Theme Pack 11: Influencing Children
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Problem Children and The Child's Symptom Selection1
By Alfred Adler 
Chapter XXXIV in The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler: Volume 5, and Chapter II in Volume 7
When a child is observed doing something wrong, we should investigate the roots of such behavior. What is its cause? Are there any reasons? Or was there a time when the child was tempted by something to change from acting positively to negatively. Once we have the reasons clearly in hand, we begin to eliminate the causes. This task, however, can be accomplished only when we have a good relationship with the child, when we can win over the child to open himself up to us, and allow us to learn about his innermost self. Only then can we be effective.
I consider it impossible for us to attain this goal while struggling with the child. There will always be misbehavior on the part of the child, if he is under pressure. We must forego a rigid system of penalties, and give up the idea that a child who lies and steals must be punished immediately. Parents who have a problem child often say, "We tried kindness, but it was useless. We tried to be strict, but that was useless. What should we do?" While I do not assume that kindness is a panacea, it is necessary in order to win the child over for what we have planned for him, and for what follows, which is to change the whole person. This is because the mistakes that are immediately apparent and with which we must begin are only the surface manifestations. There is nothing to be gained if a child is punished for lying, and thereby becomes more guarded. The child will now become more careful and shy, and will try to hide more, and at some point will feign compliance by tricks and other futile measures. This brings me to discuss the child's inner life.
What can already be observed during the first days of the child's life is the development of a feeling for affection. The child begins to take an interest in his environment, which of course, is the mother, who is the first person to whom this interest flows. This is an important process since it means that the child has awakened from his isolation and formed a world for himself in which there are other people who play a role, that he learns to interrelate with them. It is not only
1 Abridged version of a lecture presented on March 3, 1926 in Chemnitz followed by a discussion. Originally published by Otto Rühle/Alice Rühle: Schwer erziehbare Kinder: eine Schriftenfolge, Issue #1, Dresden (Verlag am anderen Ufer) 1926, pp. 9-40. Reprinted as "Schwer erziehbare Kinder" in Alfred Adler: Psychotherapie und Erziehung, Ausgewählte Aufsätze Band I: 1919-1929, p. 119-134.
New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003. Editing assistance by Kurt A. Adler, M.D., Ph.D.
the function of the mother to bring the child into this world, but it is as important a task for her to become a fellow human being, another person on whom the child can depend and whom he can trust, someone who will support the child. Thus the child through his interrelationship with the mother attains the beginning of social feelings; he no longer is alone with his needs but enters a new relationship, which at the beginning is that of a child and his mother.
We can now see where the future development starts and where the first mistakes begin. The first stage serves only as preparation for the larger units that consist of family and the environment. This is the beginning of the social being.
The individual is not alone, he does not exist for himself, he is not closed off, but through the function of the mother has to find a transition to a point where he sees himself connected to society and where he considers himself a part of society. That is the direction in which his style of life has to be developed. This transition can fail if the child has no mother, or possibly when the child has been entrusted to people who do not assume the function of the mother, as is the case with foster children who are not given love, who are passed from one to another, and for whom no one has affection. Under such conditions, children seek a way of life that isolates them because they believe that others are hostile toward them. In such cases, we can already guess which particular characteristics these children will assume. Always cast out, always badgered, always treated harshly, such children will grow up as if living in hostile territory. Although the case I cited is extreme, we can observe the same results among many children who grew up under similar conditions. The transition here toward social feeling has not succeeded well.
This is very significant since a child raised under such conditions will always exist in isolation, will not approach others, will not relate to them, and will lack all those functions that are predicated on the development of a social feeling. Are these perhaps unimportant matters? They are the most important that a human being has to consider. Not only is such a person incapable of maintaining friendships, but all worthy characteristics such as loyalty, helpfulness, readiness to care for others, and consideration of shortcomings of others will be lacking. All those who deal with children will be reminded of the many who grew up under such adverse circumstances. They know about these children who are inconsiderate of their comrades, their parents, and their teachers, who are disagreeable, who are always fighting, and always acting rudely. When these cases are examined more closely, it turns out that the mother was either incompetent or absent, or for whatever reasons failed to carry out her natural duties and responsibilities.
We must not cast too much blame on the mother alone who, perhaps because of her job or misfortune, might not have been able to do more and her child, therefore, had to go without. However, as a result of her negligence, the mother totally destroyed the foundation on which a child is raised. The best way to create hatred in a child is to use corporal punishment. Where is the measure by which we can determine when the child gives up trying to connect with the mother? We have come to know innumerable people, not only children but also adults, whose lives were wasted solely because the link with the mother and with society as a whole has failed. There is no contradiction for us when we must assume that the mother loved her child, but acted wrongly. Also, we cannot blame her; she did not know better. This is how we see these lonely children, who assume an aggressive attitude, who are malcontents, unable to cooperate with others toward a common goal, who under favorable circumstances might on occasion be able to live by themselves, but who are defeated by the coldness that emanates from them. This might not be understood by everyone, but is felt by all. This is how these children approach all other important functions, - thoroughly ill prepared.
The development of language, for example, is predicated on this contact between people. It develops from intimate contact and more than that, it becomes a new bond to connect the individual to others. We regularly find that the development of language is hampered when the child does not relate properly to others. This is so in innumerable cases where we can always find children whose speech development was retarded, children whose speech was hampered by stuttering, and where we can always establish not that the mother lacked in love, but that the relationship of the child to others was unsuccessful. I have seen enough children who because of their stuttering were also teased. We shall not be able to eliminate such situations unless we can uncover the causes. We must establish the ability of these children to strengthen their contacts. However, first it is necessary to uncover the course that the lives of these children have taken. This will not be possible for those who use a heavy hand in disciplining their child. Only those succeed who stop and think how to gain the child’s respect. I have seen a nine-year old child who was taken from his mother early in life and who was raised by a woman farmer who had no understanding for the child. When the child entered school, the child was practically unable to speak.. The child saw everyone else as an enemy; his lack of language development made him unable to establish contact with others. He became no one's friend; he had nothing to offer others. This left no other choice but to remove this child from his present location and to transfer him into another community, in order for him to establish relationships with other children.
It is not only language that is threatened by such ill-fated development. It also applies to the development of the mind for the child to gain acceptance from others. Whatever I assume or believe to be correct reasoning is how I expect every sensible person to reason. Where can I test this when I have no contact with others? I cannot do this when I confront others as an enemy, and others confront me similarly. We will thus find in such children that their mental development is below average.
For the person who lives alone, morality is the most superfluous thing in the world. An isolated person needs no morality. That is a manifestation of social feeling, a function of community, a style of life of people who interrelate and who are connected. When we find a child lacking in morals, we can be sure that here the contact with others is in trouble. Until we have reestablished this, it would be unthinkable that the child could be taught moral values. This applies also to all aesthetic feelings, etc. In short, everything that distinguishes a person is related to the development of the social feeling.
