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Individual Psychology Theory of Adler

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Physiology
Wordcount: 3372 words Published: 7th Jun 2017

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Alfred Adler was born in February 7, 1870 in the suburbs of Vienna. He was the third child and second son of a Jewish grain merchant. During his childhood, Alfred made developed rickets which limited from walking. When he was five years he nearly died from pneumonia. During this age Alfred decided to become a doctor. He was an average student and preferred playing outdoors. He was popular, outgoing and active and was known for his efforts of outdoing his elder brother. Alfred received a degree in medicine from University of Vienna in the year 1895. During his college he was attached to socialist group of students among which he met his wife Rassia Timofeyewna Epstein a social activist and an intellectual from Russia and studied in Vienna. They married in the year 1897 and they finally had four children of which tow became psychiatrists. Alfred started his medical career as an apthamologist but soon changed general practice establishing his office in the lower class region of Vienna. His clients comprised of circus people (Bottome, 1998, p. 5).

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He changed his career to psychiatry and in the year 1907 he was invited in a Freud’s group discussion. After writing papers on organic inferiority which was compatible to views of Freud, Alfred wrote the first paper on aggression instinct which was not approved by Freud. He wrote another paper on children’s feelings of inferiority which suggested that Freud’s sexual ideas should be taken more metaphorically than literally. Adler was named the president of Viennese Analytic Society by Freud and a co-editor of newsletter of the organization; he did not stop his criticism. They organized a debate between Freud’s and Adler’s supporters leading to Adler having nine members of the organization resigning to form another organization of the Society for Free Psychoanalysis. This organization became the Society for Individual Psychology in the next year. During the First World War, Alfred served as a physician for the Austrian Army in the children’s hospital and on Russian front. He witnessed the first damage did by the war which changed his thought increasingly to the concept of social interest. Alfred felt that, humanity should survive and it had to change its ways. After the First World War, Adler was involved in different projects like clinics attached to schools of the nation and teachers training. In 1926, Alfred went to the United States to lecture and he finally accepted a visiting position at Long Island College of Medicine. Alder and his family left Vienna forever in 1934. Alfred died of heart attack during his series of lecturer at Aberdeen University on May 28, 1937 (Way, 1956, p. 25).

The Theory

Adler suggested a motivating force or a single drive behind all people’s experiences and behaviors. By the time his theory had gelled almost in mature form, Alfred named the motivating force striving for perfection. This is the people’s desire to fulfill their potentials, come closer and closer to their ideals. This is almost familiar to the more popular self-actualization of ideas. Ideal and perfection are words which are troublesome but they are positive goals. Should not people be striving for the ideal? In psychology, people are given instead a suggestion. Ideals and perfection are practically by definition and things which cannot be reached. Many people live very painful and very sad lives while trying to be perfect. Alfred sees a negative type of idealism as a pervasive of more positive understanding. Striving for perfection was not Adler’s first phrase but he used it to refer to his single motivating force. Adler’s earliest phrase was aggression drive referred to the reaction people have when other drives like what they want to eat, sexual satisfaction, get things done, are frustrated and be loved. This can be better called assertiveness drive since people tend to think of aggression as negative and physical. It was the idea of Adler on aggression drive which caused disagreement between him and Freud (Way, 1992, p. 102).

Freud was afraid that, this disagreement would detract them from the important position of sex drive in the psychoanalytic theory. Regardless of Freud’s dislike on the idea, he introduced something alike later in his life known as the death instinct. Adler also used striving to overcome or compensation to refer to the basic motivation. Since all people have problems, inferiorities and short-comings, Adler felt in his earlier writings that people’s personalities can be accounted for in a way which would compensate or to overcome the problems. The idea still plays a significant role in Adler’s theory. Adler used masculine protest after noting something pretty obvious on his culture in which boys were given more preference than girls. Boys desperately wanted to be though of be thought as aggressive, strong and in control. This argument was based on the notion that, men were somehow better than women. They thought that, men had the power and education which is basically the motivation and talent required to do better things which women cannot (Handlbauer, 1998, p. 95).

Adler did not see the men’s assertiveness and success as a result of instinctive dominance. According to him, there was a reflection of the fact that boys were encouraged to be assertive in life which discouraged girls. Both girls and boys start their life with protest. Many people misunderstood Adler meaning that men were more assertive which led to limit of the use of his phrase. Adler also used the phrase striving for superiority. Use of this phrase reflected the philosophical root of Adler’s ideas. Later Adler used striving for superiority more to refer to the neurotic or unhealthy striving. Adler in his life tried to get the concept down to the psychological level. Jan Smuts influenced Adler an approach which is known as holism. Adler decided to call his approach to psychology as individual psychology. Individual literary meant un-divided. Rather than talking about personal personality, with a traditional sense on internal traits, dynamics, structures and so on, he preferred talking about style of life which refers to how one deals with how they live their life, interpersonal relations and how they deal with problems. According to Adler, “the style of life of a tree is the individuality of a tree expressing itself and molding itself in an environment. People realize a style when they view it against an environment background different from what they expect since each tree has its mechanical pattern to respond to the environment (Hoffman, 1994, p. 52).

