Lifespan Development and Personality

Oprah Winfrey’s development as an individual has a very unique and interesting perspective in terms of Psychological development. Ms. Winfrey is a product of an “accidental conception” by her parents. Her mother was a house maid and her father was a coil miner. At the age of 6 and 14, she was raped and sexually molested by her uncle and cousin. Her mother was often not around to help her and guide her. Ironically, even though she was having a hard time at home, she still excelled in school and had scholarship to support her education. As a growing child, she was used to poverty and hardships.

After the incident of sexual molestations, she was forced to live with her dad. During these times, Oprah was helped by her dad to focus on her studies. At an age of 18 she won the Miss Black Tennessee Beauty pageant and then later on was given a job at a local radio station. Her exposure to media later evolved as she aspired to become a prominent figure in American Television years later. The forces that made big differences in her life are her childhood experiences and family as well as her experiences in her late adolescent years. The mixture of her bad memories and her successful life can be accounted on how she managed the anxieties and problems in which she might have encountered in the process of her maturity as a person.

Oprah can be said to have a bad environment growing up. The way of life she lived in the poverty stricken places she grew up on might had opened her eyes on the realities of life even on  a tender age. She was not nurtured well also because her mother was irresponsible. Her father helped her to focus on her studies in her adolescent years but still had missed out a lot of important years in the childhood days. Fortunately, she overcame all adversities with her innate ability to be diligent in her goals.

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There was less hostility in her environment as she entered the late adolescent and it helped her to become the person she is today. Today Oprah is known to be the good moral type of person. She is a philanthropist and helps the needy people in America as well as other parts of the globe. Her view of morality can be traced back to how she saw the injustices in her society in her childhood. The oppression of black people, the life her parents lived, and the way her classmates made fun of her due to her poverty opened her eyes on what’s right and wrong. Her ability today to empathize and sympathize is really a product of her first hand experience with the good and bad experiences her had.

Going back to her moral and emotional development, I want to focus more on the negative experiences she had in her childhood. We can see that Oprah went through a lot in her childhood. In Erik Erikson’s theory of development, she was at around stage three when her sexual molestation experiences happened. This stage is important since this is a stage where a crisis in a person’s development happens (initiative-guilt). The fact that family plays the biggest role in this stage makes her more vulnerable to level on more guilt than initiative. Instead of helping her feel purposeful and learn new skills, her family at that time mistreated her. In her next stage of development (industry and inferiority), she might had leveled on more inferiority than industry.

This is where she was having troubles in school and starting to rebel on her family. She might have a sense of “inertia” or inferiority complex due to the fact that she had not strong support system in her family. When “inertia” happens, the child usually avoids doing something she was not able or failed to do properly (Boeree, 1997). In Oprah’s situation she might had given up on building good relationship with her family. Fortunately she was able to over come it as time went on and she stayed with her father. As she progress on to the stage five (ego-identity and role confusion crisis), she looked like she was successful in balancing out the crisis due to the fact her father offered social support for her and she was excelling in her studies.

This might had giver her good amount of confidence to share herself to others and to be comfortable to be oneself. Her excellence in school and constant exposure to media might led her to develop a good social support system. Together with her father’s guidance, she had a healthy support system that helped her achieve many goals in her life. A good social support system of friends and family is vital in everyone’s growth and security in life. After a turbulent childhood, she was able to find good connection to the world by her achievement. Later on in her life, she was one of the most powerful women in television and Hollywood. She helped people who needed help. She influenced politics. President Bill Clinton even singed an “Oprah bill” for the creations of a database of child abusers. She opened schools for people who can’t afford to go school. She directed her passion of helping other children and victims of catastrophe. She is said to be one of the most credible and influential Americans in history.

Two theories of personality best apply for Ms. Winfrey. Abraham Maslow’s theory of heirrachy of needs can help us understand how Oprah’s traits and actions develop through her career and as a person. In her childhood, she was stuck on surviving on the first level of needs (physiological needs). As she grew older, she was given more and more support by her father, colleagues and friends. She was able to climb up the hierarchy of needs. By the time she was in her 20’s, she had already fulfilled the safety, belonging and esteem part of the hierarchy of needs. Today, she is seen to help others and use her past dispute in life as her tool to help and change other people’s lives.

She is on a level in which she is self-actualizing and reaching out to help other since she had already fulfilled her own needs. Being in this self-actualization state, people who reached this usually has the continuous desire to fulfill his potential to become more and more of what you want (Boeree, 1997). In connection to this theory, Viktor Frankl’s theory of transcendence is a good approach in her case. Ms. Winfrey’s painful past could have destroyed her internally and made her a depressed person throughout life but instead she was able to transcend her experience to something useful to the world.

She channeled her pain and suffering to counseling others in her show. She gave moral support to women who were abused and children who were in the same situation as her.  In comparing the two theories, Viktor Frankl stated that self-actualization is the side-effect of transcendence. In conclusion, the theory of transcendence of Frankl best accounts her behavior. Oprah’s actions and behaviors towards finding meaning in her life and helping others can be seen more of a spiritual and self less acts rather than Maslow’s theory in which people satisfy their own self-actualization needs thus resulting to helping others. Oprah over came a lot of adversities and trial in life and was able to overcome many “noogenic anxiety” that might have come in her way. She can be said to have found meaning in what she does today. She transforms her life’s experiences and lessons to something for the betterment of others.

References

Boeree, C. (1997). Retrieved on 24 April 2008 from

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/perscontents.html

Boeree, C. (1997). Retrieved on 24 April 2008 from

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/erikson.html

Boeree, C. (1997). Retrieved on 24 April 2008 from

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/frankl.html

Boeree, C. (1997). Retrieved on 24 April 2008 from

http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/maslow.html

Dinh, M. & Murphy, J. (2008). Retrived on 24 April 2008 from

http://people.com/tag/oprah-winfrey/

Unknown. (2008). REtrived on 24 April 2008 from

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oprah_Winfrey

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