Britney Spears

By Josh Habansky



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Biography

Britney Spears was born on December 2, 1981 to parents Jamie and Lynn Spears. Britney, along with older brother Bryan and younger sister Jamie-Lynn, grew up in rural Kentwood, Louisiana, a very small town with an even smaller population. From the time she could walk, Britney was dancing and singing up a storm, and soon she was enrolled in numerous dance and singing classes. Britney performed at a host of local festivals and talent shows as a child and wowed audiences with her husky, mature voice and command of the stage.
At eight years old, at the urging of an agent who observed her perform at a talent show, Britney auditioned for a spot on “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” (IMDb). Although she made it far into the audition process, the producers decided she was simply too young to be cast. Fortunately, just a couple of years later, she re-auditioned and was cast on the show, along with other future-stars such as Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. In between the time of those auditions, however, Britney garnered a great deal of entertainment business experience, landing a position as Natalie Portman’s understudy in an off-Broadway play entitled “Ruthless.” She also had extensive vocal and dance training with well-known New York City professionals. “The All New Mickey Mouse Club” was cancelled after two seasons and a devastated Britney returned to Kentwood to live a normal teenage live, attending high school and playing for her school’s basketball team. After a while, Britney found herself once again yearning for the spotlight and began pursuing a record deal. Despite a few rejections, Britney landed a record contract with Jive Records and she was quickly flown off to Sweden to get started on her debut album.
From that point it was history. Spears blew up almost overnight with her number one single and album, both titled “…Baby One More Time.” She has achieved an international superstardom that has been unprecedented since artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson. Since 1998, Britney has sold almost 70 million albums worldwide, according to Britney.com, one of her official websites. She has had nine hit albums, numerous successful tours, a number of very lucrative endorsements, and has won countless awards from countries around the world. She has also branched out into acting, with a hit film “Crossroads” and a string of television sitcom appearances on shows like “Will & Grace,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “How I Met Your Mother,” and “Glee.”

The Psychoanalytic Approach

It is intriguing to analyze Britney Spears’ personality using Freudian Psychoanalysis. While this method of personality analysis is rarely used today as a result of a lack of empirical evidence and a failure to address any adulthood influence on personality, the approach’s emphasis on childhood development is far from baseless. It allows for an interesting and colorful analysis of personality to say the least. Freud postulated that the mind was made up of three distinct entities: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id, according to Freud, operates under the pleasure principle and is the source of natural human drives and desires. The superego is the moral force that emphasizes societal norms and mores on individuals. Finally, the ego is the balancing force that allows individuals to satisfy their cravings in socially acceptable manners. Freud believed that in order for individuals to be psychologically healthy, these three forces must be balanced, with all three contributing to decisions and behaviors.
It is likely that if Freud were to analyze Ms. Spears, he would assert that her psychopathology is a direct result of her id being too strong. Over the years, Britney has exhibited a great deal of impulsive behavior, which would prove this assertion. In January 2004, Britney married Jason Alexander, a childhood friend, while on a trip to Las Vegas. The spur of the moment decision created nothing short of a media frenzy, and led many to question Spears’ state of mind at the time of the decision. Her management team quickly intervened and within 55 hours, the marriage was annulled. The next year, after a very short engagement, Britney and her then fiancé Kevin Federline held an impromptu wedding ceremony to the surprise of family, friends, fans and the media.
Her impetuous behavior did not end there. During the dark time that many refer to as her “meltdown” period, Britney’s behavior was defined by marked impulsivity. From missing custody court appearances and flashing her private areas to attacking paparazzi cars and her infamous head-shaving incident, Britney’s id seemed to be completely in control. At this time, her behavior seemed to be dictated wholly on her wants and desires and little on morality or understanding of responsibility. As Britney’s actions became more and more erratic, her time with her children was continually lessened. She seemed only partially aware of the ramifications she faced, and seemed to care even less.
Defense mechanisms are a major component of psychoanalysis. Freud described them as “ego processes that distort reality to protect the individual from anxiety.” Historically, Britney has used regression as a defense mechanism, likely because of her curtailed childhood and rush into adulthood. Regression is when a person reverts back to a more child-like form of behavior in order to escape anxiety and psychological discomfort. After Britney filed for divorce in 2006, she undoubtedly used regression as a defense mechanism to deal with the pain she was experiencing. Instead of fulfilling her adult responsibilities as a mother, Spears began acting out in the vain of a rebellious teenager. Leaving nannies to take care of her children, Spears opted to make herself a fixture on the Los Angeles club scene, staying out drinking until all hours of the night, many times failing to even return home. In a 2007 letter to her fans, Spears admitted of the situation: “I was like a bad kid running around with ADD” (MTV).
Freud’s stages of psychosexual development are essentially what defines psychoanalysis as well as his belief that fixations result from not properly completing any one of these stages. In addition, he outlines how each fixation manifests itself in individuals. If Freud were to analyze Britney, he would most definitely state that she has an oral fixation. Britney has smoked cigarettes for years and has admitted many times that she has a habit of biting her fingernails. Both behaviors, according to Freud, are symptoms of an oral fixation. Freud might say that Britney had difficulty giving up breast-feeding in the oral stage, leading to such behaviors centered on oral intake. People with oral fixations are said to have dependency issues, which is certainly true of Britney. Over the years, it has become evident that she perpetually longs for attachment and affection. She has a history of rushing into relationships, married twice before turning 24. She always seems to be seeking some form of affection, whether it be love from a romantic partner, admiration from fans, or even attention from paparazzi.

