Understanding Human Nature (1927) Alfred Adler

Underconsumed Knowledge
10 min readJun 19, 2021

“Happiness is possible only when the conditions of life are accepted”

The importance of both infancy and childhood to the person’s “philosophy of living” is tantamount. During this time, we learn to what extent we try to dominate others, and to what extent we are able to develop social feeling, enabling us to further develop it later in life, which can even be extended to “the whole of humanity”. “It is extremely difficult for individuals to deviate from the patterns of behaviour they developed in their early life.” “The task of helping human beings to transform themselves is not a simple one. It demands a certain optimism and patience, and above all modesty, since the individual seeking help does not do so in order to feed someone else’s personal vanity.” “If in this time of need children do not believe in their own ability to overcome their difficulties, we will see strenuous evasions and complicated excuses, which serve only to emphasize their underlying thirst for glory.” Thus, people can develop into optimists, or pessimists; those who became to believe the world as hostile as children continue that way as adults; “Their interest in the bitter side of life is much greater than its brighter side”. Parents who make “unreasonable demands” on children do not enable them to adapt to the World correctly. “A new viewpoint in itself is of great value to the perplexed…” To the extent someone is unable to have social feeling, they will always feel psychologically troubled, to an extent. People move towards goals, and all psychological phenomena are in essence preparation for the future in some way; “it is possible to discover the goal of individuals from observing their present activities” (as opposed to what they say, “so few people know exactly what their goal is”). People can be doing the same thing but have different underlying life motivations, and likewise, can be doing different things but have the same underlying motivation. “…thoughts and concepts, like reason, understanding , logic, ethics, and aesthetics, are not a private matter, but have their origins in the social life of humanity… whose purpose is to preserve civilization.” “Society has an organic basis.” This is the fact that women are women, and men are men, and each have biological roles to play, in contrasts to narratives of “social programming.” “Our culture is based on health and adequacy…” and thus those with physical disadvantages are naturally excluded and then feel excluded as a result. Some children will “leave no stone unturned until they occupy the limelight and appear more important than anyone else.” People badly want to feel superior and receive attention, and can resort to unruly behavior, or conspicuous virtue. Spoiled children “have never been allowed the opportunity of shouldering their responsibilities, and have been denied every chance to prepare themselves for adult life.” In life they flounder, because “they cannot find anyone to give them the inordinate care, consideration, and protection they have been brought up to expect as their due.” Some blindly obedient people are “actually proud of their slavishness and find in it a means of satisfying their self-esteem.” Vanity, pride, desire for superiority “prevents them from experiencing any joy in living” and “brings them into contact with the dark side of life”. It involves an excessive self-focus, wasting time worrying “in case someone overtakes them”, “They are so oppressed with their own cares that they spend their time in fruitless introspection and nostalgia.” “Such individuals lose their sense of reality and lose sight of real life by always being preoccupied with the question of what other people think about them and with the impression that they make on the world… vanity leads individuals to all kinds of useless activity more concerned with appearance than essence.” “They watch for the opportunity to show that others are wrong and inferior to them… our vain friends are convinced of their rightness and superiority.” We must approach everyone “as fellow human beings”, who are not responsible for their state. “We must not blame bearers of a physical disability or a disagreeable character trait for their indignation.” “However, since the opportunities for the development of social feeling are relatively rare in our culture, the obstacles children encounter play an important and probably harmful role. Once we recognize this, we should not be surprised to find many people who spend their whole lives fighting and others to whom life is a vale of tears. We must understand that these people are victims whose psychological development has taken a wrong turning with the unfortunate result that their very attitude towards life is misguided. We must be very modest, then, in our assessment of our fellow human beings, and above all we must never allow ourselves to make any moral judgments, judgments concerning the moral worth of human beings. On the contrary, we must use our knowledge for the good of society. We must approach mistaken and misguided people sympathetically, because we are in a much better position than they are to understand what is going on inside them.” People do not “analyse anything objectively, but receive, transform, and assimilate all our perceptions in the light of our own conscious mind, or the depths of our unconscious mind.”; perception is life. “The most important factor in the awakening of attention is a genuine and deep-rooted interest in the world.” People taken on mistaken attitudes and they become fixed in themselves “when attention is directed towards things not relevant to the preparation for life.” or as Fromm says, unproductive living. “Their attention… is easily distracted when they have the feeling there is ‘nothing in it’ for them… it is therefore incorrect to say that someone cannot concentrate… we can be sure that we are dealing with a defect caused only by the pursuit of a different goal.” Thus, a menial job does not make Charles Bukowski feel infinitely superior; whereas someone who is focusing on feeding their family as their goal does not care about how the job makes them feel. “…they adopt the type of ambition that forces them to wriggle out of situations and busy themselves in activity outside the necessary problems of life, in order to avoid, as far as possible, the danger of an actual test of their ability.” “Forgetful people are usually those who prefer not to revolt openly, but their forgetfulness reveals a certain lack of interest in their tasks.” People can’t see their own vanity, they direct their attention elsewhere. People don’t want to see their own defenses; people want to keep their own attitudes, their interpretations, which are valuable to them; “We acknowledge whatever is helpful to us; whatever does not suit us is consigned to our unconscious.” Character traits are our blueprints for existence, allowing unconscious function; families or groups of people have similar traits due to “imitation or sharing in the other’s activity.” In adult life, people use their childhood life philosophy as “sacred laws,” thus, “we have assumed points of view that true insight would make impossible.” The most we can do is try “to exert a favourable influence on others, especially children, and save them from a fate that might otherwise overtake them… If we can only achieve this, it will be a tremendous step forward for our civilization. A whole new generation will grow up unafraid, conscious that it is master of its own fate!” “Happiness is possible only when the conditions of life are accepted.” People who have inner worth experience joy, pleasure, and are frank in their speaking, as they are not out to prove something. People even seek superiority in supposed religiousness, because God cares about them. Criminal negligence can be boiled down to, generally, a lack of liking of other people. “Only when we are conscious of belonging to the one human family can we go through life without anxiety.” “Dostoevsky, said: ‘We can judge a person’s character much better by his laughter than by any boring psychological examination.” “Joy is the feeling that most effectively bridges the distance between people.” True discipline or authority comes from within, not from force; from having to face the tasks of life.

