The personality psychologist Theodore Millon came to radically renovate his personality theory in 1990. Millon, inspired by Goedel’s incompleteness theorem, according to which no self-contained system can legitimate its own propositions, he decided that psychological principles would do well to look beyond its own disciplines for its completion. In order to have better explanatory value, in order words, it must turn towards the disciplines of physics, biology, chemistry, and other non-subjective, non-psychological fields.
“Millon concluded that the deeper laws of human functioning may be best explicated by examining universal principles derived from other, nonpsychological manifestations of nature…Within these other spheres, it was felt that one might uncover more than just the biophysical underpinnings of psychological functioning, or the unconscious forms in which experience takes shape, or the phenomenological world of cognitive experience, or the behavioral observations o the preceding.”
Millon became convinced that psychology in general, but especially personality psychology, had become disconnected from scientific investigation that was taking place outside of itself, and which investigation may assist it in its investigations. Millon summarizes the fears and difficulties, as well as the advantages, in constructing a personology from non-psychological fields:
“Much of personology, no less psychology as a whole, appears to have been adrift, divorced from broader spheres of scientific knowledge, isolated from firmly grounded, if not universal principles, leading psychologists and psychiatrists to continue building the patchwork quit of concepts and data domains that has characterized the field. Preoccupied with but a small part of the larger puzzle of scientific endeavors, or fearing accusations of reductionism, most failed to draw on the rich possibilities to be found in adjacent realms of scholarly pursuit. With few exceptions, cohering concepts that would connect the subject of personality to those of its sister sciences have not been developed.
And what better sphere is there within the psychological sciences to undertake such syntheses than with the subject matter of personology? Persons are the only organically integrated system in the psychological domain, evolved through the millennia and inherently created from birth as natural entities, rather than culture-bound and experience-derived gestalts. The intrinsic cohesion of persons is not merely a rhetorical construction but an authentic substantive unity. Personologic features may often be dissonant, and may be partitioned conceptually for pragmatic or scientific purposes, but they are segments of an inseparable biopsychosocial entity, as well as a natural outgrowth of evolution’s progression.”
Developments in physics, biology and chemistry have given us insight into how these basic material constituents have come to constitute humans. It is a wonder, Millon notes, how reluctant we nonetheless are to employ the insights. Mathematics, furthermore, has provided us with a rigorous means of systematizing our insights and investigations. From an evolutionary perspective, Millon considers personality a particular way in which a human has come to adapt to his personality.
“Each evolved species displays commonalities in its adaptive or survival style. Within each species, however, there are differences in style an differences in the success with which its various members adapt to the diverse and changing environments they face. In these simplest of terms, personality would be conceived as representing the more-or-less distinctive style of adaptive functioning that an organism of a particular species exhibits as it relates to its typical environments. Disorders of personality, so formulated, would represent particular styles of maladaptive functioning that can be traced to deficiencies, imbalances, or conflicts in a species’ capacity to relate to the environments it faces.”
Millon articulated four spheres in which such principles can be applied to the personal striving in whose context behaviors take place: Existence, adaptation, replication and abstraction. First, life seeks to obtain existence and then to preserve it, avoiding what might terminate it and latching on to what is required to preserve it. Life, furthermore, seeks to enhance itself. It does not attempt to merely go on existing. As Millon says, “beyond pain avoidance is pleasure enhancement.” When it comes to pleasure enhancement, detached personality styles, such as the avoidant and the schizoid, are found to fail:
“A note or two should be recorded on the pathological consequences of a failure to attend to a polarity. These are seen most clearly in the personality disorders labeled schizoid and avoidant. In the former, there is a marked hedonic deficiency, stemming either from an inherent deficit in affective substrates or the failure of stimulative experience to develop either or both attachment behaviors or affective capacity. Among those designated avoidant personalities, constitutional sensitivities or abusive life experiences have led to an intense attentional sensitivity to psychic pain and a consequent distrust in iether the genuienness or durability of the pleasures, such that these individuals can no longer permit themselves to experience them. Both of these personalities tend to be withdrawn and isolated, otyless and grim, neither seeking nor sharing in the rewards of life.”
