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Alfred Adler: An Analysis

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Alfred Adler was born outside of Vienna, Austria on February 7, 1870. He was the third child (second son) of what would eventually be seven total children. As a child, Alfred developed rickets, which kept him from walking until he was four years old. At five, he nearly died of pneumonia. At one point, Adler heard the doctor tell his father that "Alfred is lost". It was around this time that Adler decided to become a physician. (Corey 2005)

Due to frequent illness, Adler was pampered by his mother throughout most of the first few years of his life. This ended, however, with the arrival of a third son, a younger brother, who "dethroned" him. This left Adler in the middle, so to speak, due to being "dethroned" by the newly arrived sibling while still being overshadowed by his older brother Sigmund. The difficulty in his relationship with Sigmund was not short-lived. In fact, it lasted throughout his childhood and into adolescence.

The relationship with his parents also showed contrast. While he maintained a trusting relationship with his father, the relationship with his mother was extremely flawed. Adler did not feel close to her, and that could have stemmed from the jealousy produced by the subsequent children and the relation lack of attention he received.

During his school years, Adler was an average student. Despite his illnesses and physical limitations, he preferred activities outdoors to remaining indoors for his education. However, with his schoolwork, his primary goal at times was competing and possibly surpassing his brother Sigmund.

In 1895, at the age of 25, he received a medical degree from the University of Vienna. During his college years he became attached to a group of socialist students. It was there that he found his future wife, Raissa Timofeyewna Epstein. She was a social activist who had immigrated to Austria from Russia for higher education. They married in 1897 and eventually had four children, two of whom became psychiatrists. (Boeree 1997)

His medical career began far from the world of mental health. His first post in the medical field came as an ophthalmologist, but he soon switched to general practice, and established his office in a lower-class part of Vienna. His clients included, among others, the performers who worked with the nearby circus and it has been suggested that the extraordinary abilities of the performers led to his insights into organ inferiorities and compensation.

He then turned to psychiatry and, not surprisingly, developed an interest incurable childhood diseases. In 1907, Adler was invited to join Sigmund Freud's discussion group. After writing several papers which were quite agreeable to Freud's views, Adler authored others that conflicted with Freud's theories. One such paper dealt with aggression instinct, while another discussed children's feelings of inferiority, the formation of which likely stemmed from his own experiences. This paper did not garner Freud's approval, mainly due to Adler's notion that Freud's theories of sexuality should be taken metaphorically rather than literally.

Although Adler was later named the president of the Viennese Analytic Society, Adler didn't stop his criticism of Freud's theories. A debate was organized between supporters of both Adler and Freud, but it resulted in Adler's resignation. He, along with nine others, left to form the Society for Free Psychoanalysis in 1911. This organization became The Society for Individual Psychology in 1912. He never saw, or spoke, to Freud again. That same year Adler published his book, The Neurotic Constitution, which further discussed his concepts of his theory, "Individual Psychology".

During World War I, which lasted from 1914-1919, Adler spent three years in military-hospital service. His time was spent both on the Russian front and in a children's hospital. His time in the latter clearly had an impact on his later work. Upon his return from the war, Adler created 32 child guidance clinics in Vienna. These clinics were visited by professionals, which spawned similar clinics around the world. The clinics were attached to the Vienna public schools, and included the training of teachers and other professionals. (Corey 2005)

In 1926, he went to the United States to lecture at Columbia University, and he eventually accepted a visiting position at the Long Island College of Medicine in 1932. In 1934, he and his family left Vienna forever due to rising Nazism in Austria and the rest of the region. On May 28, 1937, during a series of lectures at Aberdeen University in Scotland, he Adler suddenly collapsed during a walk before a lecture and died of heart failure several minutes later. He was 67 years old.

Between 1914 and 1933, Adler published more than a dozen books including Understanding Human Nature which sold more than 100,000 copies. He was not a louse.


Adler believes that all of our behavior has a single motivating force called "striving for perfection". That force is the desire that we all have to fulfill our potentials and reach our ideal self. "Perfection" does not necessarily take on the connotation of "flawless", but rather the realistic version of the best person we can be. In order to reach this point, we must overcome obstacles. That is something that every person, including every theorist, can agree on but it serves as a central, yet commonly understated, point in his theory. He refers to this as "compensation", or striving to overcome. I believe this stems from his many problems in childhood, ranging from the illnesses to the sibling problems associated with birth order, which will be addressed later.

One of Adler's earliest phrases was "aggression drive", which refers to our reaction to other drives such as hunger, love, work, or sexual tension. This was the first point of contention between Adler and Freud, who believed that it would take away from his notion of the sex drive in his psychoanalytic theory. This without question deals with the instinctual behavior that includes natural responses present in every human being from birth, such as hunger cries from a child or the need of a "workaholic" to constantly be starting and finishing any number of projects. The only difference is the way in which these emotions are expressed.

Another of his concepts is that of "striving for superiority". This perhaps best illustrates the link between his theories and his own life experiences. This theory seems to incorporate two components, striving to be better as a whole and striving to be better than others around you. It's the second part that hints at his own



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