Let us examine for a moment the very curious but tragic development of such a child who feels that he lives in a hostile world. He has the worst expectations for his future and is oppressed by his situation. He always feels himself the weakest and the smallest and never experiences what it means to be loved. This is how he comes to think very little of himself. He will think of himself as inferior. This will be manifested by his never making friends and by showing signs of being fearful. All pedagogues find that such a child has a great tendency toward waywardness and cowardice. Cowardice cannot be argued away by the fact that such a child climbs trees. That is not courage. Courage exists only in useful activities.
When you first begin to examine a child, you should first draw a very uncomplicated picture, a simple diagram consisting of a vertical line. Then you say to yourself: on the left side of the line are the useful movements of the child and on the right side those that are useless. On the right side, there are no expressions of courage and of virtue, even when they appear to be such. It is not possible for us to consider chivalry as something useful in children who band together in a gang and run wild; their entire behavior falls into the region of uselessness.
Let us examine the behavior of such children when, for example, they leave their families to enter school. Today, this includes all children and schools are charged to recognize failings in children and correct them. Children with problems are beset by hostility, fearful, and always afraid that someone will deal unfairly with them. They always strive to escape school for some place where they might feel halfway protected, and always seek to break away again from others. Such children are poor material for school, insufficiently prepared with the required strong social feelings and a firm belief in themselves. These are children who have no confidence in their own powers and in their future. This becomes immediately apparent as reflected in their poor performance. In the first days of school they are regarded among the worst. Soon this will be reflected in their poor marks, which proves to them that school is no different from what they had experienced before. They will be strengthened in their conviction that this life is a vale of tears, that one can escape trouble only with cunning, cleverness, etc., and that it would be best to leave school. Their behavior reflects this attitude.
I had said earlier that often their capabilities and development had suffered seriously, but that was not their fault. They did not learn to be orderly or to concentrate. Suddenly all this is being expected of them and when they cannot do it, they are punished. It is almost like removing a note from a melody, or a measure, and then trying to understand the piece. This measure has meaning only in the context of the entire piece. Only after I have learned the melody of a child can I understand the origin of a mistake. It is necessary to approach this matter thoroughly and not to think that the upbringing of a child, the education of an adult, or of an entire nation, can be accomplished by imposing additional burdens. Everything happens for good reasons and is in the context of the entire development of the child.
In the most extreme cases, the future life of such children is, of course, extremely calamitous. They are seen in school as foreign bodies. They experience there the same kind of life as they had before. The world seems for them to have no other ways of expressing itself towards them than with hostility, a bad attitude, and by treating them poorly. When then someone believing this to be the right thing to do beats such a child, it is what the child had actually expected, and his perception of the world will be confirmed.
I do not wish to pursue the course of the life of such children except to the point where they lost faith in their future and the hope that there is still something to be achieved in school. That is the moment when they become wayward. It is impossible for anyone to always feel good-for-nothing, worthless. He must find some means of escape. That is why we see children tending to go so far toward the useless side that we regard them as wayward. The course is always the same; that is also clear. I have not met a wayward student who had not fully given up hope of having any success in school. What conclusions do we draw from that? We must organize schools so that children will not lose faith in themselves. In the end, these children leave school with poor marks, derided, criticized, punished, with a growing disbelief in their own powers and now are expected to prove to society that they can be useful in their work. These children already lost faith in their ability to achieve anything. If they are now tested to determine their competency, it will become apparent that they are less experienced and more indecisive than the others. They don't know themselves what they want to become and whatever they say is empty words. These are the children who fail in every vocational test. They get nowhere; they have totally lost faith and are so poorly prepared for every test that slowly but surely the thought arises and a striving in them is awakened to prove in some way to the others that they are not mere trash.
Something they always hear and is said abusively is: "You will end as a criminal; you are a good for nothing; you can't do anything!" It invariably falls on fruitful soil. After all, does not the child already believe himself unable to do anything? That is always being reinforced from all sides. And now, for these children to eke out an existence and to escape from this feeling of shame and degradation, the flight into uselessness begins. It was already that way in school when they tried to avoid that institution at any cost. Whenever they could they stayed away from school, going so far as to forge notes excusing their absences and falsifying report cards so that parents and teachers were mostly unaware of their true situation. When parents and teachers say: "You can't get around me!" such a child thinks: "How often did you not catch me; I must be very clever in what I am doing!" Instead of going to school, the child seeks out-of-the way places. There he will find others who already took the same route, who carefully tried out how to accomplish this, and who already know how one can distinguish himself in being useless, how to reinforce one’s belief in himself, and how to show himself to be “a real man.” Frequently, the youngest members of such gangs are prodded on by leaders who then remain in the background in order for the fledglings to deal with the police. Then the novices find new inspiration for acting more cleverly. Since the path toward usefulness seems closed for these children, they remain on the useless side. And this whole misfortune started with these wayward children never seeing themselves as fellow human beings.
The treatment for such children can only be one that reestablishes their contact with society. Whoever has succeeded in this knows how happy such a child feels when he has a new experience, when someone who is himself a considerate person approaches him, and who does not slacken in his efforts to help that child find his proper place, and establish contact with others. Often this inability to make contacts is something seemingly unimportant, such as a child failing to play with other children early on and consequently not socializing, or if that child’s guardian is someone who, although loving the child, is a lonely person. That person then fails to promote contacts for the child. There are numerous trivial things in the home, in family life, that so frequently lead to problems, but which with a little effort could benefit the whole family. For example, I regard it as very important that the entire family eats together during meal times. However, these occasions must be recognized as opportunities for establishing closer contact with children. This cannot be done with a sour face, with keeping the rod nearby, or by lecturing children on their shortcomings. Whenever it is at all possible, I recommend that the day begin with eating breakfast together, and not with everyone eating at different times, or with someone still in bed while another is on the way to school. There are other mistakes that are made in this context, not only the one whereby the child is scolded at the table so that the child thinks:" Oh, if this would only end and I no longer would have to see these people!" Of course, it is just as bad if someone at the table pulls out the newspaper and begins to read. That should not be done because the child can easily be led to think: "Why am I staying here?" Of course, it is necessary to maintain contact with children outside of meal times until they are able to transfer that relationship to others. Therefore, it seems very important to me that children have social contacts beginning at age three.
