Alfred Adler’s thoughts have had a big impact on my thinking. They reinforced my belief that you are who you choose to be and are not bound by your past.
Let’s talk about Sam. He wants to become a novelist, but he never seems to progress. His job keeps him too busy. Freudian etiology will reason that he doesn’t have the proper environment or the talent for it.
But is that the real reason? No! It’s actually that he wants to leave the possibility of “I can do it if I try” open, by not committing to anything. Let it sink in. His actual goal is to live inside that realm of possibilities, where he can say that he could do it if only he had the time. When you see this from the lens of Adler’s teleology, Sam’s actions become coherent. In another five or ten years, he will probably start using other excuses like “I’m not young anymore” or “I’ve got a family to think about now.” Sam had a subconscious goal of not writing beforehand and he’s been manufacturing reasons to achieve that goal.
When one adopts the point of view of Freudian etiology, one sees life as a kind of great big story based on cause and effect. So then it’s all about where and when I was born, what my childhood was like, the school I attended and the company where I got a job. And that decides who I am now and who I will become. To be sure, likening one’s life to a story is probably an entertaining job. The problem is, one can see the dimness that lies ahead at the end of the story. Moreover, one will try to lead a life that is in line with that story. And then one says, “My life is such-and-such, so I have no choice but to live this way, and it’s not because of me—it’s my past, it’s the environment,” and so on. If we focus only on past causes and try to explain things solely through cause and effect, we end up with “determinism.” Because what this says is that our present and our future have already been decided by past occurrences, and are unalterable. In Adlerian psychology, we do not think about past “causes” but rather about present “goals”.
Freud’s idea is that a person’s psychic wounds (traumas) cause his or her present unhappiness. But Adler states the following: “No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences—the so-called trauma—but instead we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.”
Focus on the point Adler is making here when he refers to the self being determined not by our experiences themselves, but by the meaning we give them. He is not saying that the experience of a horrible calamity or abuse during childhood or other such incidents have no influence on forming a personality; their influences are strong. But the important thing is that nothing is actually determined by those influences. We determine our own lives according to the meaning we give to those past experiences. Your life is not something that someone gives you, but something you choose yourself, and you are the one who decides how you live.
Recommended Further Reading: https://salman.io/blog/altering-your-reality/
Until We Meet Again…