Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 2

Chapter 4


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Chapter 3: Lifestyle Interpretation of Arthur

This chapter presents the transcript of an actual lifestyle interview that I conducted with a volunteer, Arthur. Reading this real-life interview should provide you with a more concrete understanding of the theory we discussed in the preceding chapter. You will see how Arthur’s early memories do indeed reflect his behavior in adult life. In two of his recollections, he remembers wandering or searching alone, and at the end of these journeys, he meets with a pleasant surprise. In a third memory, he is also traveling – slowly, up a set of stairs. While he is not precisely alone, he is a little boy showing solidarity with a woman who is far different from him – older, ill of health, and of a different socioeconomic background. There is also an element of play or pretence in the final memory. So, to a great extent, he still proceeds individualistically in his voyage.
            As the interview progresses, note how Arthur has moved through life with the beliefs that his life is a laborious journey and that this journey is undertaken largely alone. There is, furthermore, an underlying sense of optimism in all that he does, a confidence that he is surely moving, in all his extreme efforts, toward a happy ending, like the happy endings in his memories. This optimism sustains him in careers that might dissuade other people – politics and entrepreneurship. In the course of the interview, an innate sense of spirituality in his approach to life, also evidenced in his early memories, unfolds.
            As you read the interview, focus on the questions that are asked and consider how each question might bring us closer to unlocking the secrets of Arthur’s early memories and to understanding the inner hidden philosophy that they convey. This interview may seem as if it was challenging to conduct, but by the end of this book, you will have learned how to administer such an interview yourself. You, too, will be able to uncover a person’s lifestyle successfully.

By the end of this book you, too, will be able to uncover a lifestyle successfully.

            Without the benefit of witnessing Arthur participate in his interview, you are missing out on the important clues provided by comportment and body language. I will, therefore, also add that Arthur spoke quickly and confidently in a resounding voice. He generally answered questions without hesitation, showed a high degree of energy and concentration, and carried himself with a distinct air of self-confidence.

Transcript: Arthur's Lifestyle Interview

Q. Tell me about your health as a kid. Did you have any particular health problems?
A. As a kid I had a bone problem in my feet – a flat arch – and some problem in my spine also. Both were relatively minor problems, but for some period when I was a kid I was not able to do some sports, like hiking, or things like that.

Q. How long did that go on for?
A. That went on for a good – actually, it seemed like forever, because it was probably into my teens. I would say for a good six to seven years.

Q. And how old were you then?
A. It was probably from the time I was eight to about when I was twelve or thirteen.

Q. And did it get better?
A. It got better, yes. In fact a Japanese doctor cured me with an ancient art similar to chiropractics.

Q. At that time, did it affect you emotionally in any way?
A. A little bit. Yes. I wouldn’t say that it was a very, very serious problem, but it made me feel like I wasn’t able to… it limited especially my participation in sports, at school, that kind of thing because, in fact, the doctors were kind of dumb, I think. Because, they said “No, he shouldn’t play soccer. He shouldn’t play this.” Afterwards, I thought I should have done that. It would have been good for me to do what I wasn’t supposed to do.
            So, I was limited in terms of sports, but not in any other way. Psychologically, I didn’t feel like I was handicapped or anything like that by any means, in any degree. I got cured. I lived a physically normal life.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your family life growing up. How many kids were there in your family?
A. In my family there were three kids most of the time. Until I was seven, we were three, and then, from then on, we were four because we sort of adopted a cousin that came and lived with us.

Q. And where were you in the age order of children?
A. I was the third one.

Q. And when the cousin came in –
A. He was the youngest one.

Q. What was the age difference between you and your older siblings?
A. Three years with the oldest, two to the next one and I am a year older than my cousin/brother.

Q. Are they brothers or sisters?
A. Two older sisters and the younger one is a brother… or is a cousin/brother.

Q. And how did you get along with your sisters and your brother growing up?
A. Very well. Very well, with a few exceptional times when we fought. We always had a very good relationship.

Q. Describe your parents to me.
A. My parents… Father, definitely a very devoted father to the family, a very loving man, a man who loved his family above anything else. He loved his children very much, and he was always just a fantastic person, very caring. A very good teacher by example, a man of good principles, honest and I always had and have an impeccable image of my father. Although he was very trusting and good-hearted, we respected him a lot, he was a strong figure. He trusted me so much when I was a teenager that I could never lie to him, that’s something I remember with a degree of surprise… how that relationship worked. And, I have a very similar relationship with my own children
            My mother was also very devoted to the family, but my mother had a stronger temper and her methods were rougher than my dad’s. She would get more upset and yell and scream sometimes and lose her temper much more easily. She would get stressed out and lose her temper frequently. I would have much more frequent arguments with my mother, even to this day.  But I always perceived her as a loving mother, she is a sweet person overall. Even as a kid, it was significant to me that she was devoted entirely to us. She stayed home and had very little social life.

