Christianity and the Psychology of Alfred Adler

Adler worked from the premise of understanding our individual worldviews; how we see the world and ourselves in it.  His system is a psychology of striving toward a future goal, and not one of motivations that drive or push us.  His beginning premise is that we all started at birth to be small and inferior to others, and so we all have a type of subconscious goal to compensate for that, overcome our smallness to reach a state of social usefulness, belonging, and fitting in.  Adler would say that in our development there are “shaping factors” that push against us and that we push back against that in turn form into learned habits or a “private logic” by which we live as if things are true in all cases,  parallel to the conditions we learned, which lastly form into a lifestyle or life strategies. 

Adler is not so much concerned with your past (shaping factors) as he is in trying to figure out what internal subconscious goal you have established for yourself that is causing you to have unsuccessful compensations.  Adler would not be interested in why you are depressed or anxious, but is instead concerned with what use you are making of them.  He would suggest that you would not be depressed but that you must have an end goal you are striving for in which you are currently frustrating the goal in an internal conflict type of way.  The tool of depression is an internal signal trying to get you back on track with your unrealized goal.  Either your goals are out of whack with being socially useful or you are acting out of whack with your goal, causing conflict.  Adler’s goal is to get you to overcome your inferiority complex, and poor goal setting and thus help you gain the feeling of acceptance and belonging.  To Adler, life is an ongoing social comparison to others and their abilities and we compensate in our own way through our own worldview trying to belong and contribute or we unsuccessfully compensate or over compensate and are frustrated in our efforts to measure up, belong, or fit in.  There is no sin, only unsuccessful compensations, thus we are to want to be socially useful, and in an evolutionary way seek to benefit mankind and its success as a species. 

If someone is introverted and another is attention seeking, they both have unsuccessful compensations to Adler.  One retreats from being socially useful and the other belittles others and frustrates rules to get their attention.  Still others, although appearing successful, are overcompensating for smallness and so have a power struggle feeling that they must remain on top.  Adler would seek to understand their faulty worldview and then tweak their goals to match their efforts, thus creating attainable goals and as such lift their feelings of worth and belonging.  At worst, Adler would say that if he could expose someone’s lifestyle they may not stop doing them, but they would not enjoy it as much as they had.  He spoke of spitting in someone’s soup to illustrate this point.  Adler can’t say of anyone what real social usefulness is, and yet denying morals, can only be socially acceptable morals, he would not want you to take his wife away, but if her goals are unsuccessfully being met in him, then his advice would have to be to leave for someone who is. Goal replacement and rehabilitation is all that Adler has to offer besides encouragement to keep on keeping on. 

Integrationists take Adler at face values and incorporate the full model and, like Burns and others, just apply seemingly parallel Bible verses to it.  To me this is the same as saying Mormons are the same as Roman Catholics, because they both have the externals of praying to Jesus and being moral people.  There is a danger in attempting to adapt a system whose goal is not righteousness, but to feel better about belonging.  Sure the Bible talks about belonging to Christ, but not in a performance or goal oriented way, it is only though the cross of Christ that we are acceptable before God.  Adler begins with man’s smallness as after the fall, and so does not maintain categories for understanding the Creator creature distinction, that our very lives and efforts play out in rebellion or glory to God.  The Christian does better than Adler to consider His goals, attitude and efforts as deficient and to seek aid from God in prayer and growth to transform our minds, put off the old man, and seek to become more Christ like as we were made to be.  Just lowering goals and standards may make even the Christian feel better for a while, but that while will be shorter and shorter lived as the goal has to diminish down to no standard, because in sin, you will not always meet any standard you set for yourself, or see in comparison to others.  

Christianity and the Psychology of Alfred Adler.


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