Alfred Adler: An Inspirational Visionary Angela Dykstra PSY 330 David Sainio November 15, 2010 Ashford University Alfred Adler: An Inspirational Visionary Alfred Adler is quoted as saying “meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations” (BrainyQuote. com, 2010). Adler recounted his childhood as miserable even though he was raised in comfort, which illustrates the former quotation perfectly (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003).
Growing up the younger, sickly, and accident prone sibling in his household, it is perhaps no surprise that his psychological theories would involve: birth order, inferiority and superiority, first memories, dreams, and the creative-self to name only a few (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003; Hoffman, 1994, Lundin, 1989). This biographical paper is narrowly focused in its content. Consequently, this paper does not intend to be an all-inclusive narrative of Adler’s life and times nor all of his theories.
Instead, focus is limited to: pre-fame years, individual psychology and some of its components, and hypnosis as relative to Adler psychological philosophy and theory. All information contained in this paper was obtained from credible source materials. Although a prominent topic in most of the materials reviewed, this paper will not include any lengthy discussion of the Adler/Freud split or theoretical disagreements between them other than to report: Adler never thought of himself as a Freudian disciple (Hoffman, 1994; Lundin, 1989). This paper will address the flowing questions. Where did Alfred Adler grow up?
What are some of his major contributions to personality theory? What can we learn about ourselves by analyzing our dreams or studying our first recallable memories? Are feelings of superiority or inferiority ever good for the psyche? How does one discover his or her creative-self and what then is its relationship to individual personality? And finally, what appears deficient in Adlerian personality theory? Therefore, although he began developing his many philosophies over a century ago, Alfred Adler continues to influence personality development theory today because visionaries are inspirationally timeless.
Pre-Fame Born into a financially stable middle-class household, Alfred Adler’s childhood apartment bordered “…the spacious grounds of Austria’s imperial palace of Schonbrunn (Hoffman, 1997, p. 6). A rather sickly and therefore pampered child, in his youth Adler contracted rickets, suffered from glottis, almost died of pneumonia, and was twice been hit by a carriage (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003; Hoffman, 1994; Lundin, 1989). Thus Adler developed an early fear of death (Lundin, 1989). While neither of his parent’s could be classified as intellectuals, their love of music permeated the Adler home (Hoffman, 1994).
Eventually, Adler learned to play the piano, compose, and developed a rich baritone voice (Hoffman, 1994). Adler decided at an early age to become a better doctor than the ones that had treated him during his childhood illnesses and accidents, and younger brother’s demise (Lundin, 1989). At first a lackluster and physically clumsy student, Adler’s parents disregarded the urgings of his primary teacher to remove him from academics (Hoffman, 1994). In secondary school, Adler became interested in philosophy, psychology, political science, and sociology (Lundin, 1989).
Adler entered the University of Vienna in 1888 and received his medical degree in 1895 (Hoffman, 1994). Developing an intense interest in Marxist theory during his medical school days, Adler was drawn to the needs of the common people and that the social context in which one grows up influences his or her personality development (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Three years after graduating he was married and publishing his first article (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). In it, he postulated the need for socialized medicine.
Although Adler mixed and mingled in Jewish circles he was not a practicing Jew and exalted the Bible for psychological insight into human nature to support his individual psychology concepts of: “…sibling rivalry, dream interpretation, and inferiority complex (Hoffman, 1994, p. 9). Having written an article defending Freud’s theory regarding dream interpretation, Adler was invited in 1902 to join the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003; Hoffman, 1994; Lundin, 1989). However, by 1911, Freud and Adler had diverged both theoretically and personally (Lundin, 1989).
In difference and perhaps egoistic defiance, Adler openly opposed Freud’s sexually focused libido theory, believed personality was a uniquely individual unit, and thoroughly disagreed with Freud’s penis envy theory in favor of his own masculine protest theory (Lundin, 1989). Therefore, Adler’s theories eventually found mass support because many during this era just like today struggle with individuality, first memories, feelings of inferiority, and coming to terms with his or her role in the family unit. Individual Psychology
Most psychology professionals who model Adlerian Individual Psychology do so in a world far-removed from its initial social incubator. Adlerian Individual Psychology focuses its theoretical underpinnings on: holism. According to Adler, humans are an active agent rather than a sum of many separate parts (Bitter, 2007). This philosophy is especially evident in an infant’s first year of life. Parents bear witness to the constant and continual desire of a baby or young child to achieve; to develop; and to become (Bitter, 2007).
Unlike Freud, Adler’s Individual Psychology facilitates his belief that people seek “…companionship and harmony” (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003, p. 102). Additionally, Adler considered the mind an integrated whole that helps a person achieve his or her goals as opposed to Freud who claimed the mind is compartmentalized with often conflicting components (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Adlerian Individual Psychology relates well to humanism and existentialism (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003).
