Fromm's Character Orientations

collage of portraits of many different people
Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

Erich Fromm was a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst who suggested a theory of personality based on two primary needs: the need for freedom and the need for belonging. He suggested that people develop certain personality styles or strategies in order to deal with the anxiety created by feelings of isolation. Of these character types, he suggested that four of them are unproductive orientations, while one is a productive orientation.

Fromm believed that character is something that stems both from our genetic inheritance and from our learning experiences. Some aspects of our character are hereditary. Other aspects stem from what we learn at home, from school, and from society. And of course, there is the interplay between the two influences.

Fromm also believed that character is something deeply ingrained and difficult to change. However, being aware of our tendencies and being committed to change can help inspire change. The different traits that emerge from each of the five character types have both positive and negative aspects. However, Fromm generally viewed the first four orientations as unproductive.

Fromm also believed that people could exhibit the characteristics of more than one type and that personalities can be made up of a combination of different orientations.

The Receptive Character Type

The receptive type is characterized by a need for constant support from others. They tend to be passive, needy, and totally dependent upon others. These people require constant support from family, friends, and others, but they do not reciprocate this support. Receptive types also tend to lack confidence in their own abilities and have a difficult time making their own decisions. Individuals who grow up in households that are overbearing and controlling often tend to have this personality orientation.

The Exploitative Character Type

The exploitative type is willing to lie, cheat, and manipulate others in order to get what they need. In order to fulfill their need to belong, they might seek out people who have low self-esteem or lie about loving someone they really don't care about. These types take what they need either through force or deception and exploit other people to meet their own selfish needs.

The Hoarding Character Type

The hoarding type copes with insecurity by never parting with anything. They often collect a massive amount of possessions and often seem to care more about their material possessions than they do about people.

The Marketing Character Type

The marketing type looks at relationships in terms of what they can gain from the exchange. They might focus on marrying someone for money or social status and tend to have shallow and anxious personalities. These types tend to be opportunistic and change their beliefs and values depending on what they think will get them ahead.

The Productive Character Type

The productive type is a person who takes their negative feelings and channels the energy into productive work. They focus on building loving, nurturing, and meaningful relationships with other people. This applies not only to romantic relationships, but also to other familial relationships, friendships, and social relationships. They are often described as a good spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, and employee.

Out of the five character types described by Fromm, the ​productive type is the only healthy approach to dealing with the anxiety that results from the conflict between the need for freedom and the need to belong.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Fromm E. Man for Himself: an Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics. Open Road Media; 2013.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."