Adler’s Individual psychology


Adler’s Individual psychology

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), an Austrian medical doctor, gave importance to the social context in the development of personality as well as the interpersonal relationships. He suggested that everyone strives to attain glory, power, superiority and overcome all obstacles of life. People develop their own life style to make their life meaningful. Adler’s theory (1954) is known as Individual psychology.

  • He believed that experiences of early childhood shape one’s personality. If encouraged during childhood, it would motivate the child to feel capable and act in a cooperative way throughout their life. Whereas, if discouraged the child may misbehave and indulge in unhealthy competition or withdrawal behavior.
  • He proposed that there is a need to understand one’s personality within one’s social context. According to Adler, instead of any instinct (as proposed by Freud), an innate force motivates us to perform the behavior. He named this force as the striving for perfection, an innate desire that motivates individuals to achieve their full potential.

Inferiority and Superiority Complex.

  • As a child, Adler explained that we feel weak, dependent, less capable and thus, inferior to others (older siblings, parents, and caregivers). This feeling of inferiority is innate and natural.
  • If a child decides to overcome the feeling of inferiority, then she/he would strive for achievement or success.
  • Thus, overcoming the feeling of inferiority is essential for optimal development. If this feeling is not compensated, then it would lead to inferiority complex and when overcompensated, it would lead to a superiority complex.

Inferiority Complex in Individual psychology.

  • In Adler’s Individual psychology, Inferiority complex is a condition that develops when a person is unable to compensate for normal inferiority feelings.
  • Adler believed that inferiority feelings are always present as a motivating force in behavior. “To be a human being means to feel oneself inferior”.
  • Spoiling or pampering a child can also bring about an inferiority complex. Spoiled children are the center of attention in the home. Their every need or whim is satisfied, and little is denied to them.
  • Under the circumstances, these children naturally develop the idea that they are the most important persons in any situation and that other people should always cater to them.

Superiority Complex.

  • In the individual psychology of Alfred Adler, superiority complex is an exaggerated opinion of one’s abilities and accomplishments that derives from an overcompensation for feelings of inferiority.
  • This involves an exaggerated opinion of one’s abilities and accomplishments. Such a person may feel inwardly self-satisfied and superior and show no need to demonstrate his or her superiority with accomplishments. Or the person may feel such a need and work to become extremely successful.
  • In both cases, persons with a superiority complex cause boasting, vanity, self- centeredness, and a tendency to denigrate others.

Birth Order in Individual psychology.

  • One of Adler’s most enduring contributions is the idea that order of birth is a major social influence in childhood, one from which we create our style of life.
  • Even though siblings have the same parents and live in the same house, they do not have identical social environments. Being older or younger than one’s siblings and being exposed to differing parental attitudes creates different childhood conditions that help determine the personality.
  • Adler liked to amaze lecture audiences and dinner guests by guessing a person’s order of birth on the basis of his or her behavior.
  • He wrote about four situations: the first-born child, the second-born child, the youngest child, and the only child.

The First-Born Child

  • At least for a while, first-born children are in a unique and enviable situation. Usually the parents are happy at the birth of the first child and devote considerable time and attention to the new baby.
  • First-borns typically receive their parents’ instant and undivided attention. As a result, first-borns have a happy, secure existence, until the second-born child appears.
  • Suddenly, no longer the focus of attention, no longer receiving constant love and care, first-borns are, in a sense, dethroned. The affection first-borns received during their reign, now they have to share. They must often submit to the outrage of waiting until after the newborn’s needs have been met, and they are warned to be quiet so as not to disturb the new baby.
  • Adler believed all first-borns feel the shock of their changed status in the family, but those who have been excessively pampered feel a greater loss. Also, the extent of the loss depends on the first-born’s age at the time the rival appears. In general, the older a first- born child is when the second child arrives, the less dethronement the first-born will experience. For example, an 8-year-old will be less upset by the birth of a sibling than will a 2-year-old.
  • Adler believed that first-borns also take an unusual interest in maintaining order and authority. They become good organizers, conscientious and scrupulous about detail, authoritarian and conservative in attitude.
  • Adler believed that neurotics, perverts, and criminals were often first-borns.

The Second-Born Child

  • Second-born children, the ones who caused such upheaval in the lives of first-borns, are also in a unique situation. They never experience the powerful position once occupied by the first-borns.
  • Even if another child came into the family, second-born do not suffer the sense of dethronement felt by the first-borns. Furthermore, by this time the parents have usually changed their child-rearing attitudes and practices. A second baby is not the novelty the first was. Parents may be less concerned and anxious about their own behavior and may take a more relaxed approach to the second child.
  • From the beginning, second-born have a pacesetter in the older sibling. The second child always has the example of the older child’s behavior as a model, a threat, or a source of competition.
  • Competition with the first-born may serve to motivate the second-born, who may strive to catch up to and surpass the older sibling. A goal that spurs language and motor development in the second-born. Not having experienced power, second-born are not as concerned with it. They are more optimistic about the future and are likely to be competitive and ambitious.

The Youngest Child.

  • Youngest or last-born children never face the shock of dethronement by another child and often become the pet of the family, particularly if the siblings are more than a few years older.
  • Last-born are often high achievers in whatever work they undertake as adults.
  • The opposite can occur, however, if the youngest children are excessively pampered. And they believe they needn’t learn to do anything for themselves. As they grow older, such children may retain the helplessness and dependency of childhood.
  • Unaccustomed to striving and struggling, used to being cared for, these people find it difficult to adjust to adulthood.

The Only Child.

  • Only children never lose the position of primacy and power they hold in the family; they remain the focus and center of attention.
  • Spending more time in the company of adults than a child with siblings. Only children often mature early and manifest adult behaviors and attitudes.
  • Only children are likely to experience difficulties when they find that in areas of life outside the home. Such as school, they are not the center of attention. Only children have learned neither to share nor to compete.
  • If their abilities do not bring them sufficient recognition and attention, they are likely to feel keenly disappointed.

Social Interest

  • According to Adler’s individual psychology, social interest is our innate potential to cooperate with other people to achieve personal and societal goals.
  • Adler believed that getting along with others is the first task we encounter in life. Our subsequent level of social adjustment, which is part of our style of life, influences our approach to all of life’s problems.
  • Adler’s term for this concept in the original German, Gemeinschaftsgefuhl, is best translated as “community feeling”. However, social interest has become the accepted term in English.
  • Although we are influenced more strongly by social than biological forces, in Adler’s view, the potential for social interest is innate.
  • Adler believed the mother’s role was vital in developing the child’s social interest as well as other aspects of the personality.
  • The mother must teach the child cooperation, companionship, and courage. Only if children feel kinship with others can they act with courage in attempting to cope with life’s demands.


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