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A character structure is a system of relatively permanent motivational and other traits that are manifested in the characteristic ways that an individual relates to others and reacts to various kinds of challenges. The word "structure" indicates that these several characteristics and/or learned patterns of behavior are linked in such a way as to produce a state that can be highly resistant to change. The idea has its roots in the work of Sigmund Freud and several of his followers, the most important of whom (in this respect) are Wilhelm Reich and Erich Fromm. Among other important participants in the establishment of this concept must surely be counted Erik Erikson.
Among the earliest factors that determine an individual's eventual character structure are his or her genetic characteristics and early childhood nurture and education. A child who is well nurtured and taught in a relatively benign and consistent environment by loving adults who intend that the child should learn how to make objective appraisals regarding the environment will be likely to form a normal or productive character structure. On the other hand, a child whose nurture and/or education are not ideal, living in a treacherous environment and interacting with adults who do not take the long-term interests of the child to heart will be more likely to form a pattern of behavior that suits the child to avoid the challenges put forth by a malign social environment. The means that the child invents to make the best of a hostile environment. Although this may serve the child well while in that bad environment, it may also cause the child to react in inappropriate ways, ways damaging to his or her own interests, when interacting with people in a more ideal social context. Major trauma that occurs later in life, even in adulthood, can sometimes have a profound effect. See Post-traumatic stress disorder. However, character may also develop in a positive way according to how the individual meets the psychosocial challenges of the life cycle (Erikson).
Freud's first paper on character described the anal character consisting of stubbornness, stinginess and extreme neatness. He saw this as a reaction formation to the child's having to give up pleasure in anal eroticism.The positive version of this character is the conscientious, inner directed obsessive. Freud also described the erotic character as both loving and dependent. And the narcissistic character as the natural leader, aggressive and independent because of not internalizing a strong super ego.
For Erich Fromm character develops as the way in which an individual structures modes of assimilation and relatedness.The character types are almost identical to Freud's but Fromm gives them different names, receptive, hoarding, exploitative. Fromm adds the marketing type as the person who continually adapts the self to succeed in the new service economy. For Fromm, character types can be productive or unproductive. Fromm notes that character structures develop in each individual to enable him or her to interact successfully within a given society, to adapt to its mode of production and social norms. (see social character). may be very counter-productive when used in a different society.
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