Adler’s perspective of personality
The first person to talk about community life in the field of psychology or the first person to speak about feminism or the first person who conceptualise Socratic dialogue method or the first to promote the positive practice of child rearing is none other than Alfred Adler. Adler propounded his personality theory when he felt that there were no theories which could be applied to each and every individual. Instead of viewing the personality of an individual in parts or divided structured he viewed each individual holistically and how their personalities are shaped by their own unique set of values and their desire for social involvement. Adler firmly believed that people are motivated by social factors and are responsible for their own thoughts, feelings & behaviour. According to him, people are not guided by a goal which they themselves are not aware of most of the time. Thus, he tried to explain that no one can actually blame others or uncontrollable forces for their current condition.
A client, Ms X came with an issue of being too aggressive and a problem of being unable to cooperate with her father. Later, after a few sessions, it was discovered that she grew up with a feeling of abandonment and being as she always believed that her father is too busy with his work. Her father always pampered her a lot to compensate for his absence and due to this, she developed a sense of entitlement which gradually made her ill-tempered.
Adler acknowledged that an individual’s personality is shaped by many motivational factors that propel his/her behaviour rather than a product of past life events. Adler was always fascinated by the motivational factors of an individual which defines their personality. He explained this in terms of compensation and perfectionism. To elucidate on compensation, he described, how as a human being everyone has issues or shortcomings that forms the base for their unmet needs. These limitations can either be in physical or non-physical forms. One of such factors that he explained is the feeling of inferiority; that he believed all children are born with and this is often added by various “psychological inferiorities” later (known to be dumb, unattractive, bad at numbers, etc.) in their life. This lead to the process of striving to overcome one’s own inherent limitations. Most of the children manage these inferiorities by dreaming to become adults either by mastering what they are bad at or compensating by becoming especially adept at something else. But for many children, it becomes an uphill task to overcome this and develop their self-esteem. During this process, some of them develop a sense of entitlement or superiority complex; which perhaps, is a dramatic way of compensation. Although, Adler initially laid more emphasis on how almost everyone uses compensation to overcome their sense of inferiority; later, he rejected this idea as he observed that the problems of one’s life need not decide what they eventually become.
Another motivating force that defines one’s personality on which Adler stressed was ‘striving for perfection’. This is much similar to the popular idea of self-actualization which encapsulates the desire that all of us have to fulfil our potential to realise our ideals. While the idea of striving to be the best version of one’s self seems to be a positive goal; the concept of perfection in psychology is often considered as a negative connotation. In today’s world of imperfections, the need to strive for perfection is ingrained in everyone. Adler pointed out that perfection as such does not exist and therefore it cannot be achieved which means that all the efforts done by an individual are usually frustrating and ultimately land up only in giving up after a full cycle.
Apart from the above two motivating forces, Adler also emphasised more on one’s own lifestyle as one of the constructs which describe the dynamics of personality. The lifestyle reflects the individual’s unique, unconscious and repetitive way of responding to the important goals of living: Friendship, love & work.
In fact, Adler, in fact, came out with four personality types that are identified with certain characteristics. The first type is the ruling type, people who are characterised by a tendency to be generally aggressive and dominant over others, possessing intense energy that overwhelms anything or anybody who gets in their way. The second type is the leaning type, people who are sensitive and may put a shell up around themselves to protect themselves. They end up by relying on others to carry them through all of the challenges in their life. They seem to lack energy, in essence, and depend on the energy of others. They are also prone to phobias, anxieties, obsessions and compulsions, general anxiety, dissociation, etc. The third type is avoiding type who have such low energy that they turn inward themselves to conserve it, avoiding life as a whole, and other people in particular. In the end, they result in retreating into one’s self, thereby more prone to depression and low mood disorders. The fourth type which is the socially useful type, are basically healthy individuals, possessed of adequate, social interest and energy. They like to contribute in any way rather than consumed by a sense of inferiority.
It is quite interesting to know how Adler, expressed his belief that it’s not possible to discover the ultimate truths. Hence, each and every person carry within themselves ‘the partial truths for practical purposes’. He referred this as “fictional finalism”; in which each an individual has one dominating factor that governs their lifestyle.
Adler’s view of personality may lack the excitement or intricacies of other theorists but they are nonetheless practical, influential, and highly applicable. Adler writes “a social person is much closer to happiness than an isolated person who is striving for superiority”. Let’s not deny this and choose to be involved by cooperating, experiencing and being useful to one another in any way.