Alfred Adler Biography and Impact

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Adler, Alfred (1870-1937), Austrian psychologist and psychiatrist, born in Vienna, and educated at Vienna University. After leaving the university he studied and was associated with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. In 1911 Adler left the orthodox psychoanalytic school to found a neo-Freudian school of psychoanalysis. After 1926 he was a visiting professor at Columbia University, and in 1935 he and his family moved to the United States. In his analysis of individual development, Adler stressed the sense of inferiority, rather than sexual drives, as the motivating force in human life. According to Adler, conscious or subconscious feelings of inferiority (to which he gave the name inferiority complex), combined with compensatory defense mechanisms, are the basic causes of psychopathological behavior. The function of the psychoanalyst, furthermore, is to discover and rationalize such feelings and break down the compensatory, neurotic will for power that they engender in the patient.

Adler’s works include The Theory and Practice of Individual Psychology (1918) and The Pattern of Life (1930). Alfred Adler studied personality around the time of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung but developed very different ideas (Cloninger, 1996). Although he changed his theory many times during his lifetime, he always believed people had control over their lives and made choices concerning themselves. He named his theory Individual Psychology because he felt each person was unique and no previous theory applied to all people. Adler’s theory is comprised primarily of four aspects: striving towards superiority, the unity of personality, the development of personality, and psychological health, which includes intervention.

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Adler believed the main goal of all people is to move to a better way of life, although he admits the ways to achieve this goal varies among people (Cloninger, 1996). He first used the term inferiority complex as being overcome by feelings of lack of worth. In other words, the person is not achieving their goal to moving positively in life. People wish to move from feelings of inferiority to superiority. He wrote, “We all wish to overcome difficulties. We all strive to reach a goal by the attainment of which we shall feel strong, superior, and complete”. Superior and superiority, in his usage, has a slightly different meaning than what is commonly thought. It is not necessarily feelings of superiority over others but more along the lines of self-improvement, such as striving for one’s personal best. He eventually switched from superiority striving to simply perfection striving. This was the final stage in the development of his theory. Alder also used the word superiority complex. This complex occurred when a person tried to overcome their inferiority complex by repressing their actual feelings. They are usually very arrogant and tend to exaggerate their achievements.

Along with the idea of trying to overcome inferiority, Adler claimed that every person had an idea about what their perfect self would be like (Cloninger, 1996). He called this imagined goal the fictional finalism. Fictional finalism gives clearer direction as to what decisions to make concerning oneself. Although people may have some idea about their goal, they rarely fully comprehend it. Also, throughout one’s lifetime the goal may be altered. The general direction, however, usually remains the same. Adler wrote, “. . .in every mental phenomenon we discover anew the characteristic of pursuit of a goal, and all our powers, faculties, experiences, wishes and fears, defects and capacities fall into line with this characteristic”. Adler believed that it was impossible to understand a person without understanding that person’s fictional finalism.

The second aspect of Adler’s theory was the unity of personality. Psychologists before him, including Freud, discussed how different parts of a person’s personality are at war with each other. Adler believed the conscious and unconscious worked in union with one another towards the fictional finalism. Both had the same goal. Adler claimed that each person has a unique style of life, which not only includes the common goal but also how the goal is going to be achieved and the person’s concept of one’s self and the world. Styles of life can be either positive or negative. Adler hated lumping large groups of people into broad categories but felt that describing basic lifestyles would make the concept easier to understand. His types are only intended to be rough estimates of the infinitely large number of personalities. Three of the four groups are negative styles of life. These mistaken styles include the ruling types, the getting types and the avoiding types. The ruling types seek to control others. They are not all terrible people; because high competitiveness goes along with control, many are high achievers.

