Alfred Adler: Personality Theories

I learned a lot regarding personality psychology during my helping plan project that involved the offering of psychological assistance to a teen in foster care that was laden with several psychological problems emanating from separation and loss of loved ones. The experience gave me a deeper insight into the theory of self and others as part of personality identity. For instance, the client (Y) had all the reasons to portray the behavior traits that she exhibited before the intervention program, simply because her perception of self relative to others led her into forming an inferior perception on herself (inferiority complex).

[Ansbacher & Ansbacher (Eds. ) (1956)] A quick summary of the client life indicates that, despite being young (15 years) and from a minority group (Hispanics) she had lived in foster care system for more than six years, her other time was spend with family members and extended family since she was six years. She and her brother have about one year without seeing their mother since she (mother) has been in and out of jail due to drug related cases.

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Her aunt placed her and her brother in foster care because she could not afford to take care of them.

She has been into four foster care homes and three different schools in a period of two years; she has also been living in four different demographic areas. Generally, the client was experiencing a lot of difficulties in coping to her new placement: she showed defiant behaviors to the foster care workers, she has severally expressed her resentment for being in a foster home, and she cannot explain the reason as to why she cannot live with her family members instead of other people’s family.

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Based on the self and others perspective, there may have existed the hope that the client would one day grow out of her aggressive behavior as she was still young, however, my helping plan was guided by Adlerian theory of personality that holds that idealistic plans for adulthood are often formed early in one’s life: powerful positive or negative experiences [at a young age impacts one future life, for example he (Adler) loosed his young brother aged three years, as a result he vowed to overcome death, he became a doctor in later years.

My assessment of the clients’ problems revealed that they were serious and therefore demanded a holistic approach that would fix them once and for all and give the client a reason to smile and be happy by helping her, create, nurture, and exhibit positive attitude towards life. The ABC model that was used to solve the clients problems can be said to be holistic: it investigated the causal agents to the clients’ problems (separation and losses), it helped her to build a strong believe about the behavior that leads to the problems, and it enabled her to see the consequent of such behaviors were environmentally entrenched.

Holistic approach was one of the calling cards that defined Adlerian theories of personality psychology. The helping plan objectives were measurable and achievable and prototype to Adlerian theory of Individual Psychology. In developing the theory Adler, was deeply intrigued by the early life of Theodore Roosevelt, which was characterized by several bouts of sicknesses such as diarrhea, nausea, coughs, fever, thinness, nearsightedness, and other sorts of severe illnesses.

Again, Adler early life at home and in school was full of setbacks, he had to spend four years before learning how to walk due an attack of rickets, in school he was a below average student: nevertheless he became a medical doctor in his future life. My client was young and faced with deprivation of close family members, as a result she loosed interest in life: she did not conceptualize the reason as why other children of her age were enjoying their parental love while did not.

Therefore, my helping plan created what Adler refereed to as motivational force the striving for perfection: the desire we all have to fulfill our potentials, to come closer and closer to our ideal – the idea of self-actualization, self-actualization because it was designed to teach the client new strategies of dealing and overcoming hurt and anger. The clients, problem can be interpreted as emanating from the uniqueness with which every individual has in respect to others. According to Adler’s Individual Psychology, four aspects define the personality growth of individuals.

These aspects are: the development of personality, striving towards superiority, psychological health, and unity of personality. In efforts to strive for perfection, sometimes people are haunted by the feeling that they are inferior to others (inferiority complex): the lack of self-worth. This feelings gets into an individuals mind when he or she perceives his environment to be inadequate to help in striving to reach a goal by attainment of which will make us feel strong, superior, and complete.

This is the exact situation that the client Y seemed to be in, she wanted to be accorded parental love just as other children, she wanted to live with her members of family just as other children did, but being in a foster care home made realize that she was more inferior to those other children as her efforts to behave indifferently only worsened her situation – moving from one foster care home to another.

The intervention program was meant to help the client to move from this inferiority to complex to a better place that would enable her to build a positive attitude in life: the superiority complex. According to Adler, people are always trying to overcome the feelings of inferiority and replace them with superiority complex feelings. The intervention program’s model and tactics used in inputting and outputting important information from the client led to what Adler claimed to be fictional finalism.

It tried to induce a clear sense of direction to making decisions that concerns the client wellbeing as a foster care home member. The client knew very well that her mother was in jail and that her aunt could not afford to take care of her and her brother, but she continued agonizing and making her life in the foster care homes more difficult. The intervention helped to create what Adler termed as mental phenomenon that helps an individual in discovering new characteristic pursuits of goals, powers, faculties, experiences, wishes and fears, defects and capacities.

Both conscious and unconscious faculties of the client were utilized throughout the intervention program, in the stages of information extraction and coping strategy teaching, this steered the client into the final fictional finalism stage. Adler declared that each individual has an incomparable way of life, some people are negative while others are positive, this was fulfilled in the intervention’s careful measures of evaluation (both formative and summative) were aimed at accommodating and modifying the intervention where necessary in order to suit the individual uniqueness of the client.

Again, the rigorous information extraction and coping strategy imparting is a prototype to Alderian methods of individual psychology. Alderians are known to excavate the clients past in view of altering his or her future by increasing the integration into community in the ‘here-and-now. ’ This approach leads to the creation of holistic individuals who boasts of having healthy personalities free from dysfunctions. According to Adler, human psychology is psychodynamic in nature, yet it is guided by goals and fuelled by yet to be known creative forces.