Q. Tell me; what’s the first thing you remember in your life?
A. One time I was sleeping in my bed, and I think it was a small bed, as I can remember, not a crib but a small bed. I remember getting out of bed and not seeing or perceiving anybody around in that room or in the house. I still shared that room with my parents, it was a very large bedroom. So, I walked through the house wondering if there was anybody there. For some time, I wondered if maybe nobody was home, and I was sort of surprised that nobody was home, but, I wasn’t exactly scared, but it sort of surprised me, because it must have been the first time that I had that experience of being totally alone.
            So I searched around the house. I went through a couple of rooms, a passageway, and then to the kitchen, and then I opened a door and I entered into the formal dining room where we would normally have tea with visitors, with friends or relatives. And, it was probably a weekend day, it was probably a Saturday or a Sunday because my father was home. So, when I opened that door everybody was there and everybody was surprised to see me. I must have been small because they didn’t expect me to arrive there on my own, I guess, or I should have been sleeping. But, anyway, it was a nice surprise to see the whole family and have their happy reception. So that’s one early memory that I have.
            I have another memory, and I’ve never been sure whether it’s a memory of my real life or a memory of a dream, but it’s something that’s impacted me and that’s always stayed with me. So, I guess it qualifies as an early memory. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and I heard something like a noise. I got up, got out of my bed, got out of the room, and I went to this hallway and opened the door, and there was a stairway. We were on the second floor. And, so, when I opened the door there was this huge angel the size of the entire hallway. And, I just stood for a few seconds. I was not scared, for sure. It was a big surprise, and then I went back to bed. So, that became a story in my house because I told my parents about that, probably the next morning.

Q. So, when you say you saw an angel, you’re not referring to a statue or decoration, you’re referring to a spiritual entity?
A. Right, it was like an angel. It was something not necessarily material, but it was there. It was visible. It was very large, probably ten times the size of a person or more in scale. So, that’s one of my early memories. One thing that I came to appreciate with time, is that in my family nobody ever made fun of that experience. It was taken with respect by my parents and sisters. That was a typical intelligent response of my father to something like this. When I think back now, I can imagine him telling everyone at home to take my story with respect.

Q. So you said your reaction was one of surprise when you saw it?
A. I was surprised and also somewhat fascinated and overwhelmed by that presence. He was alive, but he did not talk to me. But it was also like, like something within the normal range; by all means it was not as if it were to happen to me now. Opening a door and encountering an immense angel, alive, now? I would probably be locked up.

Q. Can you think of any other memories from when you were young?
A. I’m trying to go as far back as possible. This was pretty early… I remember going to the supermarket with a maid that we had. She was an old  lady. She was an older person and one thing that I remember is that we used to go shopping and we would come back with her hands full of grocery bags where you would fit a lot of produce. And, when we would be going upstairs in the house, I would follow her, and she would sit down and rest every few steps. And, I would like to imitate her and also sit and rest. And, then she would get up again and climb like six more steps and then sit again. She must have been very old. So I used to follow her in doing that. That’s another memory.

Q. What were you thinking or feeling when you were going up the steps with her?
A. I was just having fun. I think it was having fun. I had a good time. I enjoyed her company. I enjoyed doing that with her. I felt like by doing that, it was almost a sense of solidarity with her age, you know like behaving exactly as she did. She got tired. She needed to rest. I needed to rest, too.

Q. A different subject now. If you were to go through your life and pick the three most important decisions in your life, what would they be?
A. Three most important decisions… One that I can attribute to myself? I mean I’m thinking that there were a lot of good things in my life, but they were not my decisions – that I had a very nice family, and a nice upbringing. But, the first big and good decision that I made was to get out of the States and go out and see the world. I was happy and comfortable in my hometown, in fact, I interrupted a very nice period, but I had that call, I wanted to travel, and preferably, on my own.
            I was a very social person. Don’t misunderstand me. I had friends around me all the time, but it never even crossed my mind to make this part of my life an experience with a buddy. It was to be done alone, and that’s what I did. Negotiated with my parents, a promise to go back home and go to college, obtain a degree, et cetera, et cetera – but, after some serious traveling where I was to support myself, which was unusual at that time, or in my circle. Once again, my parents were supportive, trusting, and they helped with the kick-start money, because flying was expensive.

