Lecture #9 (03/09/2009)
This material will be covered in Chapter 4.
Interpersonal Theories Largely Adler and Sullivan
• Focus shifts from “intrapsychic” (within same person /within one person’s mind) to
“interpsychic” (across persons between people relationship) [But Adler calls his
theory Individual psychology, and this may be confusing)
• Early social life experiences shape our later patterns of behavior (key premise of many of
Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
Early life characterized by ill health.
Adler and Freud were tight at one point.
Then Adler proposes, a take on psychoanalysis that disappoints Freud, because his theory starts
to de-emphasizes some key axioms of psychoanalytic theory.
• For example, the unconscious is not given a very strong role in Adler’s theory and in his
later writings it’s more or less ruled out.
• Also, de-emphasizes infantile sexuality, and the idea that the sexual motive is the primary
• And has a dif take on Oedipus complex he says it’s not universal, only certain specific
types of babies go thru it.
So when we look at Adler’s theory, we see first and foremost, a shift from psychodynamic
theory, in that the ego is not simply seen as the engine of satisfying the needs of the unconscious.
The ego isn’t just a servant running around trying to satisfy the wants of the various parts of
psyche, but rather our thoughts are not coming from somewhere hidden but they are entirely
based on conscious knowledge/motives/plans. So we are aware of our motivations, we know
why we do things. And we know what we intend to achieve.
So Freud would say there are no accidents, it’s the person unconscious revealing itself. Adler
would probably also say there are no accidents, people are doing what they intend to do. But,
people can be deceptive to others and to ourselves as to what we are doing and why. And for Adler, a number of anxieties occur when we are trying to hide these motivations to
ourselves to explain them away. So Adler has this view that people are completely aware of why
they do what they do, they may not like it and realize that other people may not like it and so
they may strategically deceptive, even to the self.
Adler states that : Unfortunately although we can deceive others for quite large periods of time,
deceiving the self is hard to do, cuz the unconscious is not guiding these things, not like we can
push back these thoughts into some hidden closet and put them out of mind. So we have a
conscious ego : and this is key to the theory by Adler.
• Conscious ego, aware of our motivations and the intended purpose of our actions
– However, we may be deceptive (even to self)
Adler also argues that humans have an innate “social interest” want to associate with and
cultivate relationships with other people.
In classical psychoanalytic theory, other people are just means to an end, they’re used to
satisfy to needs of the ID.
To Adler, the individualistic solution to life very quickly becomes evident that it’s not a very
good way to live life. Baby human VS baby dog left in wildnerness, baby human will die faster,
the more social an individual is, the more nurturance it needs from its parents.
We have a helplessness as individuals we cant do things by ourselves, human society does not
function as a collection of individuals in isolation who occasionally interact. To Adler: the
society is organismic and individuals are just one component of society, so we are helpless and
we are dependent on others to provide things for us.
• Humans have an innate “social interest”
– Stems from our helplessness as individuals
• Family is primary social group Adler believed that most of the core psychological
development occurs very early in life, (birth to school age). And becuz the people we
most interact with are our family members, then we should look at family dynamic as
driver or shaper of personality processes. Adler is very well known for his theory of inferiority complex
Inferiority and Compensation
Adler said we should be very sensitive to patterns of symptoms that emerge from physical
weaknesses. So we may be able to identify problems that people have with organs of their body
by observing physical symptoms they have. So if your skin is turning yellow, we can have a
pretty good idea that something is wrong with your liver.
At first he thought that physical and psychological problems were coming from organ
malfunctions. It’s possible, the brain is an organ, and weaknesses, inadequacies and lesions with
the brain can lead to expression of psychological expressions which are maladaptive. But, Adler
shifts away from this focus merely on real or imagined problems with the body and makes it
more inclusive to include real or imagined problems with one’s psychological lifestyle
(psychology) So not just our body, but also our mind.
Our body’s get whacker as we get older, (harder to repair etc). and given that humans are aware
of their mortality knowledge that “ we are going to die one day”. There is a hyperconcern
with malfunctions of the body cuz it is a clue that we are on our ways out - And the more
that we have these physical ailments the more that we might pay attention to that. And these can
be real or perceived.
• We have feelings of inadequacy both in bodily (“organ”) and psychological terms
– These can be real or perceived inadequacies
For Adler the primary focus (this is sort of the replacement for libidinal energy), primary motive
is the superiority striving. Superiority can be misinterpreted in this case, (does not mean being
better than everyone else). What he means by striving for superiority is it is an attempt to make
the individual complete. Adler sometimes used perfection as a synonym for superiority.
Adler didn’t say everyone wants to be an Aryan superman What he was saying was: people
are attempting to improve upon what they already have; they are trying to fix what they see.
