23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Invited Lecture

The changing of the female role from a. Adler to nowadays

Gyongyver Karpati

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was the doctor of the lower middle classes in Vienna at the beginning of the1900s. 
He studied gender roles in this social layer which was characterized by complete family structure, classic male pattern, father as breadwinner.The mother looked after the family and brought up the children.
Carrying out social psychological research Adler came to the following intuitive idea: the personality form and behaviour characteristic of the genders is influenced by culture “a product of culture”.

By 1912 Adler completed his personality theory and put it into the larger context of social psychological research. He examined the view of his age concerning genders which said: women are of less value.

At the turn of the century most women realised their lower value status in society but they accepted it. In this acceptance they were helped by their typically feminine attributes such as gentleness, self-sacrifice and obediance. The mentally healthy women gave a feminine reaction to the criticism of the age and came to terms with the female role of their age. Thus society remained healthy as well. Women remained women and men remained men.

In the lifework of Adler’s contemporary, the other great analyst C.G.Jung (1875-1961) the word Role has a different meaning. In Jung’s analytical model the Role (=persona=mask) is the top of the personality pyramid, the top layer, which is in contact with the outside world. The Rolepersonality has a balancing function between the inside and outside world. It synchronises the expectations of the environment and the inner needs.

In Jung’s personality model the feminine anima and the masculine animus are parts of the individual unconscious. In the collective unconscious we can find the archetypes of the magna mater and the old wise.

Researching the structural forms of the female psyche Toni Wolf, Jung’s follower, described four female types: Amazon, Hetera, Mother and the Medial woman.

All four types have a cultural historical background. They can be identified with Greek goddesses. -Arthemis, Aphrodite, Demeter and Hestia- so they are probably archetypes. AMAZON: independent, efficient, success-oriented. She lacks patience and empathy. HETERA: ideal partner, inspirational woman. MOTHER: protects, supports, cares, helps THE MEDIAL WOMAN (medium) understands the subconscious background. She can play a mediator role in her environment and towards the transcendent.

According to Wolf every woman possesses these four basic structures. A woman will realize the structure which is most in accordance with her character. As her character matures she will integrate a second and a third stucture in her personality. The integration of the fourth structural form means the total approach towards Selbst. This fulfillment of the female role takes a lifetime.

Adler does NOT talk about roles but life tasks. In his finalist way of thinking the term task determines the goal better. Out of the three life tasks the male or female role of the person is fulfilled through the love relationship. Human relationships and career are effected and coloured by gender roles.

During the fulfillment of life tasks life periods follow. At the start of their CAREER, the young woman, the Amazon, functions independently, efficiently, ambitiously. At the beginning of the serious LOVE RELATIONSHIP, the marriage, the woman is a real partner. If she inspires her husband in all respects she is a Hetera. In later years of the marriage, at the birth of children she fulfills herself in her female role as Mother. As aging woman, who has cared for HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS all her life, she gathers and intertwines people with the help of her life experience. By her knowledge of people she reflects on the subconscious and towards the end of her life she mediates more and more towards the transcendent. She is the Medial woman.

The terminology of Jung’s and Adler’s analytical method is different but its ideas about the structural forms of the female role are the same. The psyche of the mentally stable woman develops throughout her life. Adler adds: it develops dinamically towards its personality ideal.

Opposed to the classical female roles we saw the start of the feminist movements. One of its leading personalities was Simone de Beauvoir French writer -Sartre’s follower and partner. In 1949 she published her book “The other sex” as a response to Freud’s teachings. Beauvoir was appalled by the fact that in psychoanalysis the woman is overshadowed by the man. In her view the female identity is not defined by birth but develops through outer influences. There is no difference originally between female and male personality. If it does appear it is only the impression of the education that the man forces on the woman. This picture becomes firmly rooted in women as a kind of stigma. This is the first violence against women.

Beauvoir’s statement makes the female identity conditional, she questions the female identity. This idea is subject to criticism today.

The categories of gender identity and gender roles become obvious if we look at the table compiled from the book “The modern theory of sexuality” by hungaryan Béla Buda.

TABLE in the view of modern social psychology

sexual identity = sexual conscious+ unconscious

sex role = sexual role

the behaviour attributed for sexes in a certain culture

gender role = the psychological features of the sociological gender role

pervasive role = sexual role + age role. All other human roles are based on it.

In the emancipation of women it is an extreme, wrong teaching that the harder, the more masculine a woman acts, the more valued she will be. Consequently the western emancipated woman got to her own exploitation. Amid the fast developing technical advances of our age the human mind aims to rule the world. Emotions and the soul become unnecessary on the labour market. Fortunately, feminism has changed a lot over 50 years. This is demonstrated by an Urugayan feminist’s speech from 1995 which I will cite from. (This speech was delivered in Libanon at an Arabian conference by Maria Teresa Bocile Santiso). There is a fundamental condition, valid for every woman, which is independent of culture, religion, social layer, age, or level of education. And this is the female body. The first experience in a woman’s life is that she possesses her female body. This is a woman’s life condition and attitude. Every woman possesses this special thing. They possess the inner and outer ability to carry life, feed and give birth. This identity which is deeply rooted in the female nature can be found in every culture. It is an anthropological originality, an ability for life. “

Henri Boulad ( Philosopher, theologian, teacher, psychologyst. Alexandria 1931-) says in his book : For the world the woman is a gift. But the “impolite” world only cares about the profit value of this gift.

This is what happens in Hungary at workplaces nowadays. How many points does a woman doctor/ psychologist make with her activity, what is its point/ forint value? The same thing comes into question in marriages . Who earns how much? It is prostitution where the woman can be best given a forint value.

Boulad defines a woman’s value by her existence. “The existence of mankind depends on women”-he says. The realisation of a woman’s basic value: the care which is so strong that it ties together every age and culture. A woman’s care spreads over the whole world. A woman hopes that the world will experience an intellectual deveopment and a strengthening of moral values. She wants the truth to reveal itself and good to manifest itself.

The traditional role of women is the most modern in our present and this is not a paradox. I’ll try to outline the traditional threefold role virgin-spouse-mother of a woman according to H. Boulad:

Virgin. Longing, waiting. Waiting for a man, the polarity of a woman’s personality

Spouse. Keeping the virginity of the heart: undivididness, total commitment to a man

In sex: the other person is in the centre of events all the time.

Loyality: Excluding everybody else. Getting from eternal love to the absolute, the eternal. This end feeds the previous values. It is the woman who understands this art, not the man. She teaches these things to him.

Mother. Every love must exceed itself. Duality must grow into a threefold, fourfold etc. relationship. Physical and psychological fertility perfects love.

In summary we can say:

For their healthy mental development children need male and female models which are transparent, easily recognisable due to their contrasting nature, and carry both the outer and inner signs of their gender.

The essence of the harmony of becoming a woman: to be aware of the high-ranking values of their own womanhood. To create a contrast to the male identity, but at the same time to complement the man. It is important for a woman to live out her being special, since she is capable of motherhood, of passing on life, of ensuring the continuity of human life. This idea is well expressed in an English proverb with which I would like to end my article:

” The hand that rocks the cradle is the one which moves the world.”


ADLER, Alfred: Co-operation between the sexes (1978.W.W Norton§Company , INC )
BOULAD,Henry:The suffering and mission of women (1997.Marton Aron Publishing House)

Budapest, 22 August 2005

HUNGARY, 1068, Budapest, Rippl-R.u. 27.

23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Invited Lecture

Power and disability

Timothy S. Hartshorne

Society, and the logic of social living, asks its members to cooperate through the life tasks (work, love, friendship). Success with the life tasks involves using one’s abilities in a useful and creative manner to support the well-being of community. When a person courageously uses his or her abilities and develops these with a sense of social interest, he or she becomes useful to society, and so acquires power – influence. This is the power of perfecting what one has to offer – one’s abilities. But when people have dis-abilities this can become problematic.

Part of the difficulty is how we tend to think about disabilities. Fine and Asch (1988) challenged five assumptions that influence attitudes toward disability: (1) that disability is located solely in biology, (2) that the problems of the disabled are due to disability-produced impairment, (3) that the disabled person is a “victim”, (4) that disability is central to the persons’ self-concept, self-definition, social comparisons, and reference groups, and (5) that having a disability is synonymous with needing help and social support. The son of a friend severely broke his leg and after six weeks in the hospital was in a wheel chair for a period of time. I saw father and son one day leaving school. I smiled at the father, Tom, and said, “Now you see the importance of wheel chair accessibility and handicapped parking spaces.” Tom replied, “I never got it before.” His son was not permanently disabled, and in fact at 9 years old today is an excellent football goalie. But to the extent that buildings and parking were not accessible, during that time he was disadvantaged. The physical condition did not make him disabled. The physical barriers that existed in the world reduced his abilities. If the barriers can be removed, a person’s dis-abilities may no longer be so significant. However, these barriers are not always physical; they are frequently social as well.

Adlerian psychology is a psychology of use and not possession; it is about what you do with the abilities that you have. But society may not always recognize the use, and societal structures may serve to increase feelings of inferiority among those who find that their disabilities block them from access to society. Consider the life tasks.

Work: are there abilities that compensate for the disabilities? Are the disabilities relevant to the work? I was asked recently whether a person who as Cerebral Palsy should be hired as a school psychologist. I asked about her training and experience. She had graduated from a training program, and had worked as a school psychologist before and evidently did well. But although she seemed quite capable, the school to which she had applied for a position was very concerned.
Love: are there traits that compensate for not representing the ideal in beauty or masculinity? My friend Jim was divorced and had decided it was time to start dating again. A widow I knew was also interested in a social life. But she was born with only one arm, and wore a prosthetic. I asked Jim if it would bother him to date someone with one arm. He said that it would.
Friendship: What would other people say if you were friends with that person? In college I knew a fellow student who today we would say had high functioining autism. He seemed very isolated, and I suggested to my girlfriend that perhaps I should try to make friends with him. She thought that was a terrible idea, because others would judge me for being friends with him. A family eating out with their severely disable son had to endure people changing tables to move away from them.
This leaves few options for those with disabilities. One is to form a community separate from the larger society, and some societies support this by providing programs and developing structures that guarantee the isolation of this community of dis-abled. The deaf community is a good example. Members have developed their own culture and language, and in many cases have developed a sense of superiority. The deafblind are not generally welcome in the deaf community, nor in many cases are people who have physical disabilities in addition to their deafness. The use of cochlear implants is frowned upon because it implies there is something wrong with being deaf. But within the deaf culture a member’s abilities are recognized and valued and the hearing impairment is irrelevant.

Special Olympics is an extremely popular way to provide some power to a disadvantaged group. But despite the enormous amount of volunteer work by those without disabilities, the program is one of only relative power. In the context of one’s own group there is the potential for achievement, but in the eyes of society it is in some respects still “pretend” olympics, and unfortunately perpetuates the separation and isolation of the disabled. “We give them their program.” There is no real power here. There is no Lance Armstrong – the disease has not been overcome.

Another option is to strive to compensate for one’s disabilities and become a success, and so powerful; striving for a personal superiority. Some societies like to parade the heartwarming stories of those who have succeeded in spite of every obstacle society may have laid in their way. Christopher Reeve was a very powerful individual, but he was powerful before his horse riding accident. There was a librarian I knew with CP who was evidently quite brilliant, at least according to the heart warming newspaper article I read about him. He still appeared to lead a life of isolation, but he was a success. Judy, in a wheel chair and with a hearing impairment has managed to succeed at work despite problems with a co-worker. “If it was up to her, I’d have been gone long ago. Fortunately, she and I are at the same level and she’s not a manager, so I don’t have to worry about that….After thirteen years, I really don’t care anymore. I’m still here, that’s the best revenge.” These people seem to have done it in spite of the barriers. Of course this leads to discouragement for those who have tried and failed, and more fail than succeed, and for the few who succeed it interferes with social interest (because group membership is contingent) and creates the fear of losing one’s position. As Green, Davis, Karshmer, Marsh, and Straight (2005) note, “The difficulty, of course, is that where the attitudes of others lead to discrimination, chances of attaining positions of power are limited thus encouraging further discrimination and status loss” (pp. 209-210).

According to Link and Phelan (2001), the lack of access to social, economic, and political power leads to the possibility of stigmatization, as seen in labeling, stereotyping, separating, reducing status, and discriminating.

Labeling assigns social salience to recognized differences. It is one thing to have difficulties relating and communicating with others; it is another thing to be autistic. Labels create their own realities, which is why this is countered in the US with person first language. I would not dare to refer to a “deafblind person” in the US; I would have to say “a person who is deafblind” to emphasize that they are a person first and foremost. In other parts of the world persons who are deafblind want to be referred to as “deafblind persons,” because it is part of the social definition they have created for themselves, much like the deaf community, which is never called a community of persons who are deaf.

Stereotyping is assigning negative attributes to the labeled differences, or placing social significance on differences. Would you date a one-armed woman? Would you be seen with a one-armed woman, or a college student with Aspergers? Would you eat at the table next to a woman with CP who was drooling? Is that one unfair?

Separation results in a sense of “otherness;” a sense of not belonging. When the reactions of others unmistakably communicate not only a lack of acceptance, but a rejection of whatever abilities one might be able to contribute, this is deeply discouraging. This is very hard for parents to see happening to their children. I spoke with the mother of a young girl with a genetic syndrome who was sitting on the floor slightly rocking. Although the girl was functioning very well, even on grade level at school, the mother worried about the rocking. “If we could only get her to stop the rocking she would be nearly normal.” This mother eventually gave her daughter plastic surgery to improve her facial features. “I want her to have a date for the prom.”

Status loss and then discrimination occurs when the ability to participate fully in the community is denied. I knew a woman with epilepsy who was prevented from attending school after fourth grade due to her condition. We now have laws to prevent this, but as we know, you can outlaw discrimination but you cannot outlaw prejudice and stigmatization.

Besides living in one’s own group where some power may be available, or striving for personal superiority by compensating for one’s disabilities, a third option is to courageously advocate for recognition of those abilities that can still serve society and make a contribution, if society will remove some of the roadblocks that are in the way. But advocacy takes a great deal of courage. The strongest advocates tend to be the parents, although not all parents have the courage to do this, and even those who do can be worn down. Let me mention two strong advocates, both fathers. I spent a day with the father of a young adult girl with a genetic syndrome on a train and bus trip from Brisbane to Surfer’s Paradise. Ken has been a mover and a shaker for persons with his daughter’s syndrome in Australia. It was a difficult trip. On the train his daughter dropped the stuffed animal she was carrying. When I tried to pick it up for her, she briefly attacked and scratched me. At a mall she had to go to the bathroom. She was capable of going by herself, but she was gone a long time. Eventually Ken had to go into the women’s room to fetch her out. Of course we endured many stares as we journeyed. I asked Ken the next day as he was sitting and starring into space if it was hard. All he could do was nod and work to keep the tears from welling up. Another father was sitting with his son who was engaged in self-stimulation. Like Ken, this father has been a strong advocate for disability rights and inclusion. The father, with an affectionate smile on his face said, “Son, you are acting retarded.” His son, who is profoundly deaf, continued the self-stimulation. The father continued to smile, but a bit wistfully. Advocacy means both living with the child and facing the community’s barriers and attitudes. Both can be exhausting and discouraging.

Adlerians should be advocates for the courageous who seek to belong in spite of dis-abilities through the recognition of the abilities that are there. Adlerians should think about the kinds of statements that discourage those with disabilities:

The counselor who tells the parents that they have to grieve over the child they did not have before they can love their disabled child.
The physician who works on the child’s hands and legs as if the limbs were not attached to a whole person.
The falsely encouraging parents who assure their children that they can grow up to be anything they want to be, even when the children want to be ballerinas or football players in spite of their wheelchairs.
The colleges that tell persons with disabilities that they cannot be accepted because they would not be able to cut it with the rest of the able-bodied students.
The mother who does not want her son to marry a disabled woman or the father who does not want the man with a disability to marry his daughter.
The therapist who tells clients that they are in denial of their disabilities.
It is not about the disability – it is about the person and their courage to contribute. Adlerians should use their holistic perspective to see beyond the disability and see the abilities.

