Adler: Individual Psychology

Adler: Individual Psychology
Adler was one of the first to break from Freud’s inner circle. Adler believed
the individual was more important to understand than some common inner
conflicts, so he called his theory Individual Psychology. Freud even
borrowed some of Adler’s ideas: safeguarding tendencies, which Freud
called defense mechanisms; self-ideal, which Freud called ego-ideal;
counter-fiction, which Freud called the superego. His theory became a
precursor for the humanists’ concept of self-actualization. He emphasized
free will and choice in personal growth, which we see today in most shortterm therapies. Concepts he coined are common linguistics today: inferiority
Biography- Adler was born in Vienna in 1870, the 2nd son in a prosperous
Jewish family of 6 children. As a 2-year-old, Adler was sick with rickets and
had to be bandaged and prevented from free movement. He watched his
older brother active and achieving, and it left a deep imprint on his
personality, as he unsuccessfully competed with his brother all his young
life. He faced life-threatening pneumonia at age 5, hearing the doctor say he
would surely die. His younger brother had died 2 years before, so it seemed
a real threat. Adler survived, however, and decided to become a doctor to
face his fear of death and feel more in control of this issue. He was also run
over twice before he was 5. So death and disability were very real issues for
him even as a child. He tried to compensate in the physical arena by
becoming athletic and in the academic area by becoming a math prodigy. In
music he developed a fine singing voice. He married a Russian woman of
great gifts and intelligence, and she influenced him in a more liberal path,
particularly about women’s roles and society’s restrictions of women. He
became an ophthalmologist and general practitioner, eventually becoming a
psychiatrist and part of Freud’s inner circle. He broke with Freud in 1911.
He was always interested in the social context of illness, writing a treatise on
“The Health of Tailors,” which connected diseases to working conditions in
this group of people. He treated shell shock in soldiers during World War I.
He established an independent psychoanalytic association after leaving
Freud- the Society for Individual Psychology. He had a particular interest in
children, wanting to understand and intervene for children with handicaps,
poor parenting, and social interaction problems. He set up 50 child guidance
clinics in Vienna and Europe and tried to find ways to encourage children’s
native creativity, rather than stressing punishment for control. He moved to
the US in 1935 but died 2 years later. His theory very clearly drew from his
own life experiences, as he personally strived to overcome feelings of
inferiority early in life. His theory emphasizes conscious striving to improve
one’s life.
Basic motive is a struggle to move to a better way of life: from
Inferiority to Superiority
Inferiority – the motive in personality development is to move from a
“felt minus” to a “felt plus.” From feelings of inferiority toward superiority,
perfection and totality. This is triggered by feelings of inferiority, which are
inevitable as an infant and small child. Success means perfection striving- to
be one’s best self.
 Organ inferiority – Adler believed organ inferiority was the
source of the felt minus. This may be weak limbs, hearing
problems, delayed puberty, even no evident inferiority, but a
perceived one. Children compare themselves to peers and try to
live up to parents’ expectations for them, and when they think
they fail, it produces a sense of inferiority. The environment can
heighten or reduce this feeling, depending on how nurturing or
demanding it is. The weak organ can also be exploited as an
excuse for avoiding life’s tasks and growth. Parents/ teachers
can help children learn to overcome their fears of failure. Adler
believed when a child made a healthy adjustment, the child
strives to compensate for the inferiority (Beethoven who had
hearing loss as a child, becoming a great composer, even in his
later deafness.) This attempt to compensate directs motivation.
If the compensation fails, the person may develop an
inferiority complex, an incapacitating feelings of hopelessness
that a person cannot overcome his/her handicaps.
 Aggressive drive is a manifestation of this struggle toward the
felt plus- fighting, cruelty, or as athleticism and
competitiveness, even politics. Often experienced as anger.
 Masculine protest is an assertion of manliness that implies
greater competence, superiority, and control. Aggressiveness
and activity are seen as masculine, as opposed to
submissiveness and obedience, seen as feminine. He believed
traditional sex roles which subordinated women contributed to
masculine protest. He saw this male bias as a weakness of our
culture (he’s considered an early feminist for this stand.)
Females are motivated by masculine protest when they fight the
constraints of the traditional feminine role. They may suffer
menstrual problems, problems with pregnancy/ birth, or sexual
disorders. Or this could lead women to become career-oriented,
marry late or not at all, become lesbian, have no children or
become nuns.
Superiority striving- by this he meant self-improvement,
striving to attain one’s personal best, not trying to best others.
Perfection striving- the inherent growth process within the
person. A realistic effort to improve, not rigid perfectionism.
This is what Rogers & Maslow later called self-actualization.
Inferiority complex occurs when the growth process stagnates.