In establishing contact, where the mother plays an enormous role, another even greater mistake can be made. It comes about when the mother creates such a strong bond that the child has nothing left for anyone else. The circle of life that is thus created, mother - child, is such that everything else is excluded. This observation applies to pampered children. The mother in her supremacy, of course, is the support for the child. The mother is always ready to help, always genial, always in demand by the child. This mother protects the child from everything, is always fearful for him and at his side, does not allow the child to function, to move, or to play by himself. Since this mother does everything for this child, there is nothing left for the child to do. The child does not even have to think any more, nor does he have to act since the mother acts for him. We can thus see that the problems with such a child are almost the same as with the first type. These children are excluded from society, the most important and the largest community. They experience only the mother who in turn has excluded all others. Frequently the father notices this mistaken development and will try to avert it by, for example, introducing a stricter upbringing. What happens then? The child grows even closer to the mother and excludes the father even more. The child no longer wants to have anything to do with him. The father and mother must consult with each other and arrive at a plan that would prevent the child from being driven even further from the father. It is not that difficult for a father to win over a child, but he must consider that not much has been accomplished by this. We must take care that other people are also brought into contact with the child.
The fearful child belongs to this group of pampered children since fear is nothing other than a cry for help, which we can recognize at every step in such children. It affects the child physically to the point where he can no longer stand up on his own and must always find something to lean on. If the mother is nearby, the child will lean on her. Such children cry when left alone by the mother. Obviously, this becomes a major task for the mother and in that way one mistake in upbringing avenges itself against the person who made it. The child has adopted a faulty lifestyle and no amount of scolding will help. This also goes for situations where the child makes trouble, does not want to go to sleep, and disturbs the sleep of others, all for only one purpose: to force the mother to come to the child. In their sleep, such children can feel isolation so strongly that they become afflicted with suddenly crying out, which is a development that identifies them as neurotic children, and the neurologist is called on to intercede. Not infrequently this same failing is the cause of children wetting their beds. This then becomes nothing more than a sign that the child speaks with his whole body, with his bladder, and declares: I must not be left alone; I must be paid attention to; I must always be protected! Such children are often severely punished, but always unsuccessfully. Whenever we hear of children being severely abused, it concerns mostly bedwetting. With such children we regularly find someone in their immediate environment who disregards all forms of propriety and mistreats them horribly. However, such a situation can be dealt with much easier and with more humanity. Punishment does not change children. Changes in children can come about only by recognizing that they have such strong feelings of insecurity that they want to appeal to their mother even at night. These children are no different from, for example, children who become fussy at night, who insist that their covers must be straightened out, the light remain on, and the door be kept open. Such children are poorly prepared for school. Should it surprise us when those children do poorly? When such children, frightened and crying, are brought to school with great effort, and there they find a friendly teacher, much more friendly than they had expected, and who fortuitously pays attention to them, then everything can work out well. Otherwise, the situation will become even worse. These children are tardy, fail to do their homework, lose their books and their book bags, and sit in class without participating. When they are tested it turns out that they cannot concentrate. Their memory seems to have suffered, which is really not the case, but their mind is on something else as is their concentration. They also relate poorly to their classmates and can establish contact only where they are met with the most warmth.
Such children suddenly are apt to change from being affectionate to something quite different. The craving of pampered children increases automatically. It always becomes greater and the demands these children make of their mothers often cannot be satisfied. However, they insist on having their demands met and one day there will be a moment when they start to tyrannize their mother by yelling and stamping their feet. The beginning of this behavior has its origin much earlier. Often these are children of whom their mother says: This used to be such an affectionate child. Did this child become someone else? Absolutely not. If one were to meet all the demands of such a child, he would stop yelling. However, that no longer can be done easily. The same behavior applies to this type of child in school. This child, like the other type, requires special consideration while he develops and keeps in step with the other children. Not enough attention is being paid to this problem today.
I am convinced that everyone who observes children from our vantage point comes to the same conclusion: that such children must be brought up slowly, that one must have patience, that one must always draw attention to their vulnerabilities by trying with whatever it takes to make them independent. They are messy, and when I hear that, then a person always comes to mind whose task is to make order. However, I also see that figure appear when there is talk of a child who lies. It is always as if I see a strong hand placed on the child’s head from which that child tries to escape. This escaping manifests itself in the lie.
There is another group of children that must be included here. These are the children who were born with weak or inferior organs. They are in the same situation as the others. They are experiencing every insignificant task as oppressive, have the feeling that they are not up to their tasks, do not hear or see too well, and have suffered from being incapable of doing certain things. They are particularly difficult to raise and nourish. They suffer from cramps, are disturbed during the day and at night, cannot sleep peacefully, have underdeveloped lungs, and suffer from physical weakness. Here also, the organic condition that caused the feeling of being weak can become extremely severe in such children. Clearly, all such afflicted children will strive to overcome their problems. Among them, remarkably, will be many artists who suffer from some type of visual problems, and many musicians whose hearing is poor, not only with some occasional ear infections, but with innate hearing problems. Beethoven, Bruckner, etc. are well known examples. However, they overcame their difficulties and not lose courage in their striving. They derived new strength from their struggle with obstacles. Among painters are even those who have difficulties distinguishing colors, or are even color blind and yet achieved greatness. When their works are examined, we find that these artists can be extremely discriminating because they had the courage to deal with their disability and did not give in to their problems. Shortcomings in children can be to their advantage under certain circumstances, but only when we do not undermine their courage. When we do so, we expose them to a most cruel fate. When we imagine that this basic principle applies not only to children, but also to adults, to entire groups, and to a nation, we will discover a wonderful unity in all this.
We expect from educators and parents that they guide the striving in children to useful activities and not deter the courage to strive. These are the two demands that we must make of anyone raising children and of educators.
Only courageous, self-confident people can endure this world. It offers something only to those who are in concert with its problems, who do not fear its many ramifications, but try to overcome them. For that reason, from this unalterable relationship of man to earth and man to man, to which the struggle between the two sexes can be added, clearly are derived the right principles for our lives and our work, for the endowment of our lifestyles, and our development. We can allow as valid only those principles that recognize this interrelationship, that are appropriate to form out of human beings the right inhabitants for this earth, genuine fellow human beings living within a social organization, people who are able to solve the problems of life with wisdom.
During the discussion at the conclusion of this lecture, the following questions were raised:
- Is it possible that the causes for a person to be wayward are inherent in the child's genetic make-up?
- Can we allow our children to be with problem children without having to resort to corporal punishment? Is it correct to integrate problem children with others or should they be taught in separate classes?