Next, the human adapts to various circumstances. First, the human tries to fit in. This is understood as “ecological accommodation.” He inds and remains anchored in a specific niche, with the assumption that this niche will provide the appropriate nourishment and protection required to go on existing, provided he is able to adequately adapt to it. There is also a more active mode of adaptation, as is typically seen in the animal kingdom. Animals modify their surroundings and rearrange its elements in order to make the environment maximally conducive to survival. “The active-passive polarity means that the vast range of behaviors engaged in by humans may fundamentally be grouped in terms of whether initiative is taken in altering and shaping life’s events or whether behaviors are reactive to and accommodate those events.” Theodore Millon continues:
“”Normal” or optimal functinoing, at least among humans, appears to call for a flexible balance that interweaves both polar extremes. In the first evolutionary stage, that relating to existence, behaviors encouraging both lie enhancement (pleasure) and life preservation (pain avoidance) are likely to be more successful ina chieving survival than actions limited to one or the other alone. Similarly, regarding adaptation, modes of functioning that exhibit bothe cological accommodation and ecological modiication are likely to be more successful than either by itself.
As with the polarity pair representing the aims of existence, a balance should be achieved between the two elements compromising modes of adaptation, those related to ecological accommodation and ecological modification, or what I have termed in the biosocial-learning model as the passive-active polarity. Normality calls for a synchronous and coordinated personal style that weaves a balanced answer to the question of whether one should accept what the fates have brought forth or take the initiative in altering the circumstances of one’s life.”
Millon discourses at length concerning the problems on both ends of the spectrum, both active and passive:
“An example of the inability to leave things as they are is seen in what the DSM terms the histrionic personality disorder. The persistent and unrelenting manipulation of events by persons with this disorder is designed to maximize the receipt of attention and favors as well as to avoid social disinterest and disapproval. They show an insatiable if not indiscriminate search for stimulation and approval. Their clever and often artful social behaviors may give the appearance of an inner confidence and self-assurance; but beneath this guise lies a fear that a failure on their part to ensure the receipt of attention will, in short order, result in indifference or rejection, and hence their desperate need for reassurance and repeated signs of approval Tribute and affection must constantly be replenished and are sought from every interpersonal source. As they are quickly bored and sated, they keep stirring up things, becoming enthusiastic about one activity and then another. There is a restless stimulus-seeking quality in which they cannot leave well enough alone.
At the other end of the polarity are personality disorders that exhibit an excess of passivity, failing thereby ot give direction to their own lives. Several Axis II disorders demonstrate this passive style, although their passivity derives from and is expressed in appreciably different ways. Dependents typically are average on the pleasure/pain polarity. Passivity for them stems from deficits in self-confidence and competence, leading to deficits in initiative and autonomous skills as well as a tendency to wait passively while others assume leadership and guide them. Passivity among obsessive-compulsive personalities stems from their fear of acting independently, owing to intrapsychic resolutions they have made to quell hidden thoughts and emotions generated by their intense self-other ambivalence. Dreading the possibility of making mistakes or engaging in disapproved behaviors, they became indecisive, immobilized, restrained and passive. High on pain and low on both pleasure and self-self-defeating personalities operate on the assumption that they dare not expect nor deserve to have life go their way; giving up any efforts to achieve a life that accords with their true desires, they passively submit to others’ wishes, acquiescently accepting their fate. Finally, narcissists, especially high on self and low on others, benignly assume that “good things” will come their way with little or no effort on their part; this passive exploitation of others is a consequence o the unexplored confidence that underlies their self-centered presumptions.”
An essential component of Theodore Millon’s reconceptualized personality psychology is his evolutionary understanding of the role of parenting and familial life. He distinguishes, for example, between the r-strategy and the K-strategy; two distinct modes of reproducing and child-rearing. The r-strategy involves a great deal of reproducing but minimal attention to the survival of these children, and the opposite is true of those who engage in K-strategy. It is interesting that Millon points out that the r-strategy, contrary to Darwinian intuitions, is not necessarily advantageous from an evolutionary perspective. Indeed, it is through constructively nurturing one’s children that one arguably maximally ensures the propagation of one’s own genes.
Some individuals exhibit a pathological extreme in one direction or the other in familial life. For example, an individual with dependent personality disorder would might invest to an unhealthy degree in their children, since they only see obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain in terms of relationships with other people. At the other extreme would be someone with antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder, who may reproduce a great deal but not pay any attention to their children. Finally, Theodore Millon touches on the level of abstraction. It is at this point that the individual symbolizes his world.