A Glimpse into the Life of Alfred Adler

A Glimpse into the Life of Alfred Adler

A glimpse into the life of Alfred Adler

Psychoanalysis can never be elucidated completely without mentioning its very own epilogue: neo-psychoanalysis. Neo-psychoanalysts were once loyal followers of Sigmund Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis who later happened to altercate with him, hence creating their theories which focused on an evolution of psychoanalysis. While Sigmund Freud emphasized the unconscious forces and sexual and aggressive drives as predictors of one’s behaviours, neo-psychoanalysts like Alfred Adler and Carl Jung took a deterministic and optimistic view to explain human behaviour.

Early life

Alfred Adler was born on 7th February 1870 in Rudolfsheim in Vienna, Austria. He was born as the 2nd of the 7 children to Leopold and Pauline Adler. He was never a healthy child. he suffered from Rickets when he was 3 and almost saw death by 4 when he contracted pneumonia. While he was initially pampered by his mother, the arrival of his younger brother turned things unfavourable for Alfred. Biographers suggest that he was in a very close relationship with his father than his mother.

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Apart from feeling alienated by his mother at the birth of his siblings, he mostly envied and felt inferior to his elder brother as he was much healthier than him and could take part in many activities that Alfred never could. Gradually, however, he forced himself to take part in sports and any other activity he felt he could not attain. This slowly helped him overcome his inferiority feelings and develop self-esteem. He was also fond of being in the company of others and had always been a propagator of the importance of healthy peer group relations outside familial relations.


He commenced his career as an ophthalmologist and studied medicine at the University of Vienna. However since he felt helpless at the fact that he was not contributing any ounce of his ability in saving people’s lives, he decided to pursue psychiatry and neurology. Freud and Adler had a cordial relationship with each other for a long 9 years but Alder can never be identified as a core disciple of the former. Freud felt highly of Adler initially but later one of his colleagues commented that Adler could not probe into a client’s unconscious.

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Now this can be left to speculation of the readers and scholars to debate on whether this incident was indeed a trigger for an individual like Adler to not base his theories on the unconscious and bring into light something more humane termed INDIVIDUAL PSYCHOLOGY. Adler rose to be elected the President of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society in 1910 and later began severing all his connections with the field of psychoanalysis, thus pioneering a brand-new theoretical perspective within neo-psychoanalysis.

Contributions of Adler

Most of the theories and ideas put forward by Adler can be comprehended as pieces of intricacies of his childhood. His feelings of envy towards siblings, the neglect he faced from his mother upon the birth of his younger siblings, his physical debilitation and the associated feelings of worthlessness and inferiority, all, directly or indirectly translated into his later theories and ideas. He proposed that inferiority feelings are the source of all motivation. He believed that inferiority is a very humane feeling and can never be associated with weakness or failure in life. Rather, compensations or attempts to overcome those feelings can alone lead to individual growth. However, an inability to overcome feelings of inferiority can pave the way for the development of an inferiority complex. According to Adler, there are 3 major sources of inferiority complex if one is to ponder over their childhood. They are spoiling, neglecting and organic inferiority upon physical disabilities.

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While suggesting that inferiority is the striving force for human beings, he further mentioned that humans ultimately strive for perfection or superiority. This, he considers, to be a fundamental fact of life and by superiority, he meant the strive for perfection and not the strive to be better than anyone else. He also formalized the concept of fictional finalism which theorized that fictional ideas guide our behavior as we strive toward completeness or perfection.

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One of the interesting concepts gifted to the discipline by Adler was that of the birth order. The theory could be unanimously considered to be modelled almost out of the childhood experiences in Adler’s life. He believed that one’s personality characteristics are heavily shaped by the birth order although these are never firm rules for growth in a child. He propagated that first, second, and youngest-born children and only children had different typologies of personalities. Firstborns, he believed were oriented towards the past and had an interest in maintaining order and discipline.

Their experiences also help them mature emotionally to a higher degree than the younger ones. Secondborns do not find the idea of power concerning them, unlike the firstborns. They always find a pacesetter in their elder siblings and may perceive the latter either as a model or a threat. The youngest born, however, never faces the shock of being dethroned from pampering and care. This, if continued unchecked, can lead to excessive pampering which comes with its implications. The only children in the group, surely, would never lose their power at home and would always be the centre of attention. This could cause a lot of adjustment problems outside their private realm.

Other major concepts pioneered by Adler were that of social interest and style of life which can be defined as the innate capacity in an individual to co-operate with other people and live in harmony. He further details the role of a mother in shaping the feelings of social interest. A mother, he believes, can thwart or nurture social interest in an individual. He defined style of life as a unique pattern of characteristics that an individual abides by, while striving for perfection and divided them into 4: dominant type, getting type, socially useful type and avoiding type.


Despite the widespread acceptance of his views, Adler’s public stature decreased upon his death in 1937, and he has subsequently received very little recognition or credit for his accomplishments. His notion has been the source of many ideas that have been used without credit. An example of this kind of ignorance can be found in Sigmund Freud’s article in the London Times newspaper credited Freud with creating the inferiority complex. However, Adler’s followers claim that his theories and proposed concepts are popular amongst psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers and are widely underused in the discipline.

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