Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health

Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
Rachel Shifron
According to Adier’s (1932) Individual Psychology the inability to belong or to
connect with others results in pathology. In this essay the author presents several
case studies that highlight the need to belong as a primary issue in therapy. The case
descriptions include therapy with an individual, a couple, a client with addiction
issues, a cross-cultural couple, and a mother and daughter-in-law. The case materials presented in this article reveal that individuals with psychological disorders can
lessen their psychopathology by learning more effective methods to promote belonging. Adlerian methods and interventions to promote belonging are discussed.
In Adier’s (1932, 1991) Individual Psychology every child is born with
the need to belong and with the ability to connect with others. Acquiring
the methods of connecting involves a learning process. This kind of learning
is the key for well-being. It is essential that one belongs and is connected
to three significant groups in one’s circle of life. I expand Adier’s description of the life tasks (Dreikurs, 1950) to refer to these significant groups as
being family, friends, and work associates. Feeling a sense of belonging to
these groups is the primary universal issue of mental health. Individuals with
psychological disorders can lessen their psychopathology by learning more
effective methods to belong.
This article reflects my many years of counseling and therapy from an
Individual Psychology perspective (Shifron, 2006, 2008). My clinical experiences have shown me the universality of the need to belong, and I believe
this paper offers an exceptional opportunity for clinicians from different
theoretical approaches to learn more about Adier’s optimistic and brilliant
perspective. Adier’s Individual Psychology is based on the conceptualization
that psychopathology results from the lack of feeling belonging. This is an
optimistic view, because the absence of feeling belonging is a curable situation. According to Adier’s theory (Ferguson, 2006), every individual makes
choices. In this paper I focus on the belief that every individual is capable
and creative and that by making different kinds of choices, each person can
learn how to feel belonging.
Throughout my work with clients over many years, each individual or
couple presented unique problems. However, there was a common theme
among a majority of them. The hidden goal for most of them included the
The Journal of Individual Psychology,\/o\. 66, No. 1, Spring 2010
O2010 by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819
Editorial office located in the College of Education at Georgia State University.
Adier’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 11
desire to belong. This hidden goal was identified in many instances when
exploring clients’ early recollections and dreams. I found the need to belong
surfaced among couples, parents, children, and siblings. I found a similar
need to belong with friends and in the work setting. I discovered many creative and diversified ways that individuals use to meet this need to belong.
In therapy an important process was for clients to learn whether the creative
methods they chose were effective or not, and whether they could use their
creative abilities to choose more effective methods to feel belonging.
To understand Adier’s concept of belonging, I find it helpful to remember the concept of holism. In a holistic system, the whole is a dynamic,
moving, developing, growing, creative system. It operates through the inner
links within all parts of the system. Each part has a specific role or place
that enables the other parts to operate and to move. The movement is the
consequence of the interrelations and the contributions of each part. In a
holistic system the cooperative interactions of the parts constitute the whole.
“The organism is more than the sum of its parts and if these parts are taken
to pieces the organism is destroyed . . . these parts are in active relations to
each other” (Smuts, 1926, p. 101, as cited in Linden, 1995, p. 254).
In Individual Psychology the individual is a whole system, but the individual is also a cooperating and interacting part of larger systems, like the
family, the community, and the universe. A sense of belonging is essential
in order for one to feel that he or she is an actively contributing part of the
larger whole. This feeling, that one belongs and that one has a place in
the larger systems, is achieved when one is encouraged and appreciated
for one’s special talents and creative abilities. An individual who feels belonging feels valued and significant, and the person will contribute his or
her best to society. That contribution represents social interest (Ansbacher,
1991 ), that is, a concern for and commitment to the welfare of the community. Adler characterized
the socially useful type as prepared for cooperation and contribution in whom
we can always find a certain amount of activity which … is in agreement with
the needs of others. It is useful, normal, rightly embedded in the stream of
evolution of mankind. (Mosak, 1991, p. 316)
Adler emphasized belonging as the primary factor for the individual’s and
the community’s mental health. Mosak (1991) wrote, “Closeness is a transcendent variable. It encourages people to look outside of and beyond
themselves to the need of others in the community and of the community
itself. It encourages the feeling of intimacy, empathy, and identification”
(p. 315).
