Gemeinschaftsgefühl: Community Feeling/Social Feeling/Social Interest
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.
These are unsatisfactory English language translations of Adler’s German term, Gemeinschaftsgefühl. Most accurate of these is community feeling, which encompasses the individual’s awareness of belonging in the human community and the cosmos of which it is a part, and an understanding of his or her responsibility for the way the life of the community is being shaped by his or her actions. It is a fundamental sense of being one amongst the others as a fellow being. Adler, for whom English was a foreign language, allowed himself to be persuaded that the term, social interest (by which was meant an interest in the interests of others) could be used to express what Adler called “the action line of community feeling” (as cited in Ansbacher, 1992, p. 405), especially in relation to addressing the three life tasks. Social feeling has sometimes been used, but the term social interest eventually came to be preferred, perhaps to avoid association with the rhetoric of socialism or communism. Community feeling/social interest, regarded as a universal human capacity, must be cultivated and trained, and so is understood by analogy to the human capacity for language and speech. It is further thought of as an index to successful adaption (mental health): The more developed the community feeling, the more diminished the inferiority feeling with its associated sense of alienation and isolation; therefore, the effectiveness of psychotherapy or counseling depends upon increasing and strengthening the discouraged person’s community feeling and social interest.
A phrase which clearly expresses what we could contribute to an explanation [of social interest is]: “To see with the eyes of another, to hear with the ears of another, to feel with the heart of another” (p. 135).
The capacity for identification, which alone makes us capable of friendship, love of mankind, sympathy, occupation, and love, is the basis of social interest and can be practiced and exercised only in conjunction with others (p. 136).
[Social interest or social feeling] is more than a feeling; it is an evaluative attitude toward life (p. 135).
It means particularly the interest in, or the feeling with, the community sub specie aeternatatis [under the aspect of eternity — Spinoza] (p. 142).
Lack of social interest, always due to increased inferiority feeling, drives the individual into neurosis or crime, and groups and nations toward the abyss of self-extermination (p. 449).
Social interest is the true and inevitable compensation for all the natural weaknesses of individual human beings (p. 154).
Social interest . . . is an innate potentiality which has to be consciously developed (p. 134).
Individual Psychology maintains that the power of social interest lies at the basis of all social products, such as language and reason or “common sense” (p. 449).
Feeling-at-home is an immediate part of social interest. The life on this poor earth crust of one who has social interest runs its course as though he were at home (p. 155).
For a report and discussion of the Sulliman Scale of Social Interest (1973), see Oberst, U. E. & Stewart A. E. (2003), pp. 181-184.
© 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. 11).
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.
Ansbacher, H. L. (1992). Alfred Adler's concepts of community feeling and of social interest and the relevance of community feeling for old age. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research and Practice, 48(4), 402-412.
Oberst, U. E., & Stewart, A. E. (2003). Adlerian psychotherapy: An advanced approach to Individual Psychology. New York: Brunner-Routledge.