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.
Existential questions are those addressing the meaning of existence and death, and the problem of personal awareness of one's place in the universe. Existentialism as a movement in philosophy includes those who take the position that the universe is indifferent, even hostile, to the human being, who is seen as isolated and alone and necessarily limited, and who, without a God makes choices, under only the authority of individual responsibility that one would want all human beings to make if similarly challenged. In this view, it is ethical behavior that leads to selftranscendence.
Individual Psychology is an existential psychology in that it concerns itself with personal meaning, personal responsibility, and ethical choices. It separates itself from Existentialism in that Individual Psychology sees human being as socially embedded, sees the development of community feeling as essential to life, and identifies individual striving toward perfection as present on both the useful and useless side. In pursuing goals of personal superiority on the useless side, the striving is erroneous, misunderstanding the reality of its embeddedness, and therefore in need of guidance and education toward goals on the useful side, concretized in images of contribution and self-transcendence, whether in the ideal community (as envisioned sub specie aeternitatis), or in God.
None of us knows which is the only correct way toward perfection. Mankind has variously made the attempt to imagine this final goal of human development. The best conception gained so far of this ideal elevation of mankind is the concept of God (Jahn and Adler). There is no question but that the concept of God actually includes this movement toward perfection in the form of a goal, and that as a concrete goal of perfection it corresponds best to man's dark longing to reach perfection (Adler, 1979, p. 33).
There are, of course, countless attempts among men to imagine this goal of perfection differently. . . . When, for example, someone attempts to concretize this goal by wanting to dominate over others, such a goal of perfection appears to us incapable to steer the individual and the group. The reason is that not every one could make this goal of perfection his task, because he would be forced to come into conflict with the coercion of evolution, to violate reality, and to defend himself full of anxiety against the truth and its confessors (Adler, 1979, p. 33).
To be a human being means to have inferiority feelings. One recognizes one's own powerlessness in the face of nature. One sees death as the irrefutable consequence of existence (G., Man sieht den Todt als unabweisliche Konsequenz des Daseins). But in the mentally healthy person this inferiority feeling acts as a motive for productivity, as a motive for attempting to overcome obstacles, to maintain oneself in life (Adler, 1979, p. 54).
© 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. 33).
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. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (3rd Rev. ed.). (H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Viking Compass. (Original work published 1964)