Recently, I conducted workshops on Adierian psychotherapy in Cambridge, England. My hostess, Anthea Millar, described a project by Foresight
Science Future with the following information that was published in the
12 Rachel Shifron
London Times. The project was led by Felicia Huppert (2008), professor of
psychology at Cambridge University, and it was intended to improve mental well-being. The project was included in a “well-being” report, compiled
by more than 400 scientists, sent to the British government. The research
proposed to encourage behavior that will make people feel better about
themselves. The researchers concluded that they found five categories that
can make profound differences in people’s well-being. They named the program “five a day”:
1. Connect with people.
2. Be active—do physical activities with others.
3. Take notice—be aware of sensations around you, be in the state of
4. Keep learning—as a way of rebooting the mind to experience joy in
the here and now.
5. Give—committing an act of kindness each day is associated with
an increase of well-being.
For those following the work of Adler, it is a welcome finding that his holistic psychology that emphasized belonging is actualized in reports about
well-being to the British government, many decades after Adler first wrote
about the importance of social interest and the feeling of belonging.
In this essay, I focus on belonging as the primary variable in clients’
mental health. I discuss case studies with the focus on the clients improving the ways they cope with life through increasing their social interest and
through gaining feelings of being accepted and belonging. The issues I address are as follows:
Belonging to the family of origin—identifying creative methods used
to secure the feeling of belonging.
Belonging in a couple relationship—examining the complexity of cultural differences in basic norms and values as these relate to the
feeling of belonging.
Belonging to the world of work—considering the need to maintain a
balance between work and family.
Readers familiar with Adierian psychotherapy know that early recollections provide rich clinical material (Manaster & Mays, 2004; Shifron &
Bettner, 2003). I employed this technique extensively to explore the importance of belonging in many of the cases reported. For me, early recollections
are a type of metaphor. They reveal lifestyle (Ferguson, 2006) as well as the
individual’s current emotional situation. The use of early recollections is an
accurate and quick method to discover the person’s feelings of belonging and
the creative methods the person uses in order to feel belonging. All names
and other personal data were changed completely for confidentiality.
Adier’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 13
Case Studies: Individual Therapy
The Creative Contributor. The need to belong is so strong that some individuals excessively seek to please others. These individuals invest much of
their energy in pleasing, helping, and rescuing their family members. They
often feel that their “membership card” of being a valued and accepted person is valid only through their being available to others at all times until they
become exhausted. This may lead to creative solutions for seeking rest. An
example is “Pamela,” who is in her 20s. She is a student who works in her
free time, and she is the youngest of four siblings.
The presented issue, as she stated, was that she suffered from anxiety
and “unrealistic fears.” Her relationships with men were complicated in that
she was attracted to unreliable men who were not interested in her, and she
was not attracted to those who showed her care and affection. From an Adierian perspective this is an excellent method to avoid intimacy.
A thorough analysis of her lifestyle, which included early recollections
and dreams, disclosed that in order to feel that she belonged in her family,
she had chosen behaviors that made her feel that she was needed at all
times by her parents and siblings. In psychotherapy, she gradually understood, through our work with her early recollections and dreams, that in
order to gain recognition she often neglected to take care of her own needs
in favor of the needs of others. She also became aware of the fact that it was
almost impossible for her to ask for help. She perceived her mother as a
helpless woman. Pamela was her mother’s caretaker, and she strove to excel
in being a caretaker.
Pamela learned to understand that her way of fulfilling her need to belong included a consistent set of behaviors revolving around caretaking,
pleasing others, and giving, which created in her feelings of anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and anger. This set of behaviors was consistently void
of self-care strategies. For example, when I asked her if she ever asked for
help when she needed it, she said she never did. She reported that her father
was too busy and her mother and siblings lacked the skills to be helpful to
her. An example of her private logic on this point was reflected in the following early recollection she reported:
At age 8 I was in a boat and a young boy fell off the boat. I jumped into the
water and saved him. Everyone reacted as if it was the most natural thing to
do. I felt that it was expected of me to jump and save the boy because I was
an excellent swimmer.
I viewed this early recollection to be a metaphor representing the way she
thinks about herself and her primary role in her life.