They will, however, let others know of their accomplishments and tend to do so in a belittling manner. Adler called this inclination the deprecation complex. The second type is the getting type. These people are very dependent on others and take on a passive attitude towards life. Adler wrote that parents who pamper their children encourage this lifestyle. The third type is the avoiding type. They try to avoid all of life’s problems to avoid defeat. They are seen as cold and usually prefer to be isolated. This appearance however, usually masked a superiority belief, albeit a fragile one. The final type is the only healthy lifestyle. It is the socially useful type. These people believe in doing good for the sake of society. They also believe they have control over their lives. Adler wrote, “[social interest] must be trained, and it can be trained only if one grows up in relation to others and feels a part of the whole. One must sense that not only the comforts of life belong to one, but also the discomforts. One must feel at home on this earth with all its advantages and disadvantages”.

In March of 2000, for 39 days, 16 castaways was marooned on a tropical island in the South China Sea. They were forced to band together and carve out a new existence, using their collective wits to make surviving, without any conveniences of the modern world. Day by day the location and tropical sun will test the endurance of the castaways. Each three days of island life will result in a one hour Survivor episode. The survivors must form their own cooperative island society, building shelter, gathering and catching food, and participating in contests for rewards. Those who succeed in the day to day challenges will be rewarded with things to make island life more bearable simple comforts like pillows, some cold beer, and clean clothing. Those who fail must do without.

On the last day of each three day cycle, the castaways formed a tribal council. At this meeting, each person placed a secret ballot vote to send one fellow castaway home, eliminating him or her from eligibility for the one million dollars. Week by week, one by one, the tribe shrinks until at the end of the final episode, only two survivors remain. At that point, the seven most recently eliminated castaways will return to form the final tribal council and decide who will be the final survivor, the winner of $1,000,000! The 16 survivors, divided into two eight-person groups, float their rafts to their respective beaches on the South China Sea island of Pulau Tiga. Ramona, the 28-year-old biologist, sits on the raft barfing. On the Tagi beach, tubby Richard, a 38-year-old corporate trainer, sits on a tree branch and tries to tell everyone how to process decision making; the other group members roll their eyes. Stacey, a cranky 27-year-old lawyer, doesn’t get along with Rudy, a 72-year-old former Navy SEAL and a real martinet as well. Sonja, a 63-year-old cancer survivor, plays a ukulele. The group can’t seem to get a fire going.

Over at Pagong beach, another crabby old guy, B.B., 64, assiduously builds a house and loudly notes who is and isn’t helping. Every three days, the teams must compete in some sort of grueling ordeal, with the losing team having to vote a member off the island — this is the “immunity challenge.” In this episode, the teams compete to run a raft through the bay in hopes of winning a supply of matches. Sonja falls down in the middle of it, and the Tagi team loses as a consequence. They have to convene later that night in a remote tiki hut for a “tribal council,” where, under the stern gaze of host Jeff Probst, they vote to eject one of their own off the island. Richard votes to off Stacey; Stacey, for Rudy. (“He’s a Navy SEAL and he couldn’t even start a fire.”) Stacey gets one vote, Rudy three; Sonja, who’d compounded the ukulele playing with the contest mishap, gets four. She’s history, and things don’t look good for Rudy.

They then have to troop through a pit of live coals; none seems the worse for the experience. Then comes the immunity challenge proper, an oddly cosmic one. The three have to stand on stumps and hold on to a wooden pole. Last one standing gets immunity. It’s a tough chore for aged Rudy — he stands stooped right from the start. Probst stands around taunting the three. Suddenly, Richard gives up. No way he’s going to outlast Kelly, he realizes. He then sits on his fat ass, leaving Rudy, a man nearly twice his age, to go up against the determined and athletic Kelly.

Richard figures Kelly will win, and given the choice will go before the tribal council against him rather than Rudy. It turns out he’s right. Probst periodically tells Rudy and Kelly to revolve around the pole. After more than three hours Rudy loses by absent-mindedly letting his hand slip off while he’s moving. “That just cost me a million dollars,” he says. He’s probably right, too — though it’s not clear he could ultimately have outlasted Kelly. We get a reflection from Kelly “I knew 100 percent I was going to make it to Day 38.” She just won her fifth immunity challenge in a row. (She also won the last reward challenge.) Kelly is indeed, as Probst says, “the queen of the island tonight.” She dutifully votes the formidable Rudy off the island.

