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Adler

Soul Metaphors: Contents

Chapter 5

Chapter 7

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Chapter 6: Relationships with Others: The Desert Island

            Individual Psychology, despite its name, is actually one of the earliest forms of social or community psychology. As we have just learned, Adler maintains that because the individual lives in a world inhabited by other people, he can only be understood in the context of his relationships with other people. Consider the following contrasting memories:
            One woman recalled a picnic at the river. There were some boys at the picnic with her, and they took turns dunking her in the water. She choked on the water and was deeply frightened. As an adult, she was afraid of men and had never been in a healthy intimate relationship. This woman saw interactions with men as dangerous and frightening experiences.
            By contrast, a second memory, also at a picnic, evokes feelings of camaraderie and a healthy family life: A woman remembered sitting on a blanket at a picnic with her family. An aunt offered her a bite of food to eat. Instead of eating the food, she insisted on collecting all of the crumbs that had fallen onto the blanket. She remembered her family members laughing and talking about the fact that she was such a neat little girl.
            In both memories, relationships to other people play important roles. The first memory suggests a lifestyle where relationships are frightening and other people are hostile; the second, a lifestyle of shared laughter and fellowship.
            Below are ten fictitious early memories of scenarios occurring on a desert island. Again using  a pencil and paper, analyze these vignettes and consider what they might reveal about the individual’s relationships with other people. What types of relationships does each person have with what types of people (ie, siblings, parents, friends)? To what extent does each sample memory exhibit social interest?

The Desert Island: Memories

1) I remember I was on a desert island. I sat beneath a palm tree and I cried and cried.

2) I remember I was on a desert island. I stayed under the shade of a palm tree and I collected the coconuts there.

3) I was on a desert island, and I could see another island in the distance. I saw that people there were collecting coconuts, so I started doing the same thing.

4) We were on a desert island – me, my two brothers and my sister. My sister was the oldest, so we all did what she said and started collecting coconuts.

5) I was on a desert island with my brothers and sister. My sister said that we should collect coconuts, but I thought that was ridiculous. I looked for water.

6) My family was shipwrecked on a desert island. My father and mother built a little lean-to for us. My sister had to keep a fire going. It was my job to collect coconuts.

7) My family was shipwrecked on a desert island, and my father gave us all jobs to do. I had to keep the fire going. I thought it wasn’t fair that I had the hardest job, and I thought we should take turns.

8) I was shipwrecked on a desert island with some schoolmates. We played games and ate coconuts and it was a little sad when some sailors finally came and rescued us.

9) We were shipwrecked on a desert island. I remember thinking, Will we ever see our home again? I started crying, and my mother hugged me.

10) We were shipwrecked on a desert island. I remember thinking, Will we ever see our home again? I started crying, and my mother told me I would have to be brave.


The Desert Island: Interpretations


1) I remember I was on a desert island. I sat beneath a palm tree and I cried and cried.
This individual clearly feels isolated (she is alone on a desert island) and she does not seem to see any way out of her isolation. Instead of looking for a solution or enjoying her solace, she merely weeps. This could well be the memory of a depressed individual.

2) I remember I was on a desert island. I stayed under the shade of a palm tree and I collected the coconuts there.
This is a memory of someone who is likely a loner, but someone who apparently does not mind being alone. There are no other people in the memory, but the individual keeps occupied with a useful activity.

3) I was on a desert island, and I could see another island in the distance. I saw that people there were collecting coconuts, so I started doing the same thing.
This memory suggests a higher degree of social interest than the previous two examples. The individual is isolated in the memory but, at the same time, he is very much aware of other people and is careful to learn from and to follow their example. This memory suggests an individual who does not interact much directly with his peers, but who learns from his observations.

