavior.” (Millon 2011 30) Interpersonal theories put personality in terms of “recurrent interpersonal tendencies that shape and perpetuate styles of behavior, thought, and feeling.” McLemore and Brokaw (1987) note the avoidant personality enacts a consistently fearful and self-effacing stance toward an environment that resists exhibiting the very experiences of acceptance and intimacy so desired. (Millon 2011 32)

Most theorists recognize the interplay of different sources of data and diverse influences. While some have tried to integrate data relevant to understanding personality disorders, no theorist discussed starts out with an integrative model to locate personality disorders. (Millon 2011 40) That it does is, again, what I take to be the central virtue of Millon’s theory. We turn now to explain that theory.

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