Adler’s five basic principles of Individual Psychology:

  1. We are social beings who want to belong. Our problems are therefore social problems: problems of relationship and problems of interactions. We want to find our place in a group. Even if we want to ignore the group, we find we are still defining ourselves in terms of the group. Belonging to a group is of primary importance to each of us. It is equally important to have the ability to cooperate and contribute to a group: this is defined a having social interest. A well-adjusted person has social interest: she/he is aware of what is needed by the group and is able to respond positively to these needs. A maladapted person is overly concerned with her/his needs and puts himself, with mistaken goals, before the group. A maladjusted person frequently has a personal feeling of inferiority.
  2. We are all active participants in our lives striving from a felt minus position to a perceived plus position. We all want to feel positively about ourselves and seek a plus position. We are active participants in our lives. We react and we act. We decide what we want to do. We are not victims of circumstances nor of drives. We do not always consciously know why we act the way we do, but we are in charge. Therefore, we can change. If we are powerless to change the situation, we can decide how we will react to it. We are self-determined.
  3. Our behavior is goal-directed or purposive. We are oftentimes unaware of the purpose of our strivings and behaviors, but they do have a purpose. They are goal oriented. Most non-Adlerian efforts to understand behavior are directed towards causes, but causes can only be speculated upon and usually cannot be changed. Different individuals react to causes differently. Of course, different individuals react to different goals differently also, but goals can be changed. Once recognized, the changing of a goal offers a choice. One may change, a fact which is encouraging, or one may remain with the goal, but is aware of it.
  4. We give meaning to life. Reality is as we perceive it.“It is not what happened to us, but how we feel about it,” according to Dreikurs. There is no absolute truth, but only the meaning and truth that we feel and assign. Therefore, although we cannot change the events of the past, we can change the meanings that we assign to them. We cannot change the present and our situation, but we can change the meaning that we assign to it. We can decide if we are disabled or handicapped in any way. Life is subjective, not absolute. What may be a disability to one person is only a life challenge to another. We decide. We give meaning.
  5. People are holistic. The whole individual is made up of various parts (thoughts, feelings, actions, dreams, memories, physiology). Viewed differently the parts include the personality, the genetics, the environment, and the history. All of these are parts that form the individual. The whole is always more than the sum of its parts. A part can never be understood by itself. To understand the individual, we must look at the whole person, not at each isolated part. We can look for a pattern into which the details of the parts fit. We can look for a theme consistent with the pattern. In this way we can find a theme or a pattern to understand the individual.

With special thanks to:

  1. Basic Applications of Adlerian Psychology for Self-Understanding and Human Relationships by Edith A. Dewey (CMTI Press)
  2. Basic Concepts and Implications, Robert W. Lundin (Accelerated Development Inc.)