​Dec. 4: StrengthsFinder–An Adlerian Concept

Esther Hollander Felsen MA, GCDF

Career Counselor

Zoom meeting

9:30 a.m., CST

“Sometimes you don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness.” — Alfred Adler 

Join us on Zoom Dec. 4 at 9:30 a.m. CST when Gallup-Certified CliftonStrengths Coach and Career Counselor Esther Hollander Felsen presents “An Adlerian Approach to Resilience.”

If you’ve taken the Strengths Finder assessment and want to submit your top five strengths for the group discussion — or if you want to take the assessment before the meeting — contact her at careercounselor613@gmail.com.

Our meetings often run 2 hours. You don’t need to be a member of the Network in order to attend. If you’d like a Zoom invitation, email adlerian.network@gmail.com.


Open Forum Reply

​In regard to the first question below by John Reardon, this is an open forum and responses are welcome.

We’re publishing some of the responses we receive.

By John Reardon

​Is this an open forum, where points can be sent, and shared? And, is it a place where alternative views can be expressed, and passed on. Gemein expresses the “the many”. The EIN hidden within is an honoring of the “one”. So are we the many comprised of “ones”? We know that gemeinschafts means “the community”. And “gefuhl” means feeling. So, is it the “many ones” creating community based on personal and community feeling? Very different than the American——individual or community.

Today’s demonstration—-masking and inoculations. Personal Freedom colliding with a mysterious disease having an impact on community. A disease only conquered by defying our social and communitarian nature and spirit is upon us. Stay apart and distanced is the way to defeat this foe. Totally alien to our nature. And, each doing one thing—-vaccination—-is the way to conquer the foe.

A Value struggle. Freedom. Life. Life without Freedom. Freedom without Life. Hope we can all see the “common sense” and the “private logic” contained in the two. This is also where we get into Adler’s understanding that “common sense” is tied to “social interest”, and “horizontal striving”, a striving “with” the other. Gemienschaftsgefuhl!

Sue Brokaw talks about Adler’s injunction “to act as if the ideal community has been reached.” In that same article she quotes, Adler talks about our desire “to be perfect”. He knows, that we know, that only God is perfect. Yet we strive. Though we settle for “superiority”, we still strive for perfection. The “being like God” part is expressed in the striving. God is the ultimate striving “with the others” figure. Our striving “against” the other, for superiority, is in defense of ego, and in Thomas Merton’s views that is ano engagement in the ego and thereafter—-“false self”.

The sign of God’s presence——Unity. The sign of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl——Unity of the many. So, striving to “be better than the others” is what Adler calls the ultimate “mistaken conviction” of the “vertical striver”. In its essence—-the flaw is—“In order to belong and be significant, I must be better than the others.” Tragic. Flawed “private logic”. Common sense——“In order to belong and be significant, I must be with the others, and contribute.” Unity.

Another contrast, acting from Unity, and for “common good”—-and—-protecting personal freedom. Protecting personal freedom through denial of existence of threat to and protection of community and communal lives does demonstrate a “self interest” based in an invented “against” belief. Thus, with “self interest” as the norm, we live in an environment of fear, potential threat, and anxiety. Until we treat anxiety as a cultural threat, due to “self interest”, a culture of malaise expressed in anxiety will prevail. And, “the world of therapy” will continue to be “placing bandaids on broken limbs and spirits”.

A final glance at our culture being basically “self interested” and detrimental to the Gemeinschaftsgefuhl is uniquely spiritual. If spirituality is based on the belief that each is created, therefore all have dignity, and inherent worth, than the breaking of and harm of relationship is classically a sin. Sin being the word that captures that human offense of harm to the other and creation. One step beyond sin is destruction of the person through relationship. That is evil. Evil being willful destruction.

Given that sin is not Vogue as a focus or perspective, there is a current expression that would laud and deepen appreciation of Gemeinschaftsgefuhl. It comes from a World spiritual leader—-Pope Francis. He has recently said, “Sin is the rejection of the limits that love requires.” So, is my expression going to be merely “self interested”, and will it be “socially interested”. And will it be, what love requires?

Where Is Our Social Interest? An Open Forum

Alfred Adler expressed the importance of gemeinschaftsgefühl. He said, “it means a striving for a form of community which must be thought of as everlasting, as it could be thought of if mankind had reached the goal of perfection.”

My social interest demands that I speak up and state the problem that is profoundly impacting our community.  Right now, criminals, including rapists and pedophiles, are crossing our border.  Drugs laced with poison, thanks to the Chinese Political Party, are coming into our country and killing our youth at an astounding rate.  People with Covid are swarming over our borders with no masks or shots and are coming into communities throughout our country.  What is being done to stop this?  How can each one of us demonstrate our social interest to help our community? 