The jury of seven former castaways is realizing that the choice before them is surprisingly unattractive. “No one here is saying, ‘Gee, I’m so glad Kelly made it to the finals,'” says Colleen disgustedly. We’ve mentioned before that “Survivor” was a tabula rasa, capable of serving as a metaphor for just about anything. Here’s the saddest one: The last round of the first “Survivor” series may go down as the Michael Dukakis George Bush race of reality TV. At the final tribal council, Kelly and Richard get to talk to the jury, and then have to answer questions. Kelly says: “I hope we’re not judged on how we play the game; I hope we’re judged by the kind of person we are. I hope the better person will win.” She’s referring to herself.

Rich looks at things differently. He says he played the game best, so he should win. “From the beginning I tried to figure what it would take to get through 14 ejections,” he says. “It got really complicated, and I couldn’t plan it as well as I thought. But I certainly had a strategy and I came to play the game.” During the question period, Gervase asks if either would do anything differently. Rich again is oddly wrapped up in strategy. “I got too comfortable believing who I could trust,” he says. “I got surprised.” Kelly says she wishes she hadn’t joined the alliance. Jenna asks them whom they’d have in the winner’s circle in their place. Richard says Rudy and Greg. The latter mention is a political move; a few episodes ago, Richard was ridiculing Greg’s flirtatious efforts to ingratiate himself with the alliance leader. Kelly gives props to Sonja and Gretchen, strategically bad choices because neither was there to vote for her.

Sean, the chuckleheaded internist, doesn’t ask a question; instead he babbles a bit about Richard. “Go figure what do I know?” he concludes. He and Kelly have a bad history — a few episodes ago, he promised to share a reward challenge with her and then suddenly shared it with Richard instead. Colleen asks the two what character traits got them where they are. Kelly says faith and “a tinge of likability, I hope.” Richard says, “Self-awareness, observation and ethics.” He keeps a straight face through all of it. When his turn to talk comes, Rudy says, “I don’t have anything to say to these two except how dumb I feel after the mistake I made.” Greg asks the two to pick a number between one and 10; it seems he’s going to vote for whoever comes closest to a number he had in his mind.

Sue speaks last and best. She lambastes both Kelly and Richard in a scorching, minutes-long jeremiad. The gist is that Richard is a snake, but snakes are at least upfront about their nature. Kelly’s a rat “and she just ran around the way rats do.” “If I found you thirsty by the side of the road I wouldn’t give you water,” Sue tells Kelly. “I’d let the vultures get you.” That would seem to be a vote for Richard.

We see six of the jury members write down their choices. Three for Rich, three for Kelly. Greg’s is the only vote we don’t get to glimpse. When Probst counts the votes, we discover Greg went for Richard. (After the show, Greg says Richard’s guessed number was closest.) Colleen, Jenna and Gervase voted for Kelly, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Rudy stuck by his man, and so did Sue. As he votes, Sean remarks that “this has all generally degenerated to who’s the least objectionable; I feel that strongly.” Then he screws over Kelly again and votes for Richard. Richard gets his million dollars. Yuck. All the castaways start hugging. Sue walks over to Kelly.


  1. “Adler, Alfred,” Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000
  2. © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
  3. Ansbacher, H., & Ansbacher, R. (Eds.). (1956). The individual psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
  4. Cloninger, S. C. (1996). Theories of personality : Understanding persons. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
  5. Survivor illustration: Daniel Adel AP Copyright © 2000 Time Inc. & Entertainment Weekly,1917,222,allaboutsurvivor.html

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Alfred Adler Biography and Impact. (2018, Jul 06). Retrieved from

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