Adler differed again with Freud on lifestyle. Adler viewed motivation as a matter of moving towards the future instead of being driven to the past. People are driven towards their goals, their purpose and their ideals which are known as teleology. Moving things from the past to the future has some remarkable effects. Social interest was another idea on the significance of striving for perfection. On his holism, it is easy to see that everyone who is striving for perfection can hardly do so without considering the social environment. Since people are social animals, they don’t exist much less they strive without others and even most determined people-hater forms with detestation in a social context. According to him, social concern was not simply inborn or learned but a combination of both. This is to some extent an innate demonstrated on how babies and small children show sympathy on others without being taught. The aim of Adler was to avoid the idea of social interest which is a version of extraversion. Some people express their social concern through a behavior of being friendly and slapping. Adler meant social concern in terms of feeling in terms of certain social behaviors but in a much broader sense as caring for the community, family, humanity and community even for life. Social concern is a matter of being helpful to others. Lack of social concern is a definition of all failures like drunkards, psychotics, problem children and criminals among others because they lack social interest (Adler, 1999, p. 34).

Adler changed psychological determinance grounds from to sex to libido. He has special prominence to societal factors. He argued that, an individual has to struggle or deal with three forces known as love-related, societal and vocational forces. This disagreement determines the final nature of personality. He based his theories on the development of pre-adulthood of individual. His psychology is parallel wit the humanistic psychology of Abraham Maslow who acknowledged Adler’s influence on his theories. Both humanistic psychology and individual psychology hold that, individuals who are human beings are the best determinants of their own desires, needs, growth and interests. The theory of defeat, compensation and over-compensation were derived by Adler. According to him, individuals derive their personality characteristics from the important external factors. Individual characters are formed by their reaction on their influence to compensation, resignation and over-compensation. In compensation, when an individual suffers from any difficulty, their main objective is to bring those drawbacks to an end making them inferior to others. Those with the potential to this are successful in their lives on both individual and social basis (Dreikurs, 1994, p. 127).

Resignation is for those individuals who give their drawbacks and become reconciled to them. These kinds of people are in many. The attitude of the world toward them is cool and quite uninterested understanding. Over-compensation is where some people become so obsessed with the idea of recompense for their problems. External factors are important in formation of characters. Alfred holds the main motives of human behavior and thought as individual strive for power and superiority partly in compensation for their inferiority feeling. Each individual is unique according to this view and their personality structure with the unique goals and striving ways finds an expression on their style of life which is the product of their creativity. However, individuals cannot be considered as different from the society, all important problems including general human relations, love, and occupation problems are social (Watts, 2003, p. 67).

Adler’s theory led to explanation of the psychological abnormality and normality although the normal person who has a well developed social interest will recompense by determining on the helpful side of life which is by contributing to the common inferiority feeling. The neurotically disposed individual is characterized by increased superiority feeling, exaggeration, underdeveloped social interest, and uncooperative superiority goal which are signs anxiety and less open aggression. This person solves problems in a private fashion, self-centered resulting in failure. All kind of maladjustments share this collection. Therapy involves offering the patient with insight on mistaken life-style through materials furnished by him in the interview with a psychiatric (Slavik and Carlson, 2005, p. 241).

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According to Adler, inferiority people pull towards perfection, fulfillment and self-actualization. Failures ends up being unfulfilled, being far from self-actualization and badly imperfect. Due to lack of self interest or putting something in positive form people will be excessively self-interested. According to him, being besieged by inferiority is by feeling competent, doing well, affording to think of others. All individuals suffer from inferiority like Adler suffered from organ inferiority. Many people react to organic inferiorities through compensation. People make their deficiencies in a different way. The inferiority organ can be strengthened and become stringer than others. Individuals can psychologically compensate their problems by developing particular skills or even specific personality styles. Many people are not in a position to handle their problems and they live lives of silent depression. People optimism and society which is up-to-beat seriously undervalues their numbers. Many people have psychological inferiorities. There is also general type of inferiority mainly the natural inferiority mainly found in children. Children are naturally weaker, smaller, intellectually competent and less social compared to adults around them. Children have something in common. They have the desire to grow up, be adult and be big. This type of compensation is in fact similar to striving for perfection. Many children have the feeling that, other people always are better than them. If an individual is besieged by inferiority forces whether it is hurting the body, those people around are holding the contempt or the general difficulties are growing up. This develops inferiority complex (Adler, 1964, p. 273).

