Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 13

Chapter 15


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Chapter 14: Introduction to Drawing the Graph of Life

            Thus far, we have concentrated on interpreting sample early memories and on reviewing some of the basic theoretical premises of Individual Psychology. While our practice exercises have focused solely on early memories, it is important to understand that memories should not be interpreted in a vacuum. Adler, as we have already noted, teaches that a lifestyle interpretation may only be confirmed by finding “supporting evidence” in different aspects of the character.[1] When interpreting early memories, he frankly acknowledges: “Here we are in the field of guessing … But what we have guessed must be supported by other findings. If this is not possible, then we were wrong.” [2] Thus, it is not enough that a person exhibits a particular behavior in his early memories; we are interested in whether this is a pattern that is repeated throughout his adult life.

It is not enough that a behavior appears in a person’s early memories; we are interested in whether the behavior is repeated throughout the adult life.

            Ultimately, when interpreting an early memory in order to uncover the lifestyle, you must seek two layers of confirmation. Any relevant pattern in the early memory should be (1) repeated in the adult life and (2) accepted by the person you are interpreting.

Pattern in Early Memory


Pattern in Adult Life


Individual’s Confirmation



            Adler likens this process to that of drawing a graph. He provides the example of a man who was not looking forward to his wedding day. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the man worried that his fiancée might secretly favor another man, and he was jealous. To “plot the graph of this man’s lifestyle,” Adler turns to the man’s earliest memory: His mother takes him and his younger brother to the market. She initially lifts him in her arms, but then realizes her mistake – that she should instead carry the younger brother. She puts him down, and he is buffeted by the crowd. Thus, according to Adler, the man’s lifestyle, as evidenced in the memory and in his current reservations about marriage is, “He is not certain of being the favored one, he and cannot bear to think that another might be favored.”[3] According to Adlerian theory, we can draw an imaginary line in time between the childhood memory and the adult behavior and presume that the man has always thought and behaved in this way.
            Throughout this book, we have ourselves considered numerous real-life examples of early memories that reflect the adult lifestyle. A man in Chapter 4 recalled nearly suffocating under a blanket and devoted his life to extricating himself from problems. A woman in Chapter 6 remembered being dunked by boys and was afraid of men. A man in Chapter 8 mastered the remote control airplane and dedicated his working life to mastering ever more challenging machinery. A woman in Chapter 9, as a child, unmasked the wicked witch and, as an adult, succeeded in a competitive bureaucracy by forthrightly confronting people.
            If you have interpreted an early recollection correctly, such parallels between the memory and adult life should be apparent. Finding parallels, however, is not enough: Adler asserts that a confirmation by the person whose life is being interpreted is paramount. “Even if we felt we had understood that person, we would not have proof that we were right unless she also understood herself. A tactless truth can never be a whole truth; it shows that our understanding was insufficient.” [4] Thus, the person you are interpreting must understand and agree with the interpretation.
            Perhaps this tenet seems self-evident; there is no point in telling someone that you have correctly interpreted his lifestyle if he does not agree with you. This requirement, however, is important to bear in mind as we continue with the subsequent chapters in this book. Up until now, we have practiced only with interpreting sample memories. In the second half of this book, you will learn interview techniques for uncovering the lifestyle of living people and will be encouraged to practice on friends, relatives and acquaintances. Before we move on to interpreting other people, however, let us take some time for you to focus your new powers of interpretation on yourself.


1. Understanding Human Nature, 92.
2. Superiority and Social Interest, 197.
3. Understanding Human Nature, 19-20.
4. What Life Could Mean to You, 58.


(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)