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ALFRED ADLER

AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF INDIVIDUAL OVERCOMING

 

Dane Rudhyar

 

As I stated in the last chapter, modern psychology or rather psychotherapy has been deeply influenced in its beginnings by the concept of evolution developed by Darwin. Darwin's main preoccupation was to disprove the traditional idea that every species of life was an entirely distinct biological entity produced by a separate act of divine creation, and to show that the characteristics of these species were instead the results of a continuous process of evolution determined by the main principles of chance adaptation to environment and a survival of the fittest, or "natural selection." Darwin's method was to dig into the past, to study primitive men and fossils, to look for those forgotten periods of biological transition when the power of evolutionary adaptation introduced new organic departures in answer to external changes in the conditions of life on our globe.

 

Darwin essentially looked back. His method was analytical and "reductive" that is, he sought to reduce present circumstances to prior causes, to show that what is today developed during some far distant yesterday. Sigmund Freud proceeded in the same way. He dug into the repressed and forgotten contents of the unconscious of his neurotic clients like a paleontologist or geologist digging into old rock strata. He analyzed the causes of neurosis by showing how the basic life-urge the libido had become challenged by adverse environmental conditions and had become destructive to the inner psychic evolution of the growing person. By "reducing" the destructive symptoms of the neurosis to their causes, the now mature consciousness is given a new chance to face the condition which produced the neurosis. The individual involved gains the opportunity to realize the fallacy or inappropriateness of the type of reaction he had in childhood, and he may thus eventually release the energy of the libido, which had given power to the neurotic emotions or behavior, into more constructive channels.

 

However, the Darwinian and Freudian approaches to the materials of their respective studies do not consider or at least certainly do not feature any goal to the evolutionary process. For Freud, there is a blind and fateful conflict between the instincts of the human individual and the traditional restraints or taboos of society, and there is really very little that can be done about it. His outlook, and that of Darwin as well, is indeed pessimistic and somber. All evolutionists, however, had not seen evolution in such a purposeless way; Lamarck, who antedated Darwin, had given a great importance to the creative drive within every life-species and the realization that the entire evolutionary process is energized by the pull toward some more or less clearly definable goal or purpose became particularly evident in the thinking of some English philosophers of the last century, leading to the concept of "holism" featured by Jan Smuts, philosopher and statesman, in his great work Holism and Evolution.

 

In the psychological field, Alfred Adler was among those who came to participate in the discussions of the group reverently gathered around Freud; and Adler soon began to challenge the attitude of the "master" in a very basic way. Differences of opinion and temperament led to a violent clash. Adler had met Freud in 1906, and finally left his circle in 1911, emerging as a teacher in his own right and as the propounder of a psychological system which he named "Individual Psychology."

 

Adler brought several new concepts to the psychological interpretation of neuroses and related disturbances. These new concepts, or life attitudes, directly oppose those which were fundamental to Freud. Where Freud speaks insistently of "sexuality," Adler refers to the ego and its "will to power"; where Freud conceives everything as related to past causes and seeks to probe hidden depths, Adler sees everything as a plan conditioned by purpose, as an expression of "the goal of the human soul [which] is conquest, perfection, security, superiority" (Adler, Social Interest, p. 145); where Freud analyzes the psyche into partials, complexes, and the like, Adler stresses "the unity of the personality" which he identifies with the ego.

 

His identification of the unity of the personality is most significant. Traditional psychology has taken for granted that a person saying "I" knows exactly what he (or she) is talking about and to what he is referring; it assumes that what is called "I" is an essentially permanent entity with a consistent character indeed, a God-created "soul." Freud showed that the "I" was a compound of all kinds of factors, known and unknown, conscious and unconscious; that it could split into "partials"; that its unity was constantly a possible prey to instinctive energy, etc. Adler strenuously refused to have the unity of his personality analyzed away. He clung to his "I" with stubborn intensity, yet he had been confronted with the unchallengeable facts revealed by psychiatric research and dream-analysis. He had, then, to somehow reconcile these facts and his egocentric protest against psychoanalysis. His "Individual Psychology" was built around such an attempt at reconciliation though he was perhaps not at all aware of it!

