Alfred Adler’s Theories on Individual Psychology: On Feelings of Inferiority and the Striving for Superiority.

Alfred W. Adler (1870-1937) was an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology.

Alfred W. Adler’s theory’s on individual Psychology is a model of personality and a theory of psychopathology which forms the foundation of a method for mind development and personal growth. Adler observed that people who had organ defects tried to compensate their short comings with intense training, which Adler theorized that it was the attitude and not the defect which produced the exaggerated striving. Adler’s theory on organ inferiority in men says that feelings of unmanliness causes exaggerated strivings in men.



Adler also stated that superiority is equated with masculine behavior and assertiveness as well as independence and dominance while inferiority is equated with female behavior and passivity, submissiveness and dependence. It is interesting that Adler was very egalitarian in his views while proposing these archetypical theories, and believed that gender bias should be eliminated. Adler also stated that society was the blame for woman being for being placed in an inferior position, and that woman often tried to overcome this inadequacy by mimicking male behavior such as cussing, acting tough and swaggering in a form of masculine protest, with lesbianism being an extreme form of this.


Psychological types:

“Adler identified a handful of personality “types” that he distinguished based on the different levels of energy he felt they manifested. These types to Adler were by no means absolutes, it should be noted; Adler, the devout individualist, saw them only as heuristic devices.”

The first type is the ruling type: These people are characterized early on by a tendency to be generally aggressive and dominant over others, possessing an intense energy that overwhelms anything or anybody who gets in their way. These people are not always bullies or sadists, however; some turn the energy inward and harm themselves, such as is the case with alcoholics, drug addicts, and those who commit suicide.

The second type is the leaning type: Individuals of this type are sensitive, and while they may put a shell up around themselves to protect themselves, they end up relying on others to carry them through life’s challenges. They lack energy, in essence, and depend on the energy of others. They are also prone to phobias, anxieties, obsessions and compulsions, general anxiety, dissociation, etc.

The third type is the avoiding type: People of this type have such low energy they recoil within themselves to conserve it, avoiding life as a whole, and other people in particular. In extreme cases, these people develop psychosis—the end result of entirely retreating into one’s self.

Adler also believed in a fourth type.

The socially useful type: People of this type are basically healthy individuals, possessed of adequate, but not overbearing, social interest and energy. They are able to give to others effectively as they are not so consumed by a sense of inferiority that they cannot look properly outside of themselves.


Later Adler expanded on the concept of “organ inferiority” and thought that all of us at one time or another have feeling of social and psychological inferiority, which he theorized that began with our early participation in family life.  Adler wrote that if we acknowledge that we all inferior in different areas and points in our lives can serve as a catalyst for asking for help when needed, and giving help asked by others. In conclusion one of Adler’s quotes seems appropriate,


“Every individual represents a unity of personality and the individual than fashions that unity. The individual is thus both the picture and the artist. Therefore if one can change one’s concept of self, they can change the picture being painted.”


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