Overburdening Childhood Situations
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 identified three childhood situations as overburdening, all characterized by abnormal stresses placed upon children in particularly difficult circumstances. There are (a) children who experience severe organ inferiorities; (b) children who are pampered; (c) children who suffer from neglect, abuse, or from being hated and unwanted. In situations such as these, where children are not welcomed, are not encouraged, cannot see places of value open to them, and are unable to believe in what they can do on the socially useful side of life, the probabilities for the development of courage and cooperation are gravely diminished, and the likelihood of the development of dysfunctional styles of living is markedly increased.
Children born with inferior organs experience their bodies and its pains and weaknesses as a burden. They, much more than normal children, develop inferiority feelings, strive to compensate these lacks and to arrive at a goal in which they foresee and presume a feeling of superiority. In this movement . . . they are attacked much more by the difficulties of life and feel and live as though they were in an enemy country. Fighting, hesitating, stopping, escaping . . . they are . . . lacking in social interest, courage, and self-confidence because they fear defeat more than they desire success (p. 118).
We find this great feeling of inferiority also among pampered children. Living in a kind of symbiosis, like parasites, always connected with their mother, their goal of superiority is to make this relationship permanent. Each change terrifies them . . . . Later in life they are not adapted for occupation, love, and marriage, because they consider their own welfare and are not looking for the interests of others. . . . [They are] the majority of the problem children . . . . [abused, neglected, hated, and unwanted children] feel curtailed and behave like enemies. . . . Their goal of superiority is to suppress the other person
. . . . They are lacking in social interest and therefore in courage and self-confidence (pp. 118-119).
[The pampered child] is granted prominence without working to deserve it and will generally come to feel this prominence as a birthright (p. 369).
We know that every pampered child becomes a hated child. . . . Neither society nor the family wishes to continue the pampering indefinitely (Adler, 1969, p. 10).
All great accomplishments stem from the blessed struggle with the needs of childhood — be they organ inferiorities, pampering, or oppressing circumstances — as long as the child, at the time of his oppression, has already learned the active adaptation to cooperation. Then, and also later on, in the face of all difficulties and torments, only the paths to cooperation will be open in accordance with his inviolable law of movement (Adler, 1979, p. 54).
See Adler, 1956, pp. 417-420.
© 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. 77).
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. (1956). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H.L. and R.R. Ansbacher, Eds.). NY: Basic Books.
Adler, A. (1969). The science of living. (H. L. Ansbacher, Ed.). New York: Doubleday. (Original work published 1929)
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)