Adler’s Psychology – Symptoms, Concepts

Alfred Adler (1870—1937) was one of the small group who began meeting in 1902 with Freud’s Wednesday evening discussion group. This group was to become the first psychoanalytic society. In 1912, Adler had coined the term “individual psychology” to describe his psychoanalytic concepts. Adler’s system stresses the inferiority complex, which he considered a part of every human being. The inferiority complex stems from real or imagined physical or psychologic defects, and it causes the personality to strive by compensation or overcompensation, ‘ to overcome these deficiencies. Often, Adler felt, the compensating effort was made in the area of the handicap. Thus, Lord Byron,
despite a clubfoot, became an excellent swimmer, and Demosthenes, who stuttered in his childhood, became a famous orator.

The concept of the inferiority complex led to Adler’s break with Freud. Adler considered all neurotic symptoms to be due to the individual’s need to dominate his environment: the aggressive drive a way of striving to adapt to difficult
life tasks; sexual motives as indicators of striving for power. He did not find the conscious and the unconscious to be in conflict, but to be part of a unified system. Motivated by feelings of weakness and inferiority, individuals unconsciously construct a plan of life, or “life style, ” in order to gain a feeling of superiority. The greater the feeling of inferiority, the more powerful the need to acquire that sense of importance.

In his later years, Adler stressed the criterion of normality and the creative ability of the “normal” person to overcome his compulsive self-centeredness. He labeled the marks of harmonious development as involvement with work, love of one’s fellow man, and the desire to fulfill community obligations. In fact, he did not consider a patient to have redirected his life style until he had established social interests.

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