This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

The Style of Life

Adler believed that personality was formed in the first 5 or 6 years of life, and that often the child's personality was formed as a direct response to family situations. The underlying reason is that a young child tries very hard to please parents and avoid feelings of inferiority. Certain patterns of behavior work, others do not. For example, some children always get their way by being nice, and this can solidify into a sociable style of life. Other children learn to manipulate their caregivers by whining and complaining. If parents give in, this strategy works and will be repeated until it constitutes a style of life. The result is a so-called spoiled child. Adler thought this was a common problem and could be carried through to adulthood. The result was an adult who whined and complained and expected others to make things right, while lacking true concern for others.

What formed personality, according to Adler? What is Adler's "style of life" concept?

Nowadays the word lifestyle usually refers to one's surroundings and activities, such as living at Palm Beach, having two cars, or going jogging every day. To Adler, by contrast, the "style of life" was a habitual social orientation, a distinctive approach to situations involving other people. For example, an individual will tend to be consistently helpful, exploitative, dishonest, ingratiating...pick your adjective. The style of life tends to be consistent and reflected throughout the individual's life.

Adler identified many neurotic styles (he called them complexes) such as the Redeemer Complex (an approach to life in which one has to improve or make over somebody else) or the No Complex (a need to always disagree). These are examples of types as defined earlier in this chapter. They are stereotypes of individuals Adler saw around him. Some still ring true in today's world, others seem peculiar and obsolete. Adler's emphasis on social influences during early childhood is up to date; it parallels the beliefs of modern developmental psychologists that important shaping influences occur before the age of 3.


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