3. Is it correct to segregate especially talented children?
Answer to the first question:
If there were children whose genetic make-up is so impaired that they could no longer be helped, leaving them to become wayward, it would not pay to have teachers, particularly to teach those children. However, no one has ever determined a degree of impairment in a person's genetic make-up that would justify giving up on that individual. It is the other way around so that when caregivers are not able to bring up a child properly, they use genetics as an excuse. I have seen children with a very poor genetic make-up who were among the best, and I have seen children with a very good genetic make-up who counted among the worst. When an educator thinks that he cannot get anywhere because of the child's genetic make-up (and I am not including here children with organic impairments), then I would like to recommend that the educator should let someone else try, who will approach the child from the standpoint that I have advocated. It is certain that there are difficult cases, and we have often sweated blood with such children, but it still worked. If I were to assume that in certain cases nothing could be done because of what the child inherited, I would be even more confident that I could successfully attain acceptable results with all children, those with good as well as those with poor genetic make-ups. In short: we can always spoil a child, whether he has good or bad genes. Consequently, the genetic make-up cannot play as significant a role, as it is still believed to be the case today, especially from a medical standpoint where normally every pedagogical perspective is missing. Obviously there is a connection, which must be highlighted, such as when a child with inferior organs--which would be the case with a poor genetic makeup--would more likely develop a strong feeling of inferiority. To have been able to establish this, however, is an achievement of our science and is the starting point for all of our treatments. We soon see that there is a connection: It is that a child with poor genes living under favorable conditions conducts himself at least as well as a child with good genes living under adverse conditions. When a child with weak organs then experiences adverse conditions, if we can find no appropriate plan for raising that child, then it is quite possible that education here is useless, and that only poor results will ensue. I consider it inappropriate for an educator to adopt this standpoint, since he must above all else be actively optimistic and must transfer that optimism to his children. Before children are pushed aside because of their genetic make-up, our method should first be tried.
Response to the second question:
Should problem children be allowed to attend regular schools? Within a family, there is no choice. The decision depends upon the degree of seriousness. Serious cases must be treated specially. For certain types of degeneration, the public school is inappropriate. In such cases, it often is necessary to remove those children even from their families.
Answer to the third question:
As you must have gathered from my discussion, I do not believe in talent. Everything is self-developed creativity. Goethe says: Genius probably is only diligence! Every normal child can accomplish what school and teacher expect of him. When classes are organized according to the adage "free reign to the competent," that is, by talented students and those lacking in talent, the result is often significant failure, as has been shown where there are only talented classes.
I would like to point out one danger that is faced by educators when they believe too much in talent. When they tell a child that he is talented, it is often possible that the child will no longer make any effort and become arrogant. Socially, this is wrong. That, however, is not the worst. When such a child faces difficulties in the course of his life, he then frequently fears defeat more than he seeks success. He begins to falter and to have doubts, nervous illnesses follow, and the child becomes stymied and can no longer progress. We need only think of prodigies. They often end up badly. Then there is the other side, the so-called child lacking in talent, which, to tell the truth, I do not accept. That is the reason that I am opposed to segregating the talented from the untalented children. I do not believe that any success will result. I do know, however, that this will not help the talented, and that the untalented will be harmed.
One must learn to treat a child as an equal. This will be easier for the person who tends to find equality in another person. Whoever lacks that tendency will have difficulty seeing himself as a child’s equal partner. That is a precondition. All education must strive to direct the natural feeling of inferiority toward the useful side and to let it develop usefully. This requires equality. I do not believe in competent or incompetent children; I believe that this applies only to educators.
The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler
Birth Order & Early Memories
Social Interest & Education
Technique of Treatment
New Translations by Gerald L. Liebenau
Edited by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.
Classical Adlerian Translation Project
© 2005 by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the editor. All inquiries should be sent to Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., Classical Adlerian Translation Project, 2565 Mayflower Lane, Bellingham, WA 98226. Tel (360) 647-5670 or e-mail to HTStein@att.net .
Published 2005 by The Classical Adlerian Translation Project.
Printed in the United States of America
Table of Contents
Editor’s Preface 2005.............................................................................................. ii
About the Translator .............................................................................................. ii
Chapter I: The Neurotic Character ......................................................1
Chapter II: The Child’s Symptom Selection  .....................................10
Chapter III: Individual Psychology and Psychoanalysis  ....................21
Chapter IV: Compulsion Neurosis  ......................................................25
Chapter V: Pampered Children  .........................................................43
Chapter VI: The Fear of Women  ........................................................48
Chapter VII: Narcotic Abuse and Alcoholism  .....................................50
Chapter VIII: Personality as a Self-Consistent Unity .............................60
Chapter IX: Structure and Methods of Individual Psychology ............72
Chapter X: Individual Psychology and Education  ............................75
Chapter XI: The Technique of Treatment  ...........................................80
Chapter XII: Origin of the Striving for Superiority
and Social Interest  ...........................................................95
Chapter XIII: Physique and Psyche  .....................................................101
Chapter XIV: The Structures of Psychic Activity  ...............................109
Chapter XV: Psychosomatic Disturbances  .........................................114
Chapter XVI: Mass Psychology  ..........................................................120
Chapter XVII: The Fundamental Views of Individual Psychology  ......125
Chapter XVIII: What is Neurosis?  .........................................................132
Chapter XIX: The Structure and Prevention of Delinquency  ..............140
Chapter XX: Prevention of Neurosis  ..................................................149
Chapter XXI: On the Interpretation of Dreams  ...................................157
Chapter XXII: The Neurotic’s Picture of the World  .............................170
Chapter XXIII: How the Child Selects His Symptoms  ..........................179
Chapter XXIV: Love is a Recent Invention  ...........................................189
Chapter XXV: Position in Family Constellation
Influences Life-Style  .....................................................195
Chapter XXVI: Significance of Early Recollections  ..............................209
Chapter XXVII: Progress of Mankind  ....................................................213
Chapter XXVIII:How I Chose My Career  ..............................................217
Index .........................................................................................220 Appendix: “Basic Principles of Classical Adlerian Psychology” ...............................................237
Editor’s Preface - 2005
Adler’s journal articles, written between 1931 and 1937, encapsulate the most mature expression of his ideas on theory and practice. Of the twenty-eight articles included in this volume, five are devoted to child development: selection of symptoms, consequences of pampering, prevention of delinquency, and education. Another five cover theoretical issues: self-consistent unity of personality, structures of psychic activity, striving for superiority, and social interest. In three articles about psychopathology, he addresses the neurotic’s character, symptoms, and picture of the world, as well as the prevention of neurosis; five more articles contain his ideas on compulsion neurosis, fear of women, alcohol and drug abuse, the mind-body connection, and psychosomatic disturbances. He offers practical diagnostic guidance in two articles about family constellation and earliest recollections. Finally, he provides a dramatic comparison to psychoanalysis, and then a rare insight into the technique of psychotherapy. This volume is an essential resource for anyone wishing to gain an in-depth understanding of Adler’s remarkable, timeless insights into human nature and their yet-to-be-realized potential.
Sophia de Vries contributed five translations of Adler’s later work to this volume. It was her initial efforts, more than fifteen years ago, that inspired the Classical Adlerian Translation Project. A number of articles, originally published in English, have also been included. My wife, Laurie J. Stein, edited the material to improve style and readability.