As we continued in therapy, I avoided dealing with her initially reported
concern with her anxiety and chose instead to focus directly on the creative
14 Rachel Shifron
ways in which she was seeking to fulfill her need to belong. We continued
to explore ways that her exaggerated need to “give and please others” were
directed toward her need to feel belonging. We were also able to come to a
consensus that the anxiety attacks, which were her presenting concern, had
a purpose. The purpose was that it was a creative way of giving her a rest
from being in the service of others. It was only then that we were able to
work together to assist her in finding less stressful and anxiety-driven behaviors to fill the need to belong. At present, Pamela is in the process of
establishing new behaviors to practice her “excellence in swimming,”
which includes courage, movement, and initiation. Pamela is developing a
new relationship with a man who adores her. She is more assertive with her
family members as well as at work and with friends, without her former fears
that by setting healthy boundaries she will no longer belong. She is free of
anxiety attacks. From my clinical perspective I view addiction, anxiety, and
depression as an example of goal-oriented behavior. They are creative, purposeful, and chosen behaviors (Shifron 1999). Interpersonal relationships
and feelings of belonging are essential for the development of significant
intimacy, and they are as essential for adjusting to other life situations, including the world of work.
Despair. Robert, a man in his fifties, holds a very prestigious work position. His performance at work is considered to be excellent, but he lacks
skills in interpersonal relations. He became aware of the fact that he might
lose his job if he did not change his attitude toward his co-workers.
Robert is the oldest of three siblings. His parents divorced when he
was very young. He and his sisters never married. In his early recollections,
he described a detached mother who was busy fighting with her husband
(Robert’s father), two sisters whom he did not like, and a father who was
not around when he was needed. Robert was a very good student but was
always angry, sensitive, and sad. This picture of his childhood corresponded
very vividly to his emotional state at the time he began therapy. He felt
lonely and alone, did not trust friends or partners, and did not keep in touch
with his immediate family. At the same time, he was extremely invested in
his work. He said, “I don’t belong to anyone. Work isn’t a substitute for family and couple relationships. There is no sense in living like that, I have to
change it.” Robert’s feelings of sadness and despair were extreme because
he had no support from anyone, neither his family nor a partner.
Developing trust in the therapeutic process was a challenge. Robert did
not trust that anyone had a genuine interest in him. It took a long time before he developed some confidence in the process. Accepting his strengths
was an important step for him. He realized how efficient, productive, and
intelligent he was in his job. He learned to appreciate the meaningful relationships that he had succeeded in establishing at work. Robert practiced at
Adier’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 15
work how to express his feelings, and doing so helped to prevent him from
exploding. Work became an anchor for his need to belong, and thus he
increased his belief that he was capable of developing meaningful relationships in his private life.
Dreikurs (1991) wrote,
The human community sets three tasks for every individual. They are: work,
which means doing useful work; friendship, which embraces social relationships with comrades and relatives; and love, which is the most intimate union
with someone of the other sex and represents the strongest emotional relationship which can exist between two human beings. These three tasks embrace
the whole of human life with all its desires and activities. All human suffering
originates from the difficulties which complicate the tasks, (p. 7)
Relationships are learned in one’s own family. Those who completed this
learning process successfully will feel that they belong, and they are likely
to form meaningful relationships outside their family—at work, with friends,
and with an intimate partner.
Robert’s despair and suffering originated from the fact that he had no relations with his family, which inhibited him from establishing his own family
unit and knowing how to relate to others at work. In a therapeutic process,
when there is no opportunity to work with the entire family and when the
client refuses to make contact with family members, the learning process
will take place in another life task. In Robert’s case he was motivated to
learn and to practice his interactions with others at the workplace, where he
finally felt that he belonged. The workplace became a laboratory for acquiring a sense of belonging. He learned how to relate to others and to form
meaningful relationships.
One of the primary factors in work adjustment is the feeling of belonging. Holland (1985) developed a vocational instrument that was based on
the idea that individuals adjust much better to work when they are around
people like them, when they feel that they belong with the group. Holland’s
prediction was that individuals who belong would be motivated, satisfied,
and able to grow and to develop. The need to feel belonging in the workplace is so strong that some people develop workaholic symptoms (Shifron,
in press).
Couples Therapy
Conceptual issues to consider with couples. The need to belong is crucial in romantic relationships. Romantic relationships are complex and can
be very disturbing when the very basic need to belong is ignored.
16 Rachel Shifron
Certainly, love in all its thousand variations is a feeling of belongingness and
hence is characterized by its content as a social feeling. Therefore, that man
and that woman will be best prepared for love, marriage and parenthood,
which surpasses all others in being fellow men . . . the worse preparation for
marriage is when an individual is looking for his own interest. If he has been
trained in this way, he will be thinking all the while what pleasure or excitement he can get out of life. He will always be demanding freedom and relief,
never considering how he can ease and enrich the life of his partner. (Adler as
cited in Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 435)
Each partner wants to feel safe, secure, and cared for in the relationship.