Adlerians should help society to focus on the “use” of all people, instead of what they possess. When interviewing parents of children with disabilities I administered an inventory popularly used to measure stress in these parents. One of the questions was “Do you do as much now as a family as you did before your child with disabilities was born?” One mother very quickly responded “No,” which according to the authors of the instrument would indicate greater amounts of stress. But then she continued, “We now do more.” I once asked a group of fathers how they had been changed by having a child with severe disabilities. One raised his hand immediately and replied, “Before he was born I had two other sons with whom I spent no time at all. I was either working or drinking. After this child was born I recognized that I could no longer continue like that, and I gave up drinking and I changed jobs so that now I can spend time with all three of my boys.” That is power.


Fine, M., & Asch, A. (1988). Disability beyond stigma: Social interaction, discrimination, and activism. Journal of Social Issues, 44, 3-21.

Green S., Davis, C., Karshmer, E., Marsh P., & Straight, B. (2005). Living stigma: The impact of labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination in the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. Sociological Inquiry, 75, 197-215.

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (2001). Conceptualizing stigma. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 363-385.

23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Invited Lecture

Intersoggettività e potere in psicoterapia

G. Ferrigno

I. Introduzione

I terapeuti rimangono spesso delusi quando, a distanza di anni, rivedono vecchi pazienti che, alla domanda di esprimere un parere su cosa essi ritengono sia stato loro di maggior beneficio durante il percorso analitico, non ricordano alcuna delle interpretazioni accuratamente costruite per fornire insight, ma hanno ben presente qualche momento di intensa complicità emotiva, di silenzioso contatto mentale, una battuta scherzosa, una risata. Cito ad esempio un mio ex-paziente che a suo dire ricorda poco della sua analisi personale, pur avendo ancora ben scolpito nella mente un mio gesto fatto con la mano sinistra mentre pronunciavo una frase: “Eccolo lì, è lui!”. Quel gesto e quella frase sono penetrate nella sua mente e nel suo cuore e hanno segnato gran parte, a suo dire, del percorso analitico.

Ma cosa significa tutto ciò? Nel corso dei rapporti interpersonali della vita di ogni giorno come anche all’interno del setting terapeutico si crea in maniera automatica, preriflessiva e inconscia una comunicazione intenzionale implicita, uno spazio mentale intersoggettivo noi-centrico condiviso, fatto a volte di una reciprocità, di una vicinanza emotiva fra menti, riparativa e quindi incoraggiante, che non ha bisogno di alcuna interpretazione, in senso classico, di quanto il terapeuta abbia compreso dell’impianto finzionale del paziente. Momenti di questo tipo costituiscono, a mio avviso, un aspetto cruciale che dimostra il “potere” terapeutico della relazione intersoggettiva che, essendo enorme, andrebbe controllato e monitorato costantemente.

Ed è proprio su codesta “forza” curativa, in alcuni casi inconsapevolmente iatrogena, della relazione, proprio sull’enorme “potere” della comunicazione intersoggettiva implicita all’interno del setting adleriano credo sia necessaria una riflessione. Non possiamo sottovalutare a questo proposito la straordinaria lungimiranza di pensiero di Alfred Adler che, capostipite del filone socioculturale della psicologia del profondo, per primo, ha ereticamente e coraggiosamente parlato, prima di Brentano o di Dennett, di consonanza intenzionale, di logica comune, di logica privata, di relazione, di unicità creativa della coppia terapeutica.

II. Alfred Adler, il pioniere

Non possiamo non ricordare che già nel 1908 Alfred Adler, anticipando molti concetti attualmente saccheggiati e riproposti da più parti, considera il concetto di Zärtlichkeitsbedürfnis, ovverosia il bisogno di tenerezza primaria, un precursore del sentimento sociale e di conseguenza dell’empatia: il bisogno (Bedürfnis), provato fin dal primo vagito dal bambino, di ricevere tutto ciò che è condensabile col termine “delicato” (Zärt) e, di conseguenza, affetto, coccole (l’holding e l’handling winnicottiane), se è coltivato con sufficienti attenzioni e scambi di reciprocità da parte del caregiver che si prende cura di lui, consente di vivificare un “legame di attaccamento sicuro”, matrice del linguaggio della tenerezza, della reciprocità.

La psicoterapia per Adler rappresenta un nuovo “legame d’attaccamento” sicuro. Per Adler il terapeuta deve “Comprendere”, cioè “avvicinarsi ai propri simili, identificandosi con loro […]. Comprendere significa formarsi di un uomo o di un avvenimento il concetto che prevediamo se ne formeranno gli altri. […]. [Per il terapeuta …] sarà difficile trovare un ponte per avvicinarsi a quest’anima. […]. Dobbiamo riprodurre in noi stessi il medesimo sentimento, dobbiamo stabilire un contatto con l’altra persona, vedere con i suoi occhi, udire con le sue orecchie e sentire con il suo cuore, dobbiamo identificarci con lui” (2, pp. 35-225).

Lo stesso Alfred Adler inoltre conclude dicendo: “Quando insisto sull’aspetto artistico del nostro lavoro cammino su un vulcano” (Ibid.., p. 225).

Soggettivismo fenomenologico, intenzionalità finalistica, causalità teleologica, empatia, relazione, lavoro artistico: ecco i nuclei concettuali adleriani che hanno sempre rappresentato un forte ostacolo all’ottenimento dell’imprimatur scientifico, in quanto per la scienza sperimentale soltanto le cause efficienti sono appurabili, mentre le ragioni, i fini, la creatività rimarrebbero nella coscienza impalpabile del soggetto.

In realtà, il timore che la psicologia del profondo possa confondersi con metodologie scarsamente scientifiche ha originato, in particolar modo, la tendenza a minimizzare il potere dell'”empatia” come agente terapeutico, in quanto ogni incontro con l’altro da noi è unico e irripetibile, quindi non è né programmabile, né “verificabile”, il che ha portato a sopravvalutare la “nobiltà” del metodo curativo basato sulla logica, sulla razionalità, sulle parole “svuotate” d’emozioni, sull’interpretazione insomma.

Da un lato, troviamo l’approccio chirurgico descritto da Freud, dall’altro il processo d’incoraggiamento empatico adleriano basato sul presupposto che non è possibile imboccare alcuna strategia terapeutica senza un costante flusso biunivoco di risonanze emozionali fra chi cura e chi è curato.

III. Numerose e innovative evidenze empiriche

La contrapposizione netta tra i “due agenti terapeutici”, insight cognitivo-intrepretativo, da un lato, e relazione, dall’altro, si è diluita progressivamente grazie anche alle numerose e innovative evidenze sperimentali sul potere curativo della relazione effettuate negli ultimi decenni nell’ambito delle neuroscienze.

Ma andiamo per ordine. Il modello biopsicosociale della mente ha ricevuto importanti conferme proprio dalle neuroscienze. Non possiamo minimizzare le ricerche empiriche sull’effetto placebo basato sulla somministrazione di una sostanza inerte, che hanno messo in evidenza l’esistenza di una correlazione positiva tra l’esito dei trattamenti (non solo psichiatrici e psicoterapeutici, ma anche medici) e alcune variabili relative all’atteggiamento “caldo” ed empatico del medico nei confronti del curante. Ricordo gli studi di Pancheri e Brugnoli.

D’altra parte, le recenti evidenze oggettive delle neuroscienze confermano che non solo i farmaci, ma anche i comportamenti, le emozioni, la magia empatica della parola e, cosa ancora più importante, le relazioni significative cambiano il cervello, e quindi la mente.
Diretta conseguenza di tale teoria sono gli studi di Kandel che, premio nobel per la medicina e le neuroscienze nel 2000 grazie agli studi effettuati sulla lumaca di mare Aplysia, il mollusco più celebre delle neuroscienze, ha dimostrato come le connessioni sinaptiche possano essere modificate e rinforzate in modo permanente con l’apprendimento dall’ambiente. La psicoterapia in quanto rappresenta un nuovo “legame d’attaccamento sicuro”, un'”esperienza emotiva correttiva” genera una nuova forma d’apprendimento, che può dar vita ad alterazioni dell’espressione genica e di conseguenza delle connessioni sinaptiche alla stessa stregua dei farmaci.

Anche le ricerche condotte proprio in questi ultimi anni dall’équipe di Vittorio Gallese presso il dipartimento di neuroscienze dell’Università di Parma hanno portato alla scoperta di un comune meccanismo neurofisiologico alla base dell’intersoggettività con la sorprendente scoperta di un tipo di neuroni che può fare da tramite tra il Sé e gli Altri e che rappresenterebbe la giustificazione neuronale dell’empatia: i cosiddetti neuroni a specchio (“mirror neurons”).

Questi neuroni, scoperti nella scimmia, hanno una duplice proprietà. Da una parte, si attivano quando la scimmia compie un’azione, ad esempio prende un oggetto; dall’altra si attivano in maniera simile quando la scimmia vede un altro individuo, un’altra scimmia o un uomo, fare la stessa azione. Un’azione fatta da un altro fa “risuonare”, attraverso il meccanismo della “simulazione incarnata”, nell’interno di chi osserva l’azione, i neuroni che si attiverebbero “come se” lui stesso facesse quell’azione. Nell’uomo il sistema “mirror” è stato dimostrato in maniera indiretta, mediante varie tecniche.

Tra noi e gli altri si crea automaticamente e implicitamente un legame, un contatto, uno spazio mentale noi-centrico condiviso: gli altri entrano continuamente in noi con il loro agire e viceversa sia in caso di azioni “fredde”, prive di valenza emotiva, ma anche in caso di azioni emotivamente “calde”, come asserisce anche un nuovo e molto stimolante filone di ricerche molto vicino sul piano epistemologico all’Individualpsicologia, la “Teoria della mente”, che in un’ottica pluridisciplinare e interdisciplinare, attingendo alla Teoria dell’attaccamento di Bowlby coniugata con l’infant research e con le neuroscienze, studia lo sviluppo nel bambino dei precursori dell’intersoggettività comunicativa ossia della capacità di agganciare cognitivamente ed emozionalmente la mente degli altri, attribuendo, a se stessi e agli altri, stati mentali, intenzioni, emozioni, sentimenti, credenze, pensieri, attraverso l’introspezione o l’identificazione empatica, spiegando e prevedendo su questa base l’azione umana.

IV. Intrapsichico e intersoggettivo

Le ricerche segnalate testimoniano in maniera indiscussa un rinnovato clima d’interesse nei confronti della potenziale forza della relazione, della comunicazione intenzionale implicita all’interno del setting, che diventa così il regno dell’implicito, del “non” detto, ma intuito riproponendo conseguentemente il vecchio e delicato problema relativo alla necessità di un costante monitoraggio del transfert e del controtransfert, dell’intersoggettivo e dell’intrapsichico.

Il paziente spesso non riesce a dire quello che sente ma lo comunica in altro modo risvegliando inconsciamente nel terapeuta pensieri, ricordi, immagini, fantasie, persino sogni, oltre che sentimenti. Sappiamo che è importante porre attenzione a tutto quello che il paziente suscita in noi e noi in lui, anche se non ne vediamo immediatamente l’attinenza, perché tutto ciò può essere utile per comprenderlo meglio e in profondità.

V. Responsabilità etica

L’evidenza, in ogni caso, delle effetti della comunicazione intenzionale intersoggettiva implicita, e quindi della psicoterapia, accresce la responsabilità dei comportamenti, delle intenzioni, dei pensieri e delle emozioni del terapeuta. si pongono inquietanti interrogativi sui risvolti etici del comprovato potenziale stra-potere della relazione. La scoperta dei neuroni mirror, infatti, per fare un esempio, implica un modellamento dell’altro in noi e di noi nell’altro sollevando preoccupanti quesiti sulla possibilità/capacità dell’individuo di saper distinguere tra la propria azione/intenzione e l’azione/intenzione altrui, tra sé e altro da sé.

Il terapeuta deve sempre valutare gli esiti impliciti e imprevedibili delle proprie intenzioni inconsce, del proprio agire inconsapevole sull’altro e viceversa da parte del paziente.

Il modello adleriano ritiene che l’incontro analitico non possa essere considerato una semplice esperienza razionale priva di coinvolgimento empatico. Esso costituisce un evento emozionale che coinvolge “due persone” in un itinerario comune che influenza il vissuto sia del terapeuta che del paziente all’interno di uno spazio mentale comune noi-centrico in cui s’intrecciano e si sovrappongono come in un crogiolo alchemico lo stile di vita dell’analista e lo stile di vita del paziente che devono, quindi, necessariamente, conoscere profondamente la propria soggettività per riconoscere conseguentemente quella dell’altro.

VI. Il potere del terapeuta e il potere del paziente

Le relazioni terapeutiche efficaci sono quelle in cui il paziente possa “affidarsi” all’ascolto empatico del proprio terapeuta, nel quale deve esserci la coscienza del proprio sapere-potere, ma anche dei propri limiti di essere umano fallibile, quindi inferiore che deve confrontarsi con un paziente che va riconosciuto come persona che soffre e che chiede aiuto, quindi posto in una posizione di minus, ma capace allo stesso tempo di sapere, di parlare e di potere con autorevolezza, consapevole della propria dignità umana, della responsabilità della propria cura. Adler sottolionea molto bene con una metafora: “Si può condurre un cavallo fino all’acqua, ma non si può costringerlo a bere”. Tutto il resto è soltanto rapporto di potere con la finzione dell’uguaglianza.

Il potere del terapeuta, il potere del paziente, il potere della malattia, il potere della relazione, il potere curativo della comprensione empatica che è sempre intersoggettiva.

Non è possibile ripristinare in chi soffre la capacità di dialogare, di accettare le interpretazioni del terapeuta e di smantellare, quindi, le proprie finzioni rafforzate senza coinvolgimento emozionale e senza inesauribile disponibilità all’ascolto da parte del terapeuta, in quanto occorre calarsi nell’individuo prima che nel paziente che, se avverte nel curante solo la saggezza dello scienziato e solo la routine dell’esperienza diagnostica del professionista, si “spegne” tramutandosi da persona a semplice caso clinico.

L’aspetto centrale del lavoro terapeutico riguarda le due personalità in gioco, ovvero il transfert, il controtransfert e il potere curativo che nasce dalle dinamiche relazionali e lo psicoterapeuta è l’agente che nella relazione può rendere tutto ciò operativo.

Tutte le nostre forze, devono, perciò confluire in direzione di un’etica e di una gentilezza della psichiatria e della psicoterapia che implica per uno psicoterapeuta la capacità di prendere coscienza dell’influenza reciproca e spiraliforme del mondo interno della coppia terapeutica.

VII. Monitorare costantemente l’intrapsichico e l’intersoggettivo: il transfert e il controtransfert

Per questo è indispensabile acquisire la capacità di saper monitorare continuamente l’intrapsichico e l’intersoggettivo attraverso l’autosservazione di sé, dei propri stati d’animo, della propria soggettività, la cui conoscenza ed esperienza è fondamentale per poterli poi riconoscerli nel paziente.

È illusorio credere che un terapeuta possa nascondersi dietro lo scudo difensivo di una scuola e di una dottrina onnipotente, che egli non sia fallibile o esente da errori e da emozioni, errori e emozioni che se individuati attraverso la continua capacità introspettiva possono trasformarsi da ostacolo in risorsa: un controtransfert non chiarito può essere rischioso per il prosieguo del lavoro analitico, che può subire stagnazione con la messa in scena di brandelli non riconosciuti, se non sufficientemente analizzati, della storia personale del terapeuta.