The felt-minus situation is too powerful to be overcome and the
person accepts exaggerated sense of inferiority. Many of us
have feelings of inferiority in a particular area, but it doesn’t
stop us from dreaming and trying new things. Only when this
feeling hampers all growth is it considered a complex.
Superiority complex is a mask for strong feelings of
inferiority. It is an exaggerated sense of one’s competence,
arrogance, and narcissism. These people are uncomfortable to
be around, as they develop behaviors that disturb others.
Nations can be afflicted with this complex, resulting in their
aggressiveness toward other nations, and discrimination toward
other nations, and willingness to separated themselves from the
Fictional finalism –while Freud saw man as determined by unconscious
forces, Adler believed we were the actor in our lives, the causes rather than
the effects of life. Personality is creative and allows us choices that
determine out outcomes in life.
Creative self is trying to discover or create experiences that lead to
fulfillment. Creativity is compensatory, overcoming feelings of inferiorityEach person is “the artist of his own personality.” He would suggest in
therapy that a person act “as if” he felt confident,etc, until he actually did.
Fictional finalism is the desirable future state, the imagined goal that
each person imagines. It is unique for each person. It often is a fulfillment of
what is lacking in the present: health if one is weak, success if one is poor,
love, if one is lonely. Someone with a redeemer complex is trying to save
someone, through medicine, ministry, counseling, within a family. So this
fictional finalism is a subjective experience, not an objective reality, which
directs one’s striving. You cannot understand a person’s behavior unless you
understand his/her unique goal. Unhealthy people cannot moderate goals
when they are found to be impossible to attain.
Unity of Personality is a result of the fictional finalism and unique style of
life. Freud believed we were always doomed to inner conflict, but Adler
believed this was an artificial division, that the conscious and unconscious
worked together to motivate a person toward his desired goal. (Much like
Jung’s concept of compensation.)
Style of life begins as a compensatory process, to make up for a
particular inferiority. It includes concepts about he self, the world, and one’s
striving toward a personal goal in the world. Some styles of life are
cooperative and hard-working, others are antisocial, narcissistic and
aggressive. Style of life is established by age 4-5, so early life experiences
are very important in determining personality.
 First memories are keys to identifying styles of life. Early
memories are often flawed, and rarely go back before age 3, as
the brain structures responsible for long-term memory are
unfinished in development. We know infants have memory- as
they interact differently with toys they have played with from
toys that are novel to them, but their memories do not last into
adulthood. Childhood memories are selective, but first
memories stick out because the person has thought about it
repeatedly over the years- it represents something important to
the person. The facts around the memory are not important as
much as the psychological importance or perception of the
memory. Children’s memories are influenced by talking with
adults, and by the nature of the culture one is raised in. Girls
and first born children talk more to adults about their
experiences. Some people claim to have memories of their own
births or infancy, which are probably fictions, but the emotions
associated with the memories are important and revealing
psychologically. So memories represent the Story of My Life.
This story keeps a person focused on his goal, comforts one
when stressed, and prepares him to face the future. Memories
are key to style of life. Adler always questioned early memories
in a personality analysis. People report them, thinking they
aren’t psychologically revealing. Early school memories are
clues toward attitudes about achievement and independence.
Criminals often report memories of abuse and aggression. Early
memories reflect our emotional schemas, expressing
‘relationship paradigms’ that reflect adjustment or pathology.
Mistaken and healthy styles of life – Adler believed the person was unique,
so he didn’t like typologies, but he did describe 4 types of styles of life in
order to teach students.
Mistaken styles of life are maladaptive compensations that don’t
improve life or have a positive goal for direction.
 Ruling type seeks to dominate others. They may be selfish,
aggressive in order to feel power in place of incompetence.
They attack others in a variety of ways, however, such as
suicide, drug addiction, as well as aggression. Some may be
high achievers, but they are vain and very competitive. They
often express superiority over others by putting others down:
depreciation complex.
 Getting type seeks to lean on others, is passive, dependent,
rather than active and directed toward goals. They often have
depression. Adler said this type had been pampered as a child,
and females were more likely to be this type due to the cultural
restrictions on women. Even so this neurotic style is subject to
change if the person makes other choices.
 Avoiding type tries not to deal with problems in order to avoid
any defeat or embarrassment. Agoraphobia would be a
manifestation of this maladaptive style of life. They tend to be
isolated, and seem cold in nature. There may be an underlying
superiority belief. Whole cultures may embrace this style of
Healthy Style of life: the socially useful type is adaptive- the person acts to
benefit others, not in a sacrificial way, but altruistic and creative ways. They
have a well-developed sense of social interest. Later research shows that this
style of life is consistent from childhood into adulthood.
Development of personality was to some extent a function of
circumstances. He believed the restrictive gender roles shaped women in
negative ways, that warlike orientations in government shaped ethnic
groups, poverty shaped children in negative ways. Family is particularly
important in influencing outcomes, particularly siblings.
