Heredity (Genetic Possibility)/Environment (Environmental Opportunity)
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.
The nature vs. nurture controversy, originally the name of a religious dispute in an early 19th Century New England church over the meaning of original sin (Ahlstrom, 1972, pp. 610-611), continues to haunt popular and scientific thinking with an added new name, heredity vs. environment. Opinion shifts between genetic material as fixed, but not necessarily expressed, and environmental influences as fluid, and not necessarily impacting in any particular. For Individual Psychology, all questions of what one has (assuming a psychology of possession), such as certain genetic material or a certain childhood history, are distilled into Adler's question: "Who uses it?", reflecting a psychology of use (p. 176).
Powers and Griffith (1987) state that the individual's opinion of self in childhood includes considerations of genetic possibility in the realms of physical and mental capacities, and degree of activity, that lead to a self-assessment [self-concept] that could be expressed, "These are my personal limits and possibilities for making a place amongst others." At the same time, the child is aware of his or her situation in life, and evaluates environmental opportunities as openings for advancement, as if to say, "This is what is open to me in life, and this is what stands in my way" (p. 25). [See Self-Esteem/Self-Concept; Life-Style.]
The raw material with which the Individual Psychologist works is: The relationship of the individual to the problems of the outside world. The Individual Psychologist has to observe how a particular individual relates himself to the outside world. This outside world includes the individual's own body, his bodily functions, and the functions of his mind. He does not relate himself to the outside world in a predetermined manner as is often assumed. He relates himself always according to his own interpretation of himself and of his present problem. His limits are not only the common human limits, but also the limits he has set himself. It is neither heredity nor environment that determines his relationship to the outside world. Heredity only endows him with certain abilities. Environment only gives him certain impressions. These abilities and impressions, and the manner in which he “experiences” them — that is to say, the interpretation he makes of these experiences — are the bricks that he uses in his own “Creative” way to build up his attitude toward life. It is his individual way of using these bricks — or in other words, it is his attitude toward life — that determines his relationship to the outside world (Adler, 1935, p. 5).
© 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. 51).
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.
Adler, A. (1935). Introduction: The fundamental views of lndividual Psychology. International Journal of Individual Psychology, 1(1), 3-8.
Powers, R. L., & Griffith, J. (1987). Understanding life-style: The psycho-clarity process. Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates.