Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

The Style of Life

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:

"Anyone who wants to understand Individual Psychology correctly must orient himself by its clarification of the unitary purposefulness of thinking, feeling, willing, and acting of the unique individual. He then will recognize how the stand an individual takes and the style of life, which is like an artistic creation, are the same in all situations of life, unalterable until the end--unless the individual recognizes what is erroneous, incorrect, or abnormal with regard to cooperation, and attempts to correct it. This becomes possible only when he has comprehended his errors conceptually and subjected them to the critique of practical reason, the common sense -- in other words, through convincing discussion." (From "Advantages and Disadvantage of the Inferiority Feeling", in "Superiority and Social Interest," edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher.)

"The style of life dominates. The person is cast all of one piece. This you must find again in all its parts. In this self-consistent casting, the striving for fictive superiority is contained. There is no nervous patient who does not attempt to veil through his symptoms the fact that he is worried about his fictive superiority." (From "The Technique of Treatment," in "Superiority and Social Interest," edited by Heinz and Rowena Ansbacher.).)

"More clearly discern able than under normal conditions is the neurotic's style of life after a decisive failure in life, before being tested and having to make decisions. Occasionally, however, also in conditions of improvement and rising expectations. The fear of new defeats brings all neurotic manifestations into sharper focus." (From a new translation of "Neurosis and Crime," by Alfred Adler (1924), in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Kurt Adler:

"In order to understand an individual's personality, or as we would say in Individual Psychological terms, in order to understand his style of life, we only have to observe the attitude that he takes when confronted with a problem." (From a series of lectures by Kurt Adler in 1987, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.

"The movement towards the goal, Adler named the style of life; and the fact that the goal is being so irrevocably pursued is the reason for the fact of the unity of the personality. All these basic principles of Individual Psychology are derived from the basic goal-directedness. The life-style, however has the troublesome quality of adhering tenaciously and life-long to a human being; certainly as long as he remains unconscious of it, and usually even long after he has become conscious of it. Usually, only if in good therapy the problems in his life-style have been worked through can the style of life be modified." (From a presentation given by Kurt Adler to the International Congress of I.P., at Muenster, on July 11-16 1987.)

"The style of life is the way a person pursues his goal, the way he goes towards his goal. Does he go courageously, steadfastly, hesitatingly, back and forth? How does he try to pursue his goal? Does he go towards his goal an then stop and turn around, and then he does not pursue it. Does he find excuses why he should not pursue them. It is a way a person goes towards his goal that is his style of life. It is the mode of doing things, it is like a composer has a certain style in which he creates, and it does not matter if he is composing something when he is ten years old or when he is a grown up, it is always the same style. It is modified in some ways but the style is recognizable." (From a transcription of an interview with Kurt Adler, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"It is an important concept of Adler that no one possesses the absolute truth, that everyone's world view and style of life contains faults. However, the greater the fault, the more complications threaten the possessor of a faulty style of life."(From an unpublished manuscript, "Principles of Individual Psychology," by Alexander Mueller, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"The essential point is to determine which factors, moments, experiences, have brought the patient to his current outlook on life. Then the patient has to be shown that these experiences and factors might have determined his style of life, but not necessarily so. It must be demonstrated to him that he was drawn to his style of life, but was not sentenced to it. He must be shown that he drew certain rash conclusions from specific situations and experiences that now are errors in his world view, in his relationship to life, and especially to other people." (From an unpublished manuscript, "Principles of Individual Psychology," by Alexander Mueller, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Sophia de Vries:

"If a person is functioning quite well, it is very difficult, to find out what his style of life is." (From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 3-8-75, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"The creative power of a person shows most in how he conducts himself, how he makes choices, and how he creates his style of life, because it is his particular answer to the situation that he has found bearable or unbearable; where he can handle it, or where he cannot handle it; and he has to find a way for his existence. So, before the age of four, the incoming impressions have been answered in a certain way--that is the particular style of the individual. And he hangs on to that, because this gives him a feeling of satisfaction. Now, take the situation of a child who has heard nothing but screaming, and unpleasantness in the home. He has to find a way of how to deal with it. But he also thinks that this belongs to life. So, if he is in a situation where it is different, then he doesn't know how to behave." (From a transcribed, tape recorded interview with Sophia de Vries on 3-8-75, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"Now, because we are human beings, we form an opinion about the things that happen in our lives at a very early age. We have an opinion about what is success, and what is failure; even at a very early age children feel it; and this has a considerable influence on the style of life. Consequently, if a child wants to be successful or perfect all the time, then he has to avoid all the things that seem to be dangerous. There you already have a beginning of a style of life, there it starts." (From a transcribed, tape recorded interview with Sophia de Vries on 3-8-75, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher

"We will find within the style of life seemingly contradictory actions because a person will use whatever means possible to effect the goal. For example, persons who are very nice at home will be extremely unpleasant in public life. Perhaps it is because it frightens them to be among people. Or, as we say in Vienna, there are people who go up to the attic to laugh. No one in the family has ever seen them laugh, yet they are the life of any party. Perhaps, in their opinion, this is the way to get respect at a party: to be lively. Their idea of being respected at home is to be sullen. It is a very wrong or right idea that they have but people often act in a completely different way, depending on the situation.