· “Human beings would get on together more harmoniously if they had a better knowledge of human nature… most difficulties and disagreements stem from a lack of understanding… this… can lead us to misinterpret or be misled by the facades that other people present”

o “The ability to know ourselves increases with our ability to determine the origins of our actions… Once someone has understood this, they have become a different person and can no longer escape the inevitable consequences of their knowledge.”

§ “Imagine individuals who have had every movement planned for them: their mental life will be at a standstill”

· “Whatever excuse he makes, whichever alibi he uses, he reveals one thing, and that is a desire to be relieved of further responsibility… above criticism… It’s always some else’s fault if he did not achieve what he set out to do… [People] turn and twist and distort their experiences to fit into the pattern. The hardest thing for human beings to do is to know themselves and to change themselves.”

o “Now he could console himself with the thought that he could have accomplished a great deal more if his alcoholism had not ruined his life. This strategy enabled him to maintain his sense of self-worth… The desperate search for a consoling excuse… was the saviour of his self-esteem”

· “Picture an individual who has lifted himself above the difficulties of life, extricated himself from the swamp, and learned to take bad experiences and make use of them. He truly understands the good and the bad side of life. No one can compare with him in this understanding, certainly not the righteous ones who have seen only the good side.”

· “According to [Marx and Engels], the economic basis of a community determines the ideological thinking and behavior of individuals.”

· “Hallucinations appear at that moment when psychic tension is at its greatest and in circumstances in which one fears that the attainment of one’s goal is impossible.”