 

Adler, a scientist and a man of the 20th century, did not suggest that human beings are born with God-created, indissoluble souls, but, taking for granted the individual as a distinct expression of the evolutionary impulse running through mankind, he saw personality as an organism continuing as a basic and consistent whole until dissolved by death. He saw what appear to be symptoms of psychic disintegration as the efforts of the personality-whole (viz. the ego) to solve its problems along ineffective lines. In reading Adler, however, one feels his implied condemnation of the man who chooses thus a wrong "style of life" not unlike the contempt of the religious moralist for the person who "allows" himself to become insane, or that of the European well-to-do burgeois for the person who lets himself go bankrupt (an unforgivable social sin!).

 

Adler wrote in his book, Social Interest: A Challenge to Mankind:

 

Each individual adopts for himself at the beginning of his life, a law of movement, with comparative freedom to utilize for this his innate capacities and defects, as well as the first impressions of his environment. This law of movement is for each individual different in tempo, rhythm, and direction. The individual, perpetually comparing himself with the unattainable ideal of perfection, is always possessed and spurred on by a feeling of inferiority. . . . (p. 37.)

The fundamental law of life is that of overcoming. . . . (p. 71.)

To be a human being means the possession of a feeling of inferiority that is constantly pressing on toward its own conquest. The paths to victory are as different in a thousand ways as the chosen goals of perfection. The stronger the feeling of inferiority that has been experienced, the more powerful is the urge to conquest, and the more violent the emotional agitation. . . . (p. 72.)

Neurosis is a creative act and not a reversion to infantile and atavistic forms. . . . (p. 131)  

Neurosis is the patient's automatic, unknowing exploitation of the symptoms resulting from the effects of a shock. . . . The cure can only be effected by intellectual means, by the patient's growing insight into his mistake, by the development of his social feeling. . . (pp. 180-181.)

Organic inferiority and, still more, a pampering regime in childhood, have misled the child into forming this particular style of life and have cramped the development of an adequate amount of social feeling. . . . (p. 133.)  

According to Adler, a child is hindered in developing an adequate "style of life" (which includes a correct amount of social interest and social feeling) by pampering, neglect, and the possession of inferior organs. These three basic "handicaps of childhood" have to be met and overcome by "the creative power of the child." His success or failure depends on his "style of life," which in turn depends on the way in which the child "utilizes heredity and the influence of its environment" with "comparative freedom."

Exactly what causes the child to have "comparative freedom" in establishing his all-determining "style of life," Adler does not tell us clearly; but presumably he sees it as a distinct and individual expression of the creative tide of human evolution (Bergon's Elan Vital) seeking its ultimate goal of perfection. For Adler, every person must be met and treated as an individual case. Indeed, Adler's world is a world of individuals whose function as individuals is considered unquestionable and final.

However, in order to balance his extreme individualism and his emphasis upon the ego and the "will to power," Adler has also stressed social feeling and the individual's fitness to participate in humanity's evolutionary ascent. The value of a human being is determined, for Adler, by his ability to contribute to "the higher development of the whole of humanity." Those individuals "who have contributed nothing to the general welfare . . . . have disappeared completely. Nothing remains of them . . . . It has happened with them as it did with animal species that have become extinct because they were unable to get into harmony with cosmic facts . . . ." because they had "not grasped the meaning of life."

The problem for the psychologist, as Adler sees it, is to help the individual to adjust his own urge to superior achievement and his own "goal of perfection" to the collective and "final goal of human evolution." The neurotic, drunkard, or criminal also has his "goal of superiority; but it leads in a direction so opposed to reason that we are unable to recognize in it a proper goal of perfection." Man's destiny is a "victorious assimilation with the external world," "the mastery of all the advantages and disadvantages ordained by the cosmos."

Who was this man who exalted thus the "will to power" and identified the ego with the basic rhythm of the totality of the personality? Alfred Adler was born February 7, 1870, near Vienna, Austria. His family was Jewish, but his father had been converted to Protestanism. He contracted pneumonia at the age of 5 and decided, as a child, to become a doctor. He acknowledges that his inferiority complex theory had its source in an early organic inferiority which he struggled to overcome adding that: "just as nature affords compensation to injured organs, so the spirit of man can also be trained to compensate him for all psychic disturbances produced by defective organs."

