Adler believed that people are basically self-determined and that they shape their personalities from the meaning they give to their experiences. The building material of personality is provided by heredity and environment, but the creative power shapes this material and puts it to use. Adler frequently emphasized that the use that people make of their abilities is more important than the quantity of those abilities. Heredity endows people with certain abilities and environment gives them some opportunity to enhance those abilities, but we are ultimately responsible for the use they make of these abilities.
Adler also believed that people's interpretations of experiences are more important than the experiences themselves. Neither the past nor the future determines present behavior. Instead, people are motivated by their present perceptions of the past and their present expectations of the future. These perceptions do not necessarily correspond with reality, and as Adler (1956) stated, "meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations" (p. 208).
People are forward moving, motivated by future goals rather than by innate instincts or causal forces. These future goals are often rigid and unrealistic, but people's personal freedom allows them to reshape their goals and thereby change their lives. People create their personalities and are capable of altering them by learning new attitudes. These attitudes encompass an understanding that change can occur, that no other person or circumstance is responsible for what a person is, and that personal goals must be subordinated to social interest.
Although our final goal is relatively fixed during early childhood, we remain free to change our style of life at any time. Because the goal is fictional and unconscious, we can set and pursue temporary goals. These momentary goals are not rigidly circumscribed by the final goal but are created by us merely as partial solutions. Adler (1927) expressed this ideas as follows: "We must understand that the reactions of the human soul are not final and absolute: Every response is but a partial response, valid temporarily, but in no way to be considered a final solution of a problem" (p. 24). In other words, even though our final goal is set during childhood, we are capable of change at any point in life. However, Adler maintained that not all our choices are conscious and that style of life is created through both conscious and unconscious choices.
Adler believed that ultimately people are responsible for their own personalities. People's creative power is capable of transforming feelings of inadequacy into either social interest or into the self-centered goal of personal superiority. This capacity means that people remain free to choose between psychological health and neuroticism. Adler regarded self-centeredness as pathological and established social interest as the standard of psychological maturity. Healthy people have a high level of social interest, but throughout their lives, they remain free to accept or reject normality and to become what they will.
On the six dimensions of a concept of humanity Listed in Chapter 1, we rate Adler very high on free choice and optimism; very low on causality; moderate on unconscious influences; and high on social factors and on the uniqueness of individuals. In summary, Adler held that people are self-determining social creatures, forward moving and motivated by present fictions to strive toward perfection for themselves and society.
Key Terms and Concepts
• People begin life with both an hniate strivmg force and physical deficiencies, which combine to produce feelings of inferiority.
• These feelings stimulate people to set a goal of overcoming their inferiority.
• People who see themselves as having more than their share of physical deficiencies or who experience a pampered or neglected style of life overcompensate for these deficiencies and are likely to have exaggerated feelings of mferiority, strive for personal gain, and set unrealistically high goals.
• People with normal feelings of mferiority compensate for these feelings by cooperatmg with others and developing a high level of social mterest.
• Social mterest, or a deep concern for the welfare of other people, is the sole criterion by which human actions should be judged.
• The three major problems of life—neighborly love, work, and sexual love—can only be solved through social mterest.
• All behaviors, even those that appear to be incompatible, are consistent with a person's final goal.
• Human behavior is shaped neither by past events nor by objective reality, but rather by people s subjective perception of a situation.
• Heredity and environment provide the building material of personality, but people s creative power is responsible for then style of life.
• All people, but especially neurotics, make use of various safeguarding tendencies—such as excuses, aggression, and withdrawal—as conscious or unconscious attempts to protect inflated feelings of superiority against public disgrace.
• The masculine protest—the belief that men are superior to women—is a fiction that lies at the root of many neuroses, both for men and for women.
• Adlerian therapy uses birth order, early recollections, and dreams to foster courage, self-esteem, and social mterest.
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