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Alfred Adler’s individual psychology Research Paper

Major Principles of the Theory

In his work of developing classical Adlerian psychology, Adler emphasized seven major principles which include; utility of the individual. According to this principle things like feeling, thinking, behaviors and emotions can only be understood well if considered as being subordinates of one’s lifestyle. “People are neither divided internally nor battleground of forces that conflict each other but every concept of individuality heads in the same direction” (Shultz, & Shultz, 2009: 97).

The principle of goal holds that “there exist a single dynamic of personality originating from growth as well as forward motion of life by itself” (Slavik & King, 2007). This personality is named future oriented, always striving to achieving an objective which is important, successful or even much powerful. Putting this aspect in mental health, it can be realized that the objective is real for social significance or superiority as compared to the general difficulties. Now putting the concept in mental disorder, Dreikurs stated that;

[It is unrealistic goal of exaggerated significance or superiority over others. Early childhood feeling of inferiority in which one aim to compensate leads to the creation of a fictional final goal which subjectively seems to promise future security and success] (Dreikurs, 1935:72).

It explains that, the real meaning of feelings that are inferior is one that controls the level at which the goal wants to attain in the long run becomes the route upon which behavior patterns follows.

When explaining the principle of self-determination along with uniqueness, Adler emphasized that there are factors which influence goals and such factors may include, hereditary as well as cultural factors. However, the goal at the end originates from the individual’s creative powers which ultimately make it much unique. In most cases people do not understand or even don’t know what their goals are.

Another principle is social context that holds “As an indivisible whole, a system, the human being is also a part of larger wholes or systems – the family, the community, all of humanity, our planet and the cosmos” (Shultz, & Shultz, 2009: 212). By looking at it in this perspective then there are three tasks of life namely; love, sex and occupation.

However in the process of accomplishing these tasks, life is faced with a social challenge which entails the process of relating with others. The ways through which people respond to their first social systems, the constellation of families, in one way or the other might end up being the prototype of their world perspective as well as their life attitude (Slavik & King, 2007). Community’s feeling forms the fifth principle and holds that;

[Everybody has the capacity for learning to live in harmony with the society. This forms innate potential for social connectedness which develops consciously. Social interests and feelings imply ‘social improvement,’ different from conformity and leaving space for social innovation through cultural resistance] (Shelley & King, 2008:97).

Mental Health principle states that “feelings of human connectedness and a willingness to develop oneself fully and contribute to the welfare of others are the main criteria of mental health”, (Dreikurs, 1935:45). In case such qualities have not yet developed fully there are higher chances of inferiority feelings haunting an individual.

In other words there exists the likelihood of superiority attitude antagonizing others. As a result the fictional objective that is unconscious might end up becoming self-centered as well as being emotionally explosive towards other people. In case the connectednesses along with the willingness of making contribution are much stronger then, there exists the likelihood of equality. As an effect the person’s objective will be self transcending and of much importance to others.

Treatment forms the last principle; it explains that people have to overcome their insecurity feelings by developing real connectedness feelings, apart from ensuring that their significance striving is directed and socially fruitful.

By the use of a Socratic kind of communication that can be considered as being respectful, people are in one way or the other given a task of correcting assumptions, behaviors, attitudes as well as feelings that are mistaken about themselves and the entire world. It is true that encouraging people constantly ends up stimulating people to try what they previously perceived as being impossible.

Differences between Gender and culture

In his presentations, he discussed that masculine is the term that relates to the opinion men showing empathy, sympathy and teamwork. On the other hand we have feminine characters which are considered as being less manly as compared to those individuals exhibiting masculine characters, which include high competition, very ambitious as well as very aggressive.

For such men to reject their natural muscularity it is a must for them to make what Adler termed as neurotic compensation. Moreover, Adler felt that in the same way women having a desire of going beyond the so-called “gender definitions of a male dominated kind of society, have to undergo similar protests” (Stein, 2008).

According to Adler’s individual psychology, culture as well as its definition of gender duties is the main factor in the development of neurosis. In most cases men under value women in those cultures that men dominate as a result their contributions and attributes affecting feminism are awarded much less values as compared to those attributed to masculine contributions.

Looking at who differentiated cultures, it is true that things like lying are prominent in cultures that stress human relations while much less in societies that stresses on rules.