For readers unfamiliar with Adler’s ideas, a brief overview, titled “Basic Principles of Classical Adlerian Psychology,” is included in the appendix. Other comprehensive articles, titled “Classical Adlerian Theory and Practice” and “A Psychology of Democracy” have been published in Volumes 1 & 2 of The Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler. A deeper appreciation of the development of Adler’s theory can be achieved by studying Volumes 1-7.
About the Translator -Gerald L. Liebenau
Gerald L. Liebenau was born in Berlin, Germany. During World War II, he served with the Office of Strategic Services as an interpreter and translator. After graduating from Yale University, he embarked on a career with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is the translator of Nicholas Gonner's Luxemburgers in the New World, and Janusz Piekalkiewicz's World History of Espionage. He currently resides in Arlington, Virginia.
The Child's Symptom Selection12
The subject that I wish to discuss today is the most difficult in neuropsychology as well as in psychology in general. To approach this subject, we must successfully master the difficulties constantly encountered in the psychology of neuroses and in psychiatry. Above all, when we approach the selection of symptoms in order to understand them, we must renounce guessing. Here, everything must be firmly nailed down and proven from every aspect. No stone in this structure can be left loose. We must come so far that we are able to say: if I were in the same situation, if I had the same mistaken attitude toward life, if I had trained in the same way as this person, then I would suffer from about the same symptoms. Only then, after such an identification, could we claim to truly understand a person, and comprehend his selection of symptoms. Clearly, more must be added. Foremost, when I speak of symptom selection today, you must permit me to speak of symptom selection not only in neurosis, because--as Individual Psychology has established--that which we call neurosis is also only symptoms, symptoms of an erroneous lifestyle, manifestations that appear when someone is unable to cope with questions of life in a manner normally expected by us. That is the one aspect that we wish to take into consideration. When you see in the end that our examinations actually apply not only to neurosis, but also to problem children, criminals, etc., you will then forgive me for having drawn out my subject so extensively.
We shall be able to understand the selection of symptoms only when we regard it as an art form. We must divest ourselves of our judgmental view and observe with awe how every person is an artist in his life, forced into this role presumably as a result of errors he made, unfortunate influences to which he probably did not respond correctly. When we thus want to make a determination starting with any one symptom, then we must perceive it as a part of the whole. That means that in each symptom we shall find something else, other than what is observable externally, other than its content, other than, for example, that someone suffers from headaches, anxiety, obsessive ideas of having become a
1 Originally published as “Symptomwahl beim Kinde” in Kinderärztl.Praxisol., Vol. 2,
pages 398-409, 1931. Re-printed in Alfred Adler: Psychotherapie und Erziehung,
Ausgewählte Aufsätze, Band II: 1930-1932, p. 173-191.
2 New translation by Gerald L. Liebenau, 2003. Editing assistance by Kurt A. Adler,
thief, or having been idle in school. Also, something unique pertains to each individual. A judgment cannot be based on a formula. The closer we examine such a symptom and the better we understand the structure of the psyche, the more we understand that symptoms meaning the same thing do not exist. We can describe differences up to a point. However, this creative act of the concerned patient, a trend strives after a kind of fulfillment, a becoming, never a being. Whether they know it or not, whoever speaks of a choice of symptoms must also consider that here is something that strives toward a goal, something that can be perceived and understood only in light of the final point of view.
First of all, to what extent does heredity play a role since we often observe how among certain members of a family tree similar manifestations appear. As I said previously, we can never draw conclusions from external similarities of symptoms and what applies here is: when two persons do the same thing, it is not the same. We endeavor in Individual Psychology to establish all factors that lead to erroneous ways. The first factor we encounter is how the child experiences his body. After some time, we also discover the child's behavior and attitude clearly expressed in the sense that one child will display greater self-confidence than another, one will be more active than another, one child will be fearful and constantly concerned with himself while another is ready to connect, cooperate, play along and not place the full burden on others, etc. Of course, here I have drawn only on types that will not provide us a solution for a specific case since we constantly have to deal with thousand-fold variations. Nevertheless, we can soon observe the influence of the body, the effectiveness of the organs, how the child experiences these, and how he applies and employs them. Of course, the child can make mistakes. The child has some kind of attitude toward the demands of life. However small, these demands affect breathing, movement, eating, cleanliness, etc. All these functions also relate to the effectiveness of the organs. Therefore, Individual Psychology has clearly established that children with weaker organs somehow have an imprint, which we perceive as weakness, insecurity, and inferiority. When such a condition of insecurity and inferiority persists for some time, the child with this perception will develop his lifestyle accordingly, so that training promotes the groundwork for cementing an attitude toward the tasks of life. This training produces a child cares much more about himself, with character traits that seem plausible to us, but which appear to the child as necessary and a matter of course. We then find, for example, character traits of exaggerated carefulness, which already explains that we are dealing here with a person who has little self-confidence and who suspects himself surrounded by dangers. We find traits of particular sensitivity which makes it understandable that such a child fears losing his grip whenever he is attacked. We find traits of impatience, showing us an individual with little self-confidence, who cannot stand waiting and believes that all his wishes must be fulfilled immediately, else he feels defeated.
Some physical symptoms persist or emerge repeatedly without having any organic cause even when they frequently disclose the “locus minoris resistentiae.”
We find that with such inferior organs often pronounced manifestations of organic damage subsequently arise in life, so that the child, without finding it conspicuous, shows a particular interest in protecting and attaining greater creative achievement of the “locus minoris resistentiae.” We find children with a vision impediment observe with particular interest perspectives, colors, lines, shadows, and accuracy in order to comprehend everything better. Certainly, they are under greater strain which can occasionally lead to greater advantages, a stress which might eventually allow them to grasp better the things they see while others, again under different influences, will soon quit striving, will not make the effort to see better because they experienced their inability to succeed. We find the same with different organs, such as inferiorities of the digestive system causing children to suffer and go hungry, or to swallow distasteful things, and give great care to food so that their interest is artificially directed toward food, as Czerny has shown many years ago. Frequently, we find such people not only have a delicate digestive system and are prone to occasional illness, as is occasionally true for the family tree, but also they invariably are interested in eating, like to talk about food, and can gain certain advantages here, but in one major aspect they are not in harmony with life. All experience confirms that whatever is overemphasized in the composition, the structure of the inner life, disturbs the harmony of coexistence. We need only think of cleanliness, for example. When any child is forced to overdo cleanliness and see it as the foundation of life, when he grows up with a perception that cleanliness under any condition is the most important thing for which all others must be neglected, we can then suspect that he will soon develop a neurosis of obsessively washing himself. He will hold up his cleanliness against everyone else, maintaining that they are not clean enough for him, yet he will fail in life. Only one achievement of the psyche cannot be harmful when overdone to the benefit of one individual and that is social interest. Here a way opens toward understanding a large number of symptoms, not only neurotic symptoms. For example, in problems with the digestive system, a child with a pronounced interest in eating and an increased appetite and desire for food will soon relate that to money problems, extending his interest to money, so that we find such people burden themselves not only with eating problems, but also with a terrible greed for money. At this point, I offer two prominent examples of a type I had described some time ago as a “little Napoleon.” The first concerns Rockefeller who at times in his life was said to have suffered from stomach disorders. The other is Ford, one of the most successful businessmen, who wrote a textbook on “correct nutrition.” Other examples exist, and once in a while cases of such interest arise, so I recommend that you keep these ideas in mind. Long ago Czerny pointed out the significance of the frailty of the digestive system in terms of psychological development and also neurotic problems. More can be said on individual cases; I can merely sketch the basic line here. Of course, this topic becomes clearer as well as more complex and is not solely a matter of inferior organs influencing the lifestyle, but concerns all children who artfully and erroneously approach the problems of life and for that reason are not prepared to meet the demands of our culture. Furthermore, we must also consider the influences that impact very early on a child because of the way he is treated. These include not only economic demands, not only the skill of the caregiver or the expertness and experience of the mother, but also the total family situation. The waves of social existence flood from the outside into the nursery and influence the child incessantly.
