I started reading Alfred Adler a few days ago because I wanted to know more about Adler’s psychoanalytical theories, upon which a recent Japanese mega-seller “self-help” book, Kirawareru Yuki (the courage to be disliked) written by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, was based. I knew Adler as a psychiatrist who left Freud’s Psychoanalysis group because he did not agree with Freud’s over-emphasis on libido as the most powerful human drive. Unlike Freud and Jung (another member of Freud’s psychoanalysis group who also parted his way from Freud) Adler did not motivate me to read his books since he seemed to me less intriguing and captivating due to his lack of literary flare (after all, he seemed less interested in producing magnum opus and his ‘will to power’ as the major human drive struck me as the second running of Nietzsche’s ‘will to power’). In short, I knew his name, but not much more. However, now that I am more familiar with his theories I consider them more agreeable and sensible. In fact, I’ve begun to believe his psychoanalytic theories may be more conducive to providing practical therapeutic uses due to their empirically agreeable nature. In addition, I very much appreciated Adler’s ‘application’ of Hans Vaihinger’s “Philosophy of As If” to form his theories. (Like Vaihinger, I believe it’s the human mind that creates the world and concepts that explain it.) In this way, most of Adler’s theories can remain hypotheses without any further need to verify them with concrete evidence, which itself can be largely dependent on human interpretations anyway. If a theory works, it does. If a theory stops working, it’s time to replace it with another. I think it more honest to acknowledge a theory’s provisional nature than claiming it as the eternal “truth.”
In details, the differences between Adler and Freud are many. However, they are quite similar in the fundamental theory orientation: that is, infancy influences human psyche in an immeasurable manner. For instance, Freud’s theory of human psycho-sexual development is deeply guided by a person’s experiences in their first 6 years or so, and Adler’s theory that the inferiority complex, which as infants and young children all humans more or less experience, guides a person’s human development throughout his/her life, forming the psychic drive, the will to power/ perfection. And, it’s quite interesting to note that the differences between Freud and Adler seem to have originated in their almost opposite interpretations of human infancy: for Freud infancy is the happiest time of one’s life when “the world” was a unified whole with a mother and an infant at its mother’s breast; meanwhile for Adler, the infancy is the time of personal misery and incompetence due to the infant’s lack of many motor and intellectual skills. These diverse interpretations of infancy obviously originated in these two great psychoanalysts’ quite different life experiences: while Freud was very much in love with his young and beautiful mother (who was the third wife to his ageing father), Adler suffered from health problems as a young child. Thus, Freud’s psychoanalytic method focuses on the ways to get over with the individual’s heavenly infanthood, which is ultimately non-social and unreal, while Adler’s method emphasizes the future development of an individual who has the capacity to form one’s own future after all.
Thus having considered the differences between Adler and Freud, I find it interesting that it is only in recent years that Adler’s theories became more appreciated by Japanese people who, according to Japanese psychiatrist Takeo Doi, seemed to be trapped by the amae (passive desire for love as if one is an infant) – which seems to me very Freudian. I wonder if Japanese people are beginning to question the form of traditional mother-child (particularly boy child) relationship.