Adler, Alfred

How’s this for a life story?  You start off as an eye doctor, but switch to psychotherapy.  You get one of your biggest ideas from studying circus performers.  Then you spend your whole life pulling out a worn postcard from Freud to prove that you were his COLLEAGUE, not his STUDENT, darn it!  One day you’re walking down the street in Scotland and die of a heart attack.  You get cremated.  But, somebody forgets to pick you up.  After 70 or so years, somebody else figures out what happened and, finally, your remains are taken care of.

Feeling down on yourself?  I can’t blame you.  Perhaps you have an “inferiority feeling,” a phrase popularized by Alfred Adler.  And, hey, it’s not “inferiority complex!”  He never said that!  You’d have to be a real idiot to think that!!  Okay, kidding–you’re wonderful.

Adler gives us a really simple way to look at life.  You have three “Life Tasks”: occupation/work, society/friendship, and love/sexuality.  That’s a nice, easy-to-understand checklist.  How are you doing so far?

Adler may have been the first to use or popularize the term “lifestyle.”  He uses it to describe your goals and everything you do to achieve them.  (I like writing it as two words or as “life-style” to really emphasize what he meant.)  Your “life style,” though, lies more or less outside your awareness.

If your lifestyle is outside your awareness, we have some people willing to help you discover it. Besides psychologists, I mean.


According to them, sitting on a couch watching the Big Game and drinking beer with your buddies–that’s a Lifestyle.  It’s enough to make poor Alfred spin in his, well, urn. Or filing cabinet. Or wherever he is right now.

To me, it would be interesting to trace the history of this idea of a “lifestyle.”  Also, would a tribesman in New Guinea be completely baffled by the concept or would he laugh out loud at it?

According to Adler, if you try too hard to be perfect in your lifestyle choices, you may be striving for superiority rather than suffering from inferiority.  Adler believed that there were characteristically masculine and feminine ways of expressing superiority and inferiority.

There are two things here that struck me.  First of all, I’ve always seen two types of people who feel inferior.  One is the perpetually self-effacing type.  The other is the obnoxious bully.  It always seemed strange that the same problem was expressed in two opposite ways.

The other thing that struck me is how often inferiority is expressed in women, and how often it is of the self-effacing type.

As laudable as Adler’s work may be, I do worry about one thing, and that is today’s Self-esteem Movement, which he may be partially responsible for.  I worry that parents and schools are turning out thousands and thousands of dolts and philistines who feel really, really good about themselves.  Without a well-proportioned sense of humility, how will they ever learn?


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