Here again, the child must take a position in order not to fall apart psychologically. He must find a direction that points to the possibility of coping with the problems of life and to discovering a final form, a solution to difficult problems, etc. However, out of the family situation naturally comes a great influx of movement and emotions that can lead toward a choice of symptoms. We must keep in mind the psychological influences. The child must prepare for a constant, in his demanding, fairly unvarying life. The caregiver, the mother, must help with this task. Since we are concerned with human achievements, we understand well that an ideal solution of this task can hardly be expected and a thousand variations in the upbringing of the child ensue to bring his primitive ability to cope in harmony with the prevailing culture. Innumerable mistakes can occur, steering the lifestyle to follow a certain direction so that the expected problems of life the child faces will find him lacking in preparation. We can perceive the problems of life--of course, this is not meant to be taken literally--like a problem in mathematics. Only someone with the proper mathematical preparation can find the correct solution. We must bring up the child so that he becomes a proper fellow man as required by our culture, so that he will be prepared to solve the problems that cannot be solved without social interest. Problems concerning “I” to “thou,” problems of occupation, and problems of love which depend on a sufficient interest in one's partner cannot be resolved without a preparation in social feeling.
After the third, fourth or fifth year, the child has an established lifestyle that cannot be changed without an understanding of the mistakes hidden within it. This lifestyle has the shape and dimensions that could be attained up to that time. The question now arises: how will this uniquely formed lifestyle, influenced by the mother, the environment, and furthermore by the creative power of the child, respond to a question for which it was not prepared? Very soon, the extent to which the outside world was mistakenly perceived will make itself felt in the execution of the lifestyle. It will become apparent in the way a child makes himself dependent on another person, thereby making the other person dependent, as found in pampered children. Actually, very few children are not pampered. Perhaps every child must experience a certain amount of pampering at the beginning of his life. The correct upbringing would be to make the child into an independent, cooperative, fellow human being. This is undoubtedly the goal of education. We would hardly speak of symptoms, failures, and erroneous psychic lifestyles, if we were certain that the people who have failed are erring, fellow human beings, who live, work, and love alongside us. However, this is precisely what we lack and for that reason mankind tries to create order, to improve, etc.
Because the ideal form of upbringing is exceedingly unusual, we must naturally expect errors in the development of a child. However, the most significant task of upbringing is to discover these errors early and provide help. I frequently hear objections such as: I have done everything that I could; I have tried to make the child independent and it did not work; for example, he fusses when eating, does not want to go to sleep, has bowel movement problems, is jealous of his younger sister, wets his bed, cries at night, etc. We can only respond: the effort has not succeeded. Perhaps we are not ready yet to bring up a child so that his movement in a direction of becoming a fellow human being has been assured from the outset. Surely, we can do much more than what is being done today and then, of course, we would not experience a child refusing to accept standards set by our culture. A child rejects those standards only when the mother failed to adapt him to those guidelines. Difficulties may arise, but we can succeed in this endeavor. If someone were to doubt this, I would restate the question as follows: “If you have no confidence in yourself to bring up a child in consonance with our culture, do you not at least have the confidence to ensure that a child does not soil himself, refuse to eat, refuse to sleep, or hate his father and mother?” That would probably be easy to attain. Primarily, pampered children are the ones who are not equal to the problems of life, because they are used to having all of their wishes fulfilled, so they naturally develop a striving to get everything immediately hate those who stand in their way. These children connect with one person and would like to exclude everyone else. Either sooner or later, we can consider them, admittedly in a highly exaggerated way, as being afflicted with an Oedipus complex. They struggle with their culture and reject it because no one was able to train them to adapt to its ways. These children are filled with self-love and insist that “I come first; I do whatever I want and have nothing to do with the others.” Soon we can see the refusal to cooperate. This process already begins on the first day. I don't need to tell pediatricians the importance of not pampering a child during the earliest period, and of immediately instituting a certain order in his lifestyle, in order to prevent him from coming into conflict with behavior demanded by our culture.
Frequently, such mistakes can be avoided. We cannot claim that such children possess a tendency toward bad habits by nature. No one has actually seen the cherished “Kotstange,” and it is more likely that in cases of constipation, the entire course of the bowel movement stops. One aspect pertains primarily to pampered children. They are in a situation which extraordinarily deepens their feeling of inferiority. The feeling of inferiority in pampered children derives from their perceiving every changed situation as a danger, as diminishing the range of their powers, so that they live in a world in which they constantly fear uncertainties, danger, and failures. At least in pampered situations, they wish to be master. As we know very well, pampered children excel at being tyrants at home. The mother is the first victim because she presents herself first to the child, so that her pampering plays a major role in leading him child down the wrong paths he will follow during the first years. Innumerable families make this mistake who are insecure, who grew up in pampered situations, and were burdened with wrong traditions they now pass on, such as exaggerating the value of eating so that the child finds opportunities to revolt against it. If the child learns that this is how he can gain greater attention and more pampering, he will revolt more strongly. Such a child who refuses to eat has a far greater feeling of power and gains much greater satisfaction from his striving after power than do other children. These pampered children after some tries hit the right mark. They are practiced tacticians; they attack at the weakest point. When a family places great value on the cleanliness of the bed, and the child needs and hopes to draw the mother closer to him even at night, he will wet his bed.