The silence in my community is shocking.  This is not a political issue and please don’t make it into that, because politics is dividing us and “a house divided against itself will fall”.  We must unite to try to solve this problem.  How can any one individual do that?  How can we as the Adlerian community do that?

It is time to speak up and work together to solve the problem.  I am offering an open forum to talk about how we as individuals or as a community can address this problem and find a solution.  

What are your ideas?  Each of us has gifts and talents that when used together can begin to solve this problem.  Again, I say, do not make this political!  Put politics aside and unite to try to solve this problem.  Send your ideas to adlerian.network@gmail.com and we will post some of them. Together we can solve this problem.

–Susan Pye Brokaw, Founder, Adlerian Network

An Adlerian Perspective on Work

By: Susan Pye Brokaw, Adlerian Network Founder

Alfred Adler suggested that there are primarily three tasks that all people must undertake to be successful in life.  They are the task of work, the task of community and the task of intimacy.  

Work is important for many reasons.  Work provides financial security.  Those who work are independent and provide for the community as well as themselves and the family.  When people work, they increase their self-esteem because they are successfully contributing to the family and the community due to their efforts.  It also helps to sustain their sense of value and worth.

When people aren’t working it impacts both their self-esteem and their sense of worth.  They have become dependent on others for their financial security.  When they are given assistance or a handout, it automatically creates feelings of being less than those who are able to work successfully.

As therapists we often are working with people who are not working.  Over time they become more and more discouraged and begin to feel that they are a failure and not capable of successfully maintaining a job, so they must depend on others to take care of them.  Therapists must believe in their clients BEFORE their clients believe in themselves.  Education, training, internships or even volunteer work should be encouraged and promoted to build confidence that they can be successful. 

For those with profound discouragement, getting them into a volunteer position can be an excellent first step.  They won’t get fired if they show up and help out, their work is greatly appreciated and they learn the basics of getting to work on time, doing the job required and getting along with fellow workers and their boss.   If this is seen as a first step toward employment it lowers their fear, increases their confidence, builds their self-esteem and can provide a recommendation when they find a paying job.  During the time that they are doing the volunteer work, they can get some additional training to develop their job skills.  

Their first paid work might be part-time or temporary work.  This can be seen as the second step toward getting the job that they want.  During this time the therapist can be helping their clients identify their strengths, attributes and skills that would be useful in the best job fit for them.  They need to know what they need to be successful in a job. For example, some people can’t work in a room where there are a lot of distractions.  They can also be made aware of the jobs that they should avoid as it demands abilities not in the client’s skill set.

Work is also an issue for society.  Which is better, a handout or a hand up?  Too often, getting a handout is emphasized and encouraged.  But this only creates dependency, as well as low self-esteem and self-worth.  If the handout is greater than what a job would pay, it discourages clients from getting a job.  They need to understand that it is just a starting pay and if they do their job well, they will get a pay raise after a probation period and every year after that.  It will also be a work reference for a better paying job.  The community should offer only temporary financial help that is tied to moving in the direction of full employment and a living wage.

If the community does not do this, it leads to people living in poverty, often for generations. Self-esteem and self-worth can be destroyed.  All those in the community must be vocal and insist that those who are out of work must be given a help up to get a job and manage it successfully, not just given a handout.

An Adlerian’s Perspective on Discrimination

By: Susan Pye Brokaw, Founder of Adlerian Network

This article is not about any one type of discrimination, but discrimination in general.  There has been discrimination all through the years as far back as biblical times. The Bible says that we are made in God’s image.  God has value and worth; so, do we all.  Yet discrimination is still going on.  People have been discriminated against for their nationality, religion, race, disability, physical appearance, and social status to name some.  All discrimination is WRONG.  Why doesn’t it stop?  Maybe it is because we are not looking at the root cause.  

Adler said that we are all valuable, worthwhile people who are therefore equal and deserve to be treated with respect.  He also suggested that people develop beliefs about themselves and others before the age of six.  Some of those beliefs are mistaken.  One of the biggest mistakes is about the worth of oneself or others.  

What are some of those beliefs? A most common one is, “I am not worthwhile, or I am not worthwhile enough.”  Another is when children mistakenly decide that some are worthwhile, and others are not.  Adler suggested that those children did not understand that worth is innate, unchangeable and it is about who they are.  

People are worthwhile no matter what they do or what happens to them in life.  Everyone knows that about small children.  Worth is separate from behavior.  It is changeable. There is good behavior and bad behavior.  Bad behavior can be corrected but worth is permanent.  Bad behavior does not make people worthless and other people’s bad behavior toward some people does not make those people less than worthwhile.

