December 06, 2007


Caption: There they are. Superiority is on the left.

Aside from news and links about current events, the theme for this week's Goat Rope is old school psychology and in particular about Freud's one time ally and later "rival," Alfred Adler. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

Adler may be best know for his concept of the inferiority complex, but ideas of inferiority and superiority are central to his work. Everyone comes into the world weak, helpless, and ignorant. Later life experiences, illnesses, and other struggles amplify this.

In Adler's view, a basic drive in human life is the attempt to move from a perceived "minus" or feeling of inferiority towards a superior, more positive, or more complete state. As he put it,

To be a human being means to possess a feeling of inferiority which constantly presses towards its own conquest...The greater the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge for conquest and the more violent the emotional agitation.

But that striving for superiority is or should be balanced by what he called "social interest." In Adler's view, humans are inherently social:

Fiercely besieged by nature and suffering from considerable physical weakness, man's intellect points him to that communal living. This process of association, itself the result of personal weakness and insecurity, indicates a precondition that must be met in every way just as does the will to live, as life itself, must tacitly be accepted: Man is a social being. Expressed differently: The human being and all his capabilities and forms of expression are inseparably linked to the existence of others, just as he is linked to cosmic facts and to the demands of this earth.

Adler, who was politically a Social Democrat, disagreed with Freud's view that there was an inherent conflict between individual and society. When it happened, this was a sign of neurosis or a misguided style of life.

Speaking of which, "style of life" is another major Adlerian term. He believed that everyone, more or less consciously (usually less) has a guiding goal or narrative (sometimes he called it a "fiction") that is followed throughout life, based on their own vision of superiority. People are not so much pushed by instincts and drives, as in Freud's view, as pulled by their final goal (Greek: telos):

Every individual acts and suffers in accordance with his peculiar teleology, which has all the inevitability of fate, so long as he does not understand it.

Treatment for him involved helping people rethink mistaken goals. This aspect of his teaching has led many to regard him as a grandfather of sorts to the current cognitive-behavioral approach to therapy which seems to have the best track record of bringing good results in a relatively short time.

O CANADA. El Cabrero finally got around to watching SiCKO, with its amusing contrasts between the US, French, Canadian, and British health care system. The latest snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute shows the Canadian system costs much less than ours and has better outcomes in terms of infant mortality and longevity.

IRAN. Here's Robert Scheer on Bush's latest Iran contortions.

UNLEASHING CAPITALISM? Perry Mann says "No, thanks" in this op-ed.

THINK KIDS GROW UP FAST THESE DAYS? The Neanderthals were probably quicker.

OH POO--it could be the key to the diversity of life. No #($*.



Anonymous said...

It's true that Adler got lost in the shuffle, although he was way ahead of his times; in many ways.
Therefore, I am interested to hear how you know so much about Adler and are so aware of his ideas.
I am an Adlerian therapist and also the president of the Alfred Adler Institute of NY.
I look forward to hearing from you and others.
Ellen Mendel

El Cabrero said...

Dear Ellen Mendel,

Thanks so much for your comment!I'm fairly new to Adler myself. Until I started reading him, I mostly knew of him by way of Freud and was aware that he had good politics and once played chess with Trotsky.

A friend of mine is a psychology professor with an Adlerian background and my daughter is enrolled in a Psy. D. program there (Marshall in WV).

I'm a big Nietzsche fan from way back and enjoyed reading Adler. His ideas make a lot of sense and I can see why he is considered a forerunner of contemporary cognitive approaches.

My day job is working for economic justice for the American Friends Service Committee--AA would approve. They indulge me by letting me do this blog, which typically has a theme for the week along with links and comments about current events.

So how is the state of Adlerian therapy today?