· “Fantasy may be misused as a rejection of reality, and in such cases it becomes a kind of magic carpet for individuals who raise themselves above the meanness of living by the power of their imagination”

o “Social feeling, together with the striving for power, also plays a major role in our fantasy life. In childhood fantasies, power strivings almost always include some application of this power to social ends… the dreamer becomes a savior or crusader, triumphing over the powers of evil and oppression.”

· “Because of natural social feeling, human beings show a certain degree of willingness to be influenced by each other… We can influence other individuals best when they feel their own rights are safeguarded.” Thus, white people in the Rust Belt do not feel their rights are safeguarded, feel left behind, and are not very susceptible to positive influence. They do not consider the influence of the elite leaders to be legitimate.

o The most influence-able people are those “amenable to reason and logic, those whose social feeling has been least distorted.”

· “Now, since she has decreed it, he may stay out late, whereas she would be dreadfully hurt and slighted if he had stayed away for reasons of his own… She has become the directing partner; and her husband, even in socializing, is made dependent upon the wish and will of his wife.”

· “There are human beings who are afraid of taking a bus, because in a bus they are not masters of their own fate”

· “All our institutions, our traditional attitudes, our laws, our morals, our customs, bear witness to the fact that they are determined and maintained by privileged males for the glory of male domination… masculine privileges, which, he realizes, guarantee his superiority everywhere.”

o “She swells the chorus of voices singing the praises of man as the doer and the achiever… But this attitude is the beginning of a long-prepared revenge. She will shift her responsibilities onto her husband…” Thus, is it a “patriarchy?”

o “Our whole existence in relationships is poisoned, distorted and corroded by this tension”

· “…one man has set himself up as a judge of others. He distributes praise and blame, but has not himself lifted a finger to help.” A man who watches for someone else to do the work, some supreme authority

o “They set themselves up as judges of humanity without themselves ever doing anything useful for their fellow human beings”

· “Spoiling the enjoyment of others, senseless opposition, the restriction of other’s freedom and their consequent subjugation, are some of the Protean aspects of this character trait” (jealousy)

o “Envious people will be interested solely in taking things away from other people, in depriving them and putting them down. At the same time they will tend to find excuses for their failure to reach their goals”

· “Vanity makes individuals believe themselves a judge of virtue and vice, purity and corruption, good and evil.”

· “The striving for power is so bitterly expressed that even killing an opponent is not too difficult to imagine… We must classify all irascible, angry, acrimonious individuals as enemies of society and enemies of life… No human beings confident of their own power need to show these aggressive, violent reactions and gestures.”

· “Even though they engage our sympathies to varying degrees, anger, grief, disgust and fear are disruptive emotions. They do not bring people closer together”. (Grief can bring people together, but it can also drive them apart when one person is more grief stricken than others)

· “Professional sympathizers and alms-givers will not easily give up their activity, for they are actually building a feeling of their own superiority out of the sufferings of the miserable or poverty-stricken victims whom they purport to be helping.”

· “Any authority that is not spontaneously recognized, but has to be forced upon us, is a sham; true authority and discipline come from within… The only possible way forward lies in avoiding any confrontation, so far as possible, and treating children not as the objects of education, but as the subjects; as though they were mature individuals on equal footing with their teachers… Authority must not depend upon force- — it must be based solely on social feeling.”

From Individual Psychology Intro:
“Categories and terms are familiarly the delight of the pedant [Freud], and the class theorist has the advantage over the field theorist [Adler] in that he appears to give more, and more definite, information” “[Adler] showed that categorical and dichotomized thinking is characteristic of the primitive mind and of the neurotic in his prejudiced mode of apperception and greater need for security.” “Certain of Adler’s conclusions are indispensable parts of the social psychologies of Horney and Fromm” Adler said, “If we want to understand a person, we have to close our ears. We have only to look.” at actions. “not to watch a person’s mouth but his fists” -Martin Luther.



Underconsumed Knowledge

"For the time being I gave up writing -- there is already too much truth in the world -- an overproduction which apparently cannot be consumed!" Otto Rank, 1933