Adler’s concept of social interest entails a person not only selfishly progresses, but contributes to society. The best version of yourself would not only benefit you, but the world as well. As children, we are born helpless. We are brought into this world and constantly surrounded by stronger more competent adults, something every child endures. We make our way through the world, figuring out what “works”, and what we can get away with. Little we do we know, these earlier phases in life could have everything to do with who we grow up to be. We will be looking at Adler’s idea of inferiority, superiority and how self realization is directly correlated with Adler’s concept of social interest.
Much like Adler, growing up, I always had these feelings of inferiority. Alder felt his weak physique and rickets at a young age, the reasons behind developing inferiority feelings and complexes (85). I can remember as a child, fatherless and with an alcoholic mother, never truly feeling loved. I’m sure I was at a young age, congratulated when I learned how to walk for the first time, or when I managed to mumble “ma ma”, but never was I praised when I got older. These feelings of inferiority can be used a motivators for people. For me, this only led to what Adler called a complex. An inferiority complex is defined by a feeling that you are less important, intelligent or skillful than other people (dictionary.cambridge.org). This complex followed me for a very long time. Every day was a battle within myself to prove to someone that I was worthy of love. People call it “daddy issues”, Adler calls it compensation. I did this for years. I tried so hard to fit in with the popular kids, to be liked. Just like Adler, who wanted to be accepted by the other children, I too, wanted to be accepted. So I ended up hurting myself in ways people wouldn’t imagine because our pain is our own. No one would have looked at me and saw that I was desperately trying to stay afloat. I was treading water in my own mind and I was exhausted. I harbored emotions and expressed them unproductively. Nothing I did healed the wound that lay deep inside and until one understands their behaviors, they will keep coming up later on in life in different lessons you need to learn.
Adler very much believed that we are socially constructed beings that we yearn to be liked and we adapt to one’s environment (adlerpedia.org). I agree. My whole life I have been trying to fit in. I allowed myself to succumb to abusive relationships, emotionally verbally and physically abusive relationships. I acted out and got in trouble with the cops on several occasions. I stopped trying in school because that was the “cool” thing to do, the same reason I gave in to smoking pot. I gave people parts of me that never deserved it. I lost myself before I even knew who I was. It didn’t help that I had to take care of my younger sister and that my older brother could have cared less. I began finding harmful ways for approval. At age 14, I starved myself with orange juice and carrots, down to a whopping 98lbs. I needed someone to notice me. I needed approval, of any kind. I internally begged for people to praise my weight loss, to comment, to simply notice. This self harm did more than enough damage, I was lost inside. I valued myself worth to that of being noticed. I felt ugly and I wasn’t stopping until someone told me I was pretty.
For years I battled these compensations. They ruled my life. One after another, like clockwork, these feelings of worthlessness drowned any rational thought that dare cross its path. I began a downward spiral until I was too dizzy to stand up. Something was wrong and I desperately needed to fix it. But what happens when the only one who can fix the problem, keeps making it worse? I knew what I was doing, maybe not the unconscious reasons behind my actions, but I wasn’t that stupid. There was something inside of me that needed fixing and I simply ignored it in hopes it just disappeared. It didn’t. And they won’t until they are handled appropriately. Whether it be through therapy, or a deeper sense of healing, these feelings cannot be overlooked. Individuals are encouraged to overcome such feelings and to redirect their striving for significance into more socially beneficial directions.
Eventually, my father and I began a relationship and my mom got sober. But more importantly, I started loving myself. If no one was going to love me, I was going to. I started looking inside and began unraveling who I was. Adler believed in motivation and accepting encouragement to feel fulfilled and optimistic, that a “misbehaving child is a discouraged child” (alfredadler.edu). I never felt worthy until I set out on this journey of self discovery. I ended up finding a funny quick-witted caring individual that just needed some self love. Before this transformation ensued, I masked these feelings. However, the deeper I transcended into my own self discovery, the more the dial went from a complex to simply feelings. Today nowadays, being superior means being better than someone. However, in Adler’s terms, I was striving for individual superiority, the” useful side of life” (adlerpedia.org). My desire to feel like I meant something to this world, allowed me to take a closer inside and realized this was never just about me.
This self realization phase may have saved my life. Once I took the correct steps in trying to undue this complex, and instead use it as a motivator, my life really did change. No one likes to admit they have a problem, let alone get help. But this could solve so many problems that otherwise could lead to other issues, furthering the vicious cycle of feeling helpless and alone. Why I was so afraid to deal with internal issues, will forever be a mystery but one I’m sure that can easily be solved. Looking inside and admitting we are hurting, is the step in the right direction. For so long, boys have been told that emotions are for girls, and that emotional girls are crazy. We have placed such a stigma towards expressing how we truly feel, that I’m not sure many people allow themselves to feel anything. Unmasking who we are, whether it is something we need to fix or something that needs to be acknowledged, will allow for one to become their full potential. We just have to be truthful to ourselves. However, it’s easier to walk around the world pretending everything is okay instead of everything actually being okay.
If you were to ask me, I’d say mankind was selfish. I feel like we have lost our true meaning and no longer look out for thy neighbor, instead its every man for themselves. The more I began loving myself, the more I understood that I needed to, in order for me to fulfill the meaning behind why I am here. I don’t know what happened or when, but my entire attitude switched gears. I was no longer living for myself, but for others. Now, what if everyone had this self realization and we started taking care of this world? I think we found what world peace would look like, “the ultimate fulfillment of evolution” (Alfred-adler.us). Instead we are too caught up in looking the best, while we get what we want, while having the most money. Today, pipelines are being built over sacred land, animals homes are being destroyed for unnecessary reasons and yet here I am, caring about how I look in the mirror. We, as a society, are so extrinsically fixated that we are killing ourselves by killing this planet, but at least we’ll look good doing so.
I get caught up in my emotions over everything that is happening in this world. How there are so many people in this life who are walking around compensating for past failures. I see the damage that is being done by it. It’s frightening to imagine that without nurturing and cultivating this idea of social interest, that that too will die off. I am not sure whether I believe humans are innately good or not, but I believe that Adler hit it on the head with this theory of social interest. We do want to be liked, and we do want to feel like our presence means something. It’s the cause of almost everything that happens in this world. I hope that if we pay attention to the bigger picture, a superior society doesn’t have to be a figment of one’s imagination.
Barbara Engler. Personality Theories. 2014.
Alfred Adler: Theory and Application.” Alfred Adler: Theory and Application | Adler Graduate School.
“Cambridge Dictionary | Free English Dictionary, Translations and Thesaurus.” Cambridge Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2016.