VIII. Conclusioni

In primo luogo, è necessario saper monitorare incessantemente l’intrapsichico e l’intersoggettivo nell’hic et nunc del setting attraverso un controllo clinico diretto delle dinamiche in gioco, e ciò è possibile solo se il terapeuta abbia effettuato un approfondito training personale, un’analisi personale.

Di fondamentale importanza, in secondo luogo, è la possibilità di esercitare un controllo extrasetting attraverso la supervisione.

In terzo luogo, è necessaria una formazione permanente dei terapeuti in genere e una formazione permanente dei formatori, che devono acquisire una costante attitudine a interrogarsi sui risvolti etici del proprio fare ed essere terapeuti, facendo della ricerca e dell’aggiornamento permanente un obiettivo primario.

Un buon terapeuta, come suggeriva Adler, deve essere sempre aperto alla ricerca, al confronto e alla tolleranza, deve studiare sempre altre teorie e altri punti di vista mettendo sempre tutto a confronto. Egli deve, soprattutto, concedendosi l’avventura, a volte “rischiosa”, d’immergersi in un’interazione intersoggettiva duale, che implica un incontro fra menti basato sulla comunicazione intersoggettiva implicita. Soltanto così ci sarà possibile incamminarci su un rinnovato sentiero di professionalizzazione del ruolo terapeutico che conduca verso una valorizzazione della relazione, dell’etica e della creatività.


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23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Invited Lecture

Bisogni spirituali e potere: la strutturazione del sé/stile di vita e i fenomeni religiosi attuali

Umberto Ponziani

Il bisogno tutto umano di trascendere l’esperienza concreta, di riferirsi ad una dimensione spirituale appare un bisogno universale. Comprende vari livelli della personalità: il livello cognitivo, affettivo, relazionale e sociale. La Psicologia Individuale ha sempre mantenuto un orientamento aperto e rispettoso verso questi ineludibili bisogni umani. Può proporsi come un approccio illuminante per la comprensione della complessa fenomenologia soggettiva che sottende le scelte e i modi di vivere la ricerca del trascendere l’esperienza concreta del vivere.

La personalità umana, nel continuo bisogno di conoscenza e di senso, può evolvere verso una piena realizzazione di sé o bloccarsi in modalità rigidamente disfunzionanti. La Psicologia Individuale è in grado di proporre un’analisi accurata di queste modalità in cui la ricerca del potere individuale gioca un ruolo di primo piano.

Il fondamentalismo, l’integralismo, ma anche frequenti e particolari strutturazioni del sé si propongono per una lettura approfondita e complessa per decifrare l’attuale ripresa della spiritualità nelle luci e nelle ombre del nostro tempo.

Spiritual needs and power

Self-structuralism/style of life and current religious phenomena

The entirely human need to reach beyond concrete experience, to relate to a spiritual dimension, appears to be a universal need. This involves various levels of the personality: cognitive, affective, relational and social. Individual Psychology has always maintained an open and respectful approach towards these unavoidable human needs. The study of the transcendence of real life experiences may offer an approach that can provide insights into the complex subjective phenomena influencing choices and ways of life.

The human personality, with its continuous need for knowledge and sense, can evolve towards the complete realization of self or become blocked in rigidly dysfunctional ways. Individual Psychology can provide an accurate analysis of the ways in which the search for individual power plays a leading role.

Fundamentalism, integralism, but also frequent and particular Self-structurings, are proposed for in-depth and complex examination to decipher the current return of spirituality in the light and in the shadows of our time.

1. Il bisogno tutto umano di trascendere l’esperienza concreta, di riferirsi ad una dimensione spirituale appare un bisogno universale

Una cinquantina di anni fa Gordon Allport sottolineava come ormai gli psicologi trattassero con grande franchezza la sessualità, ma ancora fossero estremamente imbarazzati quando erano in causa i isogni spirituali.

Possiamo affermare ancora oggi che per molti approcci psicologici sia ancora così.

I bisogni di rigore scientifico e la necessità di corretto confinamento epistemologico rispetto alla filosofia e alla teologia mantengono i bisogni spirituali umani troppo al di fuori degli studi e delle ricerche psicologiche.

Eppure nelle mondo miliardi di persone si riferiscono in termini più o meno profondi alle religioni monoteistiche, moltissimi altri accolgono spiegazioni ideologiche che danno senso e valore al proprio vissuto. Certamente tutti sono incessantemente impegnati a cercare spiegazioni prendendo a riferimento un punto di vista superiore e staccato dalla propria esperienza umana diretta. In questo senso appare ineludibile per la psicologia l’esigenza di occuparsi di questi bisogni spirituali uscendo dalla riduzionismo che ne ha operato la psicoanalisi e in buona parte anche la psicologia dell’io. Certamente la psicologia della religione in questi ultimi decenni si è interessata correttamente, definendo cioè con molta precisione l’oggetto di studio e i limiti epistemologici, dei bisogni religiosi. In questo contesto, però, intendo porre l’attenzione ai bisogni, tutti i umani, di trascendere l’esperienza concreta e non in particolare alle sole scelte squisitamente religiose. D’altra parte i tempi sembrano richiedere nuove e approfondite riflessioni. La globalizzazione dei mercati e delle idee, le conoscenze mediatiche sempre più ampie, i flussi migratori che portano a contatto modi di essere di pensare anche molto diversi rappresentano un forte stimolo ad interrogarci sui bisogni di assoluto umano. Continuamente, in questa realtà variegata, si pongono in primo piano le esigenze di saper decifrare gli assoluti di riferimento che entrano in gioco nelle grandi scelte esistenziali.

Per correttezza e chiarezza lessicale propongo di utilizzare il termine “metaesperienziale” al posto di metafisica, di spiritualità umana, per indicare il bisogno, tutto umano, di trascendere l’esperienza concreta del vivere. Metaesperienziale significa << al di sopra dell’esperienza>> come il termine metafisica, ma appare meno filosofico e più utilizzabile in termini psicologici nel definire questo bisogno umano.

2. Comprende vari livelli della personalità: il livello cognitivo, affettivo, relazionale e sociale

Secondo la nostra rcerca e riflessione, questo bisogno umano di trascendere l’esperienza concreta si esplicita in vari livelli del funzionamento della nostra attività mentale. In un’ottica bio-psico-sociale appaiono rilevanti sia la dimensione biologica che quella cognitiva, ma anche quella affettiva, relazionale e sociale.

Sostanziale è anche valutare la presenza contestuale di un’operatività consapevole e inconsapevole in cui questi livelli sono continuamente immersi. Ci riferiamo al concetto di sé/ stile di vita dinamicamente intriso di consapevolezza e inconsapevolezza.

Gli studi più attuali in termini biologici, in particolare quelli neuroscientifici, propongono interessanti rilievi circa la possibilità che il nostro cervello sia impostato per svolgere continuamente ricerche di senso e spirituali. I moderni approcci istintualistici, invece, non sembrano tener conto di questa ricerca umana incessante. Sottolineano però che alcuni istinti di base potrebbero sostenere congiuntamente questi bisogni. Ad esempio l’istinto di ordinamento logico-formale, quello di protezione e cura, di autoefficacia, di esplorazione e di autoconservazione potrebbero nell’insieme sostenere la tendenza umana al metaesperienziale.

Riteniamo funzionale, ma anche finzionale, esplorare i bisogni di riferirsi ad assoluti di riferimento ai livelli cognitivi, affettivi, relazionali e sociali del nostro funzionamento psichico.

Così, a livello cognitivo, cerchiamo incessantemente di capire i fenomeni e le situazioni collocandole in contesti sempre più allargati e connessi. Risulta più efficace cogliere i significati degli accadimenti operando attraverso successivi passaggi per porli in livelli di conoscenza superiori. L’intelligenza umana si è messa in grado evolutivamente di accedere alla costruzione di ipotesi sapendo utilizzare sempre di più la presenza di variabili indipendenti. Anche l’evoluzione scientifica sembra dimostrare questa considerazione. La storia della ricerca scientifica evidenzia il progressivo passaggio dall’osservazione diretta e dalla comprensione ingenua dei fenomeni a livelli di astrazione sempre più complessi in grado di ripulire i dati rilevati dalle variabili più contingenti e quindi spesso confusive. È possibile riferirsi in termini esemplificativi sia alla definizione del metodo sperimentale galileiano sia alla costruzione delle grandi geometrie. Galileo ipotizzando il vuoto, ed escludendo quindi la presenza dell’attrito atmosferico che incrinava pesantemente i suoi esperimenti sulla caduta dei gravi, riuscii ad elevare la conoscenza dei fenomeni ad un livello superiore superando i limiti della conoscenza diretta umana. La geometria euclidea postulando i concetti di punto, linea, piano è riuscita a superare la variabilità concreta limitativa e confusiva di forme e dimensioni.

A livello emozionale la riflessione appare sostenuta da evidenze della storia personale di ognuno di noi. Risulta evidente come i bisogni emozionali umani giochino una parte rilevante del nostro tendere all’assoluto. L’uomo non ha solo bisogno di capire, ma ha anche paura, avverte dolorosamente la sua inadeguatezza, sente potentemente il bisogno di non sentirsi solo e inutile, vuole avere un senso che superi la limitazione della morte e della sparizione, ha bisogno di essere gratuitamente amato e valorizzato per le sue fatiche.

Il livello relazionale, in un profondo intreccio fra bisogni emozionali e cognitivi, completa e articola la spiegazione della tendenza umana a superare l’esperienza concreta e a rivolgersi anche ad entità superiori. In termini di metaesperienziale cercare in entità superiori, Dio o altre divinità, ma anche in una particolare ideologia umana o la scienza, sottolinea un bisogno di mettersi in una relazione significativa che offra sostegno inattaccabile e costante. Se nelle relazioni umane possiamo sentirci inutili e marginali, avvertirci umiliati e offesi, l’incessante tentativo di riferirsi ad un assoluto, soprattutto in termini religiosi, ci promette sollievo, infinita comprensione, inalterato amore, spiegazione delle sofferenze, riscatto e perdono. Questo impone nella relazione un contesto triangolare che apre potenti strumenti di drammatizzazione dell’altro umano (l’altro umano diventa importantissimo perché condivide la stessa appartenenza), di sdrammatizzazione della relazione terrena (l’altro umano è solo un altro, non l’altro definitivo). Lo scenario relazionale che ne risulta è immediatamente allargato, amplificato nel dare profondità e relatività alla relazione a due e alle relazioni terrene.

Il livello sociale dei bisogni spirituali appare sostenuto dalla necessità di riferirsi ad un vertice di livello superiore che garantisca ad ognuno regole e diritti nella costruzione della realtà sociale. La presenza di un altro o di un’idea superiore al singolo individuo diventa un potentissimo invito alla socialità, alla ricerca di senso delle relazioni terrene, di ordine collettivo e, di etiche condivise, di leggi per la convivenza. Per stare bene insieme, per costruire le comunità sociali e dare loro continuità e spessore è necessario rivolgersi ad un livello superiore e in grado di porsi come garante e controllore dei comportamenti relazionali, spingendoli al riparo degli eccessi individualistici

In sintesi, la profonda articolazione fra livelli cognitivi, emozionali, relazionali e sociali alla ricerca di dare senso all’esistenza umana, di collocarlo su livelli più rassicuranti e più adattati alle difficoltà della vita sembra fornire i spiegazioni sufficientemente articolate del bisogno umano di metaesperienzialità.

3. La Psicologia Individuale ha sempre mantenuto un orientamento aperto e rispettoso verso questi ineludibili bisogni umani

È ampiamente conosciuta la posizione della psicoanalisi freudiana in merito ai bisogni religiosi e spirituali. Sebbene verso la fine della sua esistenza Freud abbia cercato di riconsiderare la sua posizione rispetto a questi settori dello psichismo umano accogliendone la complessità di analisi in precedenza negata, il movimento psicoanalitico nel suo insieme ha fornito una visione riduttiva dei bisogni religiosi e spirituali umani. Anche molti altri approcci psicologici, pur con una sensibilità diversa, hanno di fatto prodotto posizioni riduzionistiche. È il caso dell’approccio umanistico-esistenziale che ha dato vita a vari i filoni di ricerca in questo senso, con una accezione che possiamo definire funzionalistica. Pur riconoscendo queste tendenze verso la spiritualità, hanno interpretato le tendenze religiose come un mezzo per la completa realizzazione del sé in accezioni eccessivamente funzionalistiche.

Diversa posizione è riconoscibile sia alla psicologia junghiana sia alla psicologia delle relazioni oggettuali. Soprattutto quest’ultima ha fornito analisi di notevole profondità e correttezza.

Anche l’approccio costruttivistico, considerato nel suo variegato insieme, sembra fornire attualmente, soprattutto nelle sue forme meno radicali, un substrato epistemologico capace di cogliere correttamente l’importanza e la specificità dei bisogni spirituali umani. Infatti se superficialmente il costruttivismo appare come una posizione epistemologica di fatto escludente di realtà esterne date, quindi anche di un sacro, appare comunque aperto ad un’interrogazione ampia dell’essere umano in tutti i suoi significati. Nelle poche posizioni teoriche che si sono avvicinate alla spiritualità si riscontra sostanzialmente un rispetto attento alla sacralità, che, se pur inconoscibile, fa parte dei bisogni umani profondi e quindi degna di attenzione e di rispetto totale. Questa posizione epistemologica ci impone di essere consapevoli dell’influenza sostanziale che la realtà viene sempre distorta anche in funzione del nostro stesso esserci. L’osservatore fa parte integrante della stessa realtà osservata e la determina (Maturana e Varela 1980).

Questo modo di concepire l’uomo richiama quindi all’estrema soggettività del nostro pensare il mondo e libera il campo da verità esperibili totalmente. Siamo quindi costruttori di conoscenza e viviamo in un mondo di opinioni personali (Adler 1933). Il costruttivismo appare quindi un potente strumento di comprensione della realtà. Il sacro, lo spirituale, il metaesperienziale rimangono in una realtà esterna poco conoscibile, ma che ci può essere profondamente. Il problema è quello di sapere, piuttosto, che ci accostiamo ad essi con tutto il nostro portato soggettivo di cui dobbiamo essere consapevoli per non scambiare il vissuto personale per la realtà.

L’approccio adleriano, che potrebbe ascriversi superficialmente nei filoni umanistico-esistenziali in realtà si pone più precisamente come teoria costruttivistica. La sua proposta dell’idea di Dio come la più alta espressione del bisogno di perfezione umana fa pensare, anche, ad un sostanziale riduttivismo in quanto sembra non riconoscere una trascendenza esterna ai bisogno del tutto umano di assoluto. In una considerazione più approfondita l’approccio individualpsicologico esprime dichiaratamente di volersi occupare degli aspetti metafisici che coinvolgono l’uomo nel suo cammino esistenziale:

“hanno forse ragione coloro che avvertono nella psicologia individuale una componente metafisica, apprezzata da alcuni e criticata da altri. Molti, purtroppo hanno una concezione errata della metafisica e vorrebbero escludere dalla vita dell’umanità tutto ciò che non possono cogliere con immediatezza. Il nuovo nasce da un’idea che raccoglie e condensa i dati dell’esperienza. Una vera scienza sconfina sempre nella metafisica e deve essere speculativa e trascendentale. Non trovo ragioni per diffidare della metafisica, che ha influenzato in sommo grado la vita e l’evoluzione dell’umanità” (Adler 1933; trad. it. 1990, 204-205).

Queste considerazioni appaiono illuminanti per lo stimolo verso una comprensione che non voglia schiacciarsi esasperatamente in chiusure riduttive. Adler invita a tenere ben distinti oggetto e metodo di ogni scienza, ma invita chiaramente alla necessità di tenere aperta l’interrogazione sul senso della vita che continuamente cerchiamo e che non può non indirizzare in qualche misura il cammino della psicologia. Il percorso indicato è dichiaratamente aperto al mistero e al bisogno di interrogarsi continuamente, in uno sforzo costante e in una sfida alla complessità del vivere pienamente e maturamente accolta.