Individual Psychology as presented by Lundin (1989), allows one to create a view of human personality development that is “…practical, holistic, social, and teleological” (p. 6). According to Individual Psychology, humans express an “…overriding drive toward the struggle for mastery and power…” (Hoffman, 1994, p. 82). As witnessed in our everyday lives according to Hoffman (1994), negative examples could include the sick role (using illness to control or dominate people and situations) or habitual tardiness (to foster domination over people and circumstances). Birth Order
Adlerian personality development is significantly prejudiced by ones psychological order of birth within what he referred to as: the family constellation (White, Campbell, Stewart, Davies & Pilkington, 1997; Lundin, 1989). Today, exactly as in Adler times, the eldest child is often the center of family attention, the second or middle child must often compete for family attention, and the youngest and also an only child take a pampered role within the family unit (Lundin, 1989). Our psychological birth order can dramatically influence our career interests (White et al. , 1997).
As such, chronological birth order is less influential claims Adler than is the situation and the child’s individual interruption of said situation (White et al. , 1997). Therefore, empirical research supports psychological birth order as effective in affecting intellectual performance, college admission rates, who chooses to teach, who becomes a scientist, who works for the government, and who might be predisposed to alcoholism (Lundin, 1989); when one also includes individual goals, social interests, and personal lifestyle in the analysis (White et al. , 1997). First Memories
Early recollections (ER) are, according to Adler, “…retained because they were consistent with the individual’s…life style” (Hafner, Fakouri & Labrentz, 1982, p. 1), which represent “…one’s subjective starting point in life” (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003, p. 118). Adler proved this point when after surveying 100 medical doctors for their ER’s. The majority cited serious sickness or death within the family as his or her ER (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Hafner, Fakouri and Labrentz (1982), further illustrate the accuracy of Adler’s theory in their study of psychologically normal vs. lcoholic individuals. The statistically significant findings indicate normal psychologies clustered his or her ER’s inside the home whereas alcoholic psychologies more often recalled ER’s clustered outside the home (Hafner et al. , 1982). Additionally, ER’s within the normal group indicated they perceived some amount of control over their situations as opposed to the alcoholic group who perceived themselves early on as being controlled by others and situations (Hafner et al. , 1982).
Therefore statistically significant results indicate a direct correlation between an Adler-defined ER’s content and future behavioral outcomes and personality predispositions; at least for alcoholism. Dreams Dreams, according to Adler have a goal: To arouse the feelings of an individual and should be approached just like any other self-deceptive aspect of one’s lifestyle (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Unlike Freud, Adler claimed no universal or fixed symbols existed for dreamers because everyone is uniquely individualistic living individual lifestyles in communal environments (Lundin, 1989).
As in hypnotherapeutic dream analysis, Lundin (1989) also claims Adler dream interpretation requires meaning to be derived from the individual dreamer; from both inside (psyche) and outside (environmental) perspectives. According to Adler, dreams are life-style specific in their ability to be: problem solving and future facing although not in a prophetic sense (Lundin, 1989). Therefore, Adler presumed correctly that anxious people tend to have anxiety-laden dreamscapes and they could, in part be an expression of dreamer feelings and emotions experienced while conducting his or her individual daily lifestyle (Lundin, 1989).
Superiority & Inferiority Striving for superiority and social interest is a singular ambition of one’s personality and is also known as drive or instinct according to Adler (Lundin, 1989). In children, striving for superiority can be seen as aggression in individuals who are attempting to deal with organic inferiorities such as Adler had experienced in his youth. In its purest form, striving for superiority includes: fighting, competition, and cruel, criminal or revolutionary activities (Lundin, 1989).
Adler’s theory could be interpreted that in order to avoid feeling inferior one must engage in activities that bolster the achievement of superiority. Although it is ridiculous to assume any person can be superior in all ways, Adler claims it is necessary to choose a favored way to achieve because most of us are superior in at least a single something (Lundin, 1989). The direction someone’s superiority takes will, according to Adler, be influenced by the goal under consideration for achievement (Lundin, 1989).
Striving for superiority is inborn and is therefore the precursor to what indirectly stems from feelings of inferiority (Lundin, 1989). Shifting his focus from organ inferiority to feelings of inferiority in 1910 (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003), Adler claimed that all human beings universally experience feelings of inferiority (Lundin, 1989). Adler equated feelings of strength (superiority) as masculine in nature and feelings of weakness (inferiority) as feminine in nature (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003).
Therefore, Adler drew distinct parallels between stereo-typical masculine and feminine social identifiers and one’s ability to counteract his or her feelings of inferiority by increasing ones motivation to strive toward superior achievement. Creative Self Adler’s ability to intuitively grasp the state of the soul exemplifies what is possible when one acts as his or her free-will agent when choosing how to respond to environmental and genetic predispositions or influences (Hoffman, 1994).
Adler believed that heredity and environment were building blocks used by the master builder (self) to create his or her expression of themselves in the world (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003). As such, Adler claimed personality is self-created by the ways in which a person assigns the meanings of the various perceptions of self, others, and our environments (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003). Adler claimed homosexuality was a chosen lifestyle based on pampering as a youngster or perhaps the desire of parents to have a boy but were provided a girl and vice versa (Lundin, 1989); a myth of epic disproportion according to this author.