He received a medical degree in Vienna in 1895, began a general practice as an eye specialist in 1897, and met Freud in 1906. As his progressed Sun reached Aries, Adler broke with Freud, formed his school of "Free Psychoanalysts" and published the journal Internationale Zeitsehrift fur Individual Psychologie. He came to America in 1927, lectured at Columbia University, and in 1932 had the first chair of medical psychology established in an American college (Long Island College of Medicine). He died in 1937 of a heart attack while in Aberdeen, Scotland. He had married a Russian student in Vienna, with whom he had three daughters and a son thus his home was a real laboratory for experimental child psychology, and an important factor in the development of his ideas.

I have been unable to find mention of his exact birth-hour and several possible rising Signs come to mind in view of his bio-psychological type and the pattern of his life. But the most likely Ascendant, considering Adler's features, is Cancer, with Uranus retrograde rising the chart pattern printed here. According to his biographers, he was "at once the easiest of men to know and the most difficult, the frankest and the most subtle, the most conciliatory and the most ruthless." He was a "short stocky man with fine eyes, a beautiful tenor voice" (cf. his Moon-Jupiter in Taurus); he had a "fiery temper (Mars-Sun square Jupiter-Pluto) under excellent control and a sympathetic manner with his patients" (a dominant Venus retrograde in creative quintile to Saturn).

If the birth-time selected is correct, the most interesting feature of the chart, from the point of view of pattern-analysis (or Gestalt) is the fact that Uranus and Saturn both stand below the horizon, respectively in the first and sixth houses, while all the other planets are included within the square of Mercury retrograde in Aquarius to Jupiter-Pluto in Taurus, on either side of the Piscean midheaven and Venus. The above-the-horizon planets especially those in Aquarius and Taurus refer to Adler's emotional tensions and his organic troubles; also to his problems of social adjustment (cf. Neptune square the rising Uranus), which may have been partly related to a religious-social conflict of which he may not have been aware. On the other hand, Uranus and Saturn symbolize his individual efforts toward the solution of his problems and the exalted and elevated Venus retrograde, the publicly externalized and proclaimed end-results of these efforts.    

 

 

Saturn in the sixth house could represent the "inferiority complex" produced by physical weakness, as well as the trend toward establishing rigid self-discipline and mental prophylaxis. Uranus, rising in Cancer, would correlate with Adler's insistence on the creative power of the individual, ceaselessly seeking to overcome his inferiority and reach the pinnacle of human evolution. The Uranus degree-symbol (Sabian system) shows "an aristocratic and frail girl wedding a proletarian youth," and from it we derive an idea of a blending of past with future, of form with forward emotional drive. Also indicated is a trend toward the assimilation of unconscious contents ("the proletarian youth") by a cultured consciousness.

Adler placed no real value upon the unconscious, whether as described by Freud or as understood by Jung. He did not give much value to dreams either:

 

A dream tells us nothing new nothing we cannot find just as well in the patient's behavior. By the use of properly understood methods and by a selection from the contents of the dream one can recognize how the dreamer, guided by his law of movement, is at pains to carry out his style of life in opposition to common sense by artificially stimulating his emotions. (Social Interest, p. 179).

The only unconscious acceptable to him was the vast evolutionary drive toward a goal of perfection stirring the individual to overcome his weaknesses and reach power. This drive is unavoidable. Man is fated to "strive upward from below," from minus to plus values; and, according to Adler,

. . . this does not only fix a fundamental category of thought, the structure of our reason, but what is more, it yields the fundamental fact of our life. The origin of humanity and the ever repeated beginning of infant life rubs it in with every psychic act: "Achieve! Arise! Conquer!" This feeling is never absent. (Psychologies of 1930. A paper written by Alfred Adler).

This "striving for conquest, surety, increase which lies at the root of all solutions of life's problems and is manifested in the way in which we meet these problems" can be seen, astrologically, in Adler's natal conjunction of Mars and Sun in Aquarius. Even the Sun's degree-symbol adds the meaning of "ascendancy" to this position. It pictures "a forest fire being subdued," and indicates an exaggeration of life-problems revealing to a person his real stature, testing him and challenging him to a total mobilization of his energies. Furthermore, Mars is placed on a degree symbolizing the testing of power and the capacity to deliver it. In zodiacal symbolism, Aquarius correlates with the release of power through human will and imagination in order to dynamize the search for new goals. Jupiter conjunct Pluto indicates a possible creative outlet for this dynamic release of power, for the square of Sun-Mars to the Jupiter-Pluto conjunction suggests a state of tension against conservative ideals of human destiny.

