Alfred Adler Institutes of San Francisco and Northwestern Washington

Classical Adlerian Quotes: Antithetical Scheme of Apperception

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco (AAISF/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. Sample quotations on a series of topics will be featured each week. Your comments and questions may be posted on the Classical Adlerian Psychology Discussion Forum. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein.

Alfred Adler:

"Another means applicable to dreams as well as in a wakened state that brings us closer to realizing our intent is to think antithetically, to think in terms of opposites. Although everyone knows that certain ideas and concepts are not opposites, they are used antithetically partly from thoughtlessness but at other times intentionally to support certain purposes. Thus, there are still many people who represent 'woman' and 'man' as opposites, even though they should know that they are not opposites. It is interesting to observe, given the richness of language, how such views are reflected. In English, for example, one spoke of the opposite sex not too long ago. Here you find the shadows of past childish thinking. You will find antithetical thinking in problem children. Consider the burning question in such children: Who is the stronger? They know only strong - weak. Every neurotic contrasts: All or nothing. How advantageous does antithetical thinking lends itself to arouse oneself! Think of criminals: It's either him or me for whom there is room in this world! A murderer says: That man wears beautiful clothes; I have none! Such contrasting seems to justify killing. How well Dostoyevsky observed Raskolnikov who after hesitating a long time used these words to arrive at a decision: 'Am I Napoleon or a louse?'"(From a new translation of an unpublished manuscript, "Medical Course at Urban Hospital," a lecture by Alfred Adler, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

"In forming a world view and to ascribe to it some pedantic order, and with that security, the neurotic will cling to any rule and helpful formulation, the most important of which will correspond to primitive antithetical schemes. He thus allows as valid only those feelings that relate to an above and a below, and as far as I could tell, regularly tries to relate these to what appears to him a realistic contrast between the 'masculine and feminine.' With such a falsification of conscious or unconscious judgments, as if actuated by a psychological battery, an emotional disturbance is created that is always appropriate for the patient's life line." (From a new translation of "Individual Psychological Treatment of Neuroses," a journal article by Alfred Adler published in 1913, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

"Everything flows into apperception that we at any given moment need and that we expect will enable us to approach our individual goals. The degree of pleasure and pain experienced is exactly sufficient for furthering the attainment of an anticipated goal. It may in fact be said to spur us toward it. That apperception is in the nature of a creative act is to be inferred from the fact that we are able to apperceive objects and persons just as in memory, but from an angle not permitted by the immediate perception, when, for example, we see ourselves in a memory-picture. This creative act of a capacity inherent in the psyche, unfolding itself and at the same time possessing definite contact with the exterior world, is also the explanation of hallucination. It is an identical psychic power that permits, though in different degrees, the creative and constructive activity found in perception, apperception, memory and hallucination." (From 'Contributions to the Theory of Hallucinations' in "Theory and Practice of Indivudal Psychology," by Alfred Adler.)

Anthony Bruck:

"People develop a tendentious apperception, i.e. the tendency to see themselves, others, or events and situations, not as they really are, but as they imagine them to be. One of the chief tasks of the psychologist is to help his consultees adapt their perception to the realities of their life space, i.e. their own real factors and the real factors of the environment." (From "An Evaluation of Adlerian Psychology from the Standpoint of the Scientific Method," an unpublished manuscript written in 1947 by Anthony Bruck in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

" We all have the tendency to interpret things according to previous experiences. It's worse when there is no experience at all, and the interpretation is not based on anything except fear of having negative experiences. It is not the reality that counts, but what the individual feels and thinks about it". (From a transcription of "The Teachings of Adler," a lecture given by Anthony Bruck on 03-18-77, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher:

"The process of selection after persons have built their prototype, Adler has called tendentious apperception. They take out of their surroundings only what fits into this picture; everything else disappears. If you listen to people, and you are aware of it, you will find tendentious apperception is present in everyone and naturally, in ourselves too. For example, let us assume that someone looks through a prism. The person will see light differently from the light he would otherwise see without the prism, light would appear to him as if it were in different colors. If someone has built or found a pattern of life, he looks at things, or at life, through such a prism. He sees things from a particular angle. This has nothing to do with reality, only with his former experiences, or what his pattern allows him to see. For example, two people have an argument, in the course of this argument they both think and say that one always tries to dominate the other. This might be true, but for either one of these persons it is impossible to make the simplest statement without the other one assuming this was meant against the other. It is not possible for either of them to say anything without the other person interpreting it as aggressive, or as trying to hurt, to be overbearing, and so forth.

This is an example of what we would call tendentious apperception, that one interprets anything that happens, or evaluates any event according to his own opinion. There are people who assume from the very beginning that no one can be decent. Whatever you do or say to them will in some way be tainted so that their distrust appears justified. They will misunderstand, hear something that has never been said, suspect, '. . .you must have thought that. . .' although there is no basis for that assumption. In court a great number of witnesses prove completely unreliable. In a way all witnesses are unreliable because everyone only sees one facet of a situation. They will have seen in many respects what they wanted to see or what they thought happened; however, without any malice. Tendentious apperception can be recognized in people's remarks, in what they mis-hear, in the way they interpret everything. This has nothing to do with reality but fits their prototype and pattern. Their tendentious apperception becomes repetitious in various situations because people are not oriented to reality but to a pre-conceived prototype toward which they move. Each person cuts out a small segment out of the whole reality into which he or she is born as an infant and now tries to move within it.

For another example, think of a group of people of different occupations, perhaps a hairdresser, a tailor, a physician, a lawyer and a factory owner, studying the same individual. The hairdresser would think about the hair, the tailor would see if a nice suit could be put on this person. The physician would think about the liver, the lawyer, whether the person could be a client, and the factory owner might think about how the person could be marketed. Tendentious apperception means looking only from a specific angle and changing reality to fit one's own ideas."

(From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson.)

Sophia de Vries:

"The antithetical mode of apperception means seeing things in black and white, and seeing the world as good or bad. You may notice that patient's never see things in colorings of grey, or in between shades, it's always, 'either/or,' and this is one of the signs of neurotic thinking." (From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar presented by Sophia de Vries on 7-16-76, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.)

Henry Stein:

"Under the influence of the fictional final goal, style of life, and private logic, an individual's perception is very selective. The antithetical scheme of apperception is how he cognitively processes what he has selected, giving it meaning and fitting it into a self-consistent unity. For example, a client circulates around a room full of people and pays particular attention to certain expressions and reactions that fit his style of life. He may yearn for flattery and adoration, but expects frequent criticism and disdain. He may tend to bend most of the expressions he perceives into only one of two opposite beliefs--no middle or grey zone exists in his antithetical scheme. He may either disregard the experience of someone simply liking him (because it does not satisfy his desire for adoration) or he misinterprets someone's innocent question as criticism or depreciation. Similar distortions can occur with antithetical schemes of stupid/brilliant, center of attention/completely ignored, first/last, etc. The individual is not as interested in the reality of what is happening, only in the accumulation of impressions that support his style of life." (From an edited transcription of a tape recorded lecture given on 10-27-90, in San Francisco, in the AAISF/ATP Archives. Available in distance training course DT102A - Intermediate Theory: Part I )

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Henry T. Stein, Ph.D., Director
Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington
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