Trait & Skill Perspective

The trait approach to analyzing personality emphasizes the importance of employing labels and adjectives to describe individuals’ personalities and dispositions. Though there have been numerous trait theorists, the common thread among them is a search for an adequately representative but relatively small number of traits which can be used to analyze all individuals. Gordan Allport is one of psychology’s most well-known trait theorists and defined personality as the “dynamic organization within the individual of those psychological systems that determine his characteristic behavior and thought” (Friedman, p. 275). Allport’s contributions led to the creation of the “Big Five,” which essentially says that there are five dimensions of personality that can be used to describe all people. These dimensions are extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness (Friedman, p. 281). A great deal of research has been done on the Big Five and the findings have consistently found it to be a relatively good tool to assess personality.
Because of its universal nature, the Big Five can be used to analyze Britney Spears’ personality. First of all, it is difficult to pinpoint where Britney falls on the extroversion dimension of this scale. On one hand, it seems that she is extremely extroverted; she is a passionate musical artist who thrives on performing in front of millions of people. She seems to have a great deal of energy and undoubtedly loves being in front of the camera. On the other hand, however, Britney has always expressed that off the stage and in normal life, she is very shy and reserved. These qualities have most definitely come across in the interviews she has given over the years. She is extremely soft-spoken and has admitted to being very timid, especially when it comes to interactions with men she is interested in. She has also stated how unpleasant it is constantly fleeing paparazzi and having cameras in her face 24/7. Because of all these factors, it seems that Britney’s level of extroversion is directly related to the particular situation she is in.
Agreeableness is a less perplexing dimension of the Big Five when it comes to Britney. A major driving force behind her staggering success is her accessibility and likeability. Especially at the beginning of her career, Britney was often referred to as the “girl next door.” In interviews, Britney has proven to be warm and kind. Over the years, Spears has donated insurmountable amounts of money to charitable organizations, further illustrating her highly agreeable nature.
Britney would most definitely score low on the conscientious dimension of the Big Five. As discussed earlier, she has exhibited a great deal of impulsive behavior over the years. Britney has never been known to be cautious or responsible. In the midst of her custody battle with Kevin Federline, Britney routinely showed up late to many hearings and flat out failed to attend others. She brashly married a childhood friend in Las Vegas without consulting with her family or friends before doing so. Furthermore, Spears has paraded around California flashing her body parts without a second thought. Taking all of this into consideration as well as other impulsive behaviors Spears has exhibited, it seems obvious that she would be rated very low on the conscientious dimension.
Before the difficulty Spears had a few years ago, people likely would have expected her to fall very low on the neuroticism dimension of the Big Five. However, given a number of mental-health related hospitalizations, trips to rehabilitation, and erratic behavior, such an expectation has most definitely changed. Even since “coming back” from her very public meltdown, critics and fans alike have noted Spears’ evident anxiety in both interviews and performances. Interestingly enough, it seems that fame itself has had a profound impact on Spears’ personality. Before achieving international superstardom, she seemed psychologically healthy. Having dealt with the adverse effects of fame, however, has led to a higher level of neuroticism in Spears.
Britney’s aesthetic sense has been revered countless times over the years by music producers, video and art directors, and choreographers. She has been said to be very involved in costume designs for her tours and concepts for her music videos. Furthermore, with fans of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations, Britney has exhibited great tolerance for all people and lifestyles. Most notably, Spears has embraced her gay fans with open arms, performing at countless gay clubs and recently appearing in Out Magazine. Because of her marked sense of style and tolerance, it seems appropriate to rate Britney very high on the openness dimension of the Big Five.

Discussion

Using the psychoanalytic and trait approaches to examine Britney Spears’ personality has been quite a fascinating undertaking, as the two perspectives yielded very distinct analyses. If Freud were to sit down with Britney, he would likely assert that her id, ego, and superego are not balanced, with her id overpowering the other entities. He would attribute her psychopathology to this imbalance and explain that her teenage rebelliousness is simply regression, a defense mechanism Spears uses in order to safeguard herself from dealing with the anxiety bubbling under the surface. As for her habits of smoking and fingernail biting, Freud would most certainly attribute this to an oral fixation.
As for the trait approach, compartmentalizing Britney’s personality is certainly interesting and allows for a comparative analysis, something that cannot be said for psychoanalysis. I employed the Big Five, one of the most well known scales from trait perspective, to analyze Spears’ personality. After close examination, I found that Britney rates high on agreeableness, low on conscientiousness, high on neuroticism, and high on openness. As far as extroversion goes, it seems that it is very situation-dependent when it comes to Spears.

References

Kaufman, G. (2007). Britney spears admits ‘I was so lost’ in online letter: singer says she’s cut a lot of people out of her life after personal turmoil. MTV.com. Retrieved from http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1560634/britney-spears-admits-i-was-so-lost-online-letter.jhtml.
Zerby, M. (2008). Biography for Britney spears. Imdb.com. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005453/bio.
(2010). Biography. Britney.com. http://www.britney.com/us/biography.