Psychology Primer: Psychoanalytic Theory/Adler

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Psychology Primer
By Clinton M. Williams, BA Psych



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Alfred Adler


Alfred Adler was another early proponent and developer of the psychoanalytical movement. Quoting from the Wikipedia article (for brevity only, though in fairness to criticism of that resource, the information presented is accurate based upon my own in depth studies at university, and is more concise than my own explanation would be):

“Adler emphasized the importance of social equality in preventing various forms of psychopathology, and espoused the development of social interest and democratic family structures as the ideal ethos for raising children. In chapter 3 of Impact of Science on Society, Bertrand Russell said that the behavior of people in futuristic scientific dictatorships is best described by Adler's theories.

His most famous concept is the inferiority complex which speaks to the problem of self-esteem and its negative compensations (e.g. sometimes producing a paradoxical superiority striving). His emphasis on power dynamics is rooted in the philosophy of Nietzsche. Adler argued for holism, viewing the individual holistically rather than reductively, the latter being the dominant lens for viewing human psychology.

Adler was also among the first in psychology to argue in favor of feminism making the case that power dynamics between men and women (and associations with masculinity and femininity) are crucial to understanding human psychology (Connell, 1995).”

Adler was a contemporary of Freud, and an early disciple of his, however Freud brooked no dissent with regards to his own theories, and Adler was later disavowed by Freud for refusing to change his views.

Adler spoke a great deal about what he referred to as “fictional finalisms”, which referred to beliefs that arose in response to one’s own feelings of inadequacy. These finalisms, whether rooted in reality or not could facilitate psychological growth and well being simply by the power of belief that they might work. As time goes on, those concepts which were found to be erroneous or ineffective were discarded and the finalism revised.

In plain words, Adler believed in an early form of goal setting, and believed that the effort expended to attain the goal was as beneficial or more beneficial than the actual attainment of it. Although the dictionary definition of fictional finalism denotes a striving for unattainable ultimate goals, the process of working through a fictional finalism, for the most part, is both healthy and necessary to the development of a more realistic understanding of oneself and what is possible for one to achieve.

Inferiority Complex

The concept of the inferiority complex is one of the hallmarks of Adlerian psychology. Quoting from the Wiki again:

“An inferiority complex, in the fields of psychology and psychoanalysis, is a feeling that one is inferior to others in some way. Such feelings can arise from an imagined or actual inferiority in the afflicted person. It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme antisocial behavior, or both. Unlike a normal feeling of inferiority, which can act as an incentive for achievement, an inferiority complex is an advanced state of discouragement, often resulting in a retreat from difficulties.”

A classic example of the inferiority complex illustrated in Star Trek was Ensign Reginald Barclay’s descent into Holodiction as he attempted to deal with his own feelings of inadequacy and social retardation with regards to the senior command staff aboard the Enterprise-D.

According to Adler, inferiority feelings can arise from any number of causes, including judgemental or harsh parenting, feelings of rejection, being ostracized by one’s peers or social setting for reasons of physical appearance, disability (Reginald stuttered), culture, ethnicity, etc.

Whereas feelings of inferiority can manifest themselves as motivations to overcome in healthy psyches, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s determination to overcome his asthmatic childhood frailties and poor vision through vigorous physical conditioning and pursuits of manliness, those suffering from an inferiority complex are often frustrated by lack of success in achieving acceptance.

Worse, their failed attempts often lead to their feelings of self worth being further crushed by the rejection of their efforts, rather than support for their courageous attempts to “make the grade”. This in turn often leads to a further withdrawal from society in general, which exacerbates their social awkwardness.

Paradoxically, as noted in the Wiki, an inferiority complex can also manifest itself in “excessive seeking for attention, criticism of others, overly dutiful obedience, fear, and worry.” Adler’s contribution to the modern understanding of neurosis is exceptional, and as a Simmer playing the role of ship’s counselor, you can get a lot of mileage out of his concepts.

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