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Dr. Alfred Adler's Psychology for Everyone

The LifeCourse Institute of Adlerian Psychology

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Other Adlerian Concepts

Individual Psychology involves additional concepts and ideas describing personality and its functioning or derived from theory for application in psychotherapy; they are briefly defined in this section. They are in alphabetical order. And as with the sections on Adler and on Major Concepts, this one also is long, so be prepared.
Acting "As If" - Adlerians use this in two ways. First, by Private Logic we act as if our behavior is reasonable, when in fact it is only an excuse for doing what we want by justifying self-oriented thoughts, feelings, or actions. Second, Acting As If is also a way to rehearse what it would be like to behave or think in another way, thus reframing our mental images to give ourselves other options. Adler was among the first to use role-playing to help clients practice new behaviors in the consulting room, behaviors which they could then try out in their lives. Children do this in play, when they "pretend" to be their parents in order to practice what it would be like to be them.

Adler credited Vaihinger with the philosophical ideas which he then applied to psychology and psychotherapy. Adler used the as if method to reframe the client’s mental images, asking, in effect, "But imagine if this were true, instead of that." This would involve a mental "acting as if" rather than a physical one. (See also the Polonius Complex, below, under "Complexes.")

Aggression Instinct - (Also aggression "drive," "impulse," or "neurosis.") In 1908 Adler published a paper on The Aggression Drive in Life and In Neurosis in which he described an underlying, dynamic principle to explain the generally belligerent and hostile position of the individual, observed from infancy onward, toward the environment. He did not connect this with any physiological source, but saw it as a "psychological field" (his only use of the term) connected all the drives.

Freud rejected the view, in large part because it posited an explanation for behavior based on something other than his own libido theory, saying: "I am unable to assent to this view, and indeed I regard it as a misleading generalization. I cannot bring myself to assume the existence of a special aggressive instinct alongside the familiar instincts of self preservation and of sex, and on an equal footing with them." (Freud, Collected Papers, 1936, Vol. III, p. 281)

It has been noted elsewhere that Adler soon came to abandon instinct theory in general as he moved toward his idea of "soft determinism" in which socialization and personal choice played such important roles. It is ironic, then, that beginning perhaps around 1920 or later, Freud adopted the viewpoint (although in somewhat different terms) as the "second pillar" of psychoanalysis.

In psychology in general, and including anthropology and ethology (the study of human-like behaviors in animals), "aggression" as been a central topic. The two main "camps" which developed seem to mirror the conflicts between Freud and Adler. On the one side are those led by Conrad Lorenz whose On Aggression (1963) articulated a basically Freudian view that, if not entirely instinctual, aggression was certainly innate. The problem has been that no physiological structures have been found which directly produce aggressive behavior. Lorenz himself pointed out by a number of examples from animal behavior (wolves, crabs, elk, etc.) that aggression often takes on a ritualistic expression: wolves stop their attack when the enemy bears his throat, elk butt heads but do not seek to kill the "enemy" and in fact, having won, "encourage" (Lorenz’ word) the loser from the area, etc.

Such ritualization suggests the second camp, that aggression is learned, not instinctive, behavior. Adler’s later views place him in this camp, although "social learning theory" did not come until much later. Out of this camp comes the view (Dollard, 1939) that aggression results from frustration; Miller (1941) agrees, but said that aggression is but one of several possible results of frustration. Aggression itself is defined in all cases as an active, violent, and destructive behavior, usually directed toward others but also sometimes toward oneself. The limit of such a definition is that what may be seen by an observer as aggression may in fact be a defensive act directed toward an interloper to protect one’s territory.

The point is that it was Alfred Adler who, in 1908, brought the topic forward for psychological investigation, saw it’s limits as an "instinct" or "innate drive," and saw it as a learned response to life circumstances following the principle of "psychology of use."


Antithetical Apperception - A form of mistaken thinking which stresses extremes. Something is either "all good" or "all bad," completely weak or completely strong, wonderful or terrible, etc. Such thinking is used to justify such self-statements as, "I’m either a winner or I’m a loser," or "If I’m not beautiful, I must be ugly." Also called "bipolar thinking" or "either/or" thinking, in which the individual limits options to two, both of which are extremes.

The neurotically disposed individual has a sharply schematizing, strongly abstracted mode of apperception. Thus he groups inner as well as outer events according to a strictly antithetical schema, something like the debit and credit sides in bookkeeping, and admits no degrees in between. . . . This tendency needs sharply defined guiding lines, ideals, and bogeys in which the neurotic believes, in order to choose, foresee, and take action. In this way he becomes estranged from concrete reality, that is, where psychological elasticity is needed rather than rigidity. (Ansbachers, 1964, p. 248)

Such thinking influences one’s general view of the world, sense of place in the world, and the terms one uses to describe people, groups, events, etc. It can be used to justify everything from incapability and laziness to racial hatreds and social stereotypes. Indeed, the Ansbachers note the similarity in thinking and terminology between Adler’s much earlier thinking in 1912, and that of Gordon Allport’s in his work on prejudice: "[these studies] have shown beyond a doubt that prejudiced attitudes may serve as a psychological crutch for persons crippled in their encounters with life. . . . From this point of view prejudice would seem to be largely a device for handling basic insecurity." (in Ansbachers, 1964, p. 249)

Child Guidance - This is a major field in which Adler made significant contributions. He was well aware, and pointed out publicly, that there were child guidance clinics in Switzerland, Germany, and the United States. Adler’s unique contributions included the involvement of child, parent, and teachers as well an interested audience in his sessions, and the application of Individual Psychology principles in helping professionals to understand personality development and the behaviors of "misbehaving" children. Adler formed some 32 such clinics, all at the invitation of individual schools, in the 1920s. They were all summarily closed as being "too democratic" when Hitler came to power in 1934. Adler’s views and actions regarding child guidance became important in the United States after his move here, but more so as the result of his student, Rudolph Dreikurs, who established clinics in Chicago in the 1930s. The influence continues to be seen today in the many programs aimed at helping parents to raise their children, especially Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer and McKay.

