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Alfred Alder is a well-known philosopher and psychiatrist. He was born in 1870 and died in 1937. His theory primarily stresses the need to understand individuals within one’s social context by exploring the main aspects such as lifestyle, teleology, social interest, inferiority, and courage.


The lifestyle approach is also called holism. According to Adlerian theory, a person is viewed as a whole unit, not a collection of instincts and dynamics. In other words, a person is a self-conscious unit that works as an open system (Eist, 1999). Alder was the first to discover the notion that an individual is viewed as a whole unit, which refers to individual psychology and is literally undivided from the word “individual”. In addition, Alder’s theory emphasizes the style of life commonly known as a lifestyle. Lifestyle is a system of ways to live one’s life and methods to handle challenges and maintain healthy relationships (Fiebert, 1997). Alder claims that the style of life of a person is dictated and molded by the environment, and each person is understood by observing the background of this environment, both physical and social (Savage, 2001). Adler states that each person has a different lifestyle, which is guided not only by mechanical reaction of the environment.


Teleology is a principle according to which mechanical forces drive people towards certain objectives of self-realization. By Adler’s claiming that a lifestyle is not driven by mechanical reactions, he meant that despite many traumas and challenges experienced during childhood, a person's present life can be different (Fiebert, 1997). Any challenges are meant to work as motivators of moving towards one’s objectives, purpose and ideals and make the desired future rather than guide individuals mechanically. Adler believed that moving things from the past to the future has some theatrical impacts because we are not yet in the future. Every person works hard to become perfect and healthy. Teleology approach motivates towards completion or achievement of the same. A person’s behavior is understood as a goal-oriented movement, although many individuals may not be fully aware of this motivation (Savage, 2001). It is not necessary to achieve one’s goal or objectives, but teleology recognizes that life is hard and uncertain. Hence, it allows changes along the way. In addition, Adler claims that people use fiction in their daily lives, calling it fictional finalism. Finalism is the teleology of fiction. Fiction is partial truth which lies in the future, but influences human daily behaviors. For example, Adler argues that some people behave as if they are sure that the world would be here tomorrow, while others behave as if there will be a heaven or hell (Eist, 1999).

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Social Interest

According to Adler, social concern is a combination of teleology and lifestyle. Social concern is not inborn or learned. As a whole unit or indivisible system, an individual is also a part of the larger unit or structure like family, society, humanity and the Earth. Consequently, three significant life duties are defined: Tasks, Love, Sex, associations with other individuals, and social problems (Fiebert, 1997). An individual way of reacting to family as the first social setting in society becomes the model of how he or she will perceive the world at large and define a personal approach towards life (Savage, 2001). Adler expounded the aspect by stipulating that social concern is not a behavior of a particular social group. Social concern is useful to other people in such ways as caring for the family, society, humanity and even the life itself. On the other hand, Adler adds that if a person lacks social concern, he or she becomes mentally ill and adapts ill behaviors that are linked with failures.


According to Adler, many people fail or become self-interested because of being overwhelmed by the feeling of insufficiency and inferiority. The inferior feelings may be an effect of birth order, particularly if a person experienced rejection at an early age from his family or society (Fiebert, 1997). Adler suffered rejection from his mother and during his early childhood, he felt inferior because of his size and looks. All this made him take more efforts in school to be popular and acknowledged by his family and friends. The challenges he went through in his childhood define most of his theories (Savage, 2001). Adler points out that every person suffers from inferior feelings in one form or another. However, all this acts as a driving force of all human struggles. It took Adler much of his time to reflect on his past when he suffered from inferiority. Instead of reflecting on the negative side, he used it as a stepping-stone to become a renowned philosopher (Eist, 1999). Many people who fail to overcome inferiority suffer in life. They become self-centered, shy and rely on other people for support. On the other hand, some use inferiority complex to develop superiority complex in trying to cover up their inferior feelings by pretending to be superior.


According to Adler, if a person is suffering from psychological problems or disorders, he or she is undergoing inferior feelings, lack, or inadequacy of community feelings. Therefore, a person may expect to fail when a task appears impossible to complete, which leads to discouragement (Fiebert, 1997). When a person is discouraged, he or she may tend to resort to fictional mechanism to relieve or mask inferiority feelings rather than overcome them.

Adler claims that courage gives a person the inner peace, deep insight into the art of overcoming inferiority feelings and great motivations in heartening the best possible human growth. When a person is encouraged, he or she feels capable and valued. Moreover, a person will naturally act in a cooperative manner and form unified connections (Savage, 2001). Therefore, by discovering the ways of communicating and acknowledging courage, respect and social interest, individuals will feel satisfied and positive.


  • Eist, H. (1999). The drive for self: Alfred Adler and the founding of individual psychology.
  • Am J Psychiatry, 156, 1110.
  • Fiebert, M. S. (1997). In and out of Freud's shadow: A chronology of Adler's relationship with
  • Freud. Journal of Individual Psychology, 53, 241—269.
  • Savage, A. (2001). Pastoral theology/practice and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology.
  • Quodlibet Journal, 3(3), 1526-6576.

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