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Alfred Adler and his concept of «social interest»

Hi guys. I thought I’d make a post on one of my favorite psychologists, Alfred Adler, and his concept of «social interest» or «communal feeling». It is about creating collaborative relationships, seeing others as «comrades» and the fruits this can yield.

Dale Carnegie quotes Adler in his book «How to stop worrying and start Living»:

«Here is the most astonishing statement that I ever read from the pen of a great psychiatrist. This statement was made by Alfred Adler. He used to say to his melancholia patients: "You can be cured in fourteen days if you follow this prescription. Try to think every day how you can please someone."»

That statement sounds so incredible that I feel I ought to try to explain it by quoting a couple of pages from Dr. Adler's splendid book, What Life Should Mean to You. (*) (By the way, there is a book you ought to read.) ---- [*] Allen & Unwin Ltd. ---- "Melancholia," says Adler in What Life Should Mean to You: "is like a long-continued rage and reproach against others, though for the purpose of gaining care, sympathy and support, the patient seems only to be dejected about his own guilt. A melancholiac's first memory is generally something like this: 'I remember I wanted to lie on the couch, but my brother was lying there. I cried so much that he had to leave.'

I tell them: 'You can be cured in fourteen days if you follow this prescription. Try to think every day how you can please someone.' See what this means to them. They are occupied with the thought. 'How can I worry someone.' The answers are very interesting. Some say: 'This will be very easy for me. I have done it all my life.' They have never done it. I ask them to think it over. They do not think it over. I tell them: 'You can make use of all the time you spend when you are unable to go to sleep by thinking how you can please someone, and it will be a big step forward in your health.' When I see them next day, I ask them: 'Did you think over what I suggested?' They answer: 'Last night I went to sleep as soon as I got to bed.'

Many say: 'Why should I please others? Others do not try to please me.' 'You must think of your health,' I answer. The others will suffer later on.' It is extremely rare that I have found a patient who said: 'I have thought over what you suggested.' All my efforts are devoted towards increasing the social interest of the patient. I know that the real reason for his malady is his lack of cooperation and I want him to see it too. As soon as he can connect himself with his fellow men on an equal and co-operative footing, he is cured. ... The most important task imposed by religion has always been 'Love thy neighbour'. ... It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow man who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring. ... All that we demand of a human being, and the highest praise we can give him is that he should be a good fellow worker, a friend to all other men, and a true partner in love and marriage." Dr. Adler urges us to do a good deed every day. And what is a good deed? "A good deed," said the prophet Mohammed, "is one that brings a smile of joy to the face of another." Why will doing a good deed every day produce such astounding efforts on the doer? Because trying to please others will cause us to stop thinking of ourselves: the very thing that produces worry and fear and melancholia.


What's in it for you? Much greater happiness! Greater satisfaction, and pride in yourself! Aristotle called this kind of attitude "enlightened selfishness". Zoroaster said: "Doing good to others is not a duty. It is a joy, for it increases your own health and happiness." And Benjamin Franklin summed it up very simply-"When you are good to others," said Franklin, "you are best to yourself."


Adler goes on to describe some of the results of an increase in social feeling

«It is almost impossible to exaggerate the value of an increase in social feeling. The mind improves, for intelligence is a communal function.

The feeling of worth and value is heightened, giving courage and an optimistic view, and there is a sense of acquiescence in the common advantages and drawbacks of our lot. The individual feels at home in life and feels his existence to be worthwhile just so far as he is useful to others and is overcoming common, instead of private, feelings of in­ feriority. Not only the ethical nature, but the right attitude in aesthetics, the best understanding of the beautiful and the ugly, will always be founded upon the truest social feeling.

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.

All failures—neurotics, psychotics, criminals, drunkards, problem chil­ dren, suicides, perverts, and prostitutes—are failures because they are lacking in social interest. They approach the problems of occupation, friendship, and sex without the confidence that they can be solved by cooperation"

  • Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher, eds., The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler

Thank you Peter!

I was just wondering what book to start after "The Logic of Political Survival" and suggested me what to go for.

I had one book from Adler on my reading list: "Understanding Human Nature", so I'll probably start with that one.

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#4. “Man Is Weak” Inferiority Complexes: Nonsense

I would say that if man feel so inferior it may be thanks to one of his greatest powers: imagination.

We can imagine Goku from dragon ball, super-man, Alucard the vampire from hellsing, and mighty Thor (etc.) sure if you compare yourself with the most powerful being human imagination can think of, you are getting yourself a big inferiority complex!

Yep, good one Stef.

Same imagination that can be used in a positive fashion as well. To feel, or to imagine one is as powerful as a Goku, for example -that's what children do all the time, after all-.

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