Who am I and what makes me?

Published: May 21, 2024

Based on the Psychodynamic Theory of Personality  of Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, developed Individual Psychology, a psychological theory that focuses on understanding individuals as unique and holistic beings. It emphasizes the role of social factors and the pursuit of personal goals in shaping human behavior. One key concept in Adler’s theory is the “inferiority complex,” which suggests that feelings of inferiority, stemming from early childhood experiences, can motivate individuals to strive for superiority and compensate for perceived weaknesses. Adler believed that individuals develop unique coping mechanisms and lifestyles to overcome these feelings.

In addition, Adler’s theory highlights the influence of social factors on an individual’s development. He emphasized the importance of family dynamics, birth order, and the individual’s social environment in shaping their personality and behavior. Adler believed that social interactions deeply impact individuals, as they seek a sense of belonging and significance within their communities.

Who am I?

Family according to Kapur (2021) is the foundation from which learning, growth and development of the individuals takes place. When sincere and sociable terms and relationships are formed with family members, this is regarded as one of the necessary measures towards forming  a favorable environment and promoting security, benefit and happiness. The environment plays a significant role in shaping our personality and behavior. Our interactions with family, friends, peers, and society at large can influence our beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors. The environment we grow up in, including our upbringing, cultural background, socioeconomic status, and community, can impact our development and shape our personality traits.

I would consider my childhood experiences to have been positive and nurturing. My parents were authoritative which presented a combination of warmth and flexibility while still making it clear that they were in charge.  Baumrind introduced authoritative parenting in 1971 as one  of  the  styles  for  controlling  and  demanding the role  of  parents  that rationally  directs  the  activities  of  children in an issue-oriented manner and results in the children  with  self-reliance,  independence,  and  self-control for  life  satisfaction (Baumrind, 1971). Children of authoritative parents know what is expected of them. My parents explained reasons for the rules within the home and outside and consequences for breaking them. I felt fortunate that they also listened to our opinions even though they remained the ultimate decision makers. This created an environment of safety, security, consistency and love. These were my first experiences of my formative years.

I grew up as the middle child in a family of five. I did not have the spotlight but I also did not seek it out. According to Alfred Alder, third-born children may feel a sense of being “sandwiched” between older and younger siblings, leading them to develop traits such as independence, creativity, and a desire to stand out. I often found myself asking the question “what’s the use of trying to stand out from the competition and attention of my siblings”? I resigned myself to my position of what I felt was invisibility  within the family and at times felt forgotten and ignored. Each person develops his personality and strives for perfection in his own particular way, in what Adler termed a style of life, or lifestyle (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2024) He goes on to state that the individual’s lifestyle forms in early childhood and is partly determined by what particular inferiority affected him most deeply during his formative years.

Coming from a family of five sandwiched between two sisters I often felt a sense of inferiority. I felt overshadowed by my older siblings who may receive more attention or responsibilities within the family. I also felt pressure to live up to the achievements or expectations set by my older siblings.The inferiority complex had a major impact on various aspects of my life, which influenced my behavior, relationships, and overall well-being. The need to be acknowledged, liked and appreciated led me to behaviors such as overcompensation, seeking validation from others, and finally developed a defensive attitude whenever I felt overlooked or ignored. I always felt inadequate, since I was constantly trying to measure up to the accomplishments of my older sibling.

I yearned to be accepted at whatever cost and most often than not this led to making bad choices and decisions which led to harsh consequences. At this stage of my life going through late adolescence into early adulthood and the challenges that came with it Klimstra (2012) explains that forming one’s identity is thought to be the key developmental task of adolescence, but profound changes in personality traits also occur in this period. Adler states that if people cannot compensate for normal feelings of inferiority, they develop an inferiority complex. My inferiority complex heightened. I felt that everyone was better than me in every way possible. The constant need to prove myself or seek validation from others led to low self-esteem, self-doubt, and a lack of self-confidence. Low self-esteem, self-doubt, and a lack of self-confidence significantly impacted me. These negative beliefs about myself lead to feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and a constant fear of failure. I struggled with asserting myself, setting boundaries, or pursuing my goals, as I doubted my abilities and worth. Self-doubt created a cycle of hesitation and indecision. A lack of self-confidence limited opportunities for my personal and professional development later in life as I avoided challenges or new experiences due to a fear of rejection or criticism.

