Ranks Theory Of Personality

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The Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank (18841939) formulated a theory of personality that may be characterized as an intrapsychic conflict model 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, life is equivalent to the processes of separation and individualiza-tion, 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 is emphasized by other conflict theorists. However, Rank prefers the more definitive term fear over the diffuse term anxiety. Although 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 asserts 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 (e.g., the shock of birth creates a reservoir of anxiety, and all neuroses allegedly derive from birth anxiety). However, later in his career, Rank 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 [cf., Rank's term vagina dentata, also described by the Hungarian psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933), refers to a fantasy of a "toothed vagina" that is a legendary danger associated with sexual intercourse and is, theoretically, a cause of anxiety among neurotic men; the counterpart of this concept in women is penis dentata, or "tooth-ed penis," and is a less commonly experienced neurotic sexual fear in women]. Another important core characteristic in Rank's theory is the concept of will, which is analogous to S. Freud's concept of ego, and to H. S. 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 involves a mature expression of will - over those forces of coun-terwill and guilt - where it provides 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, Rank's theorizing has proven useful for explanation of some empirical research results "after the fact," even though such research was not planned a priori or explicitly to measure or validate Rank's conceptualizations or formulations. In the final analysis, the overall fruitfulness of Rank's theoretical position has not yet been demonstrated empirically. See also CONFLICT, THEORIES OF; FREUD'S THEORY OF PERSONALITY; PERSONALITY THEORIES; SULLIVAN'S THEORY OF PERSONALITY.

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