Choice; Decision - Of course Adler didn’t invent the idea of choosing or making decisions; such an idea has been around since the dawn of humanity. But he did include it as a central feature of his understanding of how human beings function. At the turn of the 20th century, much of psychology was still in the grip of mechanical or fatalistic thinking, regarding human behavior. That is, it was "caused" by something beyond the individual’s control. It took Adler to point out that personal choice is as important as environment and heredity in determining personality and the individual’s movement through life.

The age-old question still arises, of course: How free are we , really, to choose? Do we have "freedom of will?" As with so many similar questions, the answer is both Yes and No. About the many things over which we have no control whatsoever (where we lived as a child, who our parents and siblings were, our race and sex, etc.), choice is not a personal option. But Adler pointed out that what we tell ourselves is important about such things can be just as influential in our lives as those things themselves. Within certain constraints, then, we can choose. It was an extremely important contribution, and a giant step in the freeing of psychology from mechanistic models of predetermined behavior.

A good friend of Adlerian Psychology, William Glasser, MD (author of Reality Therapy), has developed an entire approach called "Choice Therapy" which is explained in the book of the same name (1998, Harper-Collins Publishers.)


Compensation & Over-compensation - Behavior aimed at overcoming minus feelings through increased effort or achievement in a different area. Over-compensation is exaggerated behavior, aimed toward an ideal solution, a fictional plus.

It appears Freud borrowed this concept from Adler, who used it to explain behaviors, including extreme behaviors, aimed at overcoming inferiority. For Adler, to compensate was a "balancing act" to restore balance by "making up" in one area what one lacked in another. In the case of feeling hurt, by revenge and "hurting back as I’ve been hurt." In the case of feeling behind, of "catching up, drawing even, getting ahead."

Origins of compensatory behaviors are in the self-ratings of "minus" which arise from being compared with others by parents, siblings, playmates, teachers, etc., and take the form, "Not as good as _______ ." A child who is "not as good" at athletics or academics may compensate by being seeking success in another arena, such as art or music. Some children, unable to satisfy others’ standards, compensate by becoming "the best at being worst," as with juvenile delinquency.

Over-compensation is exaggerated behavior aimed at becoming superior in a situation of imbalance. The idea is not merely to "catch up" or "get even" but to "get ahead," often by any means possible, based on a goal of perfection or an imagined ideal. For example, in trying to Belong in the family, a child may first seek attention by reasonable, acceptable means. If unsuccessful, the child may try unreasonable, unacceptable means such as being noisy, picking on others, etc. these exaggerated behaviors say "Look at me!" Punishment for such activities can be converted into evidence of success: "At least they noticed me!" This, of course, has implications for life-long behavior.

Complexes - Note that the term "complex" (as a noun, used in psychiatry/psychoanalysis to describe a combination of elaborately interconnected or interrelated impulses, ideas, emotions, related to a particular activity or object, was not introduced by Freud or Jung, as has been claimed, nor by Adler, but, as Freud himself pointed out, by someone else (cited in The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones, volume 2.)

Adler said complexes serve Life Style movement toward the Ideal Goal. Everyone has such "patterns" of thought, behavior, and attitude; they are universal to the process of goal-seeking: "There is no person whose attitudes cannot be resolved into complexes" (Ansbachers, 1964, p. 74). He described several:

Oedipus Complex: Freud said a boy of three or so desires his mother sexually and fears that his father would cut off his penis as punishment (castration anxiety). Adler said the proper interpretation is that the child has been pampered by the mother and does not want to give her up, which he called "an error in upbringing" (p. 74).

Redeemer Complex: "Those who take an attitude that they must save or redeem somebody, finding superiority in the success of solving the complications of others" (p. 74). Such a person may feel chosen to cure the evils of mankind. The Individual Psychologist will look for how such an attitude and related activities represent a solution to the individual’s own problems. (But see Berne’s alternative, page 63, where the goal is not success but failure, as in the pay-off to the Game, "See, I told you so.")

Proof complex: Those who need to prove they have a right to exist by having no faults. Their underlying fear of committing errors leads them to seek perfection in themselves and others. Their conversation seems to beg for approval. They may over-strive (the "workaholic") to show that they are bending every effort. Yet they never seem at peace, nothing they do satisfies their high standards, and so they appeal to extenuating circumstances which prevent their success.

Polonius Complex: Taken from the conversation between Hamlet and Polonius in Shakespeare’s play:

Hamlet: See yonder cloud; ‘tis almost in the shape of a camel.
Polonius: Yes, and ‘tis a camel indeed!

The fact is, it is a cloud, and NOT a camel. But sometimes we see things that aren’t there, and believe that something looks like something else. A pattern in a rug can look like a face, just as a cloud can look like a camel. Such finding of patterns (even, or especially, when they aren't there!) is the basis for projective tests, such as the Rorschach inkblots. And it’s what we do when we want to believe things despite evidence to the contrary! As a complex, it is needing to seeing things that aren’t there.

Exclusion Complex: "Used as a crutch by the insecure person" (p. 76), this involves the individual who seeks to reduce their sphere of action by removing ("excluding") all problems. It is used by the person who seeks superiority, yet by the easiest route. In the related maneuver of denial, one pretends there are no problems by denying them, and so does not have to deal with them.

Predestination Complex: Such persons believe themselves to have been created as special; therefore, the rules that apply to others do not apply to them. Adler said this often results from pampering, where the child is led to believe a life of superiority is "preordained." Others (see "Overburdening situations") may feel doomed to lives of pain and suffering, and arrange their lives to get what they think they deserve. For example, there is a common belief that a battered spouse seeks partners who will abuse them. Adler also suggests a positive side to predestination, in which the individual is self-assured and feels "completely rooted in the facts of this earth, presenting itself as courage" (p. 77).

