So I stumbled across a reference to Alfred Adler today. I decided to do some research. I think I like this fellow. He's my kind of guy. He's a humanist. I think I'm a humanist. Not in any sort of formal or organized way (I don't like joining groups; anything close to groupthink gives me the heebie jeebies; I like independent thinkers. Anyhoo...) I like humanism. It's definitely my cup of tea. So pull up a chair and "Have a cuppa'", as my British stepfather used to say (take a break from whatever you are doing, sit down for a nice cup of tea, and let's chat.)
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Allow Me to Introduce...
"The only normal people are the ones you don't know very well." - Alfred
Alfred Adler, esteemed Philosopher, Psychiatrist, Thinker (1870-1937)
Adler developed the first holistic theory of personality, psychopathology, and psychotherapy that was intimately connected to a humanistic philosophy of living. Adler is generally regarded, along with Freud and Jung, as one of the key thinkers and contributors to the development of the field of psychology.
He was very interested in the human condition and emphasized the importance of nurturing feelings of belonging in everyone. Social interest, a combination of a feeling of belonging and contribution to the welfare of humanity, became one of his essential ingredients for mental health. His ideas are just now being validated by scientific research and are often referred to as 'Positive psychology.'
According to Adler, all facets making up a patient's personality need to be taken into consideration in a holistic approach to therapy.
Adler Began Addressing Issues Such As:
- The influence of birth order
- Parent education
- The influence of lifestyle
- The holism of individuals
- The need to understand individuals within their social context
Which Later Evolved Into These Tenets Being Pursued by his Contemporary Disciples of Today:
- Mutual respect
- Civil rights
- Advancement of democracy
The theories underlying classical Adlerian psychology were first proposed by Alfred Adler in the early 1900s. Today, the principles of Adlerian psychology can be found intertwined with the basic tenets on which many of the various forms of modern psychology are built. While Adlerian therapy is a specific type of psychotherapy, the principles of Adlerian psychology are also evident in many other methods of psychotherapy. Many of his concepts such as the 'inferiority complex,' 'compensation,' 'overcompensation' are now mainstays of therapists and people everywhere. It would not be easy to find another author from whom so much has been borrowed from all sides, without acknowledgment, as Alfred Adler.
Adler believed that we all have one basic desire and goal: to belong and to feel significant.
“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” - Alfred
His lectures and books for the general public are characterized by a crystal clear common sense.
His clinical books and journal articles reveal an uncommon understanding of mental disorders, a deep insight into the art of healing, and an inspiration for encouraging optimal human development.
Adlerʼs theory is a holistic psychology that focuses on the goals and purposes of human behaviour.
According to Adler, when we feel encouraged, we feel capable and appreciated and will generally act in a connected and cooperative way.
When we are discouraged, we may act in unhealthy ways by competing, withdrawing, or giving up.
It is in finding ways of expressing and accepting encouragement, respect, and social interest that help us feel fulfilled and optimistic.
The approach of Adlerian psychology to mental health can be explained simply as trying to create a sense of belonging within the individual. When the individual feels loved and has worthwhile connections to others in society, they will be able to pursue their best selves. Conversely, the tendency to act out or behave in socially deviant ways stems from feelings of inadequacy and being an outcast from society.
Alfred Adler was born in the Viennese suburb of Penzing on Feb. 7, 1870. Like Freud, he was the son of middle‐class Jewish merchant.
He suffered from rickets as a child and was unable to walk until he was four years old. "Alfred was his mother's second son —and she was rather cold in personality, and seems to have preferred her eldest. Adler's childhood was unhappy, embittered by jealousy of his older brother, despite the fact that four younger children were born to the family. 'One of my earliest recollections,' he once reminisced, 'is of sitting on a bench, bandaged up on account of rickets, with my healthy brother sitting opposite me. He could run, jump and move about quite effortlessly, while for me movement of any sort was a strain.'" - Maggie Scarf, The New York Times, 1971.
This and other childhood illnesses motivated Adler to become a physician. He graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1895 and pursued a career first as an ophthalmologist and then as a general physician.
He later switched to the field of psychiatry and became part of a psychoanalysis discussion group formed by Sigmund Freud, who would later become known as the founder of psychoanalysis.
