Here’s a summary of what Adler had to say. His findings and strategies have become common place, especially gaining prominence from the 1970’s on, so this will not sound entirely new:
Adler made a big deal out of our vulnerability at birth, and our social nature that urges us to “belong” to, to find a place in, society. He pointed out we cannot help but begin life in confidence-shaking circumstances simply because we so totally vulnerable at birth. He said we start right off in a search to experience “personal competency” (full and consistent confidence) both to stay alive at all, and to feel successful group membership. This quest drives each and every early conclusion we draw of “what life is about”. We form a view of the world very early in the family context in which we find ourselves. Behavioral patterns develop very quickly, are established within the first few years.
We build on whatever strategies work for us. The role of those around us in those very early years (often said first 3 years) gives us the feedback that cements our world view and also cements what we learn of successful strategies. We especially want to feel success, which we interpret as “competency” (or not, depending on our experience).
If we learn we “can never do anything right”, we learn to fear our lack of competency and may strive to overcome it in various ways which differ individually. Among the possibilities are overachievement, practicing physical power-over (once we are big enough to do so or have younger siblings), and refusal to do anything at all (a great power play!). If we learn we “don’t have to look after ourselves but will be served at every whim” we also, oddly enough, do not develop a sense of competency. We may accept the ‘princess/prince’ role, but privately we “conclude” we are helpless. Being given the princess/prince treatment does not inspire self-esteem, it inspires a need to prove value again and again by checking to see if we are still “worthy” of being served! To do the princess/prince role, we may become demanding or manipulative of others even while being “nice and polite”. A child ignored may become disheartened, may withdraw, may develop capacity to “tough it out” without “expressing valid need”. A child praised in a way that suggests they have performed “beyond expectation” may learn “beyond expectation” is the way to experience belonging (a different reason than above for becoming an ‘overachiever’.) The permutations are nearly endless. It’s all about “power” (competence and confidence) from the very start.
Adding to the complexity is personal early history of the parents and other adults in a child’s world. These folks also began life as infants and have learned their own strategies, based on their own world views!
According to Adler, everyone, child and adult, strives to experience success as a social being. Competence is key, as is confidence. Not competence in capacity to fix an engine so much as “competence in social belonging.” Some do this by capacity to fix engines, some by other talents and practices! Ideal confidence does not require repeated “proof”, but as in the martial art description, ideal confidence is “comfortable, easy, content”. Nothing to prove. It is a matter of felt confidence, felt competence. Felt confidence and competence are not experienced by pronouncements from external sources, (which is why telling another he/she is wonderful is not as deeply effective as demonstrating your appreciation of their value by action that backs up or supplements words.)
My description of an “ideally” raised child by Adler’s findings is as follows (when the child is an adult):
An individual who experiences “consistent and genuine personal confidence” is able to consistently interact with others without fear, anger, judgment, need to manipulate, need to ‘shade’ dealings – in short, is consistently able to be honest, plain-spoken, just, compassionate, modest, generous, practices critical thinking with an attitude of respect, and acknowledges the full gamut of human potential for mis-understanding and delivery of misery as well as gift to one another. Such an individual experiences “confidence” in humanity, despite our foibles; is “light hearted” but also fearless in a truly impressive way and requires no outside event or person to validate personal worth or fundamental worth of other.
I add: The description fairly rules out most of us because it includes consistency!