As I grew into  adulthood I realized that the constant need for recognition, validation and acceptance resulted in anxiety, stress, and a general sense of unhappiness or dissatisfaction with my life. I felt my personality took a turn, making me quiet, shy and lacking in confidence and extremely introverted. I found myself literally taking on roles such as peacemaker, fixer, worker and caregiver in order to be part of the crowd. I  enjoyed helping others, but also needed time and space to recharge and be by myself of which I immensely enjoyed.  These roles extended beyond the nuclear family into the extended family and social life. I found that the family dynamics and parenting style were crucial environmental factors that influence my personality. Having observed the behavior of my parents, siblings, and other family members I found myself imitating their behaviors. Bandura’s key contribution to learning theory was the idea that much learning is vicarious.

We learn by observing someone else’s behavior and its consequences, which Bandura called observational learning (10.4 Learning Approaches to Personality – Introductory Psychology, n.d.) . He felt that this type of learning also plays a part in the development of our personality. By observing verbal and non verbal communication from my family and the environment I felt that the only way I got recognition and validation was by pleasing others, being available and overextending myself even to my own detriment. My personality began to be shaped and formed by external factors such as family, friends and the community. My motivation and validation was externally informed by the people, circumstances, events and environment around me.

My journey took a different direction in my middle age when I discovered my passion for counseling and psychology. I understood that in this area, I could genuinely and intentionally help and care for those in my surroundings, as well as the community and environment I belonged to. With my innate compassion and sensitivity and with a profound care for the welfare of others, I knew that pursuing a career in this field would bring me immense satisfaction and motivation. I felt that I had finally found myself, purpose and meaning for my life. I finally had the opportunity to be a helper, worker, caregiver and in an informed, learned and professional capacity. I had the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of individuals by providing care, compassion in a safe space. To date this gives me a lot of satisfaction, joy and inner peace.

However I also came to the realization that to be fully present for others I needed to be fully present to me. I began the journey of therapy which enabled me to deal with feelings of inadequacy that manifested in a variety of ways and impacted various aspects of my life, including my self-perception, relationships, and well-being. It was and still is important to seek support, practice self-compassion, and work on building my self-confidence, self awareness and self-acceptance. Therapy has also provided a safe and supportive environment for me to explore my childhood experiences and identify how they continued to affect my present life. This has led to greater self-understanding and insight into my strengths, weaknesses and what I needed to work on within myself. This journey has been both painful and revealing and continues to bring out aspects of myself that I need to address and change. Through therapy I have been able to identify and change negative patterns of behavior, habits, or thought processes that may continue to hinder my personal development and well-being.

This includes being defensive, a trait accrued in childhood as a defense mechanism to protect myself from feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. These feelings and behaviours were presented through low self-esteem through negative self-image and a struggle with self-worth. I find myself at times doubting my abilities and have at times continue to struggle with perfectionism which has led me to set unrealistically high standards in an attempt to prove my worth. This has often resulted in stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction. Through therapy, I have learned effective coping strategies and techniques to manage stress and anxiety and the ability to navigate life’s challenges. Even though I still find myself struggling with some of these challenges I now have the skills and awareness to handle them better. I have found that this has made me more patient not just with myself but with those around me as well. I am learning to be less judgmental, to respond instead of reacting and to talk less and listen more. This has enhanced my relationships with my children, parents, siblings and friends and others leading to authentic and fulfilling relationships.

Approaching my 58th birthday, I am grateful for the joys of motherhood and grandmotherhood, as well as the success of my thriving Counselling Practice. I fully recognize the importance of personal growth and continued learning. I welcome feedback and criticism with an open mind, understanding that acknowledging my weaknesses is the first step towards improvement. Life is a constant journey of transformation, and I believe it would be a disservice to myself to remain stagnant. I am committed to evolving, growing, and becoming the best version of myself. This has allowed me to handle obstacles and challenges more efficiently. By acknowledging my own capabilities and limitations, I am adjusting to new situations more smoothly and in a much more intentional way.


10.4 Learning Approaches to Personality – Introductory Psychology. (n.d.). Opentext.wsu.edu. https://opentext.wsu.edu/psych105/chapter/10-5-learning-approaches-to-personality/#:~:text=determine%20personality%20characteristics.-

Baumrind, D. (1971). Current patterns of parental authority. Developmental Psychology, 4(1, Pt.2), 1–103. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0030372

Kapur, R. (2021 B.C.E.). Environmental Factors: Crucial in Influencing Personality Traits and  Living Conditions of the Individuals [Review of Environmental Factors: Crucial in Influencing Personality Traits and Living Conditions of the Individuals]. Research Gate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/353451515_Environmental_Factors_Crucial_in_Influencing_Personality_Traits_and_Living_Conditions_of_the_Individuals

Klimstra, T. (2012). Adolescent Personality Development and Identity Formation. Child Development Perspectives, 7(2), 80–84. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12017

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2024). Alfred Adler | Austrian psychiatrist. In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alfred-Adler

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