Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Classical Adlerian Quotes: Overcoming Difficulties

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"To me it appears that every child, indeed every human being, for some reason, is continually striving to answer questions, to overcome difficulties, to solve riddles, and to develop himself in some degree towards a self-satisfying completion, the full achievement of his life purpose. No matter what may be the age of an individual, you will find tendencies which have their beginnings--if one may venture to use the phrase--in the dawn of life, and which, by their persistence, ever demand a development to a higher level." (From "The Cause and Prevention of Neuroses," IZIP, Vol 5, 1927.)

"Of particular significance in the course of my examinations, was finding the importance extending over the entire lifespan of overcoming, of the onset of difficulties. This seems to lead to an apparent paradox that perhaps great achievements regularly come from courageously overcoming obstacles, and are not a consequence of original aptitude, but rather the absence of aptitude." (From a new translation of "Einführung in die neuere Psychologie," Osterwick/Harz (Published by Zickfeld) 1926, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"True strength can never be derived only from talent but from the courageous struggle with difficulties. Whoever overcomes wins." (From "Progress in Individual Psychology - Part II," IZIP, 1924, a new translation in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"In Individual Psychology we are looking for the situation in which a person feels confronted, and does not feel able to overcome a certain problem or difficulty. Therefore, we have to look for the direction in which such a person is striving." (From "The Case of Mrs. A," in "Superiority and Social Interest," edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher.)

"Geniuses get up early. I have found in all artists and geniuses that they had to overcome difficulties. This overcoming is a strong incentive. Diligence and interest. I agree with Goethe who said: Genius probably is only diligence." (From a new translation of an unpublished lecture "Aptitude, Childhood Memories," given at Diesterweg University, March 4, 1932, by Alfred Adler, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Anthony Bruck:

"It is through the striving to overcome difficulties that the child learns to trust himself, and to fight and solve problems in childhood and during his later life."

Quoting Adler from lectures given in New York in the 1920's:

"Difficulties exist in order to be overcome."

"It is a tragedy for a person not to have had difficulties to overcome in his or her childhood."
(From "A Graphic Introduction to Adlerian Theory," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"People are accustomed to considering difficulties as something negative. Adler made difficulties something positive, because the desire to overcome the difficulties develops the striving in the individual. The individual who had no difficulties will lack the disposition to face and overcome other difficulties."

"A really courageous individual with self confidence will seek out difficulties, because he enjoys overcoming them. Not only face the difficulties that come his way, but also, seek out difficulties."

(From a transcribed, tape recorded lecture, "Adler's Teachings," of Anthony Bruck, on March 18, 1977, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"We have tasks to accomplish and difficulties to overcome, and whether or not we are successful depends upon our sense of self-esteem and relative security. If we frequently fail to measure up then we draw from our "failures" two conclusions: our powers are insufficient, and life has become too difficult. This gives rise to a very unfavorable development. At first we establish that we were not successful in something. If this is repeated, we then draw subjective conclusions: we estimate our capabilities as too low, and the difficulties of life as too high. This subjectivity, this sudden judgment, arises from our failure to explore other reasons that might account for our diminished achievement. And yet, there are many reasons: insufficient security and a lack of direction in childhood and in later years; insufficient training, an unfriendly environment, and a lack of recognition; a distressing "working climate" in the broadest sense, and, certainly, greater difficulties on the job, or resistance from co-workers, or competitors. This short list should make the point that a lack of achievement cannot simply be equated with a lack of ability."

"It is not enough to recognize every small achievement, the child must feel that we stand behind him with affection and in friendship, and that we are convinced of his good character and abilities. Trust and confidence on the part of the adult induce in the child a belief in himself. Even if that belief will not move mountains, it will help a little with something very important - overcoming difficulties. Since life constantly demands overcoming from us, it is easy to see how important it is to have had some early practice."

(From "Principles of Individual Psychology," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher:

"If children did not find difficulties, we would have to invent them in order for the child to experience accomplishment and growth, to experience that he is now getting along and can do something. From where should they get experience? Suddenly they are expected to have it? If you protect the child completely and then send him out into the school world what can he do? Nothing." (From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson, published by QED Press.)

Sophia de Vries:

"Adler has gone through different ways of expressing "from below to above" and "striving for superiority"; when he taught us, it was "overcoming of difficulties", of "felt" difficulties. And here the individual is different from anybody else--what I see as a difficulty, you may not see as difficulty."

"And this is what we have to recognize when we have a patient. What does this patient see as a difficulty? Because by itself, nothing is particularly difficult, or everything is difficult. Both are true. So it is for us to find out "what" has this person seen as a difficulty, and "why" didn't he continue in his development."

"The natural way is for the child to overcome difficulties by himself. He cannot overcome every difficulty by himself, so he has to learn when to accept the guidance of the adult. Now you can see how difficult it is to find the right kind of guidance. Not to use the word "no", also not to say "yes" for everything, but to find a happy medium in between, where you just give the right kind of advice."

(From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 1-23-76, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"Overcoming difficulties leads to courage, self-respect, and knowing yourself." (From a transcribed, tape recorded interview with Sophia de Vries on 10-31-77, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"A person needs to get a feeling of self before he can give to and cooperate with others. A person gets a feeling of self by making steps to overcome his difficulties." (From a transcribed, tape recorded interview with Sophia de Vries on 10-8-773 in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Ida Loewy:

"Bringing up a child is giving him help in overcoming difficulties, namely to help the child to defeat his own problems. That gives the child a sense of his progress." (From a translation of Sophia de Vries' notes, taken in Dutch, during a lecture tiled "Tricks," given by Ida Loewy in Holland, not dated; in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

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