Each individual in a couple contributes creatively in order to maintain the
relationship. At times, problems arise when the “creative contribution” does
not fit the partner’s lifestyle, wishes, and expectations. The outcome is frustration, anger, and distance. In such cases, the therapist’s roles are:
1. to identify with the couple their genuine goal to maintain their relationship and their desire to belong to each other (If one of them
is not invested in the relationship, couple therapy is not going to
2. to show using early recollections or dreams the “creative method”
each one employs in order to feel connected and to belong to the
other person;
3. to unfold the “blind spots” in the method, that is, the blind spots
that create distance instead of the closeness the couple intends;
4. to work with couples creatively to form behaviors that will enable both of them to feel the closeness that they desire (Shifron,
2008) (One can do couples therapy even when only one partner is
Building the wall. This case is an example of creative methods used
by a couple to maintain their relationship. Molly and Charles are in their
30s with two children. Molly is the oldest sibling in her family. Charles is an
only child. Both of them work full time. Molly works in a very demanding
sophisticated organization. Charles does freelance work.
The presenting issue is a growing distance between them. There was no
communication about experiences and feelings, and they had no intimacy.
They claimed that they are very effective as parents. Both of them expressed
their need to feel closer and that the relationship is very meaningful for
them. They feared their own anger at each other and repressed it.
In the first stage of therapy, the work with their early recollections disclosed their strengths, special abilities, uniqueness, and special needs. It was
a stage of self-awareness for both of them. They gradually became aware of
the specific roles each one of them played in their families of origin and in
Adler^s Need to Belong: Mental Health 17
their couple relationship. The second stage of therapy focused on the ways
each of them worked at finding their comfort in the relationship, that is, a
sense of belonging. The use of early recollections enabled them to discover
the creative methods both of them used to maintain their relationship and
sense of belonging. It became clear that “not rocking the boat” was their
creative strategy to maintain the relationship. Charles’s method was to withdraw, not to share information about his business, doubts, questions, and
difficulties. He was sure that this “method” would save him from her critical reaction, would prevent a potential confrontation, and thus would save
the marriage. Molly’s method was to spend more and more time at work in
order to limit their time together and to avoid potential conflicts. She was
confident that her method would maintain their togetherness. Both of them
wanted to prevent conflicts at all cost.
The more Charles withdrew, the more Molly was out of the house, and
vice versa. The third stage of therapy focused on their understanding this
process. When they were presented with the question regarding whether
there was a thought about separation, both of them reacted very anxiously
that they definitely wanted to maintain their relationship and they wished to
get closer.
In one of his early recollections (age 5), Charles described standing
behind the window, watching the children playing outside. He wanted to
join them but feared their rejection and thus kept staying inside. Almost all
of Molly’s early recollections were outdoors, enjoying the company of her
immediate and extended family. Their recollections/metaphors present very
accurately the difference in their lifestyles. In her adult life, Molly worked
in an organization in which she felt satisfied because she was respected and
appreciated for her contributions. She felt that she belonged to the organization. In his freelance occupation, Charles worked by himself. The early
recollections also showed the dynamics of their relationship. He perceived
her as having a wonderful time and craved to be included, but his fear of
rejection immobilized his initiative and actions. (She was the one who had
initiated the therapy, and he had joined her gladly.) Molly was enjoying the
outside world she created for herself, but eventually discovered that her
method actually widened the gap between them. She also, like Charles,
craved the warmth and the feelings of togetherness.
The fourth stage of therapy was devoted to finding new and different
ways for them to use their creative abilities and strengths and for them to
apply these to their mutual goal to be together. At present they are still practicing how to “break the wall” and join each other: for her to join him at
home, for him to join her outside. They are also learning to talk about their
anger courageously and gradually to understand that communicating feelings is one important way to “break the wall.”
18 Rachel Shifron
How can I belong with “the big guys”? The problems associated with
feeling belonging are a primary issue among most couples who come for
therapy. “Am I really significant in her/his life? Does she/he really love me?
Why me? Do I fully belong to this couple relationship? Do I fully belong to
Carola came to therapy when she was separated for several weeks from
her husband. She wanted to know what she did wrong and whether she
planned to continue with the relationship. Her husband told her to try and
“fix” herself. She is in her 20s, the youngest in her family. She experienced
a very close family. She had excellent relationships with her siblings, who
paid a lot of attention to her. Carola describes her parents as very supportive
and respectful of her choices. She describes her husband as being distant
from his parents and siblings and that he is very punitive.