4. La Psicologia Individuale è in grado di proporre un’analisi accurata di queste modalità in cui la ricerca del potere individuale gioca un ruolo di primo piano

L’enfasi che Alfred Adler e tutta la psicologia individuale pongono sui bisogni di superiorità e di potere appaiono in questo senso importanti e sostanziali per poter analizzare compiutamente gli usi personali armonici e distorti che individualmente possiamo fare di questa ricerca di senso. La capacità intrinseca della teoria adleriana di cogliere compiutamente l’incidenza dei fattori culturali, sociali, ambientali, familiare, emotivi e cognitivi offre efficacissimi elementi di analisi allargate e complete . il profondo tessuto teorico dei bisogni relazionali e sociali pongono l’individualpsicologia nella possibilità di cogliere limpidamente e articolatamente gli stili di vita individuali, gli usi finzionali in gioco. Il presupposto evolutivo, sottolineato da Adler, che ognuno di noi inizia con la profonda sensazione di fragilità e di inadeguatezza da conto dei processi nevrotizzati di sviluppi supercompensanti tutti intrisi di l’egocentrismo e di individualismo in cui la ricerca della superiorità e del potere personale possono giocare un ruolo fenomenale. L’istanza originale adleriana del sentimento sociale pone le basi per la comprensione della disfunzionalità di molte scelte individuali e indica il crinale di separazione fra stili di vita disfunzionanti e funzionanti, fra lato positivo e negativo dell’esistenza. Il complesso sistema teorico sulle finzioni costituisce un ulteriore strumento di lettura approfondita delle scelte individuali in opera. Il concetto di sé creativo fornisce lo strumento definitivo per cogliere le scelte individuali e le caratterizzazioni più variegate.

La psicologia individuale adleriana si caratterizza per la primarietà che affida all’impronta individuale in grado di mettere al proprio servizio le istanze biologiche, ambientali e socio-culturali. Lo stile di vita è in grado di modulare il modo di pensare anche il sacro e le idee spirituali in genere così come modula i dati biologici e i dati ambientali. Allora il pensiero rivolto ai bisogni spirituali sarà comunque soggettivo e influenzerà i modi stessi del sacro. D’altra parte possiamo riconoscere all’esterno da noi, quindi anche il sacro, una intima rilevanza che mantiene comunque una propria potenza modulatrice. Quindi non solo lo stile di vita influenza i bisogni spirituali, ma anche gli stessi bisogni spirituali moduleranno il sé personale. Il dinamismo umano verso l’acquisizione di forza e potere in dinamica e problematica articolazione con il sentimento sociale produrrà individualmente strutture personologiche le più differenziate.

5. La personalità umana, nel continuo bisogno di conoscenza e di senso, può evolvere verso una piena realizzazione di sé o bloccarsi in modalità rigidamente disfunzionanti

La tendenza ineludibile verso l’interrogarsi intorno ai bisogni di senso si propone come in tutte le situazioni umane in modo tale da poter rappresentare un forte stimolo verso una ricerca aperta, problematica e fruttuosa dei nostri compiti esistenziali, ma anche come una disfunzionante opportunità per utilizzare il sacro e i bisogni spirituali piegandoli a stili individuali nevroticamente impostati. In modo spesso inconsapevole i bisogni di potere e di affermazione personale, disequilibrati rispetto alle istanze sociali, possono inquinare pesantemente le ricerche di senso e i comportamenti conseguenti.

Nei casi di pieno e armonico sviluppo dello stile di vita il rapporto con il metaesperienziale prescelto è improntato a libertà, consapevolezza, criticità, serena rispettosità nei confronti delle altre appartenenze, determinazione salda nei confronti delle scelte esistenziali vissute con profonda coerenza e responsabilità. L’approccio complessivo è profondamente orientato al rispetto per l’umanità di ogni persona, posta al di sopra di qualsiasi riferimento e salvaguardata in ogni situazione. L’originalità, le peculiarità personali, le sensibilità individuali potranno enfatizzare aspetti parziali del metaesperienziale costruendo stili di approccio variegati e anche molto diversi, ma sempre nella libertà e nella consapevolezza delle proprie scelte e delle proprie responsabilità.

Per descrivere sinteticamente alcuni stili relazionali intrecciati a vissuti metaesperienziali possiamo riferirci ad una finzionale caratterizzazione relazionale. In questo senso, nel tratteggiare quattro stili di vita in grado di descrivere l’influenza dello stile personale sui bisogni spirituali, proponiamo funzionalmente quattro gruppi di riferimento: l’altro al centro, il sé al centro, il rifiuto dell’altro, il sé pienamente funzionante.

L’altro al centro

Numerosi sono gli stili di vita che includono tratti relazionali in cui l’enfasi è posta sulla centralità dell’altro. Qui interessa mettere in evidenza come la ricerca di potere e affermazione della vita possa passare spesso attraverso atteggiamenti dimessi in cui viene posto al centro dell’esistenza non il sé ma l’altro. Come individualpsicologi sappiamo che questi stili di vita possono in realtà fornire inconsapevolmente un senso di potenza e forza nell’accogliere la dominanza dell’altro e affermarne nel silenzio la primarietà. In realtà spesso si tratta di un modo assai contorto e amaro di acquisire attraverso il sacrificio e nella non affermatività un forte senso di sé. Le persone con questi stili di vita appaiono a se stesse e agli altri beni orientate con gli orientamenti metaesperienziali selezionati. Sembrano vivere efficacemente le modalità religiose richieste, sono spesso modelli ritenuti adeguati di comportamento. Il loro comportamento risulta così in linea con l’altruismo e l’abnegazione per gli altri coerentemente con gli ideali religiosi e di socialità. Solo in situazioni particolari e all’osservazione attenta e approfondita mostrano le tipiche rigidità del loro stile di vita. Anche qui solo apparentemente non vi è una tendenza al potere, ma la sacrificalità e gli atteggiamenti dipendenti proposti sono orientati ad assumere ruoli di superiorità e di controllo.

Il sé al centro

Moltissime sono le caratterizzazioni personali in cui rimane in primo piano l’egocentrismo. Quegli stili di vita sviluppati da approcci educativi scarsamente orientati alla socialità e al riconoscimento degli altri, errori educativi o vere e proprie scelte egocentranti orientate a sviluppare una chiusura all’altro o una competitività individualistica esasperata possono favorire un uso dei bisogni spirituali particolarmente disfunzionante. Un forte bisogno di superiorità personale può essere riconosciuto in quei comportamenti verso il metaesperienziale in cui è in primo piano il bisogno, spesso inconscio, di sentirsi dalla parte più giusta e più illuminata e da cui esercitare atteggiamenti giudicanti e svalutanti delle altre. È spesso riconoscibile, in questi casi, un dogmatismo sostanziale e strumentale alla possibilità di essere più in alto degli altri e delle loro scelte. Nelle situazioni connesse a forti tendenze perfezionistiche in primo piano saranno i dubbi e le oscillazioni, la necessità di non sbagliare le scelte e quindi un continuo e bloccante processamento delle proprie scelte metaesperienziali. Possono allora apparire atteggiamenti perfezionistici o vere e proprie impossibilità a sentirsi parte profondamente integrante di una scelta. Allora saranno visibili comportamenti dogmatici o rimuginamenti tesi ad escludere possibili errori per non perdere la certezza del proprio nevrotico perfezionismo. Può essere degno di nota inserire qui una variegazione individuale che si esplicita nel perseguire esclusivamente il proprio benessere egocentrato escludendo qualsiasi ricerca di livello superiore. È supportato, soprattutto nei giovani, da un totale rifiuto di interrogarsi sul senso della propria esistenza. È un tentativo di vivere qui e ora che cerca di trarre tutto quello che possibile dalla vita quotidiana negando ogni esigenza di complessità del vivere con stili di vita che enfatizzano il consumo delle cose e degli altri. Le strategie del consenso mediatico, il rifiuto dell’interrogarsi su piani metaesperienziali non è supportata da considerazioni intellettuali, ma da una limitazione a sé nel tempo e nello spazio che fa considerare importante solo il proprio personale tornaconto. Posizioni simili possono essere rilevate anche in quei filoni spirituali mistici genericamente definibili new age. Insieme a legittime e genuine scelte di capire la realtà in modi diversi, tipici di alcuni settori della cosiddetta new age, sono presenti ricerche individualistiche, impaurite e riduzionistiche della complessità dell’esistenza.

Il rifiuto dell’altro

Gli stili di vita caratterizzati dal rifiuto dell’altro si esplicitano attraverso atteggiamenti di isolamento, paura dei legami, contrapposizione rigida verso gli altri, forte mancanza di empatia e solidarietà umana e, a volte, anche di negazione vendicativa. Nello sviluppo di queste personalità i rapporti con le persone significative sono apparsi angoscianti e spesso distruttivi ed hanno spinto a logiche private di ritiro e di isolamento. Non si tratta dell’egocentrismo tipico delle supercompensazioni e della ricerca di superiorità, è caratterizzato dalla decisione sofferta di allontanarsi dagli altri. Questi ritiri personali si tingono a volte di vendicatività, di arroganza e di tracce di sadismo, alcune volte sono evidenti anche vissuti di vittimismo e di martirio. La superiorità acquista in questi casi una coloritura di lontananza e di distacco dagli altri. Si assiste a varie difficoltà a sentire e rispettare l’umanità degli altri. In relazione alle scelte spirituali si assisterà allora ad atteggiamenti simili a quelli proposti precedentemente, ma orientati maggiormente ad aggressività, negazione e distacco. L’eventuale partecipazione alle scelte metaesperienziali risulteranno distanti dalla calda compartecipazione con un gruppo, ma sarà caratterizzata da isolamenti relazionali in cui ci si riferisce allo spirituale in termini singoli ed escludenti gli altri.

6. Il fondamentalismo, l’integralismo, ma anche frequenti e particolari strutturazioni del sé si propongono per una lettura approfondita e complessa per decifrare l’attuale ripresa della spiritualità nelle luci e nelle ombre del nostro tempo

Il fondamentalismo, l’integralismo sono fenomeni complessi molto emergenti in questi ultimi periodi. Qui vogliamo riferirci non tanto ai fenomeni a cui sono legati precisamente i termini. Ma a tutta quella miriade di comportamenti religiosi contraddistinti nell’insieme dall’assolutizzazione che viene operata rispetto alla scelta spirituale di riferimento. Quello che accomuna tutti i movimenti è ciò che Kepel definisce ” il ritorno della religione sulla scena politica, dopo il lungo processo storico segnato dalla secolarizzazione “. Il fondamentalismo costituisce un terremoto socioreligioso di grandi dimensioni. I movimenti di reislamizzazione e di ricristianizzazione, per esempio, si pongono dialetticamente contro una modernità che sembrava essere cosostanziale alla secolarizzazione. Se essere moderni comportava fare a meno di Dio e dover escluderlo dai grandi ambiti intorno ai quali le società si organizzano, i movimenti di grande risveglio religioso radicali e fondamentalisti diventano un nuovo modo di essere per milioni di credenti sparsi in diverse grandi religioni. Le difficoltà materiali, economiche e sociali che favoriscono il riprendere di molti movimenti fondamentalisti, soprattutto nei paesi periferici, spesso rappresentano lo sfondo essenziale per comprendere la durezza delle forme di lotta. Così il fondamentalismo si propone di mettere in evidenza che i legami sociali sono diventati deboli e diventa quindi la spia di un malessere dovuto alla bassa solidarietà sociale e al conseguente basso livello di fiducia nei confronti del sistema politico. La delusione delle promesse di soluzione dei problemi dell’esistenza caratteristici delle ideologie, la caduta delle speranze di riscatto affidate alla sola ragione, un consumismo piegato solo alle ragioni del mercato, la perdita della solidarietà e delle origini salde della propria identità individuale e sociale hanno indotto disillusioni che trovano soluzioni accessibili in spinte fondamentaliste e integraliste. Come si è sinteticamente visto, questi movimenti hanno complesse origini ed hanno portato alla luce un disagio importante rimettendo al centro le insicurezze e le inadeguatezze delle persone e di fronte ai significati della vita. Ad una attenta analisi non può sfuggirne, però, il riduzionismo operato ed anche la pericolosità di tali derive individuali e collettive. Il nodo di fondo rimane l’asservimento dei dati spirituali ai bisogni di sicurezza della propria identità singola e di gruppo o piegato ad un progetto politico che lo svilisce e lo trasforma in un fallimentare strumento di tirannia e di terrore.

7. La psicologia del fondamentalismo

L’attenzione ai fenomeni fondamentalisti impone una multidisciplinarietà consapevole della complessità dei fenomeni connessi. Conoscenze storiche, economiche, filosofiche, sociologiche, psicosociali e psicodinamiche sono essenziali per cogliere pienamente le interrelazioni fra i vissuti personali e gli esiti sociali che si intende analizzare. È opportuno avvalersi in questo tentativo di analisi di un punto di vista in grado di cogliere il fenomeno nel suo intreccio problematico utilizzando un approccio costruttivista e socialmente orientato come quello adleriano. Facendo punto sul sé come processo autocostruito e partendo dalle peculiari connotazioni biologiche personali, questo approccio mette al centro dello sviluppo individuale l’interazione con l’ambiente circostante con tutte le implicazioni culturali e storiche che lo sostengono.

In primo piano è opportuno considerare la complessa difficoltà personale di uscire dall’autocentramento esitando di fatto in una profonda carenza di sentimento sociale, di apertura all’altro e un chiudersi difensivo in una relazionalità egocentrata e chiusa in gruppi di riferimento che sostengono un’immatura dipendenza individuale e ideologica.. I bisogni di dare ancoraggio alla propria identità percepita, di solito inconsapevolmente, come pericolosamente instabile risultano in primo piano. Ognuno di noi ha un potente bisogno di stabilità interna e di continuità e può avvertire profonde angosce di frammentazione e di dispersione di sé in diversi momenti della vita soprattutto in relazione a processi di cambiamento o di rielaborazione del proprio modo di stare nel mondo. Il bisogno di ancorarsi a certezze, al passato, a persone idealizzate, ad assoluti assolutizzabili può spingere a derive rassicuranti, ma molto pericolose. Queste paure e il profondo timore della propria inadeguatezza, personale e collettiva, può stimolare persone o gruppi alla ricerca di soluzioni rigidamente ipercompensatorie che spingono verso eccessivi bisogni di potere e di supremazia sugli altri e sulle loro idee. Il bisogno di superare, compensare, il senso di inadeguatezza personale presente in ognuno di noi ci spinge a trovare soluzioni esistenziali che, in condizioni aggravate particolari, si possono indirizzare verso la violenza e la sopraffazione e trasformare le scelte di assoluto in scelte assolutizzate dove la sola logica possibile si riduce a dicotomie semplici fra buono cattivo, giusto e sbagliato, vincente e perdente. La minacciosa miscela di stili relazionali non adeguatamente evoluti, di profonda insicurezza esistenziale personale, della paura delle nuove forme di esistenza che intaccano i vecchi schemi rassicuranti come nei fenomeni di globalizzazione selvaggia, dell’insufficiente apertura all’altro e agli altri di certe evoluzioni personali possono spiegare i motivi psicologici interni di scelte supercompensatorie estreme in cui è impossibile un adeguato rapporto dialettico con l’assoluto. Pure nella considerazione delle grandi differenze fra persone persona, fra storia e storia e che indivisualizzano qualsiasi identità, ogni assoluto e ogni ideologia possono essere assolutizzati alla ricerca di una soluzione che nello stesso tempo superi la paura dell’essere nulla nella vita attraverso un percorso che elimina il concreto e faticoso lavoro di crescita efficace per avere subito e onnipotentemente la sensazione di essere superiore. Aggiungendo a questo l’appartenenza a gruppi che vivono situazioni marginalizzate e poco acculturate e con una striscianti vissuti di impotenza, già impostate in termini esasperati e in presenza di personalità fascinose trascinanti, si può comprendere come sia possibile la deriva personale fondamentalista. Anche la famiglia di origine è spesso ancorata in una rete di appartenenze che ne restringono la cultura interna e non le permettono un approccio ampio, dialettico e approfondito delle scelte metaesperienziali. Ancor di più la stessa famiglia primaria, coinvolta in un vissuto condiviso di impotenza, stimola appartenenze simbiotiche e falsamente rassicuranti e vincola l’evoluzione personale al perseguimento di riscatti collettivi. L’egocentrica personalità del fondamentalista, apparentemente aperto all’altro e votato alla difesa o alla affermazione del proprio gruppo, lo induce ad una deriva drammatica di non accoglienza e di non rispetto per le idee e i vissuti delle persone con scelte spirituali diverse. L’affermazione di queste culture integraliste e fondamentaliste nei gruppi sociali, la convinzione finzionale della loro efficacia personale e sociale nello spiegare il mondo, la chiusura dei contatti di dialogo con realtà esterne e più articolate e mature sul piano culturale e civile sostengono false sensazioni di adeguatezza e rinsaldano sicurezze e legami nel nome di un assoluto che, assolutizzato anch’esso, perde la sua valenza di stimolo all’elaborazione e alla crescita individuale e comunitaria.