Leader Complex: Found among some first-borns and second-borns, for differing reasons, this is the need to be in the vanguard, to win and not lose. Adler saw this resulting from childhood choices about not wanting to be a follower (in an inferior position) but a trail-blazer. Such children are never satisfied with not leading.

Deprecation Complex: Adler noted that, as part of the striving for superiority in the compulsion neurosis, a certain type of person seeks "god-likeness" and employs for this a depreciation of others. Feeling anxiety in the face of his inferiority to others, "The compulsion neurotic endeavors to overcome this anxiety, and tries to represent himself in the form to which he originally aspired—as a demigod, who exalts himself above humankind and who depreciates everyone else and puts them in the shade. He covers over his inferiority complex with a superiority complex and thus appears magnificent enough in his own eye." (In Ansbachers, 1964, p. 117) Adler saw this approach as "one of a thousand subtle variations on the theme of seeking ascendancy over others," that is, to raise oneself by lowering others, sometimes by sadistically putting them down.

Spectator Complex: An attitude in which the individual sits on the sidelines watching life, without acting or taking part in it. Such children may grow up to be passive adults who have trouble making decisions and prefer to be "just part of the crowd." The Adlerian therapist encourages such people to a greater involvement, so they can become participants rather than only onlookers.

"No" Complex: The presence of an attitude in which one seeks confrontation and opposition. "There are people who have a ‘no’ on their lips even before someone has opened his mouth" (p. 79). Common examples include negative theater critics and other "nay-sayers," fault-finders, and antagonists, and others who are "looking for a fight."

Compulsion Neurosis

The term itself is from earlier work by Janet in France and Kraft-Ebbing, and Westphal in Austria (Ansbachers, 1956, p 307). It forms the central idea in what is now called obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Adler and others wrote extensively about it. According to the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, "Obsessions are defined as recurrent, persistent ideas, thoughts, images, or impulses viewed by the subject as ego-alien. They are not experienced as voluntarily produced, but rather as ideas that invade the field of consciousness. Compulsions are behaviors not experienced as the outcome of the patient’s own volition, but accompanied by both a sense of subjective compulsion and a desire to resist. (DSM-III Table 20.3-1. Italics added).

Freud’s approach grew out of his need to adjust his explanations of conversion reactions in the light of conflicting clinical evidence. He saw three factors at work: Isolation as a defense mechanism to protect the individual from anxiety-provoking circumstances, undoing, a defensive mechanism aimed at reversing the consequences of obsessional thoughts or impulses, and reaction formation, resulting in specific character traits and behaviors, usually highly exaggerated and inappropriate.

For Adler, the compulsion neurosis was not so much the result of psychogenic causes as the means to an end, that is, useful ways of thinking and behaving with a goal in mind. He called the process "Tilting at windmills" (from the image in Cervantes’ story about Don Quixote), in which the individual, needing to put a distance between himself and the basic tasks of adult living, creates false mental connections. On these connections rest repetitive thought or action patterns which enable him to avoid real life and its problems. The activity is useless, however, because it stalls rather than enables forward movement. Elsewhere, Adler described obsessions and compulsions as taking place "at a secondary theater of operations," an arena apart from "the real world" where one actually lives. "One can always establish that there is actually a lack of preparation for the solution of the life probl4ems and that this lack—whether it really exists or is "believed" only in imagination—prevents him from advancing, so that he lapses into the hesitating attitude. It is this that the compulsion neurotic turns to the secondary theater of operations, and we must establish that such an evasion can happen only when one is afraid of defeat." (in Ansbachers, 1964, p. 115) We note elsewhere forms that such activities can take: depreciation complex, Polonius complex, as well as the conflict neurosis (below) The point of such actions is to move oneself from minus to plus, to being inferior to being superior, even godlike.

Adler warns against divorcing thought processes from the totality of personality in trying to understand the compulsion neurosis: "Whenever one conceives an idea, one arouses in himself also a series of corresponding feelings and emotions, not only because he realizes that the idea should connote these emotions, but because he actually transports himself into a sphere of thought which is affected and altered by the idea." (in Ansbachers, 1964, p. 124) It is clear that this idea found fertile ground in the later work of Ellis (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) and Beck (Cognitive Therapy), and serves as something of a touchstone in modern psychological counseling.

Conflict Neurosis - Adler’s term referring to the specific compulsion neurosis in which a person gets into quarrels and conflicts within their environment. "To maintain such a position of belligerence they may resort to all kinds of suspicions and accusations . . . (but) the cause is always a cowardly withdrawal from the real problems of life." (Ansbachers, 1964, p. 306.)

Consequences - Adlerians speak of natural consequences which result from activities in the physical/natural realm. More important are logical consequences which result from activities in the social realm, and arising from the logic of relationships. (See Purpose, above.) Adlerians view all activities as problem-solving, so the question becomes how the consequences of one’s actions are related to the goals one seeks. The basis proposition is, "What you have is what you intended, because if you’d wanted something else, you’d have done something else. Since you did not, what you have must be the result you intended." This follows Adler’s concept of the Psychology of Use. The importance of "natural" and "logical" consequences became especially important in Adlerian ideas about raising children (as an alternative to punishment, scoldings, etc.) and was amplified in the work of Rudolph Dreikurs and, more recently, the STEP programs of Donald Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay.

Courage in Striving - To strive with courage is to act with Social Interest when tempted to act on Private Logic. It takes courage to tell the truth rather than lie, to stand up for what’s right when the crowd says otherwise, or to do something constructive instead of wallowing in self-pity. Adler knew that life can sometimes be hard, and can seem to provide insurmountable obstacles. One can give in to life’s challenges, or one can strive to overcome them. He encouraged his clients to find courage within themselves to move forward in life.