4) We were on a desert island – me, my two brothers and my sister. My sister was the oldest, so we all did what she said and started collecting coconuts.
Introducing the sentence with the word “we” should spark our interest. Such a choice of phrasing typically suggests a person who is more socially conscious of other people in the world, but we need to read further to understand her perceived relation to others. We learn that she recalls three other family members. In this case, one sibling, the oldest sister, takes charge. Our subject remembers doing as the older sister suggested. This memory suggests a person who comfortably follows those she perceives as in authority.

5) I was on a desert island with my brothers and sister. My sister said that we should collect coconuts, but I thought that was ridiculous. I looked for water.
This person also has a memory involving other people. In contrast to the previous memory, however, this is not a memory of following authority figures. Rather, this person appears to be rebellious and may tend to think, perhaps rightly so, “I know a better course of action.”

6) My family was shipwrecked on a desert island. My father and mother built a little lean-to for us. My sister had to keep a fire going. It was my job to collect coconuts.
This person recalls her entire family constellation. She is probably a social person, and family matters to her. Perhaps family matters too much; her chosen metaphor is one of being isolated with her family from the rest of the world. At the same time, she probably also sees her parents as positive role models who face adversity and who know how to successfully manage a problem. There is a strong degree of social interest – demonstrated through cooperation – in the memory.

7) My family was shipwrecked on a desert island, and my father gave us all jobs to do. I had to keep the fire going. I thought it wasn’t fair that I had the hardest job, and I thought we should take turns.
Like the individual in Example 5, this person probably has a rebellious streak. She does not agree with her father’s allocation of duties and believes she has a better approach. In this memory, this person is thinking "life isn’t fair” and may tend to harbor ongoing resentments.

8) I was shipwrecked on a desert island with some schoolmates. We played games and ate coconuts and it was a little sad when some sailors finally came and rescued us.
This individual recalls friends rather than family in his memory. He is probably a person whose most significant relations are with his peers rather than with his family members. Indeed, his memory expresses a preference to be sequestered with his peers rather than to take part in the wider world.

9) We were shipwrecked on a desert island. I remember thinking, Will we ever see our home again? I started crying, and my mother hugged me.
In the memory, this person is unhappy and her mother comforts her. She probably trusts authority figures and finds solace with them. Life is a painful venture, but there is comfort to be found.

10) We were shipwrecked on a desert island. I remember thinking, Will we ever see our home again? I started crying, and my mother told me I would have to be brave.
This person is encouraged, but not physically comforted, by an authority figure. In contrast to the person in Example 9, we might expect this individual to have less emotional and, rather, more formal relationships with role models in his life. These relationships appear to be constructive.


Interpretations of Family Members

  
          In most of the sample memories we just examined, family members play a key role. Often, relationships with family members in early memories may be reflective of relationships with other people in the broader community of adult life.

Often, relationships with relatives in early memories will parallel relationships with the broader community in the adult life.


            For example, a memory of an older family member may suggest a general pattern of relationships with authority figures. One woman recalled that her father was coming home and she was preparing a special welcome for him. She remembered decorating the banister in the main stairwell with drawings to surprise him when he came home. She further remembered a sense of urgency that he would come home soon, and she worked very hard. In adult life, also, the woman worked tremendously hard to please other people. She had excelled in school and it had been important to her not to disappoint her teachers. She worked hard for her boyfriend. She worked hard for her bosses. The woman agreed that the memory of energetically decorating for her father meant “I work my hardest to please other people.”
            In other cases, memories of family members cannot be expanded to represent other individuals. One man’s memories show a clear contrast between his perceptions of his family and his perceptions of others. In one memory, he recalled being at a boy scout meeting and very happily working on a balsa wood car with his friends; in a second memory, he recalled sitting in his bedroom, listening to his parents fighting, and feeling miserable. As an adult, this man threw himself into work and distanced himself from his troubled family. Indeed, he was a workaholic. Taken together, his memories told the story, “When I am busy and with my peers I am happy. When I am still, I think about the pain in my family.”
            In the next chapter we will look more deeply into specific types of family relationships that can play a formative role in character development.

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(Copyright Ellen Alderton, www.WeLoveAdler.net)