Therefore, while this Adler theory is hailed by many to be the most valuable jewel in his many crowing achievements, it falls exceedingly short in its applicability to the root determinates of sexual orientation. To become a successful Adlerian artist requires one to acknowledge that we exist in self-created portraits (Master, 1991). Born with an innately human ability to use imagination for self-determination, people construct individual reality from which human existence is formed (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003); a sentiment shared by epistemological philosophers (Master, 1991).
These self-constructed masks of existence are what define the term personality. Adler’s self-constructed reality acknowledges that as the artist creates so too does the creation change the artist; forcing him or her to participate as well as observe (Master, 1991). Therefore, the creative self is able to view an inner conflict as an alternative choice to any presented situation to be either ignored or acted on depending upon personal life-style choice (Master, 1991). Hypnosis
A personal response to the everyday way in which Adlerian theory of yesterday influences this author today, must include his views regarding hypnosis. By all accounts reviewed for this paper, Adler vehemently opposed the use of hypnosis as a therapeutic holistic psychological wellness tool (Mozdzierz, 1990). Perhaps due to his favored use of biblical dogma, Adler might have equated the use of hypnosis therapeutically as many in this writer’s family do; the work of the devil.
Considering hypnosis can affect client wellbeing via goal identification and its subsequent achievement by visualizing, imagining, picturing, or pretending, its philosophy meshes well with that of Adler’s (Carich, 1990; Mozdzierz, 1990). How does one discover his or her creative-self and what then is its relationship to individual personality? Today, there are many psychotherapy, counseling, and child guidance centers offering Adlerian certification (Lundin, 1989). Or, one could choose a uniquely private sensory-rich self-designed journey into ones individually unique psyche and learn about themselves from themselves.
We know ourselves intimately because in our mind, we recorded environmental stimuli according to our perceptions thereby making them easy to recall and strengthen under certain circumstance (Kappas, 2001). Can we learn about ourselves by analyzing our dreams or studying our first recallable memories? Adler said our dreams are self-deceptive and theorized a healthy personality dreamed very little because delusion is needed only when attempting to maintain a mistaken lifestyle (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Interestingly, while Kappassian hypnotherapy does not view dreams exactly in this manner, dreams are, according to Dr.
Kappas the expression of making something into nothing or something else as well as making nothing into something, a feat made possible by the human subconscious via the recording of emotional feelings to environmentally experienced perceptions and can therefore only ever be accurately interpreted by the dreamer (Kappas, 2001). Due in part to a time period in which brain functionality knowledge was limited, Adler mistakenly viewed hypnosis as mind-control; a totally inaccurate social urban legend that still resonates in the opinions of many today (Kappas, 2001; Mozdzierz, 1990).
Therefore, could Adler be alive today today, some believe (Carich, 1990; Mozdzierz, 1990) he would embrace hypnotherapy as an adjunct psychological wellness tool that every personality can benefit from because the experience is uniquely client-specific and geared to the individualistic perceptions residing in client memory, which is synonymous with client reality. Further Consideration In closing, Adler claimed there were three problems of life: Our relations with society, our occupation, and love and marriage (Lundin, 1989).
Accordingly, some Adler major contributions to personality theory involve viewing personality as being self-defined (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2003). Can feelings of inferiority ever be considered motivational? Yes claims Adler because feeling inferior – a natural state of existence for all humans – is the main motivational force responsible for “…all personal accomplishments” (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003, p. 105). Taking into account Adler’s idea of holism, the 1982 Hafner et al. tudy supports that psychologically normal people recall ER’s of family happiness and safety whereas the alcoholic group recalled their ER’s negatively. Adler’s theory is supported in hypnotherapy as one of the goals of regression therapy. Suggested hypnotherapy asks the client to return to the first time they remember feeling scared (as an example). Without exception, the inferior-feeling client who chose hypnosis for help in achieving specific goals returns to an early childhood memory involving his or her perception of a family encounter gone perceptionally wrong.
And on the flip side, when a superior-feeling client is asked to regress to the first time he or she recalls feeling happy, confident, and successful, because these folks chose hypnosis for help in achieving specific goals also, they too return to a perceptually successful family moment in time. Detractors of Adlerian Individual Psychology claim the lack of precise term definitions makes validation difficult (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003). As such, attempting to measure inferiority, superiority, and creative power is next to impossible.
Trying to define what makes a human a person is more involved than Adler’s simplistic approach and usually involves more than social factors (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003). Certainly viewing or explaining homosexuality as a personal choice is inaccurate according to modern information and scientific biological fact yet remains as accurate in our current worldview, at least in part, due to the Adlerian psychological principles of the Creative Self. If the three concerns of personality theory are: “…that every human being is like every other human being; …like some other human being; …and like no other human being” (Hergenhahn & Olsen, 2003, p. ), then certainly Adler’s Individual Psychology meets this succinct text-book definition. Had Adler been developing his personality theories today, perhaps a few of them would benefit from modern brain development and functionality theory. Therefore, although he began developing his many philosophies over a century ago, Alfred Adler continues to influence personality development theory today because visionaries are inspirationally timeless.