Her early recollections are beautiful metaphors that demonstrate her
need to feel that she belongs in that relationship and what the real obstacle
is in her relationship with her husband. During the initial stage of therapy,
she shared the following recollection (age 5):
I was in the car with my sister (who is 12 years older). She taught me a few
words in a foreign language the others in my family knew, and I felt I was a big
girl. I felt included with the big guys in the family. It was a feeling of elation.
Later in the therapy process, she provided this early recollection (age 4):
I sprained my ankle and was in pain. In the evening, I was in my room. Everyone else was in the living room. I got up. It was painful to walk but I overcame
the pain and found everybody in the living room. I felt happy I was with everybody else.
In both memories, Carola described how important it was for her to be included. In the first memory she was responding to her sister’s initiation. In
the second memory she initiated her action in order to be included.
In the therapy sessions Carola brought many detailed early recollections and metaphors. She realized that often she expected another to initiate
her inclusion with the “big guys,” but it is clear from her later recollection
that she could, even though with difficulty, initiate by her own efforts being
included with the “big guys.” She became aware of the choices she made
and the choices she could make in her current life in order to get what she
needed and deserved. At that stage, she was trying to initiate closeness with
her husband. She was more active in creating a safe place for herself in their
relationship. The awareness of one’s own strengths and abilities to make
choices helps the person to initiate and to act. Very often, it might help partners to overcome anxiety and frustration in the relationship.
Adler^s Need to Belong: Mental Health 19
Cross-Cultural Couples and the Need to Belong
Conceptual issues. In a global environment where traveling overseas,
studying abroad, and working and living in various countries are becoming a more common way of life, cross-cultural romantic relationships are
increasing. When developing a relationship within one’s own culture, the
task is already complex because it requires an ability to merge two different family cultures. In a cross-cultural relationship, merging is much more
difficult, for it requires not only understanding distinct family cultures but
also a thorough knowledge and understanding of the other’s total cultural
background. Primary parts of the cultural differences are other norms and
creative ways to connect and to belong. Another major issue in the crosscultural coupling process is that many times one of the partners feels a lack
of belonging to the new country and to its culture. Usually, one of the individuals must leave family, friends, language, and native culture. Adjustment
to the new environment leads to a continued sense that “1 don’t belong
here! Nobody notices me in a valued way!” It may create a growing tension
between couples, and at times it is likely to end in a divorce.
The following case is an example of a cross-cultural couple’s problems
with regard to feeling belonging. It also illustrates that cross-cultural couple
relationships entail a challenging task and that when individuals learn to
appreciate their own creative power, to actualize it, and to contribute to the
new community, their newfound strengths increase feelings of belonging
and decrease tensions in the family. The most significant lesson in the case is
that cultural differences need not present a real obstacle to developing feelings of belonging. Rather, cultural differences require more understanding,
mutual respect, and much more work.
“I want to be noticed and valued!” This case describes my three years
of therapy with a woman in her late 40s who agreed to leave her native
land and move to her husband’s country with their four children. When she
came to therapy, her four children were still at home. She came to therapy
reporting that she was feeling a distance between herself and her husband,
and she reported feelings of loneliness and depression. The analysis of her
lifestyle presented a very talented person in specific areas of the arts. She
claimed that if she remained in her own country, she probably would be
a famous artist. The focus of therapy was on her ability to actualize herself as an artist in the country in which she has chosen to live and to raise
her children.
During the lifestyle assessment I asked her to describe the steps she
would have taken to reach or realize her goal in her native land. It was not
surprising to me that she was able to describe rather specific steps to reach
20 Rachel Shifron
her goal. In therapy she was encouraged to proceed with her own strategy.
She made contacts with people around her, and she volunteered in several
activities in her community. As a result of her volunteer activities, she found
sponsors who encouraged her to show her work in exhibitions. Gradually,
the relationship with her husband improved. He encouraged her activities
and enjoyed her contribution. Although the relationship was not the focus of
the therapy, the fact that she had learned to appreciate herself and her work
and that she felt respected, accepted, and appreciated by others, including
her husband, drew her much closer to him and improved her feelings toward him.