In realtà appare necessario sottolineare che parecchie di queste dinamiche sono di fatto assai possibili per tutti gli uomini e che possono esporci, quindi, tutti, a rischi di derive personali esasperate e pericolose nel rapporto con la spiritualità prescelta. La tentazione di pensare al fenomeno fondamentalista come lontano da noi e appartenente ad altre realtà appare un atteggiamento difensivo e pericoloso. I semi di questo pensare sono presenti in tutti noi. Avvertirli, riconoscerli e considerarli può rappresentare l’inizio di un faticoso percorso di ricerca verso obiettivi di integrazione alta della personalità individuale. In ogni uomo sono presenti, fortunatamente, tendenze all’apertura all’altro, al rispetto, alla condivisione e alla cooperazione. Un complesso e consapevole rapporto con l’assoluto scelto rappresenta un potente stimolo verso il sentimento sociale per il superamento del nostro egocentrismo.


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23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Round Table

Negotiating open and hidden power struggle in couples counselling

Yvonne Schürer

A congress on Intercultural Living and Power would not be complete without at least a few presentations in the field of couple counseling. In intimate relationships we have both:

  • female and male cultures either mingling with or bouncing against each other as they interact.
  • overt and hidden manifestations of power.

In my presentation I shall focus on the latter.

Having worked with couples in conflict for over 35 years now, I have become quite an expert when it comes to power struggles. I am not unlike one of those dogs at the airports, which sniff around for drugs in the unsuspecting travelers’ baggage. That is, I believe I am able to detect power struggles in any area of a couple’s daily life. And I am equipped with some tools I use to deal with this phenomenon. One of those tools I am going to present here is a method, which helps reveal open and hidden strategies employed by partners in conflict.

I know it is not new and I am not trying to re-invent the wheel, so to speak.

The method is based on the knowledge of my teachers, who are not with us any more: Rudolf Dreikurs, Bill Pew and Erik Blumenthal, who were outstanding couples counselors, all three of them. I have been working with their ideas throughout my professional career; I have been applying them to specific needs in various situations; and finally, I have gained enough expertise and experience to develop my own method, which I hope will be useful to some of my colleagues, who work with couples.

Couple counseling, as we all know, is not an easy task, for many reasons. Perhaps, the greatest obstacle we face here is the fact our clients mostly pursue somewhat ambivalent goals: On the one hand they want to improve their relationship with their partner, but on the other hand they want to win their fight against them. They have come to a point where they believe their partner no longer understands them, and that their living together has lost much of its former quality. They had other ideas of a marriage, of a partnership. They feel hurt, they feel deceived, they feel “way down”. Thus, when a couple wants counseling we generally have to deal with two desperate fighters, who originally both had the best intentions. But with the years they had been getting themselves entangled in ever-aggravating problems, and by the time they are coming to see us, they feel completely lost, not knowing which way to turn.

Therefore, in most of the cases, our first job or task will be to rearrange things, to bring some light into the chaos.

When it comes to conflict resolution, according to Rudolf Dreikurs the first essential point is

“to be able to see the goal behind the conflict.”

For this reason, during counseling sessions, I want my clients to get an overview, which can help them to look at their fights at a distance, as if they were to assume a position of a detached observer. Their first step would be learning to observe what is going on. Our clients have already made their observations, you bet, and both of them are more than ready to give their counselor a good briefing. Counseling, therefore, is sometimes similar to the task of solving one of those well-known riddles in children’s magazines: You see two pictures, which seem identical, but there are 10 differences, and you must find all of them.

Dreikurs compared the information we get from both partners with the script of a theater play:

Each client can tell us only half of the script, because he does not remember his own part. But he remembers well what the other said and what the other did.

The wife tells us:

Suddenly he came storming into the kitchen shouting: “Could you stop talking to your mother and get your things ready?”

I tried to ignore his aggressive tone, but he went on: “I am warning you: If you are not ready in time you can stay where you are. I shall leave this place in 30 minutes.”

The husband tells us:

I had been waiting far too long. I did not intend to intrude, because my wife was having an intimate conversation with my mother-in-law. But, all the same, I had to remind her we had to catch our plane. She completely ignored me. She treated me as if I didn’t exist. She sighed, she shook her head and went on speaking to her mother in a soft voice.

I went out, I waited for another 10 minutes.

Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and gave her a second warning. She said in an icy voice: “I shall be ready in time. Mind your own business. Can’t you see that I am having a conversation with my mother?”

How can we see the facts, when our clients have as Adler would put it, such a “biased apperception”? Both claim to be the victim of their partner’s aggressive behavior

and they are convinced that they, themselves, had been behaving in an appropriate way.

We could come to the conclusion that they are trying to confuse us, to mislead us, and that we must try to obtain a more objective view – perhaps, somewhere in the middle of both statements.

But this would be all wrong. We have to observe what is going on – yes. But we also have to look at each of the 2 stories separately without comparing one with the other. It is the inward dynamic, the innermost, delicate workings of the psyche of a person, who is telling us about the incident, which should indeed be the focus of our attention. Therefore, even if the wife were to state she had been hit by her husband – even then, we should forget about the facts. They are irrelevant. We must concentrate on a victim’s experience, on the way he/she felt, and how he/she was dealing with the facts.

There is only one way to create a firm basis for mutual understanding:

We have to give room to each of the partners to enable them tell their tale without the fear of being interrupted. However biased it might be, however far from the so-called “facts”, the partner isn’t allowed to interfere either verbally, or non-verbally.

And this is where the difficult part of the counseling process comes into the picture: We have to make each partner listen carefully to the story, which the other is telling. This means they have to listen to the representation of their own wrong-doings. And they also have to ‘listen’ to the feelings, which the narrator has experienced during their quarrel. I must admit this is tricky and that this is not an easy task and sometimes I do fail.

But once I succeed in winning him – or her – over; when they all of a sudden dare step into the boots of their mate, when they begin, according to Adler

“to see with the eyes of another,

to hear with the ears of another

to feel with the heart of another”

i.e. when at last their “Gemeinschaftsgefühl”, their social interest, their love is reactivated, then, and only then, we can proceed to the next step of conflict resolution, which is

“to understand what is going on.”

Our clients, too, must be able to see their goal behind their conflict.

Here, now, the counselor can be of a great help to the couple: He has the advantage of knowledge. Thanks to psychological models, the Adlerian model for example, he is able to build a professional hypothesis about the discouraging dynamics, which are at work in his clients’ partnership.

And now, how, can the counselor transfer his way to look at things, his suppositions to his clients? I think that many of you must already have been familiar with the counseling technique of applying the metaphor of a ping-pong game to the situation – that is to a couple’s power struggle.

It is the Ping-Pong Effect. I personally have found visualizing the ping pong effect extremely helpful. For this purpose I have created a handout that is easy to understand and which forms the basis of my work with couples. Visualization is a great help to them when it comes to understanding the ups and downs of their daily fights. At the heart of the idea lies actually the Adler’s model of the individual striving for superiority.

Let me show you how I explain it to my clients, who mostly have no profound knowledge of psychology:

We all feel good when we are convinced that we belong somewhere and that we are respected as an equal human being. As long as this condition is granted, an individual behaves in a friendly, cooperative way.

But as soon as the person gets the impression of being in a lower position they immediately become self-conscious, self-focused and self-oriented. The deeply-rooted conviction of being “way down” manifests itself through a surge of strong, negative emotions: hate, shame, fear, or isolation. These feelings are a warning sign. Because human beings are inherently of social nature they can’t endure to be left out. They need to belong somewhere – i.e. to their social environment.

As soon as their internal alarm goes off, sending out a message “You are out!” their inferiority feelings urge them to compensate for their unfavorable situation. The mechanism that is responsible for this strife toward regaining a good position is then activated.

They start to force their way “upwards” in order to overcome the feeling of inferiority and get back to the place, where they would regain that lost feeling of belonging and worthiness.

Unfortunately, individuals rarely achieve their goal to get the feeling of belonging, of embedment back. It is out of fear that the individual tends to exaggerate his upward movement and is striving for superiority.

As far as couples are concerned this applies to both partners:

As long as both are feeling equal there is no need for couple counseling.

The trouble starts as soon as one of them begins feeling inferior.

He or she might feel neglected, overruled, or hurt – whatever. It doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t even matter if the feeling is traceable or whether the experienced “wrong” is based on a mere fiction. It’s the emotions that count. These emotions are urging them to get even. And from that moment on a friendly exchange is no more possible; the harmony is broken.

This is generally the moment when they start using their power as a weapon against their partner.

The easiest way to get on top will be to push the partner down.

No matter in which way, whatsoever, they may let the other feel their power – whether it be by using hard words, violence, silence, by refusing cooperation, or through sexual rejection – the result will always be the same:

Their partner, now, is feeling misunderstood, hurt, abashed – whatever. They also experience inferiority feelings and use all their energy to overcome them. It is like a ping-pong game: each strike provokes a counter strike. Their aggressiveness level is constantly rising. And there they are, in the middle of a power struggle, that may go on and on.

So far, this has been my explanation regarding the dynamics of the power struggle, I am generally giving to my clients.

Now, let me take you back, to the example of the couple, who got into a fight before heading to the airport. Just like we do in counseling sessions we are now going to look at the short incident through a magnifying glass. In this case I started with the story of the woman, because, in this session, she was the one who brought up the problem.

From now on I am working with the Ping Pong Effect Scheme. I fill in the peaks and the low points in accordance to my client’s feelings.

The woman said:

Suddenly he came storming into the kitchen shouting:

“Could you stop talking to your mother and get your things ready?”

Now. when I asked her how she felt at that moment, she said:

“I was irritated and angry. It was very important to me to give my mother the feeling of intimacy and togetherness before I left. And my husband was behaving like a wild boar. Therefore, I also was embarrassed. His boldness doesn’t fit in with the refined manners my mother is used to.”

(Low point)

The second statement of the woman:

I tried to ignore his aggressive tone, but he went on:

“I am warning you: If you are not ready in time you can stay where you are.

I shall leave this place in 30 minutes.”

At this point I was feeling enraged and I had to use all my self-control to keep my mouth shut. I also felt helpless, because I was at his mercy. He had the keys to the car, he had my ticket, he had my passport, – my hands were empty.

(Lowest point)

When we listen to this woman, it looks like she had always been in the lower position and that her husband had constantly had the upper hand.

But we must ask ourselves: “Where are the peaks ?” How, in which way, did she compensate for her inferiority feelings? What was going on in her mind? How did she fight back? How did she maintain her self-esteem? How, did she get “even”? Well, she doesn’t tell us, – and probably she can’t.

As a counselor I could bet that she was feeling superior to her husband, that she was feeling way above him. But she didn’t allow me to go into this. When I tried bringing it up, she didn’t even know what I was talking about. Later, as the result of our ongoing counseling sessions, this woman learnt to see her own attitude in a new light. Instead of pleading to be the helpless victim she dared to have a critical look at herself. She understood the passive aggressiveness of her attitude, the devastating power of her moral superiority. But some training was necessary and lots, lots of encouragement before she could reach this point.

(She now saw the peaks)

Let’s now examine the husband’s story:

I had been waiting far too long. I did not intend to intrude, because my wife was having an intimate conversation with my mother-in-law.

His feelings: I was getting nervous and very tense. I felt unfairly treated.

(Low point)

But, all the same, I had to remind her we had to catch our plane.

(Peak: He sees himself as the reliable one who is meeting the needs of the situation.)

She completely ignored me. She treated me as if I didn’t exist. She sighed, she shook her head and went on speaking to her mother in a soft voice.

I felt rejected. She was treating me without respect. She showed me that I was a nobody.

(Low point)

I went out, I waited for another 10 minutes.

I became more and more nervous; I was very angry.

(Low point)

Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and gave her a second warning.

It was my duty to remind her. She should have been glad that I did care.

(This is a peak. He feels he had a right to intrude.)

She said in an icy voice: “I shall be ready on time. Mind your own business. Can’t you see that I am having a conversation with my mother?”

I felt humiliated and helpless like some little boy who is getting reprimanded by his teacher. (Lowest point)

We can now put the two different scripts together. They match like pieces of a puzzle. And we are now able to get the whole picture of the couple’s fight.

If we use the approach of visualizing the couple’s fights with the help of the ping-pong game metaphor, they can learn a lot:

First, they become aware of the fact they both are engaged in that struggle, that fight, – and that there is not a wrong doer and a victim.

Second, they realize that the facts are irrelevant, that the goal behind their fight is the wish to overpower and dominate their mate.

Third, It is easy to see that each strike provokes a counter strike. They soon come to realize they are caught in an eternal struggle none of them will ever win, or rather, which both of them are inevitably bound to lose.

However, don’t be mislead into thinking this method leads to depression!

On the contrary: It is a very encouraging approach. My clients soon discover that they can laugh at the game they are playing together. At the beginning of the session, when they have to listen to what the other brings up, they are feeling more relaxed and less wound-up, as they initially would. They calm down; they know their turn will come. This helps them to avoid resorting to an instant impulse to defend themselves.

And they love filling in the ping pong scheme! It often happens like this: While I am fetching the papers, they shout: “Bring some more! We had a long fight! It went on and on.” Thus, they are each made to recognize their own share of the conflict. They learn to see the negative consequences of each other’s aggressions without being embarrassed.

Now we are reaching the point where some crucial changes can occur.

We look at the incident again and we ask each partner :

In which way could you have acted differently, to make it easier for your mate?

At the beginning of counseling sessions no client is able to answer this question. – “Why should I help her? Why should I make changes? She/he was the one who misbehaved!”

But as soon as they realize that also their partner had been suffering during their fight, they start considering alternatives.

When my client wants to prove what a good boy he is, he might say: “I should have waited patiently until my wife had finished her conversation with her mother.” But because, at this point, I will already be familiar with his lifestyle, I must know that my client is a person who needs very much to be in control. I understand that he would have felt like a martyr, not being certain to make it to the airport on time. I must teach him, therefore, to become more aware of his own needs; he has to find a better solution, i.e. one which will not force him to jump over his own shadow.

And I am also not satisfied if his wife declares: “I should have stopped talking to my mother as soon as my husband came in.” She would have felt she had behaved rudely towards her mother by giving in to her husband.

Remember a second essential point of conflict resolution, according to Rudolf Dreikurs, which is:

“Don’t fight. Don’t give in.”

Both partners must learn to react in a way, which suits their personal needs. So, if the counseling has been successful, after some months of training, my clients will be able to handle a similar situation in the following way:

He knocks at the door, opening it gently and says: “Sorry to interrupt, but we should get ready soon.” And she answers: “Thanks for reminding me. I won’t take long.”

Which means that by now they both are able to meet the needs of the situation: They are ready to communicate and to cooperate.