Parental behavior helps or hinders the development of a healthy
lifestyle in a child. Parents can set up appropriate learning environments that
challenge but don’t overwhelm children. Parents who set their children up to
be a reflection of themselves, or to be overly competitive, to be seen as
superior to others, will handicap children’s development. Mother
particularly influences the development of social feeling, a cooperative
attitude that distinguishes the healthy from unhealthy lifestyle. Mothers
spend more time with children, so they naturally have deeper influences on
their development.
 Pampered child is overindulged and comes to develop an
attitude of entitlement in the world. They are spoiled and face
rejection in the world when others do not treat them the way
their parents did. Adler thought Freud was a pampered child,
which was a severe criticism from Adler.
 Neglected child may have been orphaned or unwanted or
illegitimate or simply parented by people who were uninvolved
or impoverished. Neglect leaves children feeling the tasks of
life are too overwhelming, and they give up. It can lead a child
to desire a pampered style of life, desiring to be cared for and
developing dependence on others.
 Parenting training programs were developed by Adler in
order to help solve problems in childhood before they appeared
in school and antisocial behavior. Head Start programs have
added parenting components and found better outcomes for
children, as the parents learn to be more positive, less critical
and punitive. The children behave more cooperatively and have
better social outcomes. Part of what parents are taught is the
goals of children’s behavior: attention-getting, struggle for
power or superiority, desire to retaliate or get ever, and display
of inadequacy or disability.
Family Constellation is the makeup of the family- number, age and sex of
siblings. Adler believed siblings had powerful influences on personality.
First-born child gets the full attention of the parents, and this child is
often pampered or spoiled. Then the oldest is dethroned when the second
sibling is born. They don’t cope well with this loss of attention and may
become problem children (research doesn’t confirm this assumption.) To
compensate for loss of mother’s attention, child turns to the father for
attention, or takes on a parental role toward the baby. Oldest children often
revere the past, the traditional, longing for the halcyon days before they had
to compete for parental attention. They are conservative, authoritative and
value structure in many ways. They are often high-achievers in many realms
of life. They also tend to burnout at an early age.
Second-born child never gets the complete attention of the parents,
and always sees the advances the older child has in development- leaving the
second child feeling slighted or neglected. This child may be rebellious or
revolutionary. The older child is always the pacemaker, stimulating the
second child to higher achievement. The second child tries to find an
element in which to compete separate from the older child.
Youngest child may become problem children because as the baby
they tend to grow up spoiled or pampered, without incentive to become
independent. If they can find an area in which to excel their prospects are
Only child never has to compete for parental attention, so may be
pampered and overly attached to the mother. Child may develop a ‘mother
complex’ and an unrealistic sense of personal worth.
Other issues in family environment include if a child is gifted in
some way, he won’t directly compete with other sibs, or if a child is
handicapped in some difficult way it will be different. Also if the spacing of
children is too far apart, they will be like an only child.
Research on birth order has shown some relationships, but they are
weak. Parents do treat children in different positions differently. Parents are
more anxious and critical of the first child than others, giving the first-born
more responsibility and pressure to live up to expectations. Like Adler
suggested, first-borns do lose the attention of parents when the new baby is
born. First-borns are concerned with heritage, more often seeking their
genealogical roots. First born develop a knowing style that separates them
from others’ ideas, which they challenge and doubt, while later-born
children develop a connected knowing- they can take the perspective of
others more openly. Second-born aren’t the highest achievers, however,
first-borns are. Only children are similar to first-born children- high
achievers with high locus of control autonomy, leadership and maturity.
Middle children say they are more likely to turn to siblings when stressed,
while oldest and youngest children turn to parents. Later-born males seem to
have better psychological makeup than males in other positions. Later-born
children are rated by peers as more extraverted than older siblings. They are
also more trusting and innovative (creative) It is important to examine the
quality of relationship among siblings, however, since birth order alone
doesn’t tell the whole story. Warm relationships have less influence on
personality than adverse and difficult ones.
But culture makes a difference. In china, with the one-child policy,
only children are spoiled and pampered and develop undesirable social
characteristics, dependency and egocentricity due to overindulgence.
Sulloway’s analysis of scientific revolutions – this theory suggested
that different children develop divergent personalities because each child
must strive to compete for parents’ attention in a unique way. So the oldest
child may adopt parental standards, but the next child will find another
means to stand out. Later-born scientists do seem disposed toward rebellion
within their scientific exploration. They are willing to challenge the status
quo. There is little research support for this idea, however.
Psychological health has to do with developing a sense of community.