In this, I do not overlook organic functions that also play a part, various anomalies, etc. However, when such a child with any minor problems, or even without these problems, is constantly being harped on, for example, to speak properly, eat correctly, sleep, move his bowels or urinate, etc. in a way that he soon realizes he can thereby hold on to someone, then the pampered child will surely begin to stutter, refuse to eat and sleep, and become enuretic. The same applies to problems with moving one's bowels. For many families, the bowel movement is the center of their lives. A child soon notices this, then forces his family to concern themselves constantly with his bowel movements. Later, I will try to answer the question of how he manages this task. This process probably instinctively follows the line of a feverish evolution and increases automatically the motivation of the child to become the center of pampering, or to attain that position forcefully.
Acknowledging that I must skip over various points of view, I would like to show how the selection of symptoms arises as a result of a deficient upbringing. Later, under conditions where they no longer have any value for the individual, symptoms may disappear. As that person grows up, he will face a situation for which he feels unprepared because of his inability to cooperate and be a fellow human being. Then all those physical tensions arise that in accordance with vegetative systems affect inferior organs or at a minimum produce reactions in them, or the child behaves in the way that he has known to be successful. Here again, just as with neurosis, it is a matter of getting someone to serve him and to exploit another person's social contribution.
I purposely select uncomplimentary cases because it is important to show how we can begin to understand a choice of symptoms. In continuing, children who lack interest in anyone else lack something that really establishes the worth of a person and his performance. Now, in our culture, even in childhood, failure to act is difficult. However, we find this failure in neurosis. Enlisting someone who does perform, and demanding that person’s service without oneself actually making any contribution, can in our culture, arrange an exemption from personal responsibility, a responsibility expected from everyone living under a social contract. This avoidance of responsibility occurs when someone faces failure, when he has a more or less bleak impression of himself as being too weak or being inferior. The dark secret might then be revealed that such a person is actually worthless. In their vanity, these people think only of themselves and not of others, cannot stop thinking of themselves, cannot put all their strength into their work, and think: How do I look; what kind of an impression do I make; what do others think of me; what do I get? In these people we find strong antagonistic feelings, defiance, envy, jealousy, and other signs that the social relationship has turned into enmity. We can trace this result back to the beginning of their life when the effort to shape the child into a fellow human being failed. In every case, we can verify this process when we look ahead.
Now, when someone in society openly refuses to act, then what we call neurosis is impossible. It is possible, for example, in suicide and in crime. It is not possible in neurosis because the neurotic is psychologically so structured that he seems to say: I should like to cooperate but I cannot. Naturally, he constantly eyes his poorly prepared and now matured internal inhibitions, and sees obstacles that he ties to his demand to be relieved from cooperating. We can see clearly in his expressions of fear that he considers himself inferior, acting as if he stood at the edge of an abyss. Now, we Individual Psychologists, imbued with an incorrigible optimism, maintain that every sensible person can achieve anything. However, if someone has not yet acquired social feeling, he has no other choice but to acquire it. In fact, social interest, the most important dowry of a child for avoiding neurosis and all failures, must be learned in childhood or the person must make up that lesson later in life. The individual must repeat that assignment. Since the neurotic has a “yes--but” attitude, the rationale for his excuses must be developed very well. Clearly, he acknowledges the necessity for cooperation. As all neurotic patients express it, his will is certainly always present. What is not present is the deed. He avoids acting, defers doing something to some future time supported by arguments that serve as excuses but are the result of pure psychological tension. Neuropsychology focuses on determining how the patient produces his excuses. If someone wants to accomplish something, when he gives thought to it, whatever occurs in his life, he can make use of nothing else but what he derives from his (earlier) experience. It is impossible to proceed other than by applying earlier experience. Therefore, he must reach back to an earlier situation in which he was able, in the best possible light, to refuse to act. If by doing so he also trained his neurotic attitude, then so much the better. If inferior organs can be considered for support, they will certainly be exploited because they begin to resonate on their own as soon as psychological tension is created. In cases of psychological tension, the entire body begins to vibrate. However, we will observe this tension only when it is more clearly manifested, mostly by inferior organs, or by some organ activity as a result of training that began in early childhood for reasons that I have already indicated. It is not enough merely to reach back, but a goal already exists here, a substitute goal, providing a feeling of superiority, although if described in simple words it means: “How do I manage to be relieved so I don't have to do something that I fear?” Admitting cowardice is not pleasant; therefore, the process must be recast. The individual will never say: I am emotionally upset because I believe myself to be worthless and unable to act.
Instead, he will somehow cover up and pay attention merely to the outcome of his excitement which provides him security against any failure or debasement of his personality. This tension will have different results with different people. Interestingly, it also radiates into the mind. For example, in obsessive compulsive neurosis, someone fills himself with ideas which engender a feeling of freedom from an encumbering sense of importance, and prevent him from doing any more than what he already is doing “only” because of his obsessive manifestations. On the one hand, it is like a balm for wounded ambition; on the other hand, it means suffering, the cost he pays for his escaping.
The suffering of the neurotic is certainly disagreeable, not the fulfillment of wishes, not the fulfillment of sexual lust, but the sad cost that he must pay to be relieved so that he can avoid failure. However, the feelings and thoughts he creates, feelings such as in anxiety neurosis, thoughts as in compulsive neurosis, motile manifestations as in hysteria, etc. allow us to surmise where he has set his goal in order to avoid having to act, how during childhood he compensated for his feeling of inferiority, and what he thought, felt, and how he moved. Here again we see something tricky in the nature of the neurotic and all failures. Certain character traits appear repeatedly that do not apply to the strong and self-confident, but to the person who judges himself as weak, who tries with all his might to avoid revealing his feeling of weakness, and who by doing so places blame on what he created himself. Acute sensitivity, impatience, yearning for anything sweet, fearfulness, craving for unseemly ways to find relief, and strong emotionality are his constant companions.
We are now left to explain how the individual's creative force in producing a symptom is manifested. One example: When I aim at avoiding to act, and I was trained through fear from childhood on to let another serve, accompany, and protect me, to rob him of his freedom, to make him servile, etc. when I am on that path, then I must pave and reinforce that way to the best of my ability so that I can reach my goal successfully. Now, how do I create a fear that will allow me to eliminate any necessary actions and force another to assuage my fear? Patients state the answer very clearly. They don't understand what they say to us, have no clue that they provide us with a glimpse into the workshop of neurosis when they say, for example: “I feel the ground shaking;” “I think of the death of my husband, of my own death;” or “I fear that I shall faint, that I shall have a heart attack,” etc. The thought of dying plays an unimaginable role with pampered people because their support would be missing if one of their court attendants were to disappear. The patient is constantly preoccupied with the thought of his misery were he to lose his support. However, with that thought in mind, which touches on an essential part of his life, through empathy he creates a fear as if the concerned individual had already died; that is, he identifies with a situation that could possibly occur in the future. We observe this process best in the case of depression where the person lives as if a disaster had already struck.
Of course, this presentation gives merely the fundamentals. We have an extraordinarily fruitful field here for an understanding of the choice of symptoms.