This is my way to train a couple to become more receptive and to learn more efficient ways of conflict resolution. I wanted to demonstrate how through a structured, and yet flexible, way of leading the dialogue, the counselor can facilitate and promote mutual understanding and receptiveness between partners in conflict.


Adler, Alfred. Co-operation Between the Sexes: Writings on Woman an Men, Love and Marriage, and Sexuality. Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher (Eds.). W.W. Norton & Co. New York and London 1982.

Ansbacher, Heinz L. Alfred Adlers Sexualtheorien. Fischer. Frankfurt a.M. 1989.

Blumenthal, Erik. Verstehen und Verstanden werden: Die neue Art des Zusammenlebens. 5th Ed. Rex-Verlag. Luzern and Stuttgart 1988.

Dreikurs, Rudolf. Technology of Conflict Resolution. In: Journal of Individual Psychology, November 1972, pp. 203-206.

Dreikurs, Rudolf. The Challenge of Marriage. Accelerated Development. Philadelphia 1999.

Pew, Miriam L. and Pew William L. Adlerian Marriage Counseling. In: Jon Carlson and Steven Slavik (Eds.). Techniques in Adlerian Psychology. Accelerated Development. Washington, 1997, pp. 350-361.

Schoenaker, Antonia and Schoenaker, Theo. Die neue Partnerschaft. Goldmann. München 1993.

23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Main lecture

From the privation of man to its compensation through culture

Hanna Kende – Janos Csorba

From Womb-envy to the Artificial Uterus.
(fantasy or utopia?)

Socrates: I am the son of a midwife…my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies.(Plato:Theaetetus)

Specific phenomena characterize the human condition within the animal kingdom, such as prolonged immaturity (cf. theories from Bolk to Adler), the prohibition of incest (Lévy-Strauss), the self-consciousness of mortality, and the capacity to distinguish between good and evil. However, an additional formative characteristic also prevailed at the dawn of culture (or civilization), namely pervasive feelings of inferiority on the part of the male moiety of the human race. These inferiority feelings incited a relentless self-perfecting compensatory quest, (a phenomenon that Adler named “Streben nach Volkommenheit – the drive for perfection.”). This sentiment of male inferiority stems directly from the biologic asymmetry between the sexes that disfavors men. This is what I have designated as the “injustice of maleness” or as “man’s Lack” (“man” here synonymous with the masculine sex).

In primordial procreation, sexual roles were perfectly symmetrical. In his article, “The masculine, forgotten gender” the geneticist Albert Jacquard notably asserts, “Initially, gametes…whether they issued from a male or a female were propagated externally, and encountered each other independent of their producers. This arrangement worked very well for marine animals since their environment, a liquid medium, is both protective and stable.” Then came the event that Sándor Ferenczi (in Thalassa) considered the decisive moment in the evolution of our species: living creatures left the ocean. “But, outside the sea…in the aerobic milieu, spermatozoa rapidly die….In the course of evolution, the cell resulting from the fusion of egg and sperm remained within the organism who produced it – ,by definition the organism called female.” A gestational period intervened during which the products of conception developed within a nourishing and protective milieu. Nursing further accentuated this asymmetry, mammals needing the secretions of their mother’s body in order to survive. Male mammals were relegated to the abridged role of gene carriers. In a species that benefits from prolonged childhood dependency and caretaking, the young essentially become the products of a single progenitor, their mother.

Man’s injustice is therefore his incapacity to procreate.

Contrary to Freud’s assertion of woman’s incompleteness, namely her lack of a penis, biological incompleteness is actually the burden of being male: it reflects man’s inability to give birth to his own progeny; otherwise said, his lack of a womb. This “organ inferiority” is the origin of Uterus-envy.
As for the male, as Jacquard says, “the quasi-exclusivity that nature accords to women in the production of children has provoked a reaction of refusal: it has spawned behaviors that have transposed natural power relationships.”

I. Mythological aspects

A. Prehistoric Creation Goddesses

In most ancient theogonies, the forces of primordial creation are typically feminine, and carry diverse names such as Earth Goddess, Grandmother, Mother of the Gods, Lady of the Beasts, and Mother of Living Nature. The feminine figure known as Venus first appears as early as Paleolithic cave art, (cf. for example the Venus of the Chauvet caves dating from 28,000 BC). We know of numerous magnificent female statuettes dating from Western prehistory, found across an extensive expanse of Europe, from the Atlantic coast to the valley of the Don; in contrast, male figures of this epoch are much scarcer. These artistic representations of femininity go back to the earliest periods (the most ancient, the Venus of Galgenberg dates from 30,000 BC). There are longstanding controversies regarding their meaning and nature. “Anthropologists and archeologists, doctors and psychoanalysts, linguists and art historians, philosophers and amateurs have indulged in speculation, thereby demonstrating the imaginative power of these images.” states Colette Cohen, the renowned French paleontologist, whose lavishly illustrated book carefully holds back from taking a definite position. With respect to Venus, researchers agree that these prehistoric images have little relation to the Goddess of Love. With their enormous hips and bellies, their hypertrophied breasts, their chiseled pubes and vulvae, they insistently depict maternal attributes. Very rarely do they have faces: only the parts of the body specially related to fertility are depicted, and these in exaggeration. Since the 4th millennium, such figures have often depicted pregnant women, nursing mothers, and sometimes even women in the throes of childbirth.

“In Asian culture, the primitive Grandmother (Astarté-Cibele) enjoyed a divine cult of worship,” says Anne Clancier. The oldest cults date from the Paleolithic period, beginning from the 30th millennium BC, and persist through the Neolithic period into the Bronze Age, and well beyond.
“Since time immemorial our ancestors have left sacred images of the female form. From the caves of Lascaux to the Balkans, the art of the Paleolithic and Neolithic Ages, which represent the earliest human myth-making impulses, indicate a deep reverence for life and the Great Mother. They honor her as the giver and maintainer of life; out of her belly the great mystery issues forth, and all return unto her. Whether or not it was the Great Mother Goddess who guided our ancestors,…the creation myths from countless cultures bear witness…to the role that the feminine principle has played in shaping the world we inhabit.”
The Goddess has always been recognized in a variety of forms. She is the Mother of the World, Giver of Life, the great nurturer, sustainer and healer… she is the embodiment of what we know as life, her story is as old as life itself, for she is life itself.. She has ten thousand names and has been called Queen of Heaven, Mistress of Darkness, Lady of Wild Things. Throughout the art of the world we find her as the all-powerful creative energy of the Life Force” (Adele Getty, 1990 p. 5).

Regarding the Hindu Mother-Goddess, Charles Malamoud states, “Aditi, as fertile and nourishing as the earth, the all-primordial (and feminine), the immeasurable mother, the inexhaustible nourisher…. is subsequently assimilated into the symbol of the Sacred Cow.” According to the research of Volkert Haas, the Hittites worshiped an archaic and primordial goddess. Hannahanna, who resided in a woody thicket, and had a honeybee-messenger to awaken the springtime. According to the Akkadian transformation myth Enuma Elish (which describes the triumph of the God Mardouk over the feminine divinity), the fragmented body of the arcaic goddess Tiamat (an ancient and multiply occurring Goddess, creator of gods and terrible monsters), formed the sky and the earth, the mountains and the rivers.

Marija Gimbutas, director of Eastern European Neolithic excavations (1967-80) and a professor at UCLA, has devoted a monumental volume to European prehistory. In her Archeomythology, she describes the Neolithic period as dominated by the “Religion of the Goddess.” “Innumerable images dating from the long prehistoric period on the Eurasian continent testify that it was the mystery and the fertility of woman as source of life which spawned the earliest religious traditions. The “Great Mother Goddess” who brought forth all life from the shadows of her belly eventually became the metaphor of nature herself, the giver and taker of life, always capable of self renewal in an eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth.(Gimbutas, 1996 p.221)
The persistent evocation of ancient feminine divinities also permeates the literature of historical times. In ancient Greece, their images occur in Homeric hymns as well as the works of Hesiod, and in Homer himself (cf the image of Circe in the Odyssey). However, as the renowned specialist in ancient mythology, Charles Kerényi points out, such descriptions have undergone modification in keeping with the civilizing spirit and no longer reflect the complex nature of the original goddesses. As for the Theogony of Hesiod, it speaks clearly about Gaia, the Earth, who parthenogenetically engenders her future husband, Uranus, the starry sky (v.126-127).
These ancient goddesses even intrude belatedly into the literature of the 19th Century. For example, consider Wagner. In the Rheingold, at a critical moment, Wagner makes a feminine divinity surge forth from the depths of the earth, unrecognized even by Wotan, the principal God. The supreme danger menacing Wotan requires the return of Erda, the omniscient ancient divinity who understands the past, and the future:

Erda: What ever was, I know;
what is, as well-
what ages shall work-
all I show
The endless world’s
All-wise one,
She warns him of the Gods’ decline:
Hear me! hear me! hear me!
All that exists, endeth!
A dreary Day,
The twilight of the Gods

In the Germanic myth, Edda and its Wagnerian interpretation in the “Ring of the Niebelungen”, the Gods, even their chief God Odin/Wotan, are doomed to perish, whereas by contrast the archaic Goddess, Erda, remains eternal.

B. Primary Compensation: male Gods who appropriate childbirth

In the beginning, the Goddesses were endowed with parthenogenetic capability. However, even in the most ancient formulations, one already finds hints of the later tendency toward masculine appropriation of the procreative process. In Egyptian creation myths, for the first time there appeared a parthenogenetic male God: Re-Atum-Khepri gave birth to the first divine couple in a most unusual fashion—-he fertilized himself either by means of masturbation or with his own saliva. Here is a textual version from the third millennium:

Yes, it is I, Ré
who grabbed my penis
to extract its fertile water
and impregnated myself by my own fist,
I rolled myself around my shadow
copulated with my shadow.
refreshed myself in its clouds,
I made a terrible water fall,
made the dust that penetrated my mouth
spurt from the earth.
Thus was conceived Shou, the green man
and thus did the daughter of rain, Tefnout first see the light. . ( Pyramid Texts No 1248)
The progenitor-phallus is thus an age-old dream dating back at least 5000 years. By means of parthenogenesis, Ré engenders Shou, the God of air, and his twin sister Tefnout, the goddess of mist, the first couple of the Heliopolis pantheon.

B.1. Kumarbi’s delivery, the birth of the God Teshub.

This particular myth was first written down in 1300 BC in the Hittite language and partly in Hourrite. Kumurwe-Kumarbi (source of the name of Kronos), replaced the God Anu with whom he had fought and whose penis he had bitten off and swallowed. However, Anu’s sperm made Kumarbi pregnant with three terrible Gods. The partially damaged tablets reveals that he successfully regurgitated two of them, but held onto the third, his future successor, Teshub. Kumarbi, fulfilling the masculine wish of several millennia, took on the task (although he could have regurgitated him along with the others) of bearing Teshub and delivering him into the world. Some commentators call Kumarbi the mother of Teshub, because even though his insemination occurred orally, he bore and gave birth to his successor. These fragments, according to experts including Volkert Haas, do not permit us to discern by what means he was able to accomplish this delivery. Zeus in turn had similar difficulties: by what orifice can one give birth from a masculine body? He was probably unaware of the Hittite solution, because if he were, it is unlikely he would have chosen as painful a method as skull trepanation. One finds an allusion in the text of the Argile tablet: “He gave birth like a woman.” Absent vagina and uterus, this hardly serves to specify a male method of childbirth! As for Kumarbi’s solution to this male birth conundrum, the well-known American mythologist, G.S. Kirk hit upon a most imaginative solution. In his book: Myth: its meaning and function (1970), despite some obvious biologic confusion, he declares: “Kumarbi had to accomplish a task contrary to nature, that of the woman in childbirth,” but our sage discovered the solution: “The Lord of Tempest was born through the phallus of the paternal mutilator, Kumarbi.” The origin of the God was thus doubly phallic: the phallus of the “Grandfather Anu” accomplished his insemination, while his birth occurred by means of his father, Kumarbi’s phallus. Penis replaces uterus. The sheer anatomic confusion of these images is maddening. It would be hard to invent a more explicitly fantastic image of man’s desire to give birth.

B.2. Greek Theogony: Zeus twice in childbed.

Zeus: “Go rest, my Dithyrambus, there within thy father’s womb
Euripides: The Bacchae v. 526-527

Dionysius is perhaps the most complex and controversial Olympic deity. We will focus here on only one aspect of his innumerable attributes and histories, specifically his “second birth”. In the earliest texts, before Dionysius appears as Zeus’s one and only son, authors did not remark upon his transplantation into Zeus’s virile womb. Dionysius is simply the son of Semele, cf Hesiod’s Theogony v. 940 “The daughter of Cadmus, Semele, gave him a glorious son.”, the XIV Song of the Iliad also ascribes a normal birth to Dionysius, having Zeus declare, “Semele gave birth to my valiant son, joy of mortals, Dionysius.” (v. 324-325). In the 6th Homeric Hymn, Dionysius proclaims himself “the son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, who had lain with Zeus.”

The best-known version, however, remains the one that tells how Hera, to avenge Zeus’s betrayal, suggested to Semele to ask her unknown lover, none other than Zeus, to show himself in his full and dangerous splendor. Zeus then appears, striking Semele with his thunderbolt, thereby annihilating her. However, Zeus rescues their son, Dionysius, from her womb, and stitches him (or attaches him with a safety pin) into his own thigh to complete his gestation. Some time later, by tearing open his thigh, Zeus gives birth to Dionysius. Along with the birth of Athena, this episode figures as irrefutable proof that men can indeed bear children into the world. Alternatively, in the succinct formulation of Maria Daraki, professor of ancient History at the Paris VIII and author of two volumes devoted to Dionysius, “The patrilineal law of Zeus’s thunderbolt pulverized motherhood.” (Daraki 1985, p. 218)

B. 2.2 Athena

Originally, Athena was depicted as the more or less parthenogenetic daughter of Metis, titan of the fourth day. Zeus, pursuing his supremacy among the gods by sleeping successively with each local Goddess, began with Metis. According to Hesiod’s Theogony,

“And Zeus, king of Gods, took Metis as his first wife; wiser than all gods and human mortals.”
However, unlike his other wives, the future king of the Gods was not content to take Metis as his wife; he needed to physically incorporate this Goddess of Wisdom into his being. According to the Theogony:

“But at the moment that she was to give to him his child, the clear eyed Goddess Athena, at this very moment, he swallowed her securely into his bowels, so that the Goddess might help him learn the art of discerning good from evil.” (v. 888-890 and 900)

Through Metis, Zeus appropriated the wisdom heretofore reserved exclusively to the Goddesses; furthermore, he swallowed her in a state of advanced pregnancy, nearly ready to give birth. Yet in Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Athena affirms: “For me no mother bore within her womb.” (Aeschylus, Eumenides Translated by E. D. A. Morshead) According to the well-known myth, Zeus gives birth to Athena from his head with the help of Hephaestus who cuts open his skull, allowing Athena to surge forth in full armor. This set the stage for Apollo to decisively claim:

Athena, daughter of Olympian Zeus,
Never within the darkness of the womb
Fostered nor fashioned” (Eumenides v. 663-664 IBID)

The myth of Athena’s birth from Zeus’s head is “a desperate theological ruse”, as JE Harrison describes it, to prove man’s capability to bear children.

B.3 The Birth of Eve

Of the two extant versions of the book of Genesis, the more frequently quoted is the one, full of consequences (St Paul refers to it to illustrate why a woman may not “teach or… have authority over a man, but to be in silece”)
(First epistle of Paul to Timothy, 2,12-13) in which Eve is created from Adam’s rib. (Genesis 2.15, 2/18, 2.21-24) Upon awakening from this operation, Adam exclaimed, just as a woman might have said after giving birth to her child, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”(Genesis 2.23)
An inverted act: it is not woman who gives birth, but man. This Biblical moment has inspired numerous paintings, such as The Story of Creation (Bible d’Este, folio6r attributed to Luchino Belbello dating from 1434) about which thecommentator Denis-Armand Canal says, “In this depiction, the Creator performs like a midwife, and little Eve appears like the ‘child’ of Adam”.