For Adler the key result from striving for superiority is how individuals choose to attempt to
satisfy this motive, and there’s a couple of ways that this can be done that can be maladaptive
and this is what leads to the inferiority and superiority complex. People that feel highly
inadequate and attempt to withdraw rather than attempt to improve, can be seen as suffering from
an inferiority complex. Other individuals, when they are striving for perfection, they really over
do it, and that becomes central to everything they do, trying to establish their relative superiority
to others. (acquisition of wealth or power). People that have very high life goals are over-
compensating for their perception of weakness. Both complexex are poor lifestyles according to
Adler. Adler coined the term “style of life” distinctive way people solve problems in life or
Freud’s theory focuses on the here and now; Adler’s theory focuses on pursuing goals in the
future. So we pursue goals (“finalism”) or some outcomes. Fictional finalism when people create goals for themselves and these may or may not be in line with their actual capabilities may
not be consistent with what they really want so the goals that we choose may not be realistic
or attainable. We are not that good at predicting what makes us happy or sad.
• Striving for superiority (a.k.a., “perfection”, or “completeness”) is an innate primary
– Somewhat similar to self-actualizing tendency
– If maladaptive, can create complexes
Feelings over inferiority lead us to compensate. One way we compensate, Masculine protest (its
not just something men do or something just women do, in Adler’s time, way to live life was
to be aggressive like men.) So masculine protest is rebelling against the ideal (which was the
ideal male). Idea that the best people were willful and independent and willing to get what they
wanted to get for Adler, both men and women are rebelling against this. Particularly women cuz
they don’t live up to this and some males that don’t live up to this.
So masculine protest can take many forms, it could be rebelling against this ideal.
Or it could be Extreme submission to this ideal falling into that stereotype or trying to
live upto that ideal.
• Masculine protest (for both men and women)
“Individual meaning of life is arrived at by the first 4/5 yrs of life, and it is not arrived at by a
mathematical process, but by feelings that are not understood, by catching at hints, no one knows
their goal of superiority.” – Adler
Family Structure Effects
We can have different arrangements of family members, and what is important is the child’s
perception of the arrangement of the family. Should see how the child views the family
dynamics, and their role within it. Adler says that inequitable relationships are harmful.
Inequitable in the sense that not everyone has an input, more of a one-way process (ex
Authoritarian parents, “do this cuz I say so, no meaning behind it or discussion about it, we just
have these rules and u just have to follow, you have no say in it, you just do what I say”. no 2-
Another istuation can occur where children are playing inappropriate roles in the family. (ex.
Child has to be care-giver). [he not talking about you taking care of younger sibling, he talking
about a situation where a parent is very ill and a young child has to become the primary caregiver
in the house Can lead to role confusion
• Family constellation: perceived arrangement (by child) of the relationships in their family
– Inequitable relationships harmful (e.g., dictatorial parenting; children playing
care-giver role) When it come to how much parents indulge their children’s desires, pay attn to them, give them
what they want, treat them like little adults. There are problems with both overindulgence and
Adler : both overindulgence “spoiling the kids” predisposing them to a pathological lifestyle
of dependence on others, but we would also be spoiling kids by not paying attention and not
indulging them at all, by rejecting them. it would make them likely to withdraw from social
relationships later in life. “my own parents don’t care about me, what chance do I stand?”
And from this we can derive some predictions about birth order effects…..
• Overindulgence and rejection both create problems for the young person (i.e., later-life
dependence or withdrawal)
• Birth order effects
The oldest child has a unique situation, for a time you’re a lonely child, only person your parents
need to give attention too, and parents are still learning to be parents. Oldest child being only
child may develop idea that they have the right to be the center of attention for their parents.
Problem emerges when other kids come along, problem Adler called “Dethroning process”.
They are replaced by younger child, and they are expected to share and co-operate with their
younger sibling, and babysit. Oldest children according to Adler, should be expressing both a
fear of competition from their younger sibling and a subservience to their parents, and so Adler
predicts that the oldest would be the one who is most like their parents, most conservative. Most
likely to be neurotic cuz they are faced with these shifting expectations.
Youngest child: is uniquely the baby of the family, and downside is feeling of over-
protectiveness. Is most likely overindulged and expects to have other people do things for them,
not just their parents but other people in their lives.
On upside they may have a lot of help from parents and older siblings, but on downside they may
learn to expect too much from this arrangement.
Middle child: problem for you is one of competiveness, given that you are in a growing family, 2
things will happen. Becuz you are the middle child, you have just been dethroned, on the other
hand you have already had experience co-operating with another sibling (ie the sibling you
dethroned). If you have older siblings, they have accomplished more, while you are still getting
started, they have set a standard that you are expected to meet or exceed. “A typical 2 child is
easy to recognize, behaves as if he were in a race, as if someone is a step or 2 ahead and he has
to hurry to get ahead o