Introduction to Alfred Adler

The Unknown Psychology Giant of the Last Century

Alina | Psychodynamic Psychology


Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Alfred Adler (1870–1937) was next to Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung one of the three great psychodynamic thinkers of the last century. He was Sigmund Freud’s prodigy and supposed to be the heir of his psychoanalytic tradition that would then continue and thrive long after Freud’s death.

Breaking with Sigmund Freud

But just like Carl G. Jung, Alfred Adler started to disagree more and more with some of Freud’s basic assumptions about the psyche’s function and the needed emphasis in treatment.

Freud took sex quite literally, whereas Jung and Adler understood it figuratively, as a metaphor or scheme for understanding. To simplify the matter, we can say that Freud assumed the drive for sex (and aggression) to be absolutely central and guiding much of the inner conflicts and behavior.

When Adler replaced Freud’s concept of the sex drive with the then so-called “Masculine Protest” — which denotes the desire to be superior, this ultimately led to them breaking in 1911. Adler decided to pursue his own approach, which he called “Individual Psychology”.

Freud was very much focused on the past, while Adler wanted to answer the questions of: Where are we going? What are we striving for? What are our goals and how do they influence our behavior?

Inferiority and Superiority

For Adler, the essence of what it means to be human is found in the striving to go from minus to plus, from the bottom left to the upper right corner. To put it in Adler’s words: the striving to go from inferiority to superiority.

The big questions come to be:

What are we striving for?

The striving for superiority is always determined by the subjective feeling of inferiority that defines your unique goal or self-ideal. And because the feeling of inferiority is subjective, it is self-created. Biology or environment can certainly be influences but at the fundamental level it’s fiction.