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Adler’s Individual Psychology


Concepts and Principles

Individual psychology: understanding the behavior of each person as a complex, organized entity operating within a society

Struggle for perfection:

  • Teleological position: belief that goals determine behavior; behavior is directed and shaped by a designing force
  • Fictional finalism: imagined goal that guides a person’s behavior
  • Superiority: striving to attain perfection
    • Striving for superiority to attain completion leads to psychological health
    • Striving for personal superiority leads to neurosis

Social interest: innate tendency in human beings to help and cooperate with one another as a means of establishing a harmonious and productive society

Feelings of Inferiority and the Striving for Superiority

It is not the defect itself that produces the striving, but the person’s attitude toward it

Attitude: learned tendency to respond to an object in a consistently favorable or unfavorable way

  • Organ inferiority: biologically based defect that gives rise to feelings of inadequacy
  • Masculine protest: attempts by an individual, male or female, to compensate for feelings of inferiority by acting as though superior to others
  • Overcompensation: exaggerated attempts by individuals to overcome their feelings of inferiority by acting as though they are personally superior to others

Style of Life and the Creative Self

  • Style of life: individual’s distinctive personality pattern, which is basically shaped by the end of early childhood
  • Creative style: people have the ability to create actively their own destinies and personalities

Personality Development

Three developmental problems of life:

  • Society or communal life: we must learn to affirm our fundamental connections to others
  • Work: people need to learn how to do things, to take responsibility for their actions, and to contribute to society through work
  • Love: people must treat their loved ones with respect and dignity

Parental Influence In Early Childhood


  • Loves her children: teaches them the skills necessary to secure their welfare
  • Dissatisfied with her role: preoccupied with trying to prove her own personal superiority by showing off children


  • Must prove that he is a worthwhile human being by contributing to the welfare of his wife, his children, and his society

Birth Order

Each child is treated uniquely by its parents, and this special treatment is typically, but not inevitably, related to the child’s order of birth within the family

  • First-borns – understand the importance of power, dominance, and intellectual achievement
  • Second-borns – likely to be rebellious and highly competitive
  • Youngest borns – family members tend to spoil them
  • Only borns – likely to lack social competence

Birth Order Research Evidence

  • Confluence model (Zajonc) – support for Adler’s views of first-borns
  • Falbo’s research suggests Zajonc was wrong about only borns
  • Inadequacies of confluence model (Steelman and Rodgers)

Adler’s Four Major Lifestyle Types

  • Ruling type: person who strives for personal superiority by trying to exploit and control others
  • Getting type: person who attains personal goals by relying indiscriminately on others for help
  • Avoiding type: person who lacks the confidence to confront problems and avoids or ignores them
  • Socially useful type: person who actively and courageously confronts and solves his or her problems in accordance with social interest

Assessment Techniques

  • Early recollections: earliest memories provide insights into life style
  • Dream analysis: technique used to uncover unconscious goals in accordance with his or her life style
  • Birth order analysis: analysis of the effects of patients’ birth positions on their subsequent behavior helps build confidence

Evaluative Comments

  • Comprehensiveness: broad scope
  • Precision and testability: not very precise and very difficult to test adequately
  • Parsimony: too simplistic and reductionistic
  • Empirical validity: weak support for most aspects of the theory
  • Heuristic value: major contributions to existential psychology and psychiatry and on the humanistic psychology movement
  • Applied value: has high-applied value

Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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