Fictional Finalism

As described in Chapter 2, Freud was committed to the scientific assumption of determinism in even the psychological realm. This assumption led to a theory that treated humans as passive products of various forces, primarily biological. In contrast, Adler viewed individuals as causes rather than effects. He argued that personality is creative. People make choices and determine their own outcomes in life. External factors present challenges and choices but do not wholly determine the outcomes. Or, to use an Adlerian phrase that captures this point of view, the person is a creative self who is ttying to discover or create experiences that lead to fulfillment. This creativity is compensatory, that is, a creative way of compensating for feelings of inferiority (Lemire, 1998). For Adler, each person is "the artist of his own personality" (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 177).

In his or her life situation, each person imagines a better situation than the present. This ideal situation is different for each person. It is an image of the fulfillment of what is lacking at the present time: a strong healthy body, if the person is ill; a fortune, if the person feels held back by lack of money; admiration, if the person feels unappreciated; and so forth. Doctors, according to Adler, are often compensating for some early experience with death, trying to overcome it through their careers. Others are directed by a "redeemer complex," trying (not necessarily consciously) to save someone, perhaps by entering medicine or the ministry.

This imagined goal, the desirable future state, Adler called the fictional finalism of the individual. (Adler credited this term to the philosopher Hans Vaihinger.) The fictional finalism is a subjective experience rather than an objective reality. It gives direction to the individual's striving. Since an individual's fundamental motivation is to move toward this fictional finalism, a person cannot be understood without knowing the unique goal. Once it is understood, it explains the consistency of a person's striving.

People do not ordinarily have a clear and complete idea of the fictional finalism that directs them. This goal is "dimly envisaged," partly known and partly not known. The unknown part of the goal constitutes the unconscious. (Obviously, this is a far different unconscious from Freud's, which emphasized the past rather than the future.) Throughout life, the general direction of striving remains, but the specific understanding of the goal may change. Whereas a healthy person modifies the goal, a neurotic may have such an inflexible fictional finalism that behavior is not adaptive.

Adler (1937/1982b, 1932/1988b) emphasized the unity of personality. Before separating from Freud, he explained this unity as resulting from a "confluence of drives." As his theory evolved, he abandoned the drive model and described personality as held together by the fictional finalism and unique style of life.

This emphasis on unity contrasts sharply with Freud's description of conflict within personality. According to Freud, unity is a fa├žade created by the defense mechanism of overcompensation; it masks deeper conflicts within the personality. Freud suggested that Adler did not understand the importance of repression and the unconscious. To be blunt, he missed the point of the psychoanalytic revolution. Adler rejected the idea of conflict between the conscious and the unconscious as "an artificial division . . . that has its origin merely in psycho-analytic fanaticism" (Adler, 1936/1964, p. 93)- He believed that the conscious and the unconscious worked together more often than they conflicted (Ansbacher, 1982).

A person's goal directs a unique style of life. The style of life begins as a compensatory process, making up for a particular inferiority. It leads to consistency of personality as the person compensates, even overcompensates, for this inferiority. Besides the goal, the style of life includes the individual's concepts about the self and the world and his or her unique way of striving toward the personal goal in that world. Some people adopt antisocial styles of life, cheating and aggressively seeking their own satisfaction; others are cooperative and hard-working.

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