He was a member of Freudʼs Vienna Circle until he and several other members of the group left because of irreconcilable differences of opinion. Adler became so radically opposed to the basic tenets of Freudian theory that the two men severed all connections in 1911 and remained bitter enemies for the rest pf their lives.
In 1912, Adler founded the 'Society for Individual Psychology', labelling his theory, Individual Psychology, and using the term 'individual' to reflect his view of the person as an indivisible whole who should be treated as such. Adler's school was the first major deviation from the psychoanalytical movement. The name was meant to imply that man's mind is not, as Freud had suggested, locked in a struggle between conscious and unconscious forces, but that each in dividual represents a unified and self‐consistent whole. While in English, individual means one or single, in Adlerʼs native German, the word conveys a sense of an indivisible and undivided person.
Adler was one of the first people to provide family counseling, group counseling, and public education to teach psychological concepts to the general public as a way of improving the human condition.
He founded several child guidance clinics in Vienna and devoted much of his time to activities related to child guidance. He also lectured at universities across Europe and in the U.S. Among the most well-known works from his over 300 books and articles are The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (1927); Understanding Human Nature (1927); and What Life Could Mean to You (1931).
In 1897, he married Raissa Epstein, a Russian activist, and writer, whom he had met in college. The couple had four children, two of whom followed in their father's mental health footsteps and went on to become psychiatrists. Alfred Adler died suddenly in 1937 at the age of 67 from a heart attack. His misplaced ashes were returned to Vienna over 70 years later, at which time he was given an honorable state burial.
Some Principles of Classical Adlerian Psychology for You to Know
Holism: The Unity of the Individual
- The idea that the individual is unique, and to be fully understood, they must be viewed as a whole, indivisible unit. The total person must be taken into consideration and not just selected traits or mannerisms.
- It views the behavior of a person as being socially embedded. Nothing happens in isolation.
- Accepting the individual as a unity of personality helps to ensure that the whole self is treated and not just aspects which might be deemed lacking or defective.
- The individual is not internally divided or by conflicting forces. Each aspect of the personality points in the same direction.
Goals: Powerful Motivators
- Goals are an important part of motivation and cause of behaviour.
- Goals come in all dimensions: short term, long term, and points in between.
- Adlerian Psychology sees the individual as being future-oriented; creating and striving toward their own final goal. This goal represents the individual's idea of success or of becoming complete by making up (compensating) for perceived inferiorities.
- This is often described as an optimistic, positive and inspiring view of the individual.
- A person's fictional goal may be influenced by hereditary and cultural factors, but it ultimately springs from the creative power of the individual, and is consequently unique.
- Importantly, Alder suggests that because the final goal is unique to the individual, then each person can change their beliefs and hence to change their final goal - creating a new one.
- In mental health, it is a realistic goal of socially useful significance or superiority over general difficulties. In mental disorders, it is an unrealistic goal of exaggerated significance or superiority over others.
- The early childhood feeling of inferiority, for which one aims to compensate, leads to the creation of a fictional final goal which subjectively seems to promise future security and success.
- The depth of the inferiority feeling usually determines the height of the goal.
(How a family is made up, and each person's perceived position within it.)
- Adlerian Psychology focuses on people's efforts to compensate for their self-perceived inferiority to others. These feelings of inferiority may derive from one's position in the family, particularly if early experiences of humiliation occurred; a specific physical condition or defect existed; or a general lack of social feeling for others was present.
- The family is the individual's first social setting and as such plays an important role in how they view life and behave in social settings later on. Our way of responding to our first social system, the family constellation, may become the prototype of our world view and attitude toward life.
- Adler viewed the birth order and family constellation as being formative forces in the development of the individual's world view. In this way, Adler was an early proponent of examining family influences on the individual and the individual on the family.
Humans: Social Beings Striving for Uniqueness
- Individuals strive for a feeling of uniqueness within social groups -- family, community, all of humanity, our planet, and the cosmos - while simultaneously needing to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance.
Social interest implies conformity, but it is quite different. There is always room for social innovation through cultural resistance and rebellion.
... And a Desire for Community and Connectedness
- Each human being has the capacity to live in harmony with society. This is an innate potential for social connectedness which has to be consciously developed. Social connectedness (also called Social Interest) can be achieved by anyone, but it is something the individual must consciously work at.
