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Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was a leading Austrian psychiatrist who graduated from medicine in 1895. He was attracted to Sigmund Freud‘s work when he read the Interpretation of Dreams.

Soon after, Adler was asked to join Freud’s inner circle within the emerging school of psychoanalysis (The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society).

His Studie über Minderwertigkeit von Organen (Study of Organ Inferiority and its Psychical Compensation, 1907), however, was too controversial for the old master. And so came one of the great schisms in the history of psychoanalysis. Adler was the very first to depart from Freud’s inner circle, followed by C. G. Jung.

Adler’s lasting contribution to psychology centers on his belief that humans have an innate “drive for aggression.” For instance, if a developing child has (or imagines) a defect in their bodies they may develop an inferiority complex, an unconscious sense of inadequacy. To compensate for this negative self-attitude, the individual manifests the opposite: an unrealistic superiority complex.

Image via psychcomedy at Tumblr

Adler believes we all do this to some degree. The situation becomes neurotic when one disregards the rights of others and causes injury. It becomes psychotic when one loses their authentic relationship with the world and others.

Some argue that the definition of an “authentic relationship” is difficult to define and standardize, especially with the ever growing popularity of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube Flickr, Pinterest and SoundCloud.

Another critique is of Adler’s thought has to do with the spiritual aspect of mankind. Adler advances a biological drive for aggression and recognizes social factors contributing to the personality, but he doesn’t talk much about human spirituality, arguably the most important and enduring aspect of the self.




Compensation is a psychological term that was first introduced by Alfred Adler in Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation (1907).

Adler understood compensation in terms of underlying feelings of inferiority. In order to cope with the pain of feeling inferior, the psyche develops beliefs at the opposite end of the psychological spectrum. That is, it ‘compensates’ by feeling superior to other people. Hence the now familiar idea of the inferiority-superiority complex.

By 1907, Adler was part of Sigmund Freud‘s inner circle. And so was C. G. Jung. In that year Jung also wrote about the idea of compensation:

In 1907 Carl Gustav Jung notes the pathogenic complex posses a quantum of libido which grants it a degree of autonomy that is opposed to conscious will. Though this dynamic has a pathological cast, it conveys the essence of what Jung termed compensation; namely, the capacity of the unconscious to influence consciousness.¹

However, Jung wouldn’t name compensation as such until 1914.

In “The Importance of the Unconscious in Psychopathology” (1914), he introduced the idea, saying, “the principal function of the unconscious is to effect a compensation and to produce a balance. All extreme conscious tendencies are softened and toned down through a counter-impulse in the unconscious.”²

We can see that Jung’s view of compensation, as compared to Adler’s, is geared more toward the idea that the psyche strives to achieve balance and integration.

In fact, Jung believed the psyche has a natural tendency toward balance and integration. If a particular attitude becomes extreme, Jung believed that therapy and close attention to dreams could help to amplify repressed or underdeveloped psychological contents.

On several occasions Jung says that his own particular brand of therapy is essential to this process. And he believed that he had successfully analyzed himself in this regard. But, at the same time, Jung didn’t try to sell potential clients on his views. If an ardent churchgoer, for example, was satisfied with what Jung may have taken as a skewed perspective, Jung would let the person be. Apparently Jung only intervened when clients’ old systems and attitudes lead to neurosis (or psychosis) and help was requested.

This latter claim might, however, be a bit exaggerated, in keeping with the tendency of some Jungians to elevate Jung as some kind of new prophet for modern times. There are also accounts where Jung was quite brash and bold, surprising and even shocking his clients. Perhaps they had asked for his help. But whether or not he was, at times, playing the the ‘wise guru’ and on a bit of a power trip remains open to debate.³

¹ See Peter Mudd »

² Ibid.

³ Although married to Emma Jung, it seems Carl had sex with at least two of his clients, Sabina Spielrein and Toni Wolff, which certainly wouldn’t wash in psychiatry today. See »

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Salvador Dalí, Dream Caused by the Flight of a...

Salvador Dalí, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944 (Photo credit: Jameswy.Wang)

Dream interpretation is practiced in most cultures and dates back to ancient times. Dreams have been analyzed in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, African, Australian, as well as North and South American Aboriginal cultures. The overall aim in dream interpretation is to predict, assist and inspire.

Sigmund Freud makes a distinction between the manifest and latent content of dreams. The manifest content is the symbol first remembered by the conscious dreamer. The latent content is what the dream truly signifies, deciphered through the process of psychoanalysis.

The manifest content is usually a distorted, incomplete version of the actual dream, having undergone a process of psychological censorship. And if the latent content strongly threatens the ego, the manifest content may be symbolized two or more symbolic steps away from the ‘true’ meaning of the dream.

Consider the following hypothetical example: If a student’s unconscious homosexual desires for her math teacher conflicted sharply with her conscious attitude, the remembered dream image would be highly abstract, such as two mathematical equations adding up to the same result. During analysis it would be revealed that the patient also enjoyed dreaming about her math class.

In the next dream the patient would be invited for dinner to her math teacher’s home. Further analysis would reveal that, in the second dream, patient and teacher exchanged compliments over dinner.

After continuing psychoanalysis in this manner, the dream censor is finally overcome and the patient would finally realize her lesbian desire for the math teacher. Freud’s idea of the censor was later replaced by his concept of the superego.

Freud’s pupil and psychology superstar in his own right, C. G. Jung, says there are “big” and “little” dreams. Big dreams are often prophetic and stem from the collective unconscious. Little dreams deal with the personal unconscious and usually compensate for a skewed or incomplete conscious attitude.

In some cases the interpretation of a collective, big dream content is distorted by an unexamined personal unconscious. A similar idea was expressed by the thirteenth-century Kabbalists who claimed that dreamers may communicate angels but divine knowledge is often distorted by “subjective wishes” within one’s own “emotional life.”

Jung believes that his approach incorporates and extends both Freud and Alfred Adler‘s ideas. While Freud and Alder recognize libidinal impulses originating from a common psychological storehouse (similar to Jung’s collective unconscious), Jung’s idea of the archetypes tries to spell out the collective psyche to a degree not found in either Freud’s (i.e. eros/thanatos) or Adler’s (i.e. drive for aggression) theories.

More recently, the ancient interest in dreams and their relation to what is now called paranormal and precognitive phenomena has been rekindled by developments in the New Age movement and within depth psychology.

Related Posts » Compensation, Dreamtime, Kabbala, Libido