Q. And, how did that affect your life?
A. It’s important because it just changed my outlook of life. From then on, I was never the same in any way. My vision, my …it was strengthening in every possible way. Being able to actually move from place to place, city to city, country to country, find work, pay for my own expenses, meet people who were so distant, so remote from my circle of life. That was when I was eighteen to nineteen. Remember that this was to me an experience that was to justify not going to college. I loved every instant of my travels – experienced the old world, fascinated with Italy and its overwhelming presence of the arts. I was a fairly ignorant young man in terms of art, but I stood in awe looking at every corner in Florence, every bridge, the Vatican.
            Well, but mostly I got a strong reinforcement for my personality I guess, for my self-esteem, by knowing that I was capable of pretty much going anywhere, and finding ways to live. It was also very important to meet people. I made friends that to this day have a place in my heart, people who I never saw again, and I lost touch gradually through thirty years, but I met some fantastic people – and many not so fantastic, that I always had a radar to stay away from. There was a lot of drugs in those days and I stayed clear from them, but I was around all kinds of people. It was also a time of radical fights in Spain, people who would give their life for a change in their political system.
            So, that’s one big decision I made. When I came back home I had a tremendous sense of achievement, and a craving for more.
            Second important decision was probably to marry my first wife. To decide to marry her as opposed to not marry her. And, I say that because she was pregnant, and I could have decided not to get married and then still have our child. But the second good decision was to go ahead, marry her and form a family.

Q. And you describe that as a good decision.
A. I describe that as a good decision because out of that decision came my three children, who, together with my fourth child from a second marriage, are my most valuable treasure – they are the most valuable people in my life, they are my greatest achievement, even though they are not truly my property. They have given my life a tremendous meaning. I cannot conceive of my life without any of those four human beings. And, even though we divorced later – and I even had a second marriage and a second divorce – as  illogical as this may sound, if you ask me now, my decision of creating a family, of starting a family was immensely valuable, in spite of the divorces, the struggle, the pain.
            Everything is small compared to the privilege of being a father to those four fantastic children, which, by the way, are fantastic human beings… You think I am a little biased? So, yes, still that decision was very good for me because it allowed me to have all that. So maybe now you understand how I would do it again, even if I had to suffer the ugly parts again.

Q. Tell me about your third important decision.
A. I guess it was to go back to my home state, which was very rural and in some ways backwards, as a young adult and to follow my instincts, follow a dream that was to serve the place I had come from, to help, to be some sort of element that could contribute to the region. I can say here that I was very very lucky to follow the dream of an idealist. I was already established in New York, a young professional with a good horizon ahead of me, and every voice told me not to go back to a rural area when I was already established in New York. But, I went back absolutely happy to finally settle in an environment that I had missed a lot, live near my parents, sisters, relatives, see and interact with my old friends, allow my children to have grandparents, allow the grandparents to have the joy of interacting with their grandchildren.
            And, at the very personal level, I tackled the challenge to do something productive in my home state and, preferably, for my childhood home too. That was the sort of package that drove me back home with my wife and three kids with no hesitation. We were excited, period. It wasn’t easy to start. We actually went through relatively hard periods – little income at the beginning, living in rented apartments, trying to make ends meet. But, things got better and better gradually, and very soon I found myself in the right path, doing fascinating work, with access to public positions, and the rest is history.

Q. Well, that brings us to your career. Can you tell me very briefly about your career? What kind of work do you do?
A. Well, I’ve done different things in my life. I’ve started and run several businesses. I have changed careers a few times. My first career was architecture, but I actually drifted from architecture into urban planning, that I discovered was something that I liked more. I like to work more at a macro level. So, when I went back to the Northwest, I looked to apply that in my home county. And, I worked for several years for public organizations, such as the county government, the state, and then I worked at the state, and to some extent, the national level.
            I was very, very fortunate to meet the right person at the right time, such as an important person, who invited me to be part of his team. I saw this person as a good leader for the our region, helped him, later he became a high level leader, and I was able to be in a circle where important decisions are made, on behalf of an entire state. So really, as a professional, planning and regional development, antipoverty strategies and projects is probably the best way to describe what I do. But, very important, to be able to access these positions, you must be involved in politics, so I did a lot of party politics. I climbed the ropes of a typical political party, took part in strategy, in campaigns, lost and won elections and fully participated in a democratic process. I enjoyed every part of it.
            And, within those same years I developed another passion, a passion that can be linked to many activities, and it’s audiovisual communications. Over a period of a good ten years I developed a strong interest in radio and television production, and I did it on the side. I got involved in a company as a partner that worked in media and television productions. And, as I said, it was on the side to my public administration career, and it was my private business when I was not in a public position.
            So, that’s basically a map of my activities.