The style of life remains the same as long as persons move toward the same goal. Since the style of life is a method of approaching one's goal or bringing one's pattern to realization, very divergent things go into it. The means that people use to bring their patterns to realization can be so opposite from one another that others may have the idea that two souls reside in the same body. People can be generous and stingy or industrious and lazy at the same time. We can see that these different means are being used in order to reach the same goal. We know very well that persons can gallop, creep, jump, take a car, ride a bicycle, even go backwards, as long as they are still going in the same direction. The means that people use to get there are the means that in their opinion will best fit the situation." (From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson.)

Anthony Bruck:

"One of Adler's core concepts was "the constancy of the style of life". I remember a lecture given by Adler to some ten people in his Viennese home, in English. One of the listeners was a Canadian professor who submitted the case of a college student who had been such an excellent student in high school that everybody expected him to be one in college too. As it happened, in college the student was a disaster. The question was whether this represented a change in the style of life. Adler immediately answered that he did not believe there would be a change in the style of life without a favorable psychological intervention. He said that probably the student in high school was in a particularly favorable situation and therefore better than in college where his situation may not have been as favorable. The Canadian professor went on reading after smiling a bit and it slowly turned out to be exactly as Adler felt it would have had to be. The student in high school was a Big Man on Campus on account of his accomplishments in sports, but in college he did not gain admission to the best team and as a consequence got discouraged not only in sports but also in his studies. I have carried along for over 45 years an impression of this event in my life: of seeing Adler able to predict what must have happened, on the basis of his conviction of the constancy of the style of life." (From "Alfred Adler as We remember Him," an unpublished manuscript by Anthony Bruck, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"Thousands of psychiatrists and psychologists fail to understand the concept of the style of life; that is why there still can be so many "psychologies" and why new ones can crop up all the time. We know that no real help can be given to any consultee if his style of life remains unchanged. So, besides our efforts in favor of a new education which will create styles of life correct from the start, we must also fight for the general acceptance of the concept of the style of life, in order that those who have psychological difficulties may be really helped." (From "What Does Life Mean to Us," an unpublished manuscript by Anthony Bruck, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Henry Stein

"Style in art, is a unique, consistent way of expressing an idea or feeling, through a medium. It is recognizable from fragments of a piece of music, painting, or architectural structure. In nature, we find fractal images, repeating the same patterns from micro to macro scales, in clouds, coast lines, and crystals. In life, humans move constantly through circumstances, and are confronted, from birth to death, with tasks, opportunities, and difficulties. The repetitive answers that a person gives in his life, to the situations he is faced with, constitutes his style of life. This core provides a very compelling and consistent influence that dictates how he will view and respond to whatever life presents to him -- from his earliest childhood into his old age."

"The spontaneous formation of the individual's style of life, before the age of five, is a testament to the creative power of the child, who, after a period of extensive exploration and trial and error, narrows his anticipation of the future toward what he perceives will bring him security, significance, and success. (In the mentally retarded child, the organizing influence of one overall goal is absent; the goal is evidence of the child's creative power.) Both positive and negative influences are used, ignored, or shaped in an imaginative way to fortify and justify a direction in life. The direction is based on the freely adopted creative interpretation of experience, not on any deterministic cause and effect dynamics. At the root of this direction lies the meaning that the individual attributes to life."

"Every imagined personal ideal, and its habitual means of fulfilling it, contains some degree of error in relation to the needs of all situations. Life never stay the same--new, ever changing circumstances constantly challenge us to respond creatively with a unique "first time" freshness. Perceiving and meeting the real needs of a situation requires a capacity for self-transcendence--a letting go, at least momentarily, of the singular magnetic pole of a personal ideal. Ultimately, the narrow limits of a style of life, with its relatively rigid antithetical scheme of apperception, will lead us into conflict with the needs of others or the demands of life."

"There are two potential, major creative landmarks in a person's life. The first is the free creation of a style of life and fictional final goal in early childhood. Depending of the degrees of insecurity and goal rigidity, a fixed law of movement may develop that could severely restrict that creative power for the rest of that individual's life, locking him/her into narrow repetitive patterns. However, a second creative landmark is possible-- with the assistance of a depth psychotherapy that releases the grip of the original law of movement. Many years after the original creative choice of a direction in life, and the subsequent restricted functioning, penetrating insight and encouragement can bring an adult to a reawakening of her/his dormant creative power. A second creative choice or psychological "re-birth"is then possible, generating an entirely new meaning of life and creative style of living."

(From an unpublished manuscript, "A Classical Adlerian Perspective on The Style of Life," by Henry Stein in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

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