One can say that individuals in cultures that stress human relations have higher chances of lying with the aim of protecting their relations, while those in cultures that that puts more emphasize on rules have few chances of lying as they need to follow the rules. At this point Adler “differentiates between cultures that are universally oriented (all rules apply to everyone) and particularly oriented; the nature of the relationship determines how someone will act in a particular situation” (Fiebert, 1997).

Personality Development

The theory presents a comprehensive explanation of how personality develops. This is based on the fact that, the theory starts by giving an explanation of the environment in which a child is born. He describes it clearly as a world full of inferiority hence; the child starts as a weak and helpless individual.

However, latter on the child learns how to overcome such deficiency by striving to become much superior as compared to those around him/her. Just like other psychologists, he calls this ‘striving for superiority’ which is perceived as being the force that drives all human minds, behavior patterns as well as emotions.

Individuals with a stronger desire to be powerful, re-known business people or celebrated writers more often than note overcome their weaknesses thanks to a strong desire of doing so. However according to Adler such excessive inferiority feelings might also result to opposite impacts as well.

He states that “As it becomes overwhelming and without the needed successes, we can develop an inferiority complex” (Slavik, & King, 2007: 25). Such beliefs might leave individuals with a feeling that is incredibly much unimportant and deserving as compared to others; weak, without hope and motivation for superiority to strive which makes people complete.

The theory asserts that people in childhood are predisposed significantly by those around them which form the basis of personality developing as well as the ways through which they will interact with others around them. It is true that human beings have their own abilities of making their own choices and set their own future goals.

This is what Alder calls striving towards a specified objective, upon which patterns of their behaviors and how they interpret things. The decisions which people make concerning their personalities at early stages of child development will always affect their personalities in future.

The theory also explains the effects of parenting styles on personality development. There are two parenting styles that Adler in his theory identifies as having negative effects on child’s personality development in future. One of them is pampering style of parenting; this is a situation where parents overprotect their children. This entails provision of too much attention as well as sheltering the child from negative realities of life.

By the time the child attains adulthood, he/she will not have equipped himself/herself well in a manner that will allow him/her to deal with such life realities. As a result children who have undergone such parenting will always doubt their capabilities, decisions and skills. Such people will always be seeking others to replace the kind of safety that they used to enjoy by the time they were young. Another type of parenting identified by Adler in his Individual Psychology is neglect parenting. Shultz & Shultz (2004:63) Stated that,

[A neglected child is not protected at all from the world and is forced to face life’s struggles alone. This child may grow up to fear the world, have a strong sense of mistrust for others and she/he may have a difficult time forming intimate relationships]

Apart from identifying parenting styles that might have negative impacts on the child’s personality development the, theory identifies the best parenting style as one which protects children from all evils in the society, but not sheltering children from such evils. This means that children would grow better when they see what is happening in the society.

For instance it is not good for parents just to move directly to the school principals in case their children are being bullied in school but it will hold more water if such a child is taught ways of responding to such practices or even means of taking care while in school.

Order of birth is another factor affecting personality development. The theory states that “the order in which you are born to a family inherently affects your personality. First born children who later have younger siblings may have it the worst” (Nadine & Bruszewski, 2010: 34).

This is based on the fact that firstborns usually receive much attention and pampering type of parenting till the day that a little brother or sister will be born. As a result they feel inferior hence questioning their significance in the society, some try desperately to regain back the lost attention (Stein, 2008).

The middle born are seen by Alder as individuals who never receive pampering and much attention. This explains the reasons as to why middle born children always strive to become superior to their elder ones. This is because they always have a very high superiority need.

Just like their firstborns, lastborns experiences personality problems in adulthood. This is based on the fact that, as a child who has grown up knowing that he has very little powers in a family, he sees older ones as individuals with lots of freedom and much superior. Apart from that he also receives pampering and lots of protection from parents, elder brothers and sisters. This at the end makes him think that there is no way he can take any responsibility alone, hence always inferior to others.

Changes in Personality over the Lifespan

Adler’s individual psychology explains that personality changes shows growth as well as well as forward movement of life. At childhood individuals “start their lives smaller, weaker, and less socially and intellectually competent than the adults around them” (Hoffman, 1994). However they always have a desire of growing up to become adults with various capabilities.