Q. What do you like most about politics?
A. It’s hard to describe because first of all it’s something that has the quality of a passion. When you are passionate for something, you are not very rational. It’s something that you like, period. It’s something very attractive. It’s very exciting. But really, in politics what you actually do is compete to obtain the public’s support or trust to manage something on their behalf. It’s a game. It’s a journey that you take, based on your creativity and your ideas and then you reach a point, at times, where there is a realization.
            And, that leads us to understand why I like politics. I think it’s a question of service. I always liked the possibility of being part of those who make the decisions, and through that power, there is also a sense of service. Public life allows you the opportunity to help many people. Maybe superficially many times. I’m sure there are many professions that are not part of public life and I’m sure that they have a better mission, maybe a more effective mission, and they help ten people or one person and make a fantastic difference in their lives. But for me, part of the reason I like politics is the sense of being able to do something, to make a difference in people’s lives. That’s the drive.
            And, it brings a lot of satisfaction, especially in a poor region. Building a hospital in a remote region, or building a bridge, or installing a solar system, improving a school in the countryside, seeing the faces of contentment – especially those of poor people whose lives are so incredibly hard. Being an instrument of that change, as small as it may be, is a religious experience. That’s political life on its best side. It has ugly sides to it, but you did not ask that.

Q. Did you have any particular religious training growing up?
A. I was brought up, for my first seven years of school, I was in a traditional Catholic school – Jesuit. Even though I didn’t like it much at the time – I was sort of rebellious to some aspects of school in general – I think it did more good than bad in my life. I think their approach to education is good. So, there’s a good dose of religious input in a Jesuit school.

Q. The reason I asked about religion is I’m interested now in going back to the memories. You have this one memory of actually seeing an angel, and I was wondering if there was a strong sense of spirituality in your life.
A. There is. Definitely, it is a big important part of my life. It’s everywhere. Spirituality in the sense of achieving something for the greater good, in the sense of leading a good life, of being balanced and healthy. I practiced martial arts for a long time, I ate only a macrobiotic diet for years, and that’s spiritual too. I mean, I’m a Gemini, too, so part of me is very spiritual and I’m guided by that, and part of my desire to be in public life really responds to a true sense of service.
            I enjoy working in projects where we help fight poverty, there is a sense of a mission in everything – in most things – I do. I fit, in my mind, the image of a Jesuit priest almost to perfection. I always did, but I also fit the image of a Jesuit priest in serious conflict, because of the vow of celibacy. I would have been a very good priest, but could not have endured it in the absence of a woman/partner and, well, of course after meeting my children, I could not picture my life without those four people.

Q. So the memory of hearing a noise and walking toward an angel, or even of waking up and looking for your family is like having a sense of mission.
A. Yes. I think that’s a good interpretation.

Q. It also seems the first memory and the second memory are very parallel in that you are saying, I’m asleep, or I’m not aware, and then I become aware; I wake up.
A. Yes, that also happens in life, and also in politics, where you are constantly becoming aware of new ideas, new problems, new issues. It’s an environment of constantly growing and learning.

Q. In both memories there’s also the element of searching, and it’s a long process. I have to go up the stairs. I have to go down the hallway and look in different rooms. It’s like I have to travel the world as a teenager. You find something positive and surprising at the end, but it’s a long journey, and it’s also a journey you make on your own.
A. Yes, I would definitely agree with that. I do see the big problems, or the more intrinsic or more interesting problems, in life as issues that have to be worked out on my own. It’s like natural instinct. I often find myself at the end of resolving a problem and realizing that I had many resources at hand in the form of other people, but I always tend to tackle complex problems on my own.

Q. The third memory is a little different, in that you are with someone else, but it also has its parallels. It’s a long journey up the stairs. And, the woman you are with is very different from you in many ways. She is elderly, poor, and a family servant. You show solidarity with her but you are not precisely together.
A. Yes, and I would add that showing solidarity with the poor has been an important part of why I chose to go into politics.