- The feeling of genuine security is rooted in a deep sense of belonging.
- This connectedness is not conformity; rather, it is living in harmony with society and contributing positively to it.
- It is within social groups that a person is faced with life challenges. Adler identified the most important of these challenges as: Relationships with others, Occupation, Love
- The feeling of community, social connectedness or social interest is seen in Adler's approach as going hand-in-hand with mental health. It is a person's level of social interest which will determine how well life's major challenges are handled and whether they are handled in socially useful ways.
- It is through positive social interactions and the sense of belonging that each person develops courage, optimism, and self-confidence. The individual must, therefore, come to accept that as a social being, the input of persons in their past has contributed to making them who they are present. They must also come to realize that they are having an effect on others.
Lifestyle (aka 'Style of Life' / Personality)
- From an early age, the individual adopts a pattern of how they think and behave within their social groups. It includes the person's concept of themselves, their worldview and their strategies for dealing with life's challenges even as they try to improve on their perceived inferior status. The goal a person shaped for himself, and the characteristic ways he struggled to reach it were what Adler termed his “style of life.”
- Adlerians are concerned with understanding the unique and private beliefs and strategies (one's lifestyle) that each individual creates in childhood.
- Lifestyle is seen as both a method of survival and a key influence in a person's development. It is linked to mental health in that the healthy individual is adaptable and capable of changing their approach to situations. In an unhealthy mind, there is rigidity of seeing only one way of doing things.
- A person's lifestyle may be manifested in conscious or unconscious ways in their behavior and emotions. It may also prove to be normal or neurotic, being respectively constructive or destructive to the development of the individual and to the social groups they are a part of.
- The concept of lifestyle also encompasses a lack of action in certain situations where the individual has the ability to act but chooses not to.
- Another principle which Adler laid out is that of private logic as opposed to common sense. Private logic is how the individual rationalizes his lifestyle - their interpretation of reality and their place in it. Private logic influences the individual to focus on themselves and on attaining personal security and superiority.
- Common sense is an attribute of the community. It is consensual and serves the good of the entire community. One aim of therapy based on Adlerian psychology is to help the individual adopt more of a common-sense approach to how they relate to others instead of one which is self-centered.
Mental Health and Feelings of Inferiority
- Feelings of Inferiority is another Adlerian idea. They become a motivating factor for us to develop skills, talents, and ways of overcoming our sense of inadequacy.
- A feeling of human connectedness and a willingness to develop oneself fully and contribute to the welfare of others are the main criteria of mental health. When these qualities are underdeveloped, feelings of inferiority may haunt an individual, or an attitude of superiority may antagonize others.
- They can give rise to genius.
- Unfortunately, they can also give rise to neuroses and problems in daily living when they are overwhelming or when we attempt to hide them rather than face them.
- Consequently, the unconscious fictional goal will be self-centred and emotionally or materially exploitative of other people.
- When the feeling of connectedness and the willingness to contribute are stronger, a feeling of equality emerges, and the individual's goal will be self-transcending and beneficial to others.
- Adler believed that courage was the answer to many of the problems of living.
Therapy Using the Adlerian Method
- Nowadays, Alfred Adler's approach to psychology is practiced by many in the field of mental health under the umbrella of Adlerian Psychotherapy. Its focus is on building a relationship of encouragement and mutual respect between client and therapist. Through therapy, the client sheds their negative self-image which adversely affects how they function in society.
- Adlerian individual psychotherapy, couples therapy, and family therapy follow parallel paths. Clients are encouraged to overcome their feelings of insecurity, develop deeper feelings of connectedness, and to redirect their striving for significance into more socially beneficial directions.
- Through a respectful Socratic dialogue, they are challenged to correct mistaken assumptions, attitudes, behaviours, and feelings about themselves and the world.
- Constant encouragement stimulates clients to attempt what was believed impossible. The growth of confidence, pride, and gratification leads to a greater desire and ability to cooperate. The objective of therapy is to replace exaggerated self-protection, self-enhancement, and self-indulgence with courageous social contribution.
Woo Hoo - You Made It!
So, that's a little window into humanism. Sounds nice, doesn't it?
So how about be nice to each other. Spread a little love and appreciation. People do notice. I promise you.
And if you don't, I might sneak up behind you and sprinkle pixie dust on you. - Fair warning