Thus courage in striving can mean seeking and attaining goals which seem to be beyond one’s mental or physical limits. For me, a perfect example is Grace Layton, whom I knew in North Dakota. She and I were members of the same church, and attended college together. As a teenager, she became paralyzed from the neck down by polio. In college, she learned to draw holding a charcoal stick in her teeth, creating beautiful scenes of North Dakota. These she used to illustrate greeting cards, the proceeds of which went to the March of Dimes. She met a man in college whom she married. Unable to have children, they adopted 22 children, each with a handicap. Grace was honored by both the national March of Dimes, and by the state of North Dakota as one of its outstanding citizens. Grace died in 1997.

Creative Self - Nineteenth century psychology saw personality as governed by fixed influences: heredity and environment, as well as traits, instincts, and similar mechanisms. Thus personality was also fixed to a great degree, and very nearly impossible to change. Adler did not believe this view did justice to the dynamic aspects of personality. (See "Soft Determinism," "Ideal Self," as well as Adler’s abandonment of trait theory in general). His described the creative self as fundamental to behavior and to character improvement. While he only sketched the idea, he saw it as an "active life principle" similar to the concept of soul, and its function as being to guide the individual in actively seeking experiences which would enable the full development of one’s unique life style. As part of his insistence that the individual creates his or her own life and is not merely driven buy inborn forces, this concept formed an important step in the development of Ego Psychology.

Early Recollection - An Early Recollection (or "ER") is not a general memory ("When I was a kid we went to the carnival every summer") but a specific childhood incident that represents an event from which the person learned something basic about life. ERs form one’s fundamental approach to life, the life style, and become the recalled framework by which all subsequent similar events are judged. Adlerians ask for the first half dozen specific ERs a client can recall. Progress in therapy is sometimes marked by changes in ERs, in the diminishing or "forgetting" of some ERs and the strengthening or "remembering" of others.

In contrast with Freud’s view that important memories are repressed to the Unconscious and cannot be recalled, Adler believed important early recollections were relatively easily recalled because they were so central to the Guiding Line, and were constantly being used to assess progress in movement toward the Life Goal. Adler made clear that ERs need not be entirely factual to be useful.

We do not believe that all early recollections are correct records of actual facts. Many are even fancied, and most are changed or distorted at a time later than that in which the events are supposed to have occurred. But this does not diminish their significance. What is altered or imagined is also expressive of the patient’s goal, and although there is a difference between the work of fantasy and that of memory, we can safely make use of both by relating them to our knowledge of other factors. (Adler, 1929, p. 118)

This relates to Adler’s idea that the meaning of an event, more than mere facts, is what is important to an individual, and that the Life Style is a unity, made up of many factors, including how a person may "remember" something according to his personal psychology of use.

ERs serve a similar purpose for individuals as "myths" do for cultures and religions. That is, while they may be historically inaccurate, they carry necessary information needed to support some present belief and its consequent actions. It represents the difference between "truth" and "fact."

Family Atmosphere - This is the emotional climate of the childhood home, set by the parents and reflected in sibling interactions. It is remembered by the adult as, "This is what my family was like." It forms the basis for what one expects, desires, fears, or dislikes in one’s own marriage, parenting, and family life. In later years there is a tendency among people to deny, exaggerate, or minimize certain aspects of family life in order to create a kind of "fictive" or "fictitious" family history which will be consistent with what one wishes the family had been like. Individuals, relationships, and specific events may be radically changed to provide this "better view." The therapist looks on such changes as adaptations which now support the client’s Guiding Fiction. For example, the often-absent father is transformed into "the man who worked hard to support us," or the alcoholic mother is changed to a "saint who loved us," and family poverty is viewed as "building the character needed in a cruel and unfeeling world."

Felt Minus, Fictional Plus - "Minus" (inferiority) is the position of childhood, in which children are, in fact, less strong, less able, etc., compared with the adults and older siblings. But to grow up feeling minus leads to mistaken thinking, inferiority feelings, and Private Logic. Plus is the goal of striving from a felt minus, seen as ideal mastery or success. Adler said, "The whole of human life proceeds along this great line of action." (Ansbachers, 1964, p. 90.) Adler sometimes used these twin concepts interchangeably with inferiority/superiority. The basis for feeling minus is a sense of incompletion, of being less whole or complete, less capable, less worthy. It is like early childhood’s inferiority feelings. Plus becomes a fictional goal, an ideal future in which one is more whole, more complete, more capable, more worthy, etc., in a word, superior, if not over others, at least over the original life-view.

Guiding Line - The direction or line of movement of life, based on the guiding fiction, which describes actions and methods to reach the Guiding Goal. As seen elsewhere, Dreikurs suggested that one could take specific events and see how, like "points on a line," they could trace both the origins of the Life Style in childhood and predict the future course of one’s pursuit of the fictive goal. This may seem a bit mechanistic, however, as if one’s life is a certainty from beginning to end. LEAP and therapy clients who complete the LifeCourse Scroll (described in the "MAP" Session of the LEAP material) see, however, that tracing the movement of their major life events and seeing the patterns they follow can result in insights which enable them to revise those patterns.

Gender Guiding Lines - Adler said self-definitions as female or male create a line of movement based on gender roles. Much of this is related to how we experienced our parents in such roles: parental (as mother/father), marital (wife/ husband), and sexual (man/woman). The child internalizes sex role definitions and behaviors by accepting some, rejecting others, and changing or adapting still others, resulting in a childhood ideal of male or female, which is carried into adult performance as a man or woman.

Guiding Fiction - This is the mistaken belief that there is only one road that can lead to success, and only one action that can achieve the desired goal. The image is of an idealized future position of safety, success, or worth. It is fiction because it can not exist in reality (being perfect) and guiding because much of adult life is based on it. One way or another, the last line of this personal fairy tale will be ". . . happily ever after."