A common mistaken belief of those who discriminate is, there are those who are superior and those who are inferior.  Adler coined the terms, inferiority complex and superiority complex.  No one wants to feel inferior.  If people believe that they are inferior to others in any way, they mistakenly accept it as true, or look for a way to become superior to someone else.  They believe they are either better than others or less than others.  They believe that if they are superior to someone, they will have more worth.   

The person who is mistaken thinks, “I may be inferior to these folks but I’m superior to you”.  “If I have power over you then I am superior to you and more worthwhile”.  “If I can show you that I am better than you are, that I am superior to you, then I will be more worthwhile or totally worthwhile.”  “It makes me better that I am bigger than you, whiter than you, have more power than you, have more money than you, are a better gender than you, have a better job, house or car than you, have more friends than you, have better grades than you, are brighter than you, have more ability in some area than you or have more of anything than you.”  Isn’t that the truth about the school bully or bullies of any age?

Because these beliefs develop so early in life people don’t consciously realize their mistake.  They believe in their reality.

How is discrimination eliminated?  People have been saying it’s wrong for centuries and discrimination is still going on.  Maybe the real problem should be addressed.  

People need to be taught that they are worthwhile just for being who they are.  They must be totally convinced of that to change their belief.  Only when they fully value themselves as worthwhile can they consider that others are worthwhile as well.  When they understand that worthwhile people misbehave, make mistakes, do things that are very wrong, they can also believe it of themselves and others.  It is behavior that is bad, not people.

This must be taught to children because discrimination starts in childhood.  It must be taught to parents and teachers because their children are watching them and learning their mistaken beliefs.  It must be taught to everyone.  

When discrimination is encountered, it must be realized that the mistaken belief must be challenged because these people don’t understand that they are worthwhile no matter what and their worth doesn’t come from being better than someone else.  They aren’t better if they have more money, more power, a higher position, a bigger house or a better job, nor are others.  In their mistaken belief, there will ALWAYS be someone who is more worthwhile than they are.  Tomorrow that person may discriminate against them and some time back someone probably did discriminate against them.

Those who are discriminated against or discriminate need to know that it is wrong and why it happens.  They must understand that it is not about them but about their mistaken belief or the mistaken beliefs of the person doing the discriminating.  They must understand that no one has the power to make them less than worthwhile.  They will only feel less than worthwhile if they believe that others have that power.  Help them understand that they must not let anyone convince them that they are less worthwhile or not worthwhile.  They are equal to everyone else in worth.  There are others just like them that can be held up as examples.

Therapists must brainwash their clients with the truth.  They must convince their clients that, “You are worthwhile no matter what”. “You are a valuable human being”.  “You don’t need to change who you are; you only need to change your belief and your bad behavior and become the best at being you”.  “No one can take away your worth”.

Until every person recognizes that they are totally worthwhile no matter what, there will be discrimination. 

Everyone must know this and focus on this if discrimination is to be eliminated. 

All Opinions Matter

I am not a Democrat or a Republican.  In fact, I dislike politics.  I am an Adlerian.  Therefore, I look at the current actions in our country through the Adlerian lens and I am very concerned.  As Adlerians, we see everyone as having worth and being worthy of respect.  We believe that we must respect others who have a difference of opinion and work together to find solutions. 

Adlerians talk about the vertical and horizontal planes.  On the vertical plane we feel inferior and, in our desire, to overcome these feelings we strive to be superior to others.  The horizontal plane is where we need to be.  On this plane, we recognize our own value and worth and the worth of all others as our social equals.  We recognize that we have differing views.  However, we respect one another, and we work collaboratively to find solutions.

What I am seeing right now is not Democrat vs Republican, but those on the vertical plane vs those on the horizontal plane.  When people are told that they cannot give their opinion it demonstrates a belief that some are superior to others and that those others are not worthy to have an opinion.

I think that differences of opinion are a good thing.  When we hear all opinions so that we can do some critical thinking, we come up with the best solutions.  Adler said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  What he was suggesting is that individually we can reach decisions but when we hear all opinions, we get the best solutions.

It is time for Adlerians to speak up.  Do we want our children to believe that some are superior to others and only their opinions have value?  When kids in college must seek counseling because they have heard something that is counter to their opinion, I am very concerned.  They truly believe that they can’t handle hearing a view that differs from their own.

I think that our country is in big trouble.  When free speech is challenged it is only a matter of time before YOU are no longer allowed to have an opinion.  We need to celebrate differences.  We need to hear different opinions and consider the views of others.  Then we need to make decisions that are best for all concerned to bring about peace, prosperity, health and safety for all.

