What is Personality?
During the planning stage of ‘When Ravens Fall’ I read anything and everything I could get my hands on about plot, idea formation, story goals, context, flow, tension, and climaxes. Finally armed with piles of notes, articles and references I was finally ready to create some characters. This started to make me think about all the different sorts of people that exist. Not just their physical appearance but their mental make-up as well.
There are lots of different personalities. Some are of a sunny disposition whereas others adopt a more negative vibe and lots of different mediums in between. Ultimately personality is made up of aspiration, authority, supremacy and control. The level of how much or how less each of these contain is variable between people.
There are hundreds of explanations offering answers as to what personality is. We may agree that it is a collection of traits that describes a person. Personality traits are universally accepted and even the DSM defines them as:
“Enduring patterns of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and oneself that are exhibited in a wide range of social and personal contexts."
Traits are relatively stable over time, they differ among people and they influence behaviour. But to me the trait theory explanations just seemed a little too convenient. Whilst my common sense accepts the idea of traits and how they exist within personality, they didn’t give me the underlying concept I needed to formalize the base to my villainous characters.
This is why I chose Freud and his psychoanalytic theories. He places central importance on dynamic, unconscious psychological conflicts suggesting there are three opposing mental systems of the mind and they interact with each other consistently. The Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego.
Firstly, we are pushed by our desires and pulled by our conscience, with an emphasis on having equilibrium between the two. This is the Id. Desire comes from the part of the personality that contains the basic animal and primitive impulses that demand immediate satisfaction. They are unconscious aspects; dark, inaccessible parts of our mind.
It’s the Mr. Hyde emerging from the restrained Dr. Jekyll; that little devil that sits on your shoulder, whispering temptations and spurring you on; driven by a pleasure seeking libido. It is chaotic, full of incensed pleasure and stimulation. It is filled with energy originating from instincts, but it has no formation, generates no collective will, only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs. It is the only component of personality that is present from birth, driven by the pleasure principle, which strives for immediate gratification of all desires, wants, and needs. If these needs are not satisfied immediately, the result is a state anxiety or tension.
The second opposing system of all personalities is supposed to act as an adjudicator between the demands of a person’s desire and reality. This is the Ego. The idea being it negotiates the desire’s power, modifying it in order to achieve satisfaction despite the limits of reality; basically playing the role of an umpire. It regulates people’s actions and behaviours in terms of what society believes are appropriate, ensuring that the impulses of the desires can be expressed in a manner acceptable in the real world. This structure functions in the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious mind.
The Super-Ego, the third mental system of the mind that creates the personality, is conscience. This regulates the conscious part’s ability to control the desire part of the personality. Usually, a person’s conscience arises from their parents and as they grow up they internalise their standards, those same standards that make us feel so guilty when we tell a lie or cheat. This psychodynamic perspective gave a perfect foundation to build an evil dark character and provided aspects of a personality that the story could delve into.
Aspects such as everyone having a conscience; do they? There are certain people who have committed such horrible acts of violence that we sometimes wonder if they are void of conscience. How can serial killers such as Fred and Rose West or Ted Bundy commit such horrible crimes? A strong bet is that they lacked the basic capacity to feel guilt, so nothing really prevented them from acting out their violent fantasies.