The Guiding Fiction supports one’s Guiding Line throughout life, justifying the Guiding Goal and the actions one takes to achieve it. Private Logic may be used to justify socially-useless behavior in the pursuit of the Goal, through such attitudes as, "I’ll do whatever takes to get ahead," or "To Hell with anyone who gets in my way!" Adler suggested that such attitudes summarized the entire fantasy of one’s life, a fantasy based on the illusion that there is one goal which, attained, will solve all one’s problems.

Iron Law of Communal Life - Community pre-exists the Individual and makes absolute demands for a person to be a member of society. Adler called it an Iron Law because no one can escape the community’s shaping influences, and one cannot be said to be a complete human being without also being a responsible member of society.

Problems arise when individuals set themselves apart from, or over against, the community. This is the case when Private Logic is used to overrule the community’s Common Sense. With his introduction of Social Interest to his system, Adler believed even more strongly that the individual cannot exist apart from the human community, and has responsibilities to its improvement which cannot be avoided.

* The phrase " iron law" was common enough in Adler's day, although it usually referred to the immutable forces of nature (the "iron law" of Gravity" -- don't try to challenge it!), of Time (no person can harness or use it for his own purposes), etc. Adler's use was unique in his day, however, in large part because psychology, as a new science, was still largely influenced by philosophy and religion. Psychology was the study of the individual. Another new science, sociology, studied society and culture, as did anthropology in a way. It took Adler to combine these several disciplines with the phrase "Iron Law of communal life," placing the individual squarely within the social setting, the human community, society, and the community's shaping influence on personality and the responsibility of the individual to the community. Hence, what we have noted elsewhere as "social embeddedness."

Masculine Protest - Freud believed, following Plato, that a woman’s problems (psychological, that is to say, neurotic) in Freud's time) result from having a uterus. (Uterus from the Greek hysteria, which also gives us Easter [equating to the Latin vernalus, "spring"] and estrus, "the periodic sexual excitement in female mammals. ) Thus, a woman is neurotic because she is a woman. In this attitude, Freud also followed the dominant cultural view of his time, which defined women as "shadows" or "reflections" of men, rather than complete persons.

Adler, however, viewed women as equals with men. He believed female neurotic behaviors resulted from a woman's trying to balance social definitions of womanhood by society's dominant males in, with the need to be a woman in her own right. He called this tension, and its resulting behaviors, the masculine protest. This became the basis for his debates with Freud. That is, he put forth the idea of the masculine protest among women as another (that is, non-libidinous) explanation of psychological problems in women. He saw that problems arise when society defines one as "second-class," preventing the belonging that is necessary for complete participation. To protest such treatment is as necessary for groups as it is for individual children placed in inferior positions. Adler was almost alone in his day in stressing sexual equality and that the inequality of dominance makes for poor relationships.

In later years Adler expanded the concept to include both men and women as having psychological problems, or at least sociological tensions, when society's definition of men and women resulted in confusions about self-definition. Thus we see that "who I am" is related to who others say I am, as a male (or female). This is not a matter of masculinity in the sense of "he-man" nor of femininity in the sense of "sexy beauty." Although Adler did not seem to extend this idea to other groups, it seems we could, today, extend it to include society's limiting definitions of race, ethnicity, language, sexual preference, etc., and "protests" by members of such groups to seek or achieve equal standing in society.

Mistaken Thinking - This includes all the ways an individual may think illogically or erroneously through Private Logic, Guiding Fiction, Antithetical Thinking, exaggerations, confusions (of feelings with facts and thoughts with feelings, for example), absolutism, denial, minimizing, over-generalization, etc. Albert Ellis speaks of irrational beliefs, e.g., "I must be loved by everyone for everything I do," and Aaron Beck speaks of automatic thoughts which seem to take over and control the cognitive processes. In this, they follow Adler’s earlier lead.

Neurotic Types of Movement - In 1932, Adler conceived of three phases of Neurotic movement (contrasted with "courage in striving"): mental (compulsion neurosis), emotional (anxiety), and motor (hysteria). His four major "types of neurotic movement" are suggestive for any time:

The distance complex involves individual attempts to safeguard the self by moving emotionally or physically from a threatening situation or problem by, for example, fainting, indecision, over-doubting, second-guessing, etc.

The hesitating attitude involves advances which are made only hesitatingly in a sort of "stutter-step" manner. Such tentative actions alternate with periods of fatigue, uncertainty and self-doubts, postponement, paralyzing phobic reactions, etc.

The detour moves the neurotic either around the problem (side-stepping it, as if it doesn’t exist) or to some other arena of lesser importance where solutions may be simpler. One is reminded of the story of the man looking for something on his hands and knees under a street light. A passerby says, "Lose something?" The man says, "Yes, over there," pointing to a place in the dark. The passerby asks, "Then why are you looking here?" The man responds, "Because the light is better over here." Or one is reminded of the woman who, rather than admit to herself that her husband is having an affair, decides to have her hair done instead.

The narrowed path of approach. Here the individual accepts only a small part, or one part, of the over-all solution to a problem. The person may "Yes-but" unacceptable solutions, especially those that are the most pertinent or most likely to succeed. Adler notes that, in some cases, a narrowed focus can result in great achievements, bringing to mind the "absent-minded scientist" who neglects his personal life and hygiene, but creates a spectacular invention or discovers an important theory. People with such a singleness of vision and purpose may lead them to great things.

Orientation - Adler frequently spoke of lines of orientation or fixed points when discussing the individual’s movements through life. They are points at which the person feels some security, as in "At least this is true." Typical are adult memories of childhood, in which certain events (which Adler called "early recollections") resulted in some lesson for life which, true then, remains true forever. Included here also are certain decisions made in childhood (such as "I am such-and-such kind of person, and always will be") which the person believes to be true for a lifetime. Such fixed points serve as standards by which to judge progress in moving from the "minus" to the "plus" side of life" and toward the solution of some problem one had as a child and must spend a lifetime to solve (the fictional final goal).