Such kids then acquire skills in a gradual manner to later demonstrate their competence. In addition, people get to gain confidence along with self esteem as they continue growing up. However, this force of natural strive might be held back in case personal picture has undergone degradation as a result of intellectual, physical and social development failures. Apart from failures such individuals might suffer from criticisms coming from parents, peers and teachers.

In case individuals are moving on well, they also start feeling competent hence can afford thinking about others. In case the movement is not right, meaning that life is getting the best good of individuals, then the opposite is true, as more attention will be about oneself. This might make individuals feel what Adler called inferiority complex. “This scenario makes them “shy and timid, insecure, indecisive, cowardly, submissive, compliant, and so on” (Boeree, & George, 1997).

People experiencing inferiority complex lacks what Adler refers to as social interests. This factor makes them to be egocentric; as they will always focus on themselves along with everything they perceive being their deficiencies. These individuals strive with the desire to improve their knowledge and skills.

When individuals start developing fictional goals they then start pulling themselves up as a result of their bootstraps. Apart from serving as the significant reason of orienting people in the world, it also acts as a compensatory defense which has the ability of creating positive feelings in the current feelings with the aim of eliminating inferiority feelings (Stein, 2008:152).

People attaining this stage ends up, developing what Adler calls superiority complex. This behavior entails covering inferiority complex by acting in a manner that shows that such people are superior. Basically, from birth to death people strive with the aim of overcoming, expanding, growing, completing and looking for security.

Individual Psychology in the Modern World

This theory fits well in the modern society as it is still the model of personality; the foundation of methods used in the development of minds, as well as personal growth.

It is true that in the current society, everyone is still a representative of what Adler called “a unity of personality and the individual then fashions that unity (Stein, 2008). In addition the theory has enabled practitioners to a wide variety of techniques like art and drama therapies, which have proved much effective in the process of relieving sufferings as well as promoting positive change along with empowerment.

Looking at it from mind development perspective, stresses on social interactions and contributions has remained to be the most significant but constant factor. This is because the higher the social interests, the lesser the inferiority feelings that an individual might have (Rocky & Libby, 2010).

It should be realized that till now lifestyle formulation as well as consistent usage of collected data with the aim of demonstrating individuals to themselves, is a unique technique that was copied from Adler’s individual psychology theory and till now it has been preserved. As a result this has been effective in the process of interpreting individual’s behaviors and teaching life philosophy. Apart from that it has been of help in the process of prodding people into actions. It has also gained much application in the development of minds.

Looking at the issue of holism which was proposed by South African Philosopher known as Smut, which was latter taken to heart by Adler, it has been of great significance in viewing an individual as whole other than seeing him as parts. Additionally he changed the idea of individual’s personality to style of life, which the modern world is calling lifestyle. This alteration holds more water in the current society as it means the way people life, deal with conflicting issues and their relation with each other.

Things of the past have lost meaning in the present society since people no longer determine their future based on the past experiences. In the modern society it is not a must that if c and d happened then y and z must happen. However the modern society has copied Adler’s principle that motivation entails moving towards the future which is in line with Adler’s individual personality. The current society doesn’t depend on the past to drive their future (Hoffman, 1994).


Boeree, C. George, G. (1997). Alfred Adler. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology.6 (5), 245-256.

Dreikurs, R. (1935). An Introduction to Individual Psychology. London: Kegan Paul, Trench Trubner & Co.Ltd.

Fiebert, M. (1997). In and out of Freud’s shadow: A chronology of Adler’s relationship with Freud. Individual Psychology, 53(3), 241-269.

Hoffman, E. (1994). The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of individual psychology. Journal of Individual Psychology. 5(3), 54-73.

Nadine E. & Bruszewski, V. (2010). Applying individual psychology to a University’s sustainability initiative. Individual Psychology, 64(3), 241-269.

Rocky, G. & Libby, L. (2010). Individual psychology and individual differences in psycho-physiology. The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research, and Practice, 63(3), 2-17.

Shelley, C. & King, R. (2008). Community feeling and social interest: Adlerian parallels, synergy, and differences with the field of community psychology. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 18(1), 96-107.

Shultz, D. & Shultz, S. (2009). Theories of personality. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Slavik, S. & King, R. (2007). Adlerian therapeutic strategy. The Canadian Journal of Adlerian Psychology, 37(1), 3-16.

Stein, T. (2008). Adler’s legacy: Past, present and future. Journal of Individual Psychology, 64 (1), 4–20.

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