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In line with his interest in the social determiners of personality, Adler observed that the personalities of the oldest, middle, and youngest child in a family were likely to be quite different (1931, pp. 144-154). He attributed these differences to the distinctive experiences that each child has as a member of a social group.

The first-born or oldest child is given a good deal of attention until the second child is born; then he is suddenly dethroned from his fav- ored position and must share his parents’ affections with the new baby. This experience may condition the oldest child in various ways, such as hating people, protecting himself against sudden reversals of fortune, and feeling insecure. Oldest children are also apt to take an interest in the past when they were the center of attention. Neurotics, criminals, drunkards, and perverts, Adler observes, are often first-born children. If the parents handle the situation wisely by preparing the oldest child for the appearance of a rival, the oldest child is more likely to develop into a responsible, protective person.

The second or middle child is characterized by being ambitious. He is constantly trying to surpass his older sibling. He also tends to be rebellious and envious but by and large he is better adjusted than either his older or younger sibling.

126 Theories of Personality

The youngest child is the spoiled child. Next to the oldest child he is most likely to become a problem child and a neurotic maladjusted adult.

This theory has been tested a number of times but most of the find- ings do not lend support to it (Jones, 1931).

EARLY MEMORIES. Adler felt that the earliest memory a person could report was an important key to understanding his basic style of life (1931). For example, a girl began an account of her earliest memory by saying, “When I was three years old, my father . . .” This indicates that she is more interested in her father than in her mother. She then goes on to say that the father brought home a pair of ponies for an older sister and her, and that the older sister led her pony down the street by the halter while she was dragged along in the mud by her pony. This is the fate of the younger child—to come off second best in the rivalry with an older sibling—and it motivates her to try to surpass the pacemaker. Her style of life is one of driving ambition, an urge to be first, a deep feeling of insecurity and disappointment, and a strong foreboding of failure.

A young man who was being treated for severe attacks of anxiety recalled this early scene. “When I was about four years old I sat at the window and watched some workmen building a house on the opposite side of the street, while my mother knitted stockings.” This recollec- tion indicates that the young man was pampered as a child because his memory includes the solicitous mother. The fact that he is looking at others who are working suggests that his style of life is that of a spectator rather than a participant. This is borne out by the fact that he becomes anxious whenever he tries to take up a vocation. Adler suggested to him that he consider an occupation in which his preference for looking and observing could be utilized. The patient took Adler’s advice and became a successful dealer in art objects.

Adler used this method with groups as well as individuals and found that it was an easy and economical way of studying personality.

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES. Adler was particularly interested in the kinds of early influences that predispose the child to a faulty style of life. He discovered three important factors: (1) children with in- feriorities, (2) spoiled children, and (3) neglected children. Children with physical or mental infirmities bear a heavy burden and are likely to feel inadequate in meeting the tasks of life. They consider them- selves to be, and often are, failures. However, if they have under- standing, encouraging parents they may compensate for their in- feriorities and transform their weakness into strength. Many promi-

Social Psychological Theories 127

nent men started life with some organic weakness for which they compensated. Over and over again Adler spoke out vehemently against the evils of pampering for he considered this to be the greatest curse that can be visited upon the child. Pampered children do not develop social feeling; they become despots who expect society to conform to their self-centered wishes. Adler considered them to be potentially the most dangerous class in society. Neglect of the child also has unfortunate consequences. Badly treated in childhood, as adults they become enemies of society. Their style of life is domi- nated by the need for revenge. These three conditions—organic in- firmity, pampering, and rejection—produce erroneous conceptions of the world and result in a pathological style of life.


Erich Fromm was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1900 and studied psychology and sociology at the Universities of Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Munich. After receiving a Ph.D. degree from Heidelberg in 1922, he was trained in psychoanalysis in Munich and at the famous Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. He came to the United States in 1933 as a lecturer at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute and then entered private practice in New York City. He has taught at a number of universities and institutes in this country. Not only have his books received considerable attention from specialists in the fields of psychol- ogy, sociology, philosophy, and religion but also from the general public.

The essential theme of all of Fromm’s writings is that man feels lonely and isolated because he has become separated from nature and from other men. This condition of isolation is not found in any other species of animal; it is the distinctive human situation. The child, for example, gains freedom from the primary ties with his parents with the result that he feels isolated and helpless. The serf eventually se- cured his freedom only to find himself adrift in a predominantly alien world. As a serf, he belonged to someone and had a feeling of being related to the world and to other people, even though he was not free. In this book, Escape from freedom (1941), Fromm develops the thesis that as man has gained more freedom throughout the ages he has also felt more alone. Freedom then becomes a negative condition from which he tries to escape.

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