Over-burdening Situation - Adler believed certain childhood circumstances carry such weight that they lead to discouragement and inadequate preparation for the normal tasks life. They include physical or mental inferiority or handicap; neglect; abuse; being pampered, unwanted or abandoned. When the child cannot find socially useful responses, development is restricted and the likelihood of anti-social behavior is increased. Today such children may be diagnosed as Attachment Disordered and be described as being "without a conscience" with no concern for the feelings of others. A disproportionate number of such children appear to be found among abused and neglected children who, placed in a series of foster homes, are not able to form the necessary bonds which result in normal social development.

Personal Frameworks; Perceptual Schema - We control our perception by placing experiences of events within frames of previous reference, comparing the new or unknown with the familiar or known, and fitting them into our previous knowledge and beliefs. Such frames can lead to the mistaken thoughts and to beliefs on which mistaken actions are based, as in the case of Private Logic. Reframing as a therapeutic tool helps clients to revise their perceptual schemes by using new or different words to describe their experience, and to act as if these other descriptions are true.

This apperception schema, as Adler called it, is the individual’s way of organizing perceptions by viewing objective reality through the subjective filters, in order to "see what we want to see" (or "not see what we don’t want to see"). A result is the "personal truth" we believe to be true, whether it is or not, and on which we base our actions.Adler held that, as we experience events, we create mental descriptions of them and what they mean to us. They become the basis for what we decide to do as a result: a feeling, thought, action, or combination. Similar perceptions cohere around common themes, becoming patterns of Personal Truth.

It does not matter that such Truth may not be factual. Personal Truth needs to have little connection with objective reality for us to act "as if it is so." While this is well-understood today, it took Adler to place it at the center of understand and treating emotional disorders. As individual Beliefs become basic to personality, they become "who one is." Without them the person would be someone else. Personal Truth is to personality what skeleton and flesh are to the organic body. Again, we liken such personal belief systems to the mythology of religions or nations, stressing that it is often necessary to believe something that may not be "factual" but because it contains a truth needed for daily living.

Personal Truth; Belief  - Adler held that, as we experience events we create mental descriptions of them and what they mean to us. They become the basis for what we decide to do as a result: a feeling, thought, action, or combination. Similar perceptions cohere around common themes, becoming patterns of Personal Truth. We cannot argue with Personal Truth. It is, after all, our own Truth, thast which we believe about something. We cannopt deny it; instead, we place all our trust on its being True. Again we call upon Soren Kierkegaard's saying, thast "Subjectivity is truth." That is, what we believe to be truth is the Truth for us, and we act upon it as if it is true.

It does not matter that such Truth may not be factual. Personal Truth needs to have little connection with objective reality for us to act "as if it is so." While this is well-understood today, it took Adler to place it at the center of understand and treating emotional disorders. As individual Beliefs become basic to personality, they become "who one is." Without them the person would be someone else. Personal Truth is to personality what skeleton and flesh are to the organic body. Again, we liken such personal belief systems to the mythology of religions or nations, stressing that it is often necessary to believe something that may not be "factual" but because it contains a truth needed for daily living.

Personality; Character - Adler distinguished between the two. Personality is seen as who a person is, whereas character is personality revealed to others through social interaction. Character is a reflection and social expression of personality. When we say someone "has character" or "has integrity," we mean that what he or she is showing socially is consistent with that person’s inner personality.

Adler viewed of personality as ideographic in that the individual is not a collection of traits or types, but is unique, self-creative, and the result of personal choices and subjective interpretations the individual gives to events. As Adlerian Henry Stein puts it,

The person is a system in which the whole is greater than and different from the sum of its parts. In this whole, Adler saw the unity of the person. In the symphony of a person's behavior, he discerned the consistent melodic theme running throughout. This theme may have many variations in tempo, pitch, or intricacy, but it is nevertheless recognizable. Thus, to understand a person, we must look at the whole person, not at parts isolated from one another. After we grasp the guiding theme, however, it is easy to see how each individual part is consistent with the theme. (Stein, 1999.) [Note that, in the first sentence, Dr. Stein is referring to the concept of "synergy," a concept introduced by Buckminster Fuller.]

Prescribing the Symptom - Today we call this Adlerian therapy method "reverse psychology" (but probably attribute the phrase to Freud!). It means that the therapist makes a suggestion which is the opposite of what we expect or want from another person. For example, "Since you seem to like to watch TV so much, why don't you watch more? I'd like to see you at least double your TV watching this next week." The intent is to get the person to watch less TV by giving permission and even a strong assignment to watch more.

Adler used this approach with his patients, following his theory of psychology of use, to give them permission to continue the behaviors that brought them into therapy in the first place. ("Doc, I watch way too much TV!"). He saw that what people do has a purpose within their personality system, that purpose appearing in the future as a result. So rather than trying to talk his client out of it, he suggests the person do it more or more often. (After all, it is easy enough to watch less TV...isn't it?) Adler assumed the client had a goal. If it was to gain attention, control, or something else from other people (all problems are social problems), it would become less useful to continue their behaviors if they had permission, and even strong insistence, to do so. As Adler used this approach, it was clear that he knew the patient was "using" the symptoms (too much TV watching) to gain something from other people . . . something not connected with TV!.

Private Frame of Reference - Related to Personal Truth, Private Logic, and Apperceptive Schema, this is an internal or mental picture of the world which is at variance with a normal view. Here the individual’s mistaken or exaggerated thinking, personal reasoning, etc., hold sway as is evidenced by behaviors which do not seem to fit a normal (or "community") thought process, and therefore must be associated with internal, private reasoning.