We might also add that the square of the Taurean Moon to the Aquarian Mercury retrograde implies a basic mental conflict with the "mother image," an inner rebelliousness which probably was transferred and transformed, later on, into conjugal tension. The mind of Adler was, as Jung pointed out, functioning along the line of introversion. To him, . . . the inner reality the ego was far more important than the world of outer objects or persons. True, he developed a strong emphasis upon '"social feelings" but this was a purely compensatory attitude (cf. Jupiter, its placement and aspects). The ego was for him not only the center of consciousness (as it is in Jung's psychology); it absorbed the whole of the unified personality and this implies that Adler reduced the the field of personality to the conscious level.

 

What Freud had sought awkwardly to do in a clinical and reductive way, what Jung aimed at establishing on a far more comprehensive and wholesome basis, was to show that what the individual calls "himself" his unified "I" is not his total being, but only a surface-being. While Freud strove to reveal the depths of the human psyche, Adler, reacting sharply against such a revelation, focused all his attention, all meaning and value upon the surface self. He glorified the evolutionary drive from depth to surface, but the real self, for him, was the unified, one-pointed top of human evolution manifesting as the individual person with a unique "style of life" and "law of movement." Adler saw only integrated tops; he was not seeking to build human beings who are more total, more inclusive, with deeper roots and a more profound reach into the submerged sphere of instincts and basic energies. He only wanted to develop more victorious personalities; and it did not seem to matter to him at what cost came the victory.

Victory he claimed can only be proven by efficient social functioning. The goal of mastery is directed, wrongly, toward an oppressive superiority over one's fellowmen, or rightly, toward fullest cooperation with others and participation in the creative upbuilding of "the ideal community," of a perfect humanity. Lack of the "social feeling" leads to the wrong way; cooperation is the key to the constructive solution of the three "major problems" to which "all the questions of life can be subordinated the problems of communal life, of work, and of love (Social Interest p. 42). How can the neurotic or socially maladjusted person be helped to change from the wrong to the right attitude toward (society, his work and his love-activities? Adler answered as follows:

Whoever has not acquired in childhood the necessary degree of social sense, will not have it later in life . . . unless perchance some harmful errors of construction are recognized by the subject and corrected. No amount of bitter experience can change his style of life, as long as he has not gained understanding. The whole work of education, cure and human progress can be furthered only along lines of better comprehension (Psychologies of 1930. p. 403). (cf. Sun and Mars dominating the ninth house, which is essentially the house of understanding.)

 

Individual psychology considers the essense of therapy to lie in making the patient aware of his lack of cooperative power, and to convince him of the origin of this lack in early childhood maladjustments. What passes during this process is no small matter; his power of cooperation is enhanced by collaboration with the doctor. His "inferiority complex" is revealed as erroneous. Courage and optimism are awakened. And the "meaning of life" dawns upon him as the fact that proper meaning must be given to life. This sort of treatment may be begun at any point in the spiritual life. (Psychologies of 1930. p. 404.)

Adler, especially in his later years, essentially became an educator and a social moralist. His psychology was a psychology of individual success. And he understood psychological success as a monolithic advance of the rational individual, well-adjusted to society and a spearhead of human evolution. Questions arise however: Will not this victorious individual be superficial? Will not his successful personal and social integration hide a poverty of inner contents and of roots?

Adler compensates for Freud's scavenging into the unwholesome and subconscious "depths" of contemporary man's psyche by exalting the "heights" and the will to victory of the conscious individual. But in reading Adler, one soon realizes that his ideas and techniques can only lead, in most cases, to shallow triumphs of the all-too-conscious (because exclusively conscious) ego. For this reason he attained his greatest success in an America which had passed through the flamboyant optimism of New Thought, itself a freer version of evil-repudiating Christian Science. It became Jung's task to take the best features of "depth" and "height" psychology and to develop a psychological approach that sought to achieve the integration of the total human being on the basis of a never-ending quest for an ever more inclusive "assimilation" of the contents of life, society, and the universe.

 

Astrology and the Modern Psyche

 

 

Mindfire