According to Adler, due to inadequate social interest, different types can be differentiated using energy levels. The ruling kind which is from childhood is characterized by the tendency to be quite dominant and aggressive over others. Their energy which involves the strength to strive for their personal power is great and they push anything or anybody getting in their way. Leaning type is among those people who are sensitive and have developed a shell around themselves which is protects them but they have to depend on others to deal with problems in their life. These individuals have low level of energy and they became reliant. When they are overwhelmed, they develop what they normally think of neurotic symptoms which depend on individual lifestyle details. The avoiding type has the lowest energy level and they survive by basically avoiding life. When they are pushed to restrictions they become psychotic which finally retreats to their own worlds. The socially useful type is for the healthy person who has both energy and social interest. Without energy, one cannot really have self interest since they are not in a position in fact do anything for anyone (Adler, 1999, p. 54).

The individual psychology of Alder has some basic assumptions. The individual psychology is a system of practices and theories which is established upon cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic and existential principles. “All behavior has social meaning.” Adler was different from assumption of Freud that “human behavior is motivated by sexual instinct”. Assumption of Adler is that human behavior is aggravated by social desires and human beings are intrinsically social beings. Adler substituted interpersonal relationship form for interpersonal “id-ego-superego” personality pattern of Freud. Alder gives a humanistic and optimistic view of life which considers human beings as greatly in a position to co-operate in order to live jointly and struggle for self development, contribution to ordinary welfare and self-fulfillment. Without cooperation, people can wipe out each other. Adler based his psychology on main concept of self interest. “Adlerian psychology is a social psychology which individuals always see and understand within the social context (Hoffman, 1994, p. 67)”.

Another assumption is that, human personality has guiding and unity themes. This implies that, a person is an indivisible unit and requires understanding as a total person in which the feelings, thoughts, dreams, actions and memories are even psychology leading to the same direction. Individual is a system in which the whole greater than different from the parts. Adler sees the agreement of individual in whose behavior is a consistent theme. Another assumption is that, behavior is a function of biased insight. Developing a guiding theme is a creative and an active process in which person attributes the meaning of life experiences they have faced. They constructs out this raw materials subjective to reality to which they react. It is not experiences of childhood which is important but present understanding of these events. All behaviors are determined. Adler maintained that all behaviors is focused and goal-directed, although people may not be always deliberately conscious their motives. If individuals have the potential they need to develop or use, they lack an action which serves the purpose. Use is more significant than control. Persons are not submissive victims of environment and heredity but energetic constructors and interpreters of their theme (Dreikurs, 1994, p. 135).

Another assumption is striving for important explanation on motivation. Adler found that, due to initial helplessness, an infant experiences inferior and struggles to conquer a feeling of incompletion by determining for higher level of growth. Inferior feeling and compensation for the feeling is the dynamic motivation principle which moves an individual from one level growth to another. This striving may continue through out our life. The procedure begins in infancy as children become aware of their insufficiency, mainly when comparing with other children and adults. Infancy experience what is described by Adler as “minus situation.” The feeling of inferiority becomes a motivation for striving towards “plus situation.” Adler held that, individuals are not always directed to their dealings by realism but always by fiction. The concept of final goal by Adler which is a fictional creation, an imagined idyllic condition which directs the present individual a process known as private logic as stated by Adler (Adler, 1999, p. 45).


Individuals can develop exaggerated inferiority feeling and strive towards an imagined goal of inferiority and avoiding the real test. The community feeling and the final goals of co-operation are better than the final goal which is egocentric. This would reveal power concern, self-interest, withdrawal and avoidance. According to Adler, the approach to life with individual traits, the style if life and the unique way in which each person tries to recognize their fictional final goals and meets or avoids the three main task of life; intimate relationship, community and work. In early childhood the life style is formed and in a unique and develop the same styles. Healthy persons deal with life tasks more flexible. This can find ways of solving problems and in case one is blocked, they can choose one another and the individual who is disturbed who individually insist on one way.

List of References

  • Adler, A. (1999), The individual psychology of Alfred Adler, New York: Harper Torch books
  • Adler, A. (1964), Superiority and social interest: a collection of later writings. H. L. Ansbacher and R. R. Ansbacher (Eds.), Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press
  • Bottome, P., (1998), Alfred Adler – a biography, G. P. Putnam’s Sons: New York
  • Dreikurs, R., (1994), An introduction to individual psychology, London & New York: Routledge, ISBN 0415210550
  • Handlbauer, B. (1998), The Freud – Adler controversy, Oxford, UK: One world
  • Hoffman, E. (1994), The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of individual psychology. New York: Addison-Wesley Co
  • Slavik, S. & Carlson, J. (Eds.), (2005), Readings in the theory of individual psychology, New York: Routledge
  • Watts, R. E. (2003), Adlerian, cognitive, and constructivist therapies: An integrative dialogue, New York: Springer
  • Way, L., (1992), Adler’s place in psychology. London: Allen & Unwin
  • Way, L., (1956), Alfred Adler – An Introduction to his psychology, London: Pelican


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