This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 13 table of contents.

The Adlerian Approach

Alfred Adler was another early associate of Freud's who broke with Freud over the sexual theory. As we saw in Chapter 11, Adler developed a personality theory emphasizing feelings of inferiority and resulting compensations that allow people to overcome their difficulties.

What role did "feelings of inferiority" play in Adler's theory? How did Adler use the word "complex," in contrast to Jung?

Adler believed inferiority feelings were normal and universal in childhood, because everybody starts out small and ineffectual compared to older people. Some people respond to feelings of inferiority in healthy ways, developing skills to make themselves feel more powerful and effective. Others develop patterns of activity that cause them trouble or harm others. Adler called these troublesome behavior patterns complexes. So Adler used the word complex differently from Jung. To Jung, a complex was an emotion-laden theme in the person's background. To Adler, a complex was a troublesome behavior pattern. Usually it involved a person's relation to others: a social behavior pattern.

Why was the "style of life" so important?

Adler called the individual's habitual way of interacting with other human beings the person's style of life. Adler saw the style of life as the key to all a person's behavior. For example, Adler believed that spoiled children grew up to be spoiled adults who expected everybody to do things for them. The "style" showed up in all a person's social interactions.

Adler coined the term inferiority complex to refers to one particular abnormal style of life. Inferiority feelings are normal; everybody has them occasionally. An inferiority complex, by contrast, is abnormal. It shapes a person's every interaction with others, making a person act very insecure in social situations of all types. That was what made the inferiority complex a complex, in Adler's system, and not just a bad feeling that inspired a compensation.

Adler regarded each complex as a distinctive style of life. One was called the Redeemer Complex. This was a compulsive need to make people over or reform them. Another was called the No Complex. This was a compulsion to disagree with other people. Adler described many other complexes. They are fine examples of types as described in Chapter 11, and like most personality stereotypes, they are shaped by a particular time and place (Europe and America of the 1930s and 1940s). Not all of Adler's complexes seem familiar today. The Redeemer Complex and No Compex are two exceptions...types that can still be recognized in our culture today.

What was gemein- schaftsgefuhl, and why was it important in therapy?

Adler felt the neurotic lifestyle was always self-centered. For example, a person with the Redeemer Complex might seem to be trying to help others, but actually the person was trying to feel power or moral superiority over others. In general, Adler observed, a psychologically troubled person does not usually show much concern for others.

Adler felt it was important, as part of therapy, to encourage a person's sense of concern for other human beings. Adler used the German term gemeinschaftsgefuhl, which means community interest or social interest. Humans need community interest, he said, to achieve happiness in work, friendship, and love. It was complications in those three areas, Adler observed, that usually sent a person into therapy. A self-absorbed person typically has trouble forming real friendships or love relationships, or getting along with others at work. Ironically, when such a person learns to care more about others, happiness increases.

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