Alfred Adler - From Self Interest to Social Interest

Jan 24 2018 0 Comments

Alfred Adler was a physician, psychotherapist, and the founder of Adlerian psychology sometimes called individual psychology. He is considered the first community psychologist because his work pioneered attention to community life, prevention, and population health. Adlerian psychology emphasizes the human need and ability to create positive social change and impact. He held equality, civil rights, mutual respect, and the advancement of democracy as core values. He was one of the first practitioners to provide family and group counseling and to use public education as a way to address community health. He was also among the first to write about the social determinants of health and of mental health. 

Adler’s goal was to create a psychological movement that argued for the holistic view of an individual as well as social equality. Adler was one of the first psychotherapists to disregard the symbolic couch in favor of two chairs, to create a sense of equality between patient and clinician. Adler also focused greatly on family dynamics, specifically parenting and family constellation, as a preventative means of addressing possible future psychological problems. With a practical and goal-oriented approach, Alfred held a theory of three life tasks—occupation, society, and love—that intermingle with one another. Success and health in each and all life tasks is dependent on cooperation.

According to Alfred Adler, who was the first one to coin the term inferiority complex, every child experiences feelings of inferiority as the result of being surrounded by stronger and more capable adults. As children grow they become obsessed by their original feelings of inferiority that they experienced earlier and so they strive for power and recognition to overcome those feelings. If a child fails to meet certain life challenges during their act of compensation then they will develop an inferiority complex. So according to Adler every child feels inferior but not everyone develops an inferiority complex which only affects those who failed to compensate correctly.

Perhaps Adler’s most influential concept is that of social interest. Not to be confused as another form of extraversion, social interest should be viewed as an individual’s personal interest in furthering the welfare of others. Collaborating and cooperating with one another as individuals and communities can progress to benefit society as a whole.

Although Adler’s psychological theory was developed nearly a century ago recent studies like the Harvard Study of Adult Development (A study that has tracked the lives of 724 men for 78 years, and one of the longest studies of adult life ever done) affirm his ideas, that mental health and happiness come from the quality of our relationships.

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. 

Several studies found that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.

“When we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” said Robert Waldinger in a popular TED Talk. “It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

He recorded his TED talk, titled “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness,” in 2015, and it has been viewed 13,000,000 times.

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