Superiority Striving/Goal Striving/Superiority Complex
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.
An appreciation for the evolutionary struggle of all living things to adapt successfully inspired Adler to apply the concept of superiority striving to the understanding of human being. He saw the goal of success as drawing the individual forward toward mastery and the overcoming of obstacles. He observed that, for socially-interested individuals, the goal of superiority is on the useful side of life and contributes to the developing human community. By contrast, the discouraged person, operating on the useless side of life under the burden of increased feelings of inferiority, makes the error of supposing that his or her task is to attain a position of superiority over others. This movement invites the antagonism of others, creates a disturbance in the life of the community, and contributes to his or her further defeat. The discouraged person may express the superiority striving in postures of self-elevation, depreciation of others, and self-aggrandizement, countering the immense feelings of inferiority with a pattern of compensatory pretenses to superiority which may be termed a superiority complex. [Adler, a witty aphorist, conveyed some of his ideas in humorous metaphors. One of his biographers, Phyllis Bottome (1939) reports this anecdote: "What is man," he once said to a friend of his, "but a drop of water. A conceited drop," he added after a slight pause (p. 119).]
The whole of human life proceeds along this great line of action — from below to above, from minus to plus, from defeat to victory (p. 255).
It is the striving for superiority which is behind every human creation and it is the source for all contributions which are made to our culture (p. 255).
[ Superiority striving ] can take place in a satisfactory way and can lead to a proper feeling of worth only on the useful side, in the developed social interest, where the individual senses himself as valuable. Valuable can mean nothing other than valuable for human society (pp. 254-255).
When individuals — both children and adults — feel weak, they cease to be interested socially, but strive for [personal] superiority (p. 260).
[The superiority complex] is a compensation for the inferiority complex (p. 260).
We must bear in mind, of course, that the word complex as attached to inferiority and superiority merely represents an exaggerated condition of the sense of inferiority and the striving for superiority (p. 259).
The origin of humanity and the ever-repeated beginning of infant life impresses with every psychological act: Achieve! Arise! Conquer! (p. 103).
© 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. 99).
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.
Bottome, P. (1939). Alfred Adler: A biography. New York: G. P. Putnam.