Self-Ideal

Adler’s theory of individual psychology believe that humans have a general tendency to strive towards self-created goals; humans’ psychic trend is that: movements are directed towards goals, a movement that is innate to the concept of adaptation.

Each of us holds a multitude of goals for different aspects of our lives and our choice of these goals is structured by a higher-order goal called “Self-Ideal”. Our Self-Ideal is the type of person we want to become, and its formation begins early in childhood, where we try to figure out how we can fit into the society, how we will be valued and the way we answer those questions form our self-ideal.
Adler believed that we are all born inferior, at least that is what we think, and we all strive towards superiority, or an advantageous position. We strive towards superiority by seeking to actualise our self-ideal, and as we move in life, we begin to figure out which life behaviours and pattern advance us towards the self-ideal or which ones hinder us; This is how we develop lifestyles – a set of life guidelines individuals develop as a compass to actualise their life goals. It is difficult to say which lifestyle is normal and which is abnormal; we can only observe them in practice and see what success and failure it brings.
No lifestyle is normal or abnormal; lifestyles are just different and adequate until presented with life tasks which it was not prepared for, such moments exposes lifestyle’s weaknesses. These weak points frustrate our lifestyles in our pursuit of superiority, and these triggers feelings of inferiority.


Feelings of inferiority are, however, objective in themselves; they are based on our conclusion to reaching our self-ideal and in comparison, to others around us. These objective inferiorities are based on our perceived self-ideal, how rich we perceived to be at a certain age, or how tall we should be, or how beautiful, or our skills at certain activities – this is why deep down we often think of ourselves as not good enough at something; be it money, height, beauty, body shape, or skills. Our objective Inferiority only truly triggers inferiority in us if it is somehow or somewhat crucial to our striving for superiority. That is why different people care about different things, like someone whose superiority has nothing to do with wealth will not feel inferior earning little, as others won’t care about how beautiful they are or how nice their body looks or how skilful they are at certain activities. How we react and adapt to our inferiorities strongly impact our psychological health and overall quality of our lives.

They are primarily two ways people deal with feelings of inferiority: either we perceive the circumstances that produce feelings of inferiority as problems to be solved which leads to a coping behaviour, or we see the circumstances as problems to be avoided which leads to safeguarding behaviours. Individuals with coping behaviours either address problems directly; for instance, they lose a job — they find another one, they lose a relationship they get into another, and when there are practically no solutions to the problems, they improvise compensate solutions by building solutions that reduce their deficit, for instance starting a new company after a job loss, or reading lips after hearing loss.

Many individuals are unwilling to address their problems in this manner hence they turn to safeguarding behaviours; These behaviours are used in an attempt to convince oneself or others that the reason they have failed to address their inferiorities and move closer to their goals or self-ideal is because of circumstances beyond their control that impede their progress; in truth, excuses beyond our control are inexhaustible if one wants to find one: Covid-19, unemployment rate, lack of connection, background, lack of help from family, even bad luck. Distance seeking, another word for procrastination, is a standard approach for safeguarding behaviour, which involves taking the tiniest steps forward before falling back to one’s comfort zone. In fairness, we all make use of safeguarding behaviours to one degree or another; the problem usually is in the consistent use of the behaviour.

According to Adler, those who continuously make use of safeguarding behaviours are pitiful individuals who make use of transparent tricks to escape life’s duties. It is worth noting. However, one of the major sources of safeguarding behaviours is unrealistic self-ideal. When our self-ideal is overly perfectionist or too reliant on such things as wealth, status, power, fame, beauty or perfect relationships; in other words, our self-ideal is so unrealistic that we are forever thwarted in our attempts to achieve our goals hence we resolve in safeguarding behaviours not knowing what else to do. Therefore, becoming more aware of what we are striving for, and adjusting our self-ideal if necessary, is a crucial step toward self-improvement.

Conclusively, even with a realistic self-ideal, we will only change if we learn to be more courageous. Courage, as believed by Adler, is not an ability one possesses or lacks, courage is the willingness to engage in risk-taking behaviour regardless of whether the consequences are unknown or possibly adverse. We are all capable of courageous behaviours provided we are willing to engage in it.