It was a very slow process. In almost every session she brought early
recollections, pictures from her childhood home, and art projects and paintings of her recollections. This fascinating process was the onset of the shift of
her frustration and anger toward actualizing her real abilities. She started to
realize that she might become a real asset to her adopted community and to
her country of choice. In the early recollection she brought to our last sessions, she revealed her new outlook:
She was three, walking in the woods with her nanny, whom she loved very
much. She could smell the flowers; listen to the birds, and she sensed her
nanny’s hand holding hers. She described very vividly all the colors she saw
in the woods.
This memory was a metaphor for how she felt at her final session. She was
surrounded with people who respected and loved her, the relationship with
her husband improved, and she felt valued for her contribution to young
children and adults. Today, years later, she is a known artist and feels that
she belongs.
Therapy with Family Problems
Hidden depressions. Feelings of inferiority inhibit one’s ability to form
meaningful relationships as a couple, parent, or family member. The following is an example of an individual’s quest to find her place or sense of
Ada was a woman in her late 40s. She was an attractive, elegant, married
mother of four children. Her presenting issue was depression. She stated,
“My depression is because my husband is not an understanding man.” She
perceived her mother as a depressed woman who never took care of the
house or herself. “I was ashamed that my mother looked so neglected. I
never brought friends home. I didn’t want them to see my house. My friends
rejected me, they didn’t want my company, I felt left out and very sad.” Ada
Adler^s Need to Belong: Mental Health 21
described her husband’s family as very close and warm. His parents’ home
was a very comfortable and attractive one, and he had a close relationship
with his mother.
In therapy, she gradually became aware that she never wanted to be
part of her family of origin, that she detached herself from her parents and
siblings. She described that her siblings “were like her parents.” She felt
rejected by friends in grade school and high school. She developed the “creative ability” to disassociate from others when she felt unsure of herself and
her position. She had no chance to experience fully the feeling of belonging
nor the pride and happiness that is part of that feeling. During her married
years her solution to her depression was to stay alone in her room and completely detach herself from her husband and children. She thought that she
was successfully hiding the depression and protecting her family.
I saw her on and off for several years, and gradually we evolved into a
process of family therapy, when I started to see two of her children at the
time they experienced severe anxiety attacks. Both children felt that their
mother was not really there. Most of the sessions with Ada focused on how
she can use her creative abilities to bond and to feel that she belongs to
her family.
She was learning how to deal with her depression differently. Instead
of choosing to distance herself in order to protect herself and the others in
her family, she communicated her feelings and connected with her husband
and children. The fact that she could speak with her children about her anxieties helped them to realize that they have something in common with her;
it drew them closer together. Dreikurs (1991) stated that “The community
feeling is expressed subjectively in the consciousness of having something
in common with other people, and being one of them . . .” (p. 7). Ada had
always thought she was very different and that nobody felt like her. When
she realized that she is capable of developing an understanding relationship
with her husband and children, she felt that she belonged to her family and
was significant in the family she had chosen for herself.
“Does my mother care for me? Does my wife care for me?” Doubts
during early childhood about feelings of belonging are unfortunately a common part of modern life. Questions such as: “Does my mother really care
for me? Do my parents prefer my young brother and not care about me?”
become a major part of many people’s emotional existence. These questions
and doubts then become part of every relationship: in school, at work, in the
adult’s romantic relationships, and when one becomes a parent. The following case illustrates these questions and doubts.
Kurt is a very intelligent and insightful man in his late 40s. He is a married father of four. The reason he came for therapy is that he felt that his
wife did not care for him and he was sure there was another man in her life.
22 Rachel Shifron
During our work together, he found out that he tried to be a super father and
a super husband. He did everything perfectly! He was always very industrious, extremely productive, and effective. He became disappointed that his
wife did not appreciate his efforts. Additionally, she did not meet his standards, which were very high.
He realized that as a child he tried to earn love and attention by being
very good at everything he did. He never realized that his exaggerated efforts turned people close to him against him. Instead, he believed that he did
not try hard enough, and so he tried even harder. That vicious cycle finally
created the distance between himself and his wife. The more he wanted to
be accepted and appreciated, and to feel he belonged, the more profoundly
he felt that he did not belong, and the more lonely and rejected he felt.
He became gradually aware of the vicious cycle he had created. On
the one hand, he always tried to solve all problems in his life with no help.
