Alfred Adler – On feeling Inferior

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Does everyone feel inferior deep down?

This article is based on the theories of Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937), who followed Freud initially but soon separated as Adler refused to embrace the notion of ‘sexual instinct’ but never totally rejected Freudianism.

Born a Jew, he converted to Christianity. As a physician, he witnessed first-hand the suffering of wounded soldiers leading him to theorise about Gemeinschaftsgefuhl (deep seated concern for others) – social feelings. These social feelings are promoted in society, work and parenting, through cooperation, love and care.

According to Adler, each individual decides for himself, what directions their lives take – style of life. He saw Humans as one indivisible whole, with a unique pattern of behaviour – individual psychology.

The world is simple and life is simple as well.

We live in a subjective not objective world, and we give our own meaning to it. All behaviour has social meaning. In this it is psychosocial not psychosexual.

The past does not matter. We are driven by self-goals we set.

Our behaviour stems from purpose and focus on ‘present goals’ rather than the past. It provides direction for promised security, power and perfection, we anticipate and expect. Our anxieties are ‘manufactured’ to serve our ‘goals’, what Adler calls ‘teleology’.

Trauma does not exist.

Adler argues that no experience by itself is a cause for success or failure, rather it is the meanings we give to it. We have choice in meaning making. Your future is determined by your actions now. Adler talks about neurosis as an extreme reaction to shock. He argues that through courage and optimism the social interest in the neurotic can be awakened. He argues that our present determines our past (the exact opposite to Freud).

You create the emotion to support your behaviour.

Anger does not cause you to shout, rather you fabricate anger to achieve the goal of shouting to have the other person submit to you. If the phone rings, it is possible to go back to a controlled conversation, and get back to shouting post the call. Differentiate between personal anger (grudge) and indignations with society’s contradictions and injustices (righteous indignation).

We are not controlled by our emotions.

We all have the capacity to change, and the first step is ‘knowing’ and preferably through dialogue. Knowledge by itself is useless – it is accumulative.

Be Yourself, not somebody else. Focus on your own ‘potential’

Adler says focus on ‘not what one is born with’ but what use you make of your ‘equipment’. One’s personality is formed as a result of the creative power of the individual. Our personality is best reflected especially when we face difficulties.

We choose to ‘stay unhappy’ and we can choose to ‘stay happy’.

Our personality and disposition is what Adler describes as a ‘lifestyle’ – a worldview and in a sense a choice of the way one’s life should be. We prefer the comfort of our ‘lifestyle’ to Change which is scary. In a sense, one needs Courage to Change, to be Happy.

Expose the lie – ‘If only…’

These are excuses to not making a start. ‘If I Pass this exam, life will be rosy’, or ‘If I get this promotion everything will get well’.

Avoid focus on ‘symptoms’, rather ‘accept yourself’.

You may discover that your goal maybe – ‘not to hurt yourself’ caused by others.

Getting ‘hurt’ by others is an inevitable aspect of interpersonal relationships.

‘One has to live in the universe all alone’.

Adler asserts, ‘all problems are interpersonal relationship problems’.

The shadow of other people are always present in our worries.

Adler uses ‘feeling of inferiority’ to refer to one’s value judgement of oneself.

Adler argues that humans feel inferior which is necessary to allow for a ‘great upward movement’. The inferior feeling is on account of not measuring up either to society’s mirror or to one’s fictional standards. Having a shorter height by itself isn’t ‘inferior’ but the meaning one has given to it oneself. It is a subjective valuation and based on a social context. When the inferior feeling is exaggerated or internalised it becomes an inferiority complex.

Even successful people harbour ‘feelings of inferiority’…

Adler argues that everyone born enter the world as helpless beings and are in the ‘pursuit of superiority’. All human endeavour is on account of this. He argues that both inferiority and superiority are stimulants to normal healthy striving and growth. However, if one is fixated with, ‘I am not good enough’ that may lead to an inferiority complex which is wholly different. Staying with an inferiority feeling such as, ‘I am not educated, I have to work harder’ can be a desirable direction. Often the superiority complex is an exaggerated over compensation for personal weakness.

The apparent cause and effect’ is rejected by Adler.

The real cause and effect is not wishing to change or letting go the comfort of the present. Even if the current is unpleasant or has limitations. Through Courage one can strive through growth and learning.

The feeling of inferiority may lead to a ‘feeling of superiority’.

People may substitute this inadequacy by flaunting their proximity to those in power, objects of wealth, etc. They are living ‘other people’s lives’. Boasting for example is a result of a feeling of inferiority.

Even bragging about one’s misfortune is a sign of feelings of superiority…

One can often use one’s misfortune to feel special and control the other. For instance, ‘you don’t understand how I feel’ while containing some truth can also be a weapon.

One can keep moving forward, without competing with the other.

All human beings are different and unique, but are all equal. Competition may be good if the other viewed as a ‘comrade’, and it would lead to self-improvement, but that is not often the case. When we compare self to other, we end up in competition and with feelings of inferiority and superiority.

Which may lead to the notion, the world is a hostile place.

This terrifying thought urges you to keep winning as you fear failure. On closer scrutiny, you are the only one who worries about your own looks. When competition is dropped, when the other is viewed as a comrade one is released from the fear, ‘maybe I will lose’.

What has this article invoked in you? How do these views align to your own experience?

If you found this article useful, please do ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ or ‘Share’

Inspired by: The Courage to be Disliked, I. Kishimi and F.Koga

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