Physical Inferiorities

Because people begin life small, weak, and inferior, they develop a fiction or belief system about how to overcome these physical deficiencies and become big, strong, and superior. But even after they attain size, strength, and superiority, they may act as // they are still small, weak, and inferior.

74 Part II Psychodynamic Theories

Adler (1929/1969) insisted that the whole human race is "blessed" with organ inferiorities. These physical handicaps have little or no importance by themselves but become meaningful when they stimulate subjective feelings of inferiority, which serve as an impetus toward perfection or completion. Some people compensate for these feelings of inferiority by moving toward psychological health and a useful style of life, whereas others overcompensate and are motivated to subdue or retreat from other people.

History provides many examples of people like Demosthenes or Beethoven overcoming a handicap and making significant contributions to society. Adler himself was weak and sickly as a child, and his illness moved him to overcome death by becoming a physician and by competing with his older brother and with Sigmund Freud.

Adler (1929/1969) emphasized that physical deficiencies alone do not cause a particular style of life; they simply provide present motivation for reaching future goals. Such motivation, like all aspects of personality, is unified and self-consistent.

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