Alfred Adler & Birth Order

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Alfred Adler was an Austrian psychologist and philosopher who took a laid-back yet intellectual approach to his work. He was born in Vienna on February 7, 1870 and was the third child in a Jewish family. As a young boy he developed rickets, a disease which prevented him to walk until age four. A year later he almost died while fighting pneumonia; this is when he decided he wanted to be a doctor. His obvious ailments and competition with a successful older brother sparked Adler's interest in birth order. He felt he needed to prove himself because he felt inferior to a sibling that had no physical disabilities.

Adler received his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1895, where he became interested in social activism and met his Russian wife. They were married in 1897 and had four children, two of which became psychiatrists. Adler was very friendly with Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and the psychosexual theory. Freud named Adler the president of the Viennese Analytic Society after they met at a discussion group in 1907. Although they remained close for ten years their views differed tremendously; in the end of their friendship Adler couldn't stand Freud's obsession with sex and death. He also disliked how strict his theories were.

Adler was involved in World War I, serving as a physician in the Austrian Army and then worked in a children's hospital. When the war was over he spent his time in clinics and even trainining teachers; shortly thereafter he accepted a position at the Long Island College of Medicine and moved to the United States with his family.

Like Freud, Alfred Adler believed that personality was developed very early on in life; they both thought that by the age of five we had not only laid the ground work but had built upon that foundation of our personality. Adler was the first theorist to introduce birth order and its influence on human development. Although he was a prestigious psychologist and philosopher, he is very different from the psychologists we've studied. He considered birth order to be a "heuristic" idea -- he said it was a useful fiction and something that shouldn't be taken too seriously. His work was from uptight, like the rigid and strictly scientific ideas of his peers. Adler was vastly influenced by a philosopher named Hans Vaihinger, who believed that since the ultimate truth we seek as humans is beyond us, we must come up with partial truths. These "useful constructs" work for the moment and are used as place-markers, which hopefully lead us to the whole truth. We can see Vaihinger's influence in Adler's work not only in his birth order theory but in others as well.

Many psychologists believe that children strive to fit into pre-determined or cookie-cutter type "niches" in a family -- if you think about it, there is usually an athletic child, an intelligent or overachiever-type child, and so on. These personalities differ not only because they focus on the area they're good at, but they "adopt different strategies in the universal quest for parental favor." It's always a competition with siblings, for their parents' love, affection, and time. It seems, however, that parents treat their children differently depending on their birth order or the spot they're in. Sometimes it's even how the parent relates to the spot itself ( depending on their own birth order with their siblings.

There are different categories for birth order and, with anything, there are exceptions to the rule. The categories are first-born, middle child/second child, last born/youngest child, and only children. The exceptions include blended families, twins, gap children, and adoption. "As with everything in Adler's system, birth order is to be understood in the context of the individuals own special circumstances." ( This means that because every family dynamic is so unique, not everyone fits into the pre-determined...