We maintain that the ideal, typical, ultimate purpose of a human being, irrespective of health or sickness, is to solve his life’s problems. The neurotic, however, has set himself entirely different tasks. (He) has, of course, a notion of the frame of reference of normal life, for every one knows what the demands of life require of one. Yet despite this knowledge, his behavior takes place according to another frame. Here then we have two frames of reference. The one is normal, the socially average, which includes logic and reason, and within which we would expect those movements of an individual which we call normal. The other is the neurotic, a private frame of reference. (Ansbachers, 1964, p. 251)

It is this view of the world, and one’s self and others in that world, seen through the "filters" of one’s private logic and self-oriented perceptions, which leads the neurotic individual to behave in ways that, to others, appear somehow different from what they would expect from a "normal" person. For example, consider Adler’s idea of the childhood "Problem" and its need to be solved in adulthood. That adult may engage in various activities which (based on the Psychology of Use) are aimed at the solution. Such activities, viewed by others, may seem peculiar; however, to the individual they are not. They are in keeping with the internal, private frame of reference.

In an article for the Journal of Individual Psychology (1936), Adler expanded on this concept, contrasting the neurotic’s "private picture of the world" with "the common view," that is, the way "normal" people view the world.

Private Meaning - Understanding who one is, how to behave, how to fit in, etc., derives from living in community. One cannot create oneself as a social creature without others. Yet we also develop our personal ways of thinking, reasoning, and viewing the world. Adler said that some of these "private meanings" serve only personal goals rather than the community. When oriented only around the self, they are "socially useless" and do not contribute to the larger community. "The meaning they give to life is a private meaning; no one else is benefited by the achievement of their aims and their interest stops short at their own persons." (Adler, 1931, p. 8) He goes on to say that

The mark of all true "meanings of life" is that they are common meanings—they are meanings in which others can share, and meanings which others can accept as valid. A good solution of the problems of life will always clear the way for others also; for in it we shall see common problems met in a successful way. Understanding is a common matter, not a private function. (Ibid., p. 11)

Here again, however, we meet the "as if" function in life, in which we treat our own private, inner meaning of life’s events and our world view as if it were the true and only meaning. It is this inner meaning on which we base our behaviors, our feelings and emotions, and our further thinking. When we hear about something, or see something happen, inwardly we ask ourselves first, "What does this mean to me?" The more our inner meanings correspond with the meanings others have arrived at for the same event, the more our private meaning matches public meaning. The difference is clearest in the case of the schizophrenic individual, whose world view is entirely a private one, and whose behaviors are therefore bizarre to those who observe from a community standpoint. Similar discrepancies between private and public meaning are the basis for everything from lack of etiquette to criminal behavior.

The Problem - Adler held that each person has a problem in childhood which the child cannot solve as a child. The eventual solution to the Problem is then delayed, and passed along to the adult the child will become. This becomes the basis for the adult’s Fictional Final Goal, including the Guiding Goal and Guiding Lines. To solve the child’s problem had shapes the adult’s entire Life Style, giving it coherence and self-consistency by shaping everything else to it. This raises several questions, such as whether the adult should spend time trying to solve a child’s problem, what the adult "gets out of" solving that problem rather than those of adult living, and what can be done to move beyond such a mistaken goal for one’s life.

The Problem is the key to understanding the individual’s life style, life goal, and life plan. Individual events can be tracked, as Dreikurs put it, like "points on a line" to indicate the individual’s movement through life toward the ultimate goal, and those events are suggestive of what that goal may be. It is not as easy to determine the original Problem, however. Many, if not most, adults have long since forgotten the specific incident (or perhaps class of incidents) which gave rise to the idea that they had a problem they couldn't solve then, and must use the rest of their lives to solve. Adler was able to locate his problem as a time when he almost died, and its solution as being to become a doctor, "to solve the problem of death."

It may not be as necessary to recover the actual incident or Problem, as to realize that much of one’s life is aimed at solving it, and to decide that a child is not is a good position to know the real problems of life.

Psychology of Use - Adler viewed all thoughts, emotions, and actions as useful in the service of gaining goals. All behavior has a purpose. This contrasts with the then prevalent (and still dominant) concept of Psychology of Possession in which a person "possesses" certain traits, or is even "possessed by" mental illnesses which can be given a diagnostic label. So for example, a person may "be depressed" (by some outside circumstance or situation) or "have depression" (a diagnostic label). Adlerians might say that behaviors and attitudes associated with depression have a use in the individual’s larger style of life, e.g., serving the Guiding Fiction.

Adler’s term is similar and related to functionalism and functional disorder in psychiatric usage. The former describes a psychological approach which views behaviors in terms of the adaptation of the individual to the environment, and to the function such adaptive behaviors serve in personality. The latter describes disorders with no organic cause and are therefore assumed to be psychological or emotional in origin, and again, having a function or use for the individual. All psycho-neuroses are considered functional disorders, as are the various "thought" (or cognitive) disorders such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive reactions, stress reactions, psychosomatic reactions, etc. Early on, Adler used "The Question" as a method to try to distinguish between patient problems with an organic somatic or origin, and those which were mostly or entirely a matter of mistaken thinking or other cognitive mechanisms.

The Adlerian therapist treads softly here. Clients have worked a lifetime to create their useful illusions, and resist suggestions that the symptoms they want to eliminate have a use they are loathe to surrender! "Why do I do this, when it gets me in trouble?" may be answered by, "Perhaps you do it in order to get in trouble." Which is followed by an objection such as, "Now why would I do that!" Or perhaps by a sly smile seeming to say, "so, you see through me!" One is reminded of the words of St. Paul, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15)

The Question - In approaching a patient’s presenting problem, Adler would often ask "What would your life be like if you didn’t have this problem?" and saw the patient’s answer as an indication of organic versus cognitive origins. Thus if the patient said of his diminished hearing capacity, "I’d be able to hear better," Adler would look for organic causes. But if the patient said something like, "My wife would be happier," Adler might suspect that the "purpose" of lessened hearing might be related to the social setting, and possible wife complaints that, "My husband never listens to me!" This is akin to the question we use at several points in LEAP to illustrate Psychology of Use, "What do you get out of it?" In psychiatric terms, Adler used The Question to distinguish between organic or physical illness, and "functional" disorders or real or imagined problems that "serve a function" in the individual's life, to gain sympathy from other people, for example.