In two cases selected for their simplicity and striking transparency, I will show how early the choice of symptoms is established and how difficult it is to uncover correctly or surmise.
One case concerns a thirteen year old boy in his fifth year at elementary school because he already had to repeat classes twice, who was considered the worst student in his school. In addition, he had committed several thefts, and had run away for several days at a time until the police found him and returned him home. The teacher tried punishment and exhortation, but neither that nor kindness helped, so the boy was sent to an institution. He arrived there with a certification that declared him mentally retarded. In this institution, one of the instructors was my student. Not satisfied with merely observing symptoms, he wanted to understand the lifestyle and the choice of symptoms. He was convinced that no one theft was like any other. Since he knew these transgressions had to be expressions of the total personality, he endeavored to press forward until he reached the core of the personality in order to find what has been called the “psychological constitution.” Developed in the third, fourth, and fifth year of life, it will always be present and as such perceives, responds, and assimilates. The instructor also knew that he could start at any point because every symptom contains the whole, great melody of the individual. Therefore, he began with an examination of report cards. He found that the boy had received good marks in the first three grades and poor marks only in the fourth year. He concluded from this that for some reason the boy did not have the proper preparation for the fourth grade. He then guessed that the boy had a change of teachers in the fourth grade. This turned out to be true. Furthermore, he surmised that the boy had a friendly teacher in his first three years of school, so that his lifestyle, consequently, was not prepared for the unfriendly one.
The instructor concluded that this was a case of a pampered child who in accordance with his lifestyle was able to make progress under the condition of being treated with kindness. Given his psychological make-up and his exposure to a functional test, in this case a teacher who was a disciplinarian, this boy had to display his failure by means of a symptom. The instructor was able to reach these conclusions based on his examination of the boy's report cards. The boy confirmed these findings. The instructor then asked him: “What did you do with the money and the things you stole?” The boy answered: “I gave them to my classmates so they would become my friends because I have no friends and since I am poor, and also the worst student in class, the others avoid me.” We see here again the great underlying melody in the choice of theft as a symptom. We see the boy’s hunger for kindness, and how he attempts to buy it with bribes. We can conclude that the mother obviously had pampered the boy, but we must be able to prove that. The instructor asked him: “How did it come about that you ran away?” The boy answered: “I hid out in the forest or in a barn. However, at night I always gathered wood and brought it to my mother's kitchen door so that she would have wood for cooking.” Again, he stole something in order to bribe his mother and to win her love, just as he tried to win the love of his comrades. He knows no other ways to be pampered, which for him is the high point of his life. But, can you tell me another way? A poor student, flogged by the teacher, unable to make progress, how else could he have made friends? I know of no better means than those the boy had discovered. We can also conclude from the description of his experience at school that he is intelligent; he did something that any other intelligent person would have done.
Here we see the choice of symptoms: He hits the right mark in order to attain his goal. In school he expected only to be scolded. Had I the same expectations, I also would not have attended school. This choice of symptoms is intelligent, understandable, and cogent. He ran away from home because his father was strict with him. When the boy brought home bad report cards, he was beaten, and the mother cried and was unfriendly. Therefore, he ran away in order to stir his mother's heart. We can see how every symptom reaches beyond itself and carries the basic melody: the theft in order to bribe others; the running away to scare the mother, to extort kindness; the failure in school to protest against the unkind teacher. Everything was done in order to win warmth and be pampered. I would like to show how far back this psychological constitution reaches. Individual Psychology places immense importance on the earliest childhood memories because these show how, out of thousands of influences, he selects one which made a particular impression on him. He related the following:
“When I was four years old, my father sent me to buy a newspaper, but”-when you hear this “but” you already see a move on the part of the boy to avoid the task his father had given him. He does not care for his father, just as he does not warm up to the severe teacher. He continues the recollection: “I went to my uncle who gave me cake, which I brought to my mother.” In his line of movement, this child knows only his mother, and is fond of another--whether man or woman--only when that person pampers him equally. Without being pampered, he does not progress.
Regarding treatment for such a boy it follows that we cannot influence him without first pampering him. Of course, in order to understand this process, we must discern his whole lifestyle. Nothing has been gained by pampering him. That would repeat the same situation he has known from previous experiences. However, without initial pampering and warmth, he will not be ready for treatment. This is also how the instructor started. Another of the boy's recollections: “Once, at the railroad station, a train car caught on fire. Inside the car were children's balls. The workers tried to save the balls from the fire and threw them out of the railroad car. Several adults and children who had been standing around took those balls for themselves.” At age three, stealing already appeared to him as something usual, or possible. It is an easy way of gaining without contributing, without work, without having to accomplish anything, by letting others do the work, by assuring oneself of their cooperation, and by profiting from their actions.
In another case, the choice of symptoms can also easily be easily grasped. Cowardly and fearful because they are used to being given support, pampered children show fear whenever they face a situation where they envision failure.
At five years old, a particular boy was one of the most unruly children. He made demands on his mother to the point where she was always exhausted. He climbed on the table with his shoes on, put his hands into a pot of soup, removed all the screws from his bed, destroyed all his toys, etc. If his mother wanted to read, he turned off all the lights; when she played the piano, he held his hands over his ears and began to yell and scream, etc. Obviously, the boy was a great burden and the parents tried everything to lead him on the right path. His willfulness resulted from a test he had not passed. The parents were given various suggestions on what to do. They were advised to bring the boy in contact with other boys, which they did. The boy brought back many unflattering expressions and always returned home dirty.
The father took the boy to the zoo to divert him. As pampered children often do, the boy had gained the attention of his parents with troubled sleep, crying out at night, and occasionally sleepwalking. After his visit to the zoo, he continued to cry out at night and complained that he could not close his eyes when trying to sleep because as soon as he did so, he saw the snakes that his father had shown him in the zoo. No matter where we send the boy, he will select whatever suits his lifestyle. However, he did not pass the test because his mother had another son, a younger brother. This brother diminished the boy’s reign of power, so in order to regain the center of attention, he tried to expand his authority with all his might.
He selected fear as a symptom. Why does he not wet his bed? Why does he create no problems with his bowel movements? Perhaps innately he has a different orientation, has other erogenous zones? I could make him incontinent and train him to have problems with his bowels. We prefer to draw the conclusion that the mother paid no attention to his bowel and urinary functions, so he did not become aware that these are vulnerable areas he could attack.
Understanding the selection of symptoms is not a matter of mathematics that can be solved by formulas. Every formula is to be avoided. The crux here is: knowing how to bring evidence to support that which, on the strength of greater experience, we surmise. We must apply the general diagnosis of Individual Psychology, but cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with that. We must follow with the specific diagnosis until we uncover the totality of the personality, the individuality. Therefore, “Individual Psychology.”
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