Q. And, you mentioned that you have run several businesses, that you have often been self-employed. It seems that in your career you have chosen to strike out on your own.
A. Yes. I never conceived of myself as an employee. And, I have no negative connotation of being a servant in my mind. But, I was always invited to those public service positions. I did not remain as a result of a career in any given institution. In the meantime, I was always running a business on the side – from real estate to construction, from urban development to a TV production house.

Q. In the memories, there’s a reward at the end. The angel. Your family. Reaching the top of the stairs. But reaching that point of fellowship with other people, or of achievement, or of a moment of spiritual transcendence, if that’s the right word, requires an individual effort, an individual journey.
A. Uh hum. That does sound right. Yes, life is definitely a journey, and there are points when we have moments of realization and reward and then we journey again. I would agree with that. It’s important to enjoy the journey of course. Every day, be grateful. Gratefulness is a peace-inducing attitude. I read a nice phrase the other day, “Breathing is the greatest miracle.” I give thanks.

Q. Well, I think we’ve reached a good concluding point, and so my thanks to you for participating in this interview.
A. You’re welcome.


            In Chapter 2, we learned of Adler’s interpretation of the memory of falling out of a pram. The man with this memory constantly expected calamity and lived a life of neurosis. Arthur’s memories, on the other hand, reveal a very different world view. He expects reward. He will search through the house, he will wander alone, he will work his way slowly up the stairs, and in return he will find an angel, discover his family, or reach the apex. His adult life, devoted to the uncertainties of politics and entrepreneurship, demands that he carries within him this optimism. Furthermore, a strong element of spirituality runs through his life. He recalls seeing an angel as a small child, and, as an adult, he believes in a life of public service – with service to the community being a spiritual mandate.
           Typically, not everything can be covered in one interview, because a person's lifestyle is so rich. In Adlerian psychotherapy, the therapist will revisit early memories from time to time to see how the lifestyle is changing. This conversation, for example, could have placed more emphasis on the solidarity Arthur feels, as a politician, for those who are impoverished; this solidarity, as he points out, parallels the camaraderie he feels for his family's maid in the third memory.
           The structure of the interview you just read, which is a complete interview, is typical – although each interview will be as unique as the person being questioned. The interview begins by exploring Arthur’s early life, goes on to consider his memories, and then asks broader questions about his career, major life decisions, and adult life. A typical interview takes about fifty minutes to one hour to conduct. Chapter 18 will present a list of twelve groups of questions that can consistently carry you through a successful lifestyle interview; there is, however, no need to adhere rigidly to this formula. For example, I brought up the issue of Arthur’s spirituality spontaneously because of his recollection of an angel. This question, while not a standard one, revealed an important aspect of Arthur’s character. (It is of no importance, by the way, whether the memory of the angel is real or is of a dream. As we will learn, Individual Psychology views dreams as simply another expression of the unified self.)
            I presented this interview in order to help you better recognize the link between early memories – those compact and meaningful vignettes – and the lifestyle, the adult system of beliefs, behaviors, attitudes and that are all organized around a central theory about life. The interview has also introduced you to the process of interpreting the lifestyle. By the end of this book, you should be able to conduct such an interview yourself in order to uncover a person’s lifestyle, but you have some practice ahead of you first. The next chapters will focus on ways to tease as much information as possible out of early memories. Do not worry, for the moment, if you did not understand where all of the questions in Arthur’s interview were leading. By the time you have worked your way through this book, you will.

Lifestyle Interpretation and Personal Change

            In reading Arthur’s lifestyle interpretation, while he clearly exhibits a strong positive approach to life you may have noticed habits in his thinking that it might serve him to change: This will be the case for everyone you intepret, including yourself. For example, Arthur believes that life is a solitary journey, and he has been through two divorces. If he considered life a more social venture, it might help him to avoid divorce in the future.
            In the second half of Soul Metaphors, we will discuss ways that lifestyle interpretation can be used to bring about personal change. In the therapeutic settings of Individual Psychology, interpreting the lifestyle does, in fact, serve as a launching pad to bringing about personal change. In the third lifestyle interview presented in this book, that of Gary, you will have the opportunity to observe vividly how lifestyle interpretation can pave the way for personal change. For the first half of this book, however, do not worry about exploring ways to change the lifestyle. First, you must concentrate on learning how to successfully interpret memories, they keystone for lifestyle interpretation.


(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)