Psychology of Use vs. Psychology of Possession
Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Adler's view was that the unique movement and lifestyle of an individual in all thought, feeling, and action cannot be accounted for as the outcome or consequence of prior conditions, forces, or influences, (i.e., causes), but must be understood in terms of the use to which the individual puts these things. In this approach, the psychologist does not seek an understanding of individuals by identifying traits, which they are supposed to possess (for example, laziness, bad temper), but rather in observing the ways they make use of their various capacities and opportunities in line with their goals.
The direction and the directed utilization of instincts and drives, as well as impressions from the environment and education, are the artistic work of the child and cannot be understood in the sense of a psychology of possession (Besitzpsychologie) but only of a psychology of use (Gebrauchspsychologie) (p. 205).
Individual Psychology is the psychology of use and emphasizes the creative appropriation and exploitation of all these [hereditary and environmental] influences (p. 205).
Individual Psychology. . . considers the attitude of an individual to the problems of life in order to understand him, and therefore considers the use he makes of his capacities (p. 205).
Our objection to the teachings of the hereditarians and every other tendency to overstress the significance of constitutional disposition is that the important thing is not what one is born with, but what use one makes of that equipment. We must ask ourselves: "Who uses it?" (p. 176).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 85).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.