Social interest is concern for others, using one’s talents to benefit the
group rather than selfish goals. The healthier the person is, the more s/he is
drawn toward this goal. Social interest can correct for the overemphasis on
individualism and competition found in Western culture. Social interest is
the innate potential to live cooperatively with other people. It helps us value
the common good above personal welfare. Social connections with others
enhance growth. Social interest can be compared with empathy- concern for
the experience of another person. Empathic people respond emotionally,
share the joys and sorrows of others. Even babies cry when they hear other
babies cry. This is the basis for all moral development. Without social
interest, life seems purposeless and the self feels empty. Ultimately it may
contribute to spirituality by encouraging a loving attitude toward all others.
This is a core concept in Adlerian theory. All neurosis stems from
inadequate social feeling. Schizophrenics show a startling lack of social
feeling, lack of empathy, much like criminals. Females show higher social
interest and empathy than males. Groups and cultures can be described by
social interest or lack thereof. Without a social interest, a group can implode
on itself. These cultures glorify war, death penalty, physical punishment,
abuse, and fail to provide humane conditions for all classes of people.
Healthy social institutions of all sorts teach “Love thy neighbor.” People
who score high on social interest score low on narcissism, low on alienation,
and low on maladjustment scales. They score high on affiliation, and
nurturance. They score higher on self-actualization scales, and develop
attitudes toward love that emphasize companionship and reject game
playing. These people also are healthier, have more friends, are more
satisfied with their jobs.
The three tasks in life
Work means having a means of earning a living in some socially
useful job. Division of labor enables people with differing skills to all share
their abilities to benefit the community. Children talking about their job
aspirations reveal their style of life. Criminals fail in the work task.
Love refers to sexual relationship and marriage, as well as deciding to
have children. Adler recommended monogamy as the best solution to the
love task, saying premarital sex detracts from the intimate develop of love
and marriage. So if someone falls in love and tries to have relationships with
2 people at once, s/he is really trying to avoid the love task. Adler believe
sexual dysfunctions or loss of interest in a partner stem from lack of social
interest, rather than from purely physical causes. Equality between partners
is essential for success in the task of love. He supported women’s right to
birth control and abortion, but criticized some women’s decisions not to
have children at all.
Social interaction refers to the problems of communal life- all our
other social relationships. All social relationships should be based on a
strong sense of social interest, which prevents narcissism in the relationship.
All three tasks are interrelated and none can be solved in isolation. Adler
hinted at 2 other life tasks: art, and spirituality.
Interventions based on Adler’s theory-Adler didn’t just formulate
interventions for individuals, he suggested psychologists should advocate for
social change to prevent mental disorders and social problems.
School – Adler developed individual education which was an
education program that dismantled traditional authoritarian methods and
replaced them with practices that fostered social interest. Corporal
punishment was ineffective and showed the educator didn’t really care about
the child’s growth or problems. Teachers should encourage cooperation
among students, talking about misbehavior in the generic with the group and
asking the group to suggest alternative behaviors. He recommended peer
tutoring for slower learners, clubs for alternative interests, and for teachers
to teach the same group of children for numbers of years to be more
influential in development. When Adler had 30 Child Guidance Clinics in
Vienna, they found that court cases of juvenile delinquency dropped
Therapy aims at changing thinking, emotion, and behavior through
stages. He believes all personality failures result from a lack of social
interest, so therapy aims to foster social interest, to take over a maternal
function. It emphasizes freedom and purposefulness, and gender equity.
Therapy has evolved to include family therapy.
Style of life is first assessed to provide a context for understanding the
problem. Adler would determine what the person’s ultimate goal was, and
try to change the person to a healthier lifestyle. Benefits should accrue to
others, as well as the patient. Family systems would change when one
member would develop greater social interest and less pathology. Dreams
were interpreted to indicate style of life- mainly to assess the emotions they
create in the person. These emotions are needed to produce change. Adler
did not intimidate his clients with advice, but acted like a supportive
grandmother. He encouraged patients to accept responsibility for their own
life choices and he presented an educational atmosphere, not an authoritarian
atmosphere in therapy. He coached patients to develop courage and selfesteem. He believed if a client could change his/her picture or opinion of
himself, he could change his life. Adler gently challenged the masks people
presented, but he did this supportively. He also believed humor was
powerful in therapy. He regarded patients religious beliefs as important, as
he thought the idea of God was a reflection of the basic human striving for a
better condition. He believed that religious commitments could facilitate
growth of social interest and personality. He believed therapy could ease
physical symptoms as well as psychological ones. He was a pioneer in the
field of psychosomatic medicine, which recognizes psychological
components of many illnesses. Recent studies have shown that pessimistic
explanatory styles do predict poor health. Optimistic explanatory styles are
an indication of Adlerian creative striving. When working with children, he
first analyzed the function and purpose of their acting out, in order to set up
a mild behavioristic program to shape the behavior and allow the child
greater success in achievement. Adler very much influenced the family
systems approach to therapy, as well as cognitive therapy, and rationalemotive therapy. He was easily as influential in the field of therapy as Freud.
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