Reverse Psychology (see "Prescribing the Symptom")

Self-Guarding Behaviors - These are often mistaken responses to threats to self-esteem, and are based on mistaken, that is, logically erroneous thinking. Adler identified a number of such behaviors. Four he called "distancing" behaviors (moving backward or retreating; standing-in-place, hesitating, and creating obstacles) by which a person can maintain a precarious psychological position rather than move forward. Such behavior may help a person to feel temporarily safe until better or more adaptive responses are learned. Other behaviors include excusing, aggression, and depreciation (that is, placing false valuation through idealization, solicitude, accusation, self-accusation/guilt) as well as anxiety and exclusion or a restricted sphere of action. Making a habit of such behaviors (for example, the "Yes-But" personality) is the opposite of striving with courage. Adler developed this approach as an alternative to Freud’s concept of ego-defense mechanisms. He viewed certain safe-guarding behaviors as strategically useful ("Psychology of Use") in maintaining a position of relative security until other, better behaviors can be developed.

Self (Ego) Ideal -This is a person's mental image of Self as victorious, successful, superior; the Fictive Goal expressed in personal, idealistic terms: "When I win, I’ll be a Winner!" For Adler, the individual creates the Ideal Self as an image of one’s personality if it were perfect. It is the unifying principle of personality which strives courageously through life and moves confidently toward the Fictional Final Goal. Life Style is organized around this Ideal Self. There are additional ideals around Partner, Child, Career, etc. Adler’s development of this concept pre-dates and is the basis for what is now referred to as "self-esteem" and "self-image." It has been noted elsewhere that Adler also used this term to mean the "fictional final goal." (Also "Ideal Self" and "Personality Ideal". Not to be confused with Freud’s concept of the Ego Ideal, which results from the parents’ punishment and scolding of the child in childhood.)

Self Talk - This is the idea that, when we think ("cognition") we are talking to ourselves. This concept is not from Adler himself, but is an extension of his observation that behaviors (actions, feelings) result from specific thoughts. The ability to carry on conscious mental conversations makes many things possible, including self awareness, learning from experience, memory of past solutions, application of previous solutions to future situations, visions of alternative futures, the ability to "change our minds" by debating our own thoughts, the ability to consider various options or viewpoints, and the ability to practice or rehearse statements to be made to others. Such "self-talk" can be seen as an important basis for the creation of our Self and the uniqueness which makes us human. We can also think of "self talk" as talking to ourselves about ourselves. (There's a song we barbershoppers sing with a line that says, "Gonna have a little talk with myself.")

Significance - For Adler, each individual life was a movement "from, toward." That is, from inferiority to superiority, from minus to plus, from childhood to maturity, and the like. He described it in terms of a Guiding Fiction, a Guiding Goal, and a Guiding Line, and of a movement toward personal meaning. In terms of neurotic strivings, Adler spoke of Sucht zu gelten, that is, a "search for the gold." Karen Horney spoke of neurotic process as a "search for glory" which included vindictive triumph, a proving of the self, a sort of "See, I told you so!" result. She wrote that "Alfred Adler was the first psychoanalyst to see the search for glory as a comprehensive phenomenon, and to point out its crucial significance in neurosis." (Horney, 1950, p. 28)

Such strivings, as seen in discussing the Fictional Final Goal, need not be neurotic, but part of the normal human desire to move forward in life and to "make something of oneself." Neurotic or normal may depend, to some extent, on whether such efforts and their activities are directed toward the socially useful or the socially useless side of life. Do they build up only the individual, or do they contribute to the community?

Socially Useless/Socially Useful - Attitudes or behaviors can be socially useful and promote relationships and the common good, or socially useless, self-centered and weakening the community. Adler saw the choice of which "side of life" one takes as being made in early childhood. Thus one person’s life may be oriented around self-serving interests and excuses of anti-social conduct, while another person’s may be centered on courage, striving, and community responsibility. (These categories are related to "private logic" on the one hand, and "common sense" on the other.)

Soft Determinism - Adler saw both heredity and environment as important in influencing personality development. However, he also stressed choices, especially in childhood, as major determinants of personality. It is similar to the saying, "Life may deal the cards, but you must play the hand." This focus on individual responsibility differentiates Adler’s approach from other schools of psychology and psychotherapy, and makes growth and wholeness possible. It lies at the heart of Adlerian therapy, as the counselor encourages the client to do what the client has always done: make choices, but now more responsibly, with more information available than in childhood, and with adult, rather than child, goals in mind. Such "reasonable" choices now affirm the social interest of both the self and others.

Will to Power - In his concept of "striving for power" as aimed at overcoming inferiority, Adler drew from Nietzsche’s phrases "will to power" (or "will to be above") and "will to seem" (or "appear"). (Adler, 1917, p. 24). He saw such ideas as akin to the enhancement of self-esteem through having power over others, and similar to pleasure. This became, for Adler, "superiority strivings" and the movement from "minus" to "plus" in relationships.

Yes-But personality - This is Adler’s example of a hesitating approach to life and a failure to take responsibility for one’s actions. A client may accept the logic of alternatives ("Yes"), yet create reasons why he/she cannot follow them (". . . but"). Such a person "won’t get off the dime," as is said.

In everyday life we see this also when we make a statement, and then make a second one which offsets or negates the first, in an effort to not appear too "set in our ways" or to appear to cover all the possibilities in the argument. This may be as simple as adding "…but I could be wrong" to a statement, or as elaborate as two lengthy statements about a topic, each of which cancels the other. The result is an indication of indecisiveness, or as we say, "waffling." This is often the case when speaking of someone else’s faults, in which we declare our objections followed by a positive statement about them.

Adler spoke of the "No" personality as one which completely rejects social responsibility and participation, such as the criminal or the psychotic, as well as of the "Yes" personality, which he saw as the acceptance of Social Interest and participation in complete humanity.

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