Those on the vertical plane will accuse me of being political.  I ask you to return to the roots of Adlerian psychology philosophy.  Ask yourself, “How would the people of this country be behaving if they are on the horizontal plane?”.

— Susan Pye Brokaw, LMFT

Susan is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in practice for more than 40 years. She is a founder and past faculty of the Adler Graduate School in Minnesota.

Suffering for Change

Everyone suffers at times.  There is suffering that occurs due to something outside of one’s control.  I will not address that here.  There is also suffering that occurs due to the choices that are made. 

Many years ago, an older colleague of mine made a profound statement.  He said that through all his years working in mental health, he learned that it is pain that causes change.   Dr. Alfred Adler said it in a different way.  He was working with a  patient and the patient was suffering but was not changing.  Dr. Adler said to him, “I don’t think that you have suffered enough yet.  You need to go home and suffer some more.  When you have suffered enough and decide that you must change, please come back and I would love to work with you.”

There are degrees of suffering from mild to severe.  When there is something that needs changing and it isn’t addressed, the suffering begins.  When nothing is done, the suffering increases over time.  

Think of getting a ticket for speeding as a metaphor.  You made a mistake and the consequence is that you got a ticket.  You suffered for a minute, and threw it aside and forgot it.  Then you were called to court because you didn’t pay the ticket.  You suffered a bit more but decided to avoid the court hearing.  Then one day a police officer arrested you and took you to jail.  Then you started really suffering.  Finally, you decided you didn’t want to suffer like this anymore, so you did your time, paid your fine, decided not to speed anymore and started looking for a new job.  You lost the one you had because you were in jail.

When suffering occurs, it is important to examine the choices that were made that resulted in this suffering.  Dr. Alfred Adler said that you are not a re-actor, but you are an actor in life.  You can’t change others, only yourself. Others make choices about how they will behave and you choose how you will deal with their behavior.  Sometimes several different choices have to be tried until one is found that works.

Clients come to us when they are suffering.  Have they suffered enough?  Are they ready to change?  I read a statement recently that was very profound.  It said that a teacher is responsible for teaching but is not responsible for whether the student chooses to learn.

Some clients are eager to learn and change.  Some need to be taught the lesson many times, and maybe from several teachers, before the learning sticks.  Others  aren’t ready to learn yet.  They would like others to change or life to change.  They don’t understand that they need to learn from their suffering and change themselves and become a better person and help to create a better community.  

Sometimes we, as therapists, will be one of many teachers that they see before their lesson is learned.  Sometimes, we have to be patient with clients who are suffering and help them realize that not changing leads to more suffering.  Some stubbornly refuse to change and we have to honor their decision, as Dr. Adler did.

Susan Pye Brokaw, LMFT

Founder, Adlerian Network

Notice what works

Susan Pye Brokaw, MA, LMFT

Adlerian Network Founder

Adler emphasized that we should work together as equals, cooperating with others for the commonweal (the common welfare).  What I notice during this difficult time is how everyone is concerned with the common welfare and taking action.  People are doing what will stop the spread of the virus.  They are working together to create and produce solutions.  Even the Congress is working together for a change and have quickly passed the much-needed bills to help out.  Amazing!

Let us remember and point out to those around us that this is what works.  Look what happens when we put aside our differences and all work together for the common good.  What amazing things could be accomplished if this was continued after we have gotten through this difficult time.

I’m a grateful American

By Susan Pye Brokaw, MA, LMFT

Adlerian Network founder

I hear all the negativity spoken, on TV, on Facebook and even from some of my friends and colleagues.  This is really profound discouragement that is pervasive in the best country on the planet. It discourages me when I keep hearing it and reading it and hearing it.  Alfred Adler emphasized the use of encouragement. How do we do that in this situation?

I am a grateful American.  I will share one thing that I am grateful for regarding our country.  I started out as a social worker in the ‘60s. I was disheartened as I saw how black and Native American people were given a hand out instead of a hand up.  Welfare was discouraging and it was almost impossible to rise out of poverty under the system that was created. It is hard to feel worthwhile in these circumstances.  The plight of minorities has been disturbing to me for years. Nothing changed until recently.

I am so grateful that unemployment in this country is the lowest that it has been in about 50 years.  Finally, these folks are able to take pride in supporting themselves and their families.

Could we all start expressing on social media our gratitude for the good things that are happening in our country?  What would happen if we all bombarded social media with what we are grateful for in the country? I think it would be a refreshing change and maybe others would join us.  This is a very simple exercise in social interest.