Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 15

Chapter 17


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Part II: Drawing the Graph of Life

Chapter 16: Adlerian Theory and the Lifestyle Interpretation

            In the first half of this book, we have focused on several elements of the lifestyle that may be evident in early memories:

            1) Problems and an individual’s approach to problem solving.
            2) Relationships to other people, including to family members, peers and authority figures.
            3) Thoughts attached to early memories and the significance they carry.
            4) Feelings attached to early memories and the ways they color meaning.
            5) Motion in early memories and the symbolism behind different styles and directions of movement.
            6) Compound early memories that complement one another in order to reveal the lifestyle.

            Now that we have developed a strong grounding in early memory interpretation, the second half of this book will concentrate on drawing the graph of life. You will learn interview techniques and questions for uncovering the lifestyle – the repeated pattern that is evidenced not only in early memories but also in the adult life. Uncovering the lifestyle requires not only the ability to peer into the metaphors of early memories, but also the ability to apply Adler’s theories of the human psyche. Let us, therefore, take a few moments to summarize what we have learned thus far about Individual Psychology.

            1) You are a unity. Your thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears, hopes, preferences and behaviors are all reflections of your personal and innermost beliefs about life. This unity of personality traits is known as your lifestyle.

            2) Memories of events are metaphors. Long-ago memories of incidents are not chance recollections. We remember events because they ring true to us – because we believe, “Such is life.” Because early memories are so compressed and laden with meaning, they are particularly useful in teasing out the lifestyle.

            3) Single incidents do not form the personality. Simply because we remember an episode from childhood does not mean that that event shaped our character. Rather, because we are who we are as an adult, we tend to recall a particular set of memories.

            4) Major environmental forces help shape us. The way we were treated by our parents, our place in the family constellation, and long-term childhood conditions such as an ongoing illness can all work to shape the individual character.

            5) Personal beliefs form the character. One person may experience childhood adversity, believe that life is too difficult, and become discouraged and withdrawn; another person may experience childhood adversity, believe that life presents challenges, and work for social change. Each individual interprets the events around her in order to form a private meaning of life.

            6) Social interest is mandated. Human societies have evolved via cooperation, and human life continues only through cooperation. Thus, people can only be fully understood in the context of their relationships with other people. The road to mental health lies in fully developing one’s ability to cooperate with other human beings.

            7) We all strive for superiority. Life begins in infancy – a state of complete weakness and dependence on others. We are, therefore, all ingrained to believe that, on some level, we are weak. As a consequence, each of us permanently strives to reach an emotional state of strength or security – even if what we consider “strong” or “secure” is actually illogical.

            8) Teleology works best. It is not particularly useful – neither for formal therapy nor for self-improvement – to delve incessantly into the factors in our childhood that may have helped to shape our personality. When we uncover our innermost beliefs about life, we can understand and even predict our behavior. Each of us is moving toward the goals that are suggested by our early memories, and, once we understand those goals, we can change them if we do not like them.

            9) Repetitive patterns demonstrate the lifestyle. It is possible to draw a graph of life. If a person behaves a certain way in his early memories and the same way in adult life, we may assume that we have uncovered his lifestyle.

            Let us now graduate from interpreting early memories to drawing the graph of life. The following chapter, like Chapter 3 with Arthur, presents a full-length transcript of an actual lifestyle interview conducted using classic Adlerian methods. In this case, I have appended the transcript with my notes, so that you can follow my strategies in trying to uncover the lifestyle.


(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)