Importance of Social Interest

Social interest was Adler's yardstick for measuring psychological health and is thus "the sole criterion of human values" (Adler, 1927, p. 167). To Adler, social hiterest is the only gauge to be used in judghig the worth of a person. As the barometer of normality, it is the standard to be used in determining the usefulness of a life. To the degree that people possess social hiterest, they are psychologically mature. Immature people lack Gemeinschaftsgefühl, are self-centered, and strive for personal power and superiority over others. Healthy individuals are genuinely concerned about people and have a goal of success that encompasses the well-being of all people.

Social hiterest is not synonymous with charity and unselfishness. Acts of philanthropy and kindness may or may not be motivated by Gemeinschaftsgefühl. A wealthy woman may regularly give large stuns of money to the poor and needy, not because she feels a oneness with them, but, quite to the contrary, because she wishes to maintain a separateness from them. The gift implies, "You are inferior, I am superior, and this charity is proof of my superiority." Adler believed that the worth of all such acts can only be judged against the criterion of social interest.

In summary, people begin life with a basic striving force that is activated by ever-present physical deficiencies. These organic weaknesses lead inevitably to feelings of inferiority. Thus, all people possess feelings of inferiority, and all set a final goal at around age 4 or 5. However, psychologically unhealthy individuals develop exaggerated feelings of inferiority and attempt to compensate by setting a goal of personal superiority. They are motivated by personal gam rather than by social interest, whereas healthy people are motivated by normal feelings of incompleteness and high levels of social hiterest. They strive toward the goal of success, defined hi terms of perfection and completion for everyone. Figure 3.1 illustrates how the innate striving force combines with inevitable physical deficiencies to produce universal feelings of inferiority, which can be either exaggerated or normal. Exaggerated feelings of inferiority lead to a neurotic style of life, whereas normal feelings of in-completion result in a healthy style of life. Whether a person forms a useless style of life or a socially useful one depends on how that person views these inevitable feelings of inferiority.

Feist-Feist: Theories of Personality, Sixth Edition

II. Psychodynamic Theories

3. Adler: Individual Psychology

Part II Psychodynamic Theories t

Personal superiority t

Personal gain t

Exaggerated feelings

Success t

Personal superiority t

Personal gain t

Exaggerated feelings


Social interest

Normal feelings of incompletion

Feelings of inferiority t

Physical deficiencies t

Innate striving force FIGURE 3.1 Two Basic Methods of Striving toward the Final Goal.

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