II Transition

The transition from an ancient matriarchy to an emerging patriarchy forms a major theme of Greek tragedy in the VI-Vth century BC. The central problematic is the intense conflict between two grand and incompatible types of sensibility, descent, and power. Each of the two forces that confront each other represents its particular truth, whether historical, moral or personal. To illustrate this conflict we have chosen three dramas that epitomize the moment of confrontation, The Eumenides of Aeschylus, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Medea.
The Eumenides:
The story: Orestes has just taken vengeance upon his mother Clytemnestra for having murdered her husband, Orestes’ father, Agamemnon. The issue is one of guilt: the Furies wish to punish Orestes while according to the new law, it is Clytemnestra who is culpable for murdering her husband,. It is a confrontation between the old divinities and the new Gods. The Furies, described as horrible ancient Goddesses, reawakened by bloodshed, shriek, “Seize, seize, seize, seize-mark, yonder!” They invoke Hades and the Night, referring to the ancient law that linked them to Fate and reclaim their lost privileges. They defend the blood law and demand that Orestes, murderer of his mother, be punished and accuse the new Gods and Apollo saying,

Woe upon thee, Apollo! uncontrolled,
Unbidden, hast thou, prophet-god, imbrued
The pure prophetic shrine with wrongful blood!
For thou too heinous a respect didst hold
Of man, too little heed of powers divine!
(Eumenides transl EDA Morehead)

Apollo, a young splendid God, allies himself with an entirely different moral code. He denies the blood law and goes so far as to reject all reference to maternity:
This too I answer; mark a soothfast word
Not the true parent is the woman’s womb
That bears the child; she doth but nurse the seed
New-sown: the male is parent; she for him,
As stranger for a stranger, hoards the germ
Of life,. (Eumenides, v.658-664, transl EDA Morehead)

Even beyond the role of the Goddesses, the question posed in the Eumenides is the affirmation of male supremacy, an overcompensation whose principal argument is the appropriation of procreative capacity, the assertion of male exclusivity in the creation of the child.


Another play that has often been quoted, translated and reworked, Antigone is a rich literary lode treated in a scholarly manner in Georg Steiner’s book. Thirty operas are devoted to Antigone, and among her modern admirers one can cite Shelley, Schlegel, and Schelling. Hegel speaks of Antigone as “the noblest figure who ever lived on earth.”
One, if not the principal reason for the greatness of the play is that it captures contrasting conceptions of life and the world on a human scale, a contrast that transcends the particularities of political or historical conflict. Antigone is Oedipus’ daughter and the sister of two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, who have murdered each other. Creon, king of Thebes, forbids the burial of Polyneices who had waged a war upon the city of their birth, where he had been king. Antigone defies Creon’s interdiction. The burial of the dead is an ancient custom dating back to Paleolithic times. Ancient Greece barred entry to Hades for the unburied. Antigone is ready to sacrifice her own life to accomplish the ritual that will guarantee peace to her brother. In the dialogue where she confronts the King, in response to the question of how she has dared to defy the King’s command, she answers:
Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven. Teir life refer to the life or the statute(laws) is not of today or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth.(V.451-459)
She adds that she could not possibly have “suffered my mother’s son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me.” / v.467)
Antigone evokes brotherhood, and the ancient and eternal laws of the underworld, while Creon enforces the emergent patriarchal law of the City. In contrast to the Eumenides, in Antigone it is not Creon, (to whom Antigone assigns responsibility for establishing tyranny), who emerges victorious but rather Antigone, the personification of love who sacrifices her own life for her dead brother surviving in her mythical Thebes and even after two millennia in the hearts of her contemporary admirers.


The structure of Euripides’ play is especially subtle, since on the one hand this is a psychological drama that plays out in Medea’s heart, caught between the Corinthian woman oppressed by her husband that she had become after ten years spent at Jason’s side, and the ancient, powerful and murderous sorceress and caster of spells that she originally had been. At the same time, Medea represents two rival conceptions of life, two competing orders of morality, that of a “civilized” city and that of an archaic world, called barbaric, represented by Medea, daughter of the Sun. She embodies the reappearance of a formerly omniscient and omnipotent ancient force. She comes from the race of the goddesses. All-powerful, able to destroy the dragon guardian of the Golden Fleece, and the monster Talos who watched over Crete, equally capable of dismembering her own brother, she also holds the power of life and death over her own children. How wrenching are the scenes where contradictory feelings clash within her heart. She caresses them, cherishes them, but finally kills them to avenge herself upon Jason. In her final scene, confronted by a dispossessed and supplicating Jason, she dramatically regains her divine proportions. In a chariot drawn by dragons, her dead children at her heels, Medea takes flight above the heads of the mortals; she truly becomes the deus ex machina.

In Aeschylus’ play, the law of blood confronts the law of the city, in the Eumenides, the law of the ancient goddesses challenges the new gods, while in Euripides the all-powerful archaic feminine law irrupts into a so-called “civilized” universe.

III. Secondary Compensation: Men engender Civilization

A The arrival of the Indo-Europeans: a value system overturned

According to Marija Gimbutas, “the transition from a matrilineal and matricentric society to a patrilineal and patriarchal society” (Gimbutas 1996 p. 401) took place over a long period between 4500 and 2500 BC. The society of Old Europe that she calls “The Civilization of the Goddess”
was “essentially peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal and matrilineal,” and did not
practice sexual discrimination. She calls its transformation “Indo-Europeanization.” “Archeological excavations as well as mythological and linguistic research bear witness to a collision of two ideologies, two economic and social systems.” (Gimbutas, 1991 p. 352) This reflected a “… transition from a matrilineal social order based upon Theacratic wisdom to a militant patriarchy, from a society based upon sexual equality to hierarchical male dominance, from a religion of goddesses rooted in the earth to an Indo-European Pantheon of gods battling in the heavens.” (Ibid. p. 401)
Maria Daraki, who studies an entirely different epoch, that of classical Greece, defines the contrast between these two belief systems in a similar manner: “there is a veritable chasm between the human universe governed by Zeus and his “cabinet” of specialized gods and the one governed by Gaia and her train of collective, anonymous and polyvalent divinities: the Furies, the Horae, the Graces…(O)n the one side are contractual, later political values, on the other side vitalistic values and the double finality that orients the entire system: reproduction and the nourishment of all that is alive.” (Daraki 1994, pp. 163-4). Whether in the Mediterranean basin, in North Africa, in the near East, in Egypt or in ancient Greece, male gods became supreme, in bloody battles like in Babylonia or in more subtle fashion, taking primacy from local goddesses, as we have already seen regarding Zeus. They now occupied the position of principal God within the divine pantheon. The most radical change took place in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic pantheon, which, declaring itself monotheist, chased off all the goddesses (who only remain as allusions in the Bible) and shattered as idolatrous any trace of adherence to another divinity. Adonai, El (Elohim) or Jehovah (whose name it is forbidden to pronounce) became the sole Creator of the universe, the dispenser of all that is good – the fruits of the earth, livestock, childbirth, the sole guarantor of a rich heritage.

“Indo-European religion officially took the upper hand, but the Religion of the Goddess which impregnated Old Europe has been preserved up to our own times,” says Gimbutas (p401). Maria Daraki along with Charles Kereny have rediscovered this same survival of female divinities 2000 years later in Greece, within Olympian religion, in the form of diverse cults, such as the mysteries of Eleusis or the Thesmophoria. (Daraki 1994, Kerényi 1941, p. 456). Nevertheless, even if we still can detect traces of the ancient divinities in modern Greece, every patriarchal society established a differentiation of the sexes that disadvantaged women. They devalued feminine attributes and went so far as to dispute women’s right to maternity.

During the succeeding millennia, the Indo-European invaders established their hierarchical systems of patriarchal society, proclaimed the superiority of men over women and waged power struggles with the outside world as well as the domestic world of the city (nobles, plebeians, slaves). Their legislature went so far as to exclude women from all political life, from inheritance, from art, from public speech and from culture. This exclusion proceeded to such extremes as to forbid women from participating in theatrical productions either as actors or as spectators. Nevertheless, we are accustomed to refer to the blossoming of this new exclusively masculine culture, to its innovative jurisprudence, architecture and philosophy, its letters and creative arts as the “Greek miracle”.

B. The patriarchal inversion

Woman’s disenfranchisement and the appropriation of procreation by man.

Beyond the examples of the Gods giving birth and the myths evoked in Greek tragedy, this appropriation recurs in diverse rituals in primitive societies and in their theoretical justification by certain philosophers.

B.1. Initiation rites

The original title of a series of lectures by Eliade at the University of Chicago in 1956 was Patterns of Initiation; the English edition bore the tile Birth and Rebirth while in French it appeared under the title Les naissances mystiques (Mystical Births) (Eliade, 1959 ed. Gallimard). This last title alludes to birth and rebirth. The young man (for girls this takes place differently) is separated from his mother. The ritual proceeds according to a complex scenario representing death and rebirth. In Papuan culture, the adolescent boy is placed inside the body of an animal, constructed by his father. But most commonly the entire group of initiant boys is placed collectively inside the body of an animal, or the hut where they are lodged is constructed in the form of a crocodile or a serpent, with the goal of dying and being reborn there. “The hut represents the monster who devours, chews up and digests the novitiate, but also the life-giving womb where he awaits rebirth.” (Eliade, ibid. p 73). While these rituals take multiple forms, they contain a common theme: the annulment of a first birth. This second childbirth initiated by men demonstrates that men are not less capable than women; quite the contrary they have the culturally determinant role. In this sense, mystical rebirth proves the superiority of men.

For Margaret Mead initiation rites performed by men upon adolescent boys, symbolic imitations of birth and of nursing, constitute “a means to compensate for a fundamental inferiority.” (Mead 1975, p99) According to Bettleheim, symbolic wounds are those where men sacrifice a part of their body, make secret incisions upon themselves that feminize them (auto castration, circumcision) or mimic the feminine sex and its function (subincision). “Of all the wounds, it is subincision that serves to make the man similar to a woman.” (Bettleheim 1954 p. 121)
Subincision consists of opening the urethra, a wound that makes the man bleed. They call this opening “penis-uterus” or “vulva”. “They construct an artificial vagina, says Roheim, to compensate for the lack of a real vagina, they call the blood woman or milk.” (Roheim 1949) However, the functional difference between men and women is not reducible to the difference between phallus and vulva-as if the particularity of the female body that proved male superiority were that she, alas, lacked a penis. The symbolic wounds of initiation are not simply about the reproduction of a vagina but also about the desire to acquire the specific symbols of feminine mystery. The visible opening, or the secret one (like the woman’s) of the subincision, the creation of male menses, and especially the ritual of the couvade, represent something greater than mere competition regarding external genitalia.

B.3. The couvade

The couvade (a French term generally used in other languages) is the equivalent of a man experiencing labor, or a man giving birth. Ritualized behavior: the man lies on his bed for several days and imitates pregnancy and the pains of labor. “This ritual, says the anthropologist Doris F Jonas, “has been observed in Africa, among numerous Melanesian tribes, in the West-Indian archipelago, the Philippine islands, among Japanese aboriginals, on the Caribbean Islands, and among Indian tribes in South America where this rite is partially preserved to this day.” Doris Jonas interprets this ritual as “the tendency for men to appropriate the indispensable role of the woman.” (Op cit p 177).

Regarding the Corsicans, Diodor of Sicily (Diodorus Siculus lived during the 1st century BC) had described: “The strangest custom in their land is one they practice at the time their children are born. In effect, when a woman is in labor, nobody cares for her. Instead, it is the man who takes to his bed for a certain number of days, as if he was suffering in his body.” (cited by Badinter, 1986, p. 129). Aucassin and Nicolette, a troubadour song of the 13th century, tells the story of Aucassin’s shipwreck. On the North African coast, he found the king in bed on his pillows, while the queen was with the troops. He told the king: “Get up you fool, what are you doing there?” The king answered: “I am pregnant with a boy baby. A month from now I will once again lead my troops against the enemy.” According to Bettleheim: “Man needs the couvade to fill the affective void created by his inability to bear children.” (Blessures symboliques. p 135)

B.4. Aristotle or the bio-philosophical aspect

For the purposes of this presentation, to illustrate the philosophical theorizing that supports man’s privileged participation in the creation of the child, or women’s consequent inferiority, we will not refer to the Middle Ages nor to subsequent centuries but will focus our attention on Aristotle:
“In the case of what is to possess sense, the first transition is due to the action of the male parent…” claims Aristotle (De Anima II, 1, 412a). “It is the male that has the power of making sensitive soul” (Book II, 5, Glv). This sentence takes on a metaphysical meaning, supported by a consideration of natural history, according to which the woman only provides a passive and amorphous material, while form comes from the man. He alone transmits the soul that makes the living being human. “The female always provides the material, the male that which fashions it /…/ While the body is from the female, it is the soul that is from the male (The history of animals Book II , F6r,). And further on:”The female is, as it were, a mutilated male”(Book II,3,F4r)

IV. How to compensate and undo compensation?

Across the centuries since earliest antiquity, proud of having created a civilization that in sharp contrast to barbarianism, represented moral, cultural and legal values, other philosophers, writers, and artists discovered a different kind of compensation: creativity.

Or, as Plato expresses it through the words of Socrates in Theatetus

Socrates: I am the son of a midwife…my art of midwifery is in most respects like theirs; but differs, in that I attend men and not women; and look after their souls when they are in labour, and not after their bodies: and the triumph of my art is in thoroughly examining whether the thought which the mind of the young man brings forth is a false idol or a noble and true birth. And like the mid-wives, I am barren, and the reproach which is often made against me, that I ask questions of others and have not the wit to answer them myself, is very just-the reason is, that the god compels-me to be a midwife, but does not allow me to bring forth Theaetetus (transl. Benjamin Jowett)

In this text, Socrates invokes his own sterility as motivation for the midwifery of souls, his personal art of inspiring creators (in Theatetus he is addressing a mathematician) or philosophers giving birth to their creations. We can reformulate the Socratic solution in Adlerian terms: it is in order to compensate for his anatomic inferiority that man became a creator, a creator of culture.

Of course, during the last century, in addition to their anatomic superiority, women have reclaimed other creative privileges, heretofore reserved for centuries to men. Men have been left to find their new compensation in mothering their children.

A.The new fatherhood

In modern feminist literature, some writers underline similarities between men and women, like Elisabeth Badinter in the The One is the Other, while others emphasize difference, like Francoise Héritier in Masculine/Feminine, Thinking difference. However it is generally agreed that in the post-60’s generation, men have undergone a significant transformation. At least in discourse, they declare themselves participants in raising children. In Western society, we are witnessing what is called the new fatherhood. Fathers share the role of women; if they can’t bear children, they at least attend childbirth. “With the new fatherhood, they affirm their nurturing self.” (Badinter 1983 p 257.)

Fathers’ new sensibility is taken sufficiently to heart that contemporary psychosocial jargon has begun to obscure the role of the mother: “mother”, in the new terminology has become “caregiver” states a young researcher. In another context, critics are wary of emphasizing the importance of the primary dual relationship between mother and infant, replacing the concept with “the environment.”

Even philosophers otherwise considered modern throw their theoretical support to this erasure of the difference between the father and the mother. It will suffice to quote from Jacques Derrida’s short volume, Who is the mother? In an argument almost as specious as that of Aristotle, Derrida takes on “the ontological negation of the mother” making reference to certain recent expansions of gynecological technology such as artificial insemination and especially “the surrogate mother who removes motherhood from its natural status. We no longer know who is the mother.” P 41. “If we call the one who conceived the child mother, she is as hypothetical and logically constructed as the father.” Here in this deconstruction, (thanks to a few unique instances as opposed to the billions of actual mothers present and past), motherhood is annulled, and the mother becomes as hypothetical as the father.

“The division of the sexes is thus relegated to a second tier, as opposed to a deeper identity which leads, in the end, to an interchangeability of roles.” states the well-known French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut. (1984 p. 57-8). And in fact legislation has come a long way toward establishing the equality of women’s rights (the right to vote, equalization of parental rights, a tendency towards parity in the higher reaches of economic as well as political success and in the West, the forces of the Left are no longer alone in advocating for women deputies and women ministers.

In this presentation, we have above all emphasized the genetic (Xy) and biological (no uterus) frustrations that the male gender has sought, for millennia, to ignore, to scotomatize, to compensate for and even to overcompensate for. As our previously cited geneticist has stated,
“Relegated by biological mechanisms to an insignificant role, male humans arranged themselves to appear more important, uniquely important. They occupied front and center stage by exhibiting their power, by hunting, by making wars, and by speaking very loudly.” (Jacquart, op. cit. p 100)
In Adlerian terms we could say that they exhibited a superiority complex.

With respect to warfare, men still hold some privileges, notwithstanding the fact that men, especially if they are not entirely persuaded by their newfound maternity, are in a crisis of self-definition. Finkielkraut summarizes the question that remains: “What is masculinity? Here is a question for which western societies no longer have an answer”(p 579.

V. The ultimate compensation: Neither the One nor the Other

Does the artificial uterus belong to the realm of science fiction, to fantasy or to a scientific project of the technocratic society ?

Through the ages, the dream of transcending sexual roles in procreation took on the form of the fantasy of male childbirth. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, this fantasy has taken on a new, biotechnological dimension that can be characterized as: neither the man nor the woman bears the child.

In his book The artificial Uterus, the French biologist, Henry Atlan. promulgates this solution, which was also debated scientifically at the November 2004 World Congress of Bioethics in Sidney. What was proposed is known as ectogenesis -gestation outside the female womb. Of course,
children born from this gestational machine would still have normal genitalia, but no navel. Nobody has yet assessed the biological or psychological consequences for an infant gestated without a mother. However, this is the final plan, a means that the inherent inferiority of men would find its ultimate compensation. Man’s relentless striving for compensation finally culminate in the manufacture of the artificial human, thereby demonstrating the incalculable danger of creating a truly post-human being.

How do we redress men’s excessive compensation? Could the equality between men and women that Adler envisaged long ago actually come to pass, not merely in a framework of gender rivalry but rather in the form of a true acceptance of real difference and the joint participation of men and women in the creation of a common culture? Is equality yet possible?

23th IAIP Congress papers, Congress papers, Main lecture

Historical cycles and personal doubts

Guy J. Manaster

Alfred Adler, though a realist, was an optimist. His theory was optimistic and positivistic. That, in part, is probably why we are here. We share his optimism and his theory. We assert that humans are rational, creative, goal oriented, and social – responsible for their own behavior. In itself that view of man is positive. There are none of the strange and mysterious doings of psyches decreed by instincts or inherited cultural characteristics. The individual is not captive to conditionings and reinforcements that determine who he is. People learn from their environment and create who they are. As Chekhov stated, “man is what he believes.”
Man’s social nature, man’s embeddedness in the social world, forms the basis for much of Adler’s understandings of individuals, his awareness of individual’s mistakes, societies’ mistakes and the potential for individuals and societies to overcome these mistakes and make a better world. His holistic perspective incorporates the creativity of the life style and the mistakes, the biased apperceptions. Selectively then, a person’s life experiences are what they seem to the individual, not necessarily as described or evaluated by others, and the individual moves toward the goals he or she has created as appropriate for, or necessary in, the world as he or she sees it. This description and understanding is holistic and inevitably circular. As we cannot think holistically and describe involved beings holistically, we have to try to capture that makeup circularly. 
Even the notion of striving for superiority is circular and holistic. In the ways a person feels himself inferior he strives to be superior, a constant and continuing movement. When Adler drew the inferiority – superiority line it was a vertical line, going up and down and up again. It is said that Adler drew a social interest line that was horizontal. It signified equality, a being with and a part of others. Movement in the social interest is not circular.
Quoting Adler: “Social interest means… a struggle for a communal form” (Adler, 1964a, p.275). “It is not a question of any present-day community or society, or of political or religious forms. On the contrary, the goal that is best suited for perfection must be a goal that stands for an ideal society amongst all mankind, the ultimate fulfillment of evolution” (p.275) “It means particularly the interest in, the feeling with, the community sub specie aeternitas (under the aspect of eternity). It means the striving for a community which must be thought of as everlasting, as we could think of it if mankind had reached the goal of perfection” (Adler, 1956,p.142). 
Dreikurs stated “the ideal expression of social interest is the ability to play the game (of life) with existing demands for cooperation and to help the group to which one belongs in its evolution closer toward a perfect form of social living” (Dreikurs, 1953,p.8). Lewis Way (1962) stated that social feeling is the ideal Goal of Perfection, the goal at which all religions and moralities aim, since… the community is the fundamental concern of all. It is also the ideal norm of human behavior, which should serve us as a measure for every deviation” (p.203).
In these accounts social interest is linear. Social evolution in the name of social interest is linear, a direct, though hazy, line from now to a never ending future of equality, democracy and harmony. The ideal Goal of Perfection, the ideal community, appears in these accounts as if it is knowable, or actually known.
As Adlerians, we believe in social interest, we have had a vision of the direction or aim of ideal communities, local and international. And I admit that I have agreed with this vision. This paper questions that vision in these times and the effect of these times on our visions.
This will sound trite, and maybe it is, because in a sense it is always true – the world is changing. We are told that the age we have known as ‘modern’ is ended and that we have entered a postmodern period. I confess that I do not understand postmodern as an age. It seems to me to be defined by what it is not and seems to be a time without a center. I think it must be an intermediate period or a transitional stage. We have moved from belief in modernity to disbelief without a replacement. If ever there was a description of the substance for anxiety, an environment prone to anxiety, this is it. Being in a time where superordinate and universal directions and goals have vanished, or are confused, and are without a replacement, without a new vision, is a time of anxiety. 
Of course we don’t know what it means and how it feels to move in our lifetime from one age to another. We have a sense of what it means and how it feels to move from pre-war to post-war from our own perspective within an involved country. Some of us have felt the change from before the Bomb to after the Bomb, from before the Soviet Union broke up to after. We have a sense, in the United States, of a change from pre to post 9/11. We know good times and bad times in our families, in our work, in the economy that affects us. But we don’t have experience with the changing of our age, change in the fundamental givens under which and through which we understand our lives and live them – such changes do not occur frequently or quickly, as in a lifetime.
I knew of one set of ideas by the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) that I thought might be helpful here. I have to admit to you that I made an attempt to understand more of Vico and made very little progress. However the ideas are still useful and I feel somewhat better at not mastering Vico seeing that Alasdair MacIntyre wrote “that Vico’s scattered insights are useful only when ‘detached from their place in the sterile systematics of Vico’s new science’.”
The idea, relevant here, is that “Vico conceived human society as developing through three ages – that in which men lived and thought in terms of gods, that in which they lived and thought in terms of heroes, and that in which they lived and thought in wholly human terms” (Verene, 1891,p.62).
These ages, these structuring principles may be viewed in Western cultural history as a pattern of repeating cycles in which faith (acceptance of the non rational), logic (understanding of empirically determined phenomena) and power (direct attempts to control events) are successively employed. Although all three structuring principles are present in the culture at all times, only one is dominant at a time. (Hershenson, 1983, p.3).
Hershenson (1983) proposed ‘that the Hebrew prophets (faith), Athenian philosophers (logic) and Roman Empire (power) constituted the first cycle in western culture. The second cycle consisted of the Middle Ages (faith), the Renaissance (logic) and the empires of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (power). These structuring principles were preserved in the dominant philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ romanticism, rationalism and materialism.
What is the dominant structuring principle in Western culture today? I don’t think we can say. In Western culture, faith, logic and power are all prominent values, but no one is dominant. We can see that in our own lives and in people around us. But we can also see people for whom one principle is dominant and the same for nations and subgroups, voluntary groups with which people affiliate in the name of a particular structuring principle.
Globalization in technology/materialism, in science/academia, and globalization and communication and technology in religions, confuse the matter even more. The historical ages that Vico defined were only applicable, to the degree they were, in Western Culture, possibly only to the end of the eighteenth century. 
The last two hundred, one hundred and especially the last fifty years have seen stark changes in the makeup of the ‘Western’ world altering, maybe diluting, the traditional culture and injecting other cultures within its societies. Eastern culture has incorporated all manner of Western thought differentially by nation and religious orientation. Vast areas of Latin America, the Middle East, the Far East, and almost all of Africa are now amalgams of their own traditional culture, nearby cultures, and Western culture and technologies. The rates of changes and the mix vary across cultures and nations and within them. 
The rate of change and the mixing of cultures places the Western world and the entire world in an age without a dominant structuring principle. No matter that George Bush acts as if power were dominant while speaking of a particular faith and the logic of democracy. No matter that the Ayatollahs and Mullahs preach faith while garnering modern weapons. No matter that scientists and the vocabulary of science dismiss the strength of faith and the illogic of nation dominating nation. In sum they all need the other views and methods and thus their quest for domination is lacking.
“In 1963, the historian Thomas Kuhn published the most influential book written about the philosophy of science. “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” observed that history was divided into long periods of ‘normal’ science followed by shorter bursts of ‘revolutionary’ science. Normal science ‘does not aim for novelties of facts and theory, and when successful finds none’. In times of revolutionary science, by contrast, the most fundamental ideas are there for the taking – just as they were when Copernicus declared the ear went round the sun.
“Kuhn called such changes from one scientific world model to another ‘paradigm shifts’ and noted that they often required a generation to accomplish. Controversially, he argued that reason alone can never compel a scientist to switch allegiance from one paradigm to another, however good the evidence: in part, this kind of mindshift would always have to be an act of faith.” (Turpin, , 2005, p.W2).
In our diverse globalized world we hang in the winds of all manner of thought and ideas without consensus on views and common purpose. The global community is a whirling mass not a community. With no dominant organizing structure, people grasp ferociously to single ideas, single principles, single groups, to something, anything, to give them the feeling that they know what is going on, that they belong and have an identity.
When Cushman (1990, 1995) speaks of the ’empty self’ he is describing the individual who has no organizing principle on which to fit himself. “The ‘bounded, masterful self’ of modern times, left to its own devices, almost inevitably collapses into an ’empty self,’ or into an even more devastating kind of fragmented and superficial ‘multiple self'” (Richardson & Manaster, 2003, p.131). The ‘multiple self’ grasps at ideas and roles that allow it to fit in as appropriate to a situation. But there is no central, core identity.
At the end of modern times, as post moderns, in the midst of a paradigm shift from modernity to a new, as yet unknown structuring principle, we are blown about in the winds of contrasting and conflicting thoughts and forces. Then we grasp at definites, absolute logic, total power, complete faith. Individually we choose a structuring principle and we choose the one that relates, as possible, to a group with which we can identify or affiliate.
The result, it seems to me, is masses and masses of fundamentalists – religious fundamentalists of all persuasions, scientistic fundmentalists from all fields, and power fundamentalists – patriots of nations and do gooders for a cause. Masses of single issue persons, persons clinging to a structuring principle or part thereof, whose sense of themselves revolves around something definite. “If a man doesn’t think much of himself – and in secret most men don’t – he takes his pride in his tribe” (R. MacLeish, The first Book of Eppe. NY: Random House, 1980).
When many adhere to unbending, unyielding single positions with no interest in compromise, which would feel like being thrown back into isolation, confusion and anxiety, discord is the sole outcome. When communities of like minded people get their meaning, purpose and personal identities from not compromising, disagreements between communities is constant and continuous. And, of course, these absolutists are surrounded by the confused, the unsure, the searchers and the lost.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, in his book “Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations” writes:
“On the one hand, globalization is bringing us closer together than ever before, interweaving our lives, nationally and internationally, in complex and inextricable ways. On the other, a new tribalism – a regression to older and more fractious loyalties – is driving us ever more angrily apart. One way or another, religion is and will continue to be, part of these processes. It can lead us in the direction of peace. But it can equally, and with high combustibility, lead us to war. Politicians have power, but religions have something stronger: they have influence. Politics moves the pieces on the chessboard. Religion changes lives. Peace can be agreed around the conference table; but unless it grows in the ordinary hearts and minds, it does not last. It may not even begin… (p.7).
“Peace involves a profound crisis of identity. The boundaries of self and other, friend and foe, must be redrawn. No wonder, then, that as Sir Henry Maine observed; War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention” (p.8).
{Interestingly, the chapters following these quotes in Sacks book highlight tenets central to Adlerian theory: responsibility, contribution, compassion, creativity and cooperation.}
We seem to be coming full circle. Sacks asks for a new age, a new era, new cultural and personal identities. For our contentious times he notes that “the greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope” (p.2). He also speaks, of conflict resolution in relation to faiths, but I will generalize his point for nations, economies, all groups and individuals: we require “a candid admission that, more than at any time in the past, we need to search – (each faith, nation and interest group in its own way) for a way of living with, and acknowledging the integrity of those that are not (like us)” (p.5).
This echoes Richardson and Manaster (2003). “We have to open ourselves to other perspectives, let them call us to account and interrogate or interpolate us and allow at least some degree of what Gadamer (1989) calls a ‘fusion of horizons’ to take place, a melding of insights that incorporate old ones and new in a transformed outlook. In doing so, we sometimes incur, in Taylor’s phrase, a deeply personal, sometimes painful ‘identity cost'” (p.127).
Maybe now, or soon, the next age will not be as Vico explained. Maybe now, or soon, a new era will emerge that rests not on power, faith or logic but on all three in concert or with a different take on these three constructs – a new era of security (as sufficient without a need for power), faith (that respects all faiths) and logic (that includes understanding).
We may now be on the verge of a horrible conflict of civilizations, within our cultures and nations and across cultures and nations. Or we may be on edge of a new era in which social interest, properly understood, opens us to “help the group to which one belongs” (which must now mean the entire human group) “in its evolution closer toward a perfect form of social living” (Dreikurs, 1953,p.8).
For this to occur we must understand that our vision of a world with social interest is a world of becoming. Social interest does not imply that we know what that perfect form of social living is. Social interest implies that we know how to live in harmony as we always try to move closer to the goal of perfection. Social interest implies that we are equal members with other equal members in an ongoing conversation, a hermeneutic dialogue, about the perfect form of social living we seek. The implication is that we attempt to reach a ‘fusion of horizons’. “The goal that is best suited for perfection must be a goal that stands for an ideal society amongst all mankind, the ultimate fulfillment of evolution” (p.275). This is the goal we cannot envision – it is over the horizon. With each other, and with all others, our goal should be to see the ideal that works for the other and for all. 
Social evolution in the name of social interest is linear, a direct line from now to a never ending future in which equality, democracy and harmony move us toward a horizon beyond which we cannot see with clarity, but beyond which we have to continue to move with equality, democracy and harmony.
We should be content with an understanding of social interest that is clearer about our path than about goal. As Gwyn Thomas wrote:
“The beauty is in the walking. We are betrayed by destinations.”
As we work with individual clients we are faced with the goals of their individual life styles. In this paper I am suggesting that we are and will face people clinging ever more desperately to mistaken and exaggerated goals. They may themselves see their goals as personal and unique, to fill their empty selves, because they cannot see unanimity on principles and goals in their environment, in their lives. The therapist’s job may be that much harder because we cannot guide our clients to ways of living that adhere to a societal consensus. We will have to retrain them to walk on the path of social interest among those who are convinced they are right and those who are without conviction. 
Would it not be good for the world and for the individual if we all felt comfortable in ourselves and our place in the world knowing we were looking together at a future without domination of one faith, group or point of view – that we were all on the path equally and together.


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