These goals have a “teleological” function, in that, they are fictional. The inferiority/superiority dynamic is constantly at work during the process of shaping human psychology. This is achieved through numerous compensation and over-compensation which comes in varying forms. This is exactly what I learned during my roles as a helper in the intervention program. For instance, the intervention program’s core goal was to help the client develop and practice worthwhile strategies of coping with anger and anxiety in their stay in foster care homes.

In his work, Adler argued that human personality can be explained in a teleological manner: the separate strands that are characterized by dominance in the urge to invoke individuals’ unconscious self ideal to convert the feelings of inferiority to superiority and ultimately to fictional finalism. The intervention program provided the teleological space to understand the client personality and hence strive to induce the conscience ideal for the conversion of inferiority feelings to superiority feelings and ultimately the fictional finalism.

The three foot tosses (what matters to the client now? Where the client is as it relate to what matters? What the client is willing to do to move forward the indented direction? ), used in the study helped to come up with the correct strategies for coping in foster care home life, and in offering the appropriate dose of compensation that was able to induce the conscience to convert the feelings of inferiority to those of superiority.

Just as Adler contended, if corrective factors were disregarded and the individual over-compensated, then an inferiority complex would occur that would foster the danger of the individual becoming power-hungry, egocentric, aggressive or even worse than he or she was before the intervention program, and hence, the notion that the fictive final goal of an intervention program can serve as a persecutory tool.

The intervention results indicated that, the client benefited greatly: she could carry out with her normal chores, she related well with the foster care home’s helpers, she loosened up, and above all she was now ready to explore areas of life that she was in denial and distorted. This confirmed what Adler termed as social feeling or community feeling. It also further displayed the importance of holism in personality psychology, as no one can achieve perfection without putting into active consideration his or her social environment.

Again, his arguments on social interest were that it is neither inborn nor learned but it is a combination of both. In an innate perspective one can display social interest when he or she smiles when others do so, or a baby showing sympathy for others even without having been taught so. The self and other phenomenon is displayed through the styles of life adopted by individuals. As social beings, human do not exist, they much less thrive, without others, and even the most resolute people-hater formed that hatred in a social context.

Adler clarified that the process of compensation, correction, and conversion of inferiority feelings to superiority ones is more than just talking about a persons personality, rather, it entails the style of life of that particular individual. The style of life or just lifestyle is how one live his or her life, how he or she handle problems and interpersonal relations. For instance, the lifestyle of a tree is the individuality of the tree expressing itself and molding itself in an environment.

We recognize a tree when we see it against a background of an environment different from what we expect, for then we realize that every tree has a life pattern and is not merely a mechanical reaction to the environment. ” Through what can be termed as beautiful methods of relating between a counselor and client, I was able to impart the client with strategies that helped her to respond to the inferiorities that were inherent in her life. This what Adler referred to as compensation: to make up for ones deficiencies in some way.

The client learned that the environment that she was leaving in was responsible for her problems, and that her predicaments had nothing to do with foster care homes, her family or other people. This client understood her environment was responsible for her predicaments, this helped her learn to put at watch her anger and anxiety. From a self and others perspective, I gained an insight into Adler’s birth order theory by relating with client Y in the intervention.

According to the theory, firstborns are usually pampered before the arrival of second born who ‘dethrones’ them of that status. The young born tend to be overindulged leading to poor social empathy. In a family of three children, the first born tend to suffer a lot as he take scare of the other siblings despite losing the pampered status they once enjoyed, the middle born are not affected by either pampering or overindulgence and therefore they end up being successful in life. Being the first born and having only one sibling, a younger brother, speaks volumes of her problems.

The fact that she started living with her aunt at the age of six years and that, her mother has been in and out of jails and has been on drugs most of her life, indicates that she hardly experienced enough parental love. Being the first born means that she was once loved and pampered before the arrival of her brother who according to Adler dethroned her. Again, the fact that she has lived in four demographic areas, shows that, her young life was full of inconsistencies. Her behavior could be explained by the fact that the responsibilities of looking after her brother rests in her shoulders.

A combination of factors explains this: the absence of her mother (in jail) and family members and her being the firstborn with a younger brother that lives with her in the foster care home. This knowledge helped me to facilitate the correct doses for compensation, and hence the success of the intervention, just as Adler once asserted that, “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than live up to them. ” The success of the intervention program was as a result of my assuming the traits of a buddy, confidant, showing genuine interest, respecting her, accepting her, supporting her, etc.

The tactics that is employed in the interventions are a prototype to Adler’s mode of offering therapy was that of two chairs rather a couch, whereby the client and the counselor sat facing one another. His was democratic affair unlike autocratic, he contended that, therapists should never allow their patients to force them into assuming the role of an authoritarian figure, since this will allow the patient to play games that he or she might have played before such as setting the therapist as a savior only to pounce on him when he starts revealing his humanness.

He viewed the failing to turn up for appointments, becoming stubborn or demanding special favors by patients as lack of courage to give up their neurotic behaviors. Patients should not be forced into understanding their lifestyles but rather should be brought into a state of feeling that they are listening and hence they can understand. The therapist should also encourage the patient, by developing a genuine human relationship. [pp. 335] References: Adler, A. (1956). The Individual Psychology, of Alfred Adler. H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher (Eds. ) New York: Harper Torchbooks, accessed on April 4, 2009

Updated: Jul 07, 2022
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Alfred Adler: Personality Theories. (2016, Sep 20). Retrieved from

Alfred Adler: Personality Theories essay
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