Psychological Self-Help

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122
Low Self-Concept and Feelings of Inferiority 
Alfred Adler, a student of Freud's between 1900 and 1910, had
been a sick (rickets and pneumonia) and weak child. He had seen a
younger brother die and been close to death himself several times. He
overcame his fears, became a model youth, and went to medical
school. His early medical practice was in a poor area that included a
circus. He found that many of his patients were strong and skilled
circus performers who had overcome and over-compensated for some
physical weakness. It is understandable that Adler gave the concept of
"inferiority complex" to the world (Monte, 1980). 
Children see their parents as powerful and able. In comparison,
they feel weak and inferior. Life becomes a struggle to make up for our
frailties and to put up a front of strength and superiority which will
hide our feelings of inadequacy. Adler came to believe that all people
yearn for mastery and perfection. We all struggle to find our place and
adapt better and better to the world. He saw this striving to overcome
inferiority as humans' basic drive; he saw humans as basically good, in
contrast to Freud. 
As mentioned in the theories sections of the last chapter and this
one, certain parenting practices may cause excessive feelings of
inferiority: over-critical, over-demanding, over-protective, over-
controlling and probably others. Anyone with a negative self-concept
based on these childhood experiences needs to start afresh honestly
re-evaluating themselves. Professional help should be considered. 
Traumatized Without External Trauma
An impressive series of studies on mastery-oriented thinking
has been done by Carol Dweck (2000). Her focus has been on
achievement but her findings are relevant to depression and coping
with crises. She emphasized that a crucially important distinction in
any situation exists between hopeless thinking and mastery thinking--
between believing that when I fail or things go wrong that means I
lack the ability ("I'm not smart enough") and believing when I fail,
"Hey, I have more to learn" or "I have to get smarter, do it a different
way or try harder." This latter healthy optimistic attitude leads to
intrigue with exploring the world, taking on difficult tasks, and
achieving well... coping. 
Dweck's findings lead her to explore the early childhood sources of
hopeless thinking or mastery thinking. She found that over one-third
of children show signs of helplessness--self-blame, frustration,
sadness, giving up, losing interest--when they fail or are criticized,
when things go wrong. In the preschool years, children are not
concerned yet about being intelligent or dumb, they are concerned
with being good or bad. (Slightly older children become concerned with
being smart or dumb.) Therefore, when kindergartners who showed
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