“I can’t ask for help,” he said. On the other hand, he felt lonely and neglected. Kurt learned to ask for help and to admit weaknesses at times, and
this change helped him to feel accepted. He learned that asking for help and
admitting weaknesses can, in fact, increase feelings of acceptance and the
sense of belonging.
Mother and daughter-in-law. In recent years, I have observed a growing tension between young married women and their mothers-in-law. Many
serious and humorous books were written about the complex relations between the two most significant women in many a man’s life: his mother and
his wife. One of the common explanations of the problem has been that the
mother does not want to separate or let go of her son. However, in my work
I found many more mothers who were worried about their unmarried sons
than mothers who were worried about their son getting married.
Indeed, there are difficulties in the development of the relationship between married women and their mothers-in-law, and most ofthe difficulties
relatetothefeelingof belonging. The new bride wonders, “Will I be accepted
in the new family? I am different. I come from a different background, from
another family culture. I have other norms and a different set of priorities.”
The young woman may experience anxiety surrounding whether or not she
will feel that she belongs to the new family. When she is not certain that she
is accepted, she might invest her energy in her family of origin. Mothers-inlaw often strive to ensure that they continue to belong to their son and his
immediate family. They want to belong to his children and wife. The motherin-law’s biggest fear is the idea that she might be excluded. A short example
of a mild situation follows. It illustrates the daughter-in-law’s question, “To
whom do I really belong, to my family or to his family?”
Esther was in her early 30s and had been married for a year. She worked
full time in a very demanding organization. She was the youngest in her
family, with two older brothers. Fsther was in therapy for two years. The
Adler^s Need to Belong: Mental Health 23
presenting issue was her concern about the relationship with her motherin-law. Esther knows how significant her mother-in-law is in her husband’s
life; therefore, she does not understand why her mother-in-law is so sensitive
about her relationship with the young couple. The mother-in-law is insulted
easily and expects them to visit her more often, complaining that they visit
Esther’s family too often.
In therapy, after a thorough lifestyle analysis, the issue of belonging was
raised. Esther comes from a cultural background that focuses on extended
family gatherings. She refused to be excluded from these celebrations, and
because leisure time was very scarce, Esther’s spending time with her family became an issue with her mother-in-law. In her family of origin, she felt
safe, protected, and happy. Gradually her husband enjoyed the warmth of
her family and he joined those meetings happily. Esther realized that her
mother-in-law was very unhappy and angry. She withdrew and often refused
to meet with them.
As her therapist, I read and gave Esther a note as if it were a letter written by her mother-in-law:
It is important for meto feel that I belong to the family. You are my on/y family:
my son, my daughter-in-law, and my grandson. When I realize that you prefer to spend time with your family of origin, to which I feel I don’t belong, it
makes me sad, anxious, and angry.
Esther became very emotional when I read this note to her. She said she
never believed that her mother-in-law was so threatened regarding her place
in the family. Esther decided to talk with her mother-in-law openly and to
express how much she cares for her and how significant she is in their lives.
She was also going to explain to her mother-in-law the importance for Esther
that she maintains a close connection with her own family.
Only when Esther understood how important it is for her, herself, to
maintain her bond with her family of origin, could she appreciate her
mother-in-law’s needs. Feelings of warmth and empathy replaced feelings
of anger and frustration. Esther had a chance to talk with her mother-in-law.
They opened new channels of communication, and this allowed Esther to
realize that belonging is not an “either/or” situation. She realized that the
beauty of marriage is learning to belong to more than one family.
Addictions and the Need to Belong
My previous writings (Shiffron, 1999) and lectures have explained that
most addictions are goal-oriented creative behaviors in which the goal is
to escape existential fears of rejection and the feeling of insignificance.
The goal is achieved by excessively doing something that might help one
to belong.
24 Rachel Shifron
The anorexic girl wants to be accepted in a group where weight loss
is considered “in.” The alcoholic becomes the center of fun and joy in a
group and is encouraged for it. The compulsive cleaner thinks that he or
she contributes to others by serving their needs excessively. The gambler
wants to bring much more money to his family. Countless addictions can
be described in this way. The common goal is the desperate need to belong.
However, it is done in an excessive and destructive way. The outcome is an
addiction. In the following summary of a case, the client believes, “I think
she likes me better when I’m happy and talkative—the solution is to drink!”
Ted is a very quiet, withdrawn man in his 50s who has been married for
four years. He has been constantly criticized by his friends and his spouse for
being too quiet and not communicating well. He discovered a very “creative
way” to solve his problem