Maya Angelou’s Personality Assessment

Psychoanalytic Aspect of Personality

From the standpoint of psychoanalysis, a number of events from Maya Angelou’s childhood had a significant impact on the future writer. One of them was the divorce of her parents at the age of three, which she described in her book (Angelou, 2002). In addition, she was abused by an adult male as a child (Angelou, 2002). According to Freud’s concept of self-understanding, sexual abuse is a critical driver of self-doubt and persistent difficulties in interacting with the opposite sex (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Timely psychoanalytic work with the girl could have helped her survive the trauma, but in her difficult social conditions, young Maya could not count on qualified help. Her prostitution as an adolescent supports the idea of a distorted perception of sexual relationships. As Friedman and Schustack (2015) state, according to the concept of psychoanalysis, transformed self-perception leads individuals to immoral behavior, and sexual abuse is a common reason for this. Thus, Angelou’s childhood trauma left a significant mark on her life and was unequivocally reflected in the writer’s work.

Neo-Analytic and Ego Aspects of Personality

While coping with the hardships of life from an early age, Angelou involuntarily projected onto herself the image of an adult. In the concept of Jung, who studied the aspects of personality from the standpoint of the ego, this phenomenon was referred to as the personal unconscious (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). It was explained by the involuntary work of consciousness in a particular direction. Needing to raise a child, young Maya had to earn a living and act like an adult (Angelou, 2002). This, in turn, is consistent with Jung’s ideas about the need to compensate for the lack of childhood experiences with adult behavior (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). The future writer’s original career path was not related to literature. Her performances in a nightclub reflected the dual nature of her ego – a child that she remained and an adult woman with corresponding problems (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Therefore, the combination of two manifestations of the ego was, for Maya Angelou, a difficult life test and was caused by negative childhood experiences and the need to provide for her own livelihood.

Biological Aspects of Personality

Given the literary success of Maya Angelou and her worldwide recognition, one can note that she managed to overcome the evolutionary barrier successfully. Friedman and Schustack (2015) cite Darwin’s theory of evolution and cite the phenomenon of natural selection, which involves weeding out the weak in an environment where the stronger dominate. Angelou demonstrated resilient, adaptive skills and strong motivation that set her apart from others with similar social backgrounds. This desire is consistent with the evolution personality theory, which reflects personal adaptive strategies as significant factors in individual and career growth (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Maya herself noted her desire for career success regardless of public opinion, as evidenced by her employment “as the first Negro on the San Francisco streetcars” (Angelou, 2002, p. 188). The aspects of temperament are associated with motives for success, as evidenced by her active struggle for equality. Therefore, the characteristics of the woman’s personality largely depended on the relevant biological factors that were characteristic of her environment.

Behaviorist and Learning Aspect of Personality

The environment in which Maya Angelou grew up directly influenced the behavioral aspects of her personality. According to Friedman and Schustack (2015), this idea is in line with the concept of behaviorism and demonstrates a direct relationship between attitudes and morality in a particular community and the relationship to life phenomena. During her European tours, Maya tried to learn the language of every country she visited, and this adaptive behavior showed her personality as flexible and accommodating (Angelou, 2002). In addition, Friedman and Schustack (2015) cite the principle of classical conditioning and mention the research of the Russian scientist Pavlov, who devoted his work to the study of conditioned and unconditioned reflexes. While remembering the childhood experience of deprivation, already being a recognized writer, Angelou joined all the current movements related to the struggle for equality. Such behavior indicated a close relationship between the environment in which she had lived and a way of thinking that did not allow the idea of the continuing oppression of individual segments of the population.

Cognitive and Social-Cognitive Aspects of Personality

Despite her undeniable talent as a writer, Angelou’s personality did not develop in accordance with traditional cognitive stages. While considering Piaget’s schema theory, one can note that the girl was neglected as a child and had to learn many of her innate skills on her own (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Despite her difficult social situation, she managed to win a dance and drama scholarship (Angelou, 2002). This suggests that she had a desire for knowledge and independently understood the importance of adopting the necessary skills. Traditionally, the parenting environment is closely correlated with a child’s level of cognitive development (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Growing up, when she experienced an early pregnancy and a brief first marriage, Angelou exhibited rejection sensitivity. Friedman and Schustack (2015) define this cognitive concept as persistent anxiety associated with an inability to maintain trusting relationships with others. However, as she lived independently, Maya gained the necessary experience and was able to get the most out of her self-development efforts.

Trait Aspects of Personality

As a fighter for justice, social equality, and the popularization of culture among the masses, Maya showed characteristic personality traits. These were conscientiousness, pushfulness, creativity, and some other qualities that are included in the list of Cattell’s sixteen traits of personality (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). The woman was not afraid of sudden changes and was a determined person, as evidenced, for instance, by her temporary move to Africa (Angelou, 2002). While identifying the features of Angelou’s personality, one can also consider them in the context of the aforementioned psychoanalysis. She repeatedly demonstrated a defense mechanism by hiding it under rationalization (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). The unwillingness to put up with the current social structure, the desire to achieve everything on her own, and other aspirations confirm the woman’s desire to escape from old traumas. As a result, her personality can be described in terms of positive qualities influenced by the cultural environment, including the immediate social circle and the mood in society as a whole.

Humanistic, Existential, and Positive Aspects of Personality

Although Maya’s childhood was difficult, she did not lose faith in people and did not betray her ideals, which spoke of her positive attitude and desire for humanism. When working in Africa as an instructor, she did not count on large monetary rewards and did that purely for moral reasons (Angelou, 2002). While applying Maslow’s notorious hierarchy of needs to the writer’s life, one can note that her aesthetic needs were always above routine physiological ones. Those aspirations spoke of her desire for self-actualization and the promotion of beauty (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). Maya was not a hedonist in the traditional sense, but she enjoyed the opportunity to do what she loved and showcase her results to others. Her lifestyle can be characterized in terms of positive psychology, which Friedman and Schustack (2015) describe as a belief in the importance of creativity, happiness, and spirituality as life companions. By showing an interest in the problems of others, Angelou demonstrated a developed sense of humanity, and this aspect of her personality correlated with her civic stance.

Person-Situation Interactionist Aspect of Personality

Maya Angelou can be described as a person who easily interacted with other people and did not hesitate to defend her position. For instance, upon moving to a new school, she sought to show her knowledge and prove her academic readiness, which was unnatural for children of her racial group at that time (Angelou, 2002). This suggests that, in accordance with Mischel’s theory, she behaved in accordance with the situation and did not seek to please others, contrary to individual beliefs (Friedman & Schustack, 2015). By following her principles, Maya was not ready to give in, although she did not act aggressively or too confidently. This behavioral form corresponds to the concept of the life-course approach, which Friedman and Schustack (2015) describe as a set of stable behavioral patterns that persist despite age or a change in a social group. As a result, Maya Angelou managed to maintain her identity, despite the existing social barriers and realize her creative potential, largely due to her openness and sociability.


Angelou, M. (2002). I know why the caged bird sings. Random House.

Friedman, H. S., & Schustack, M. W. (2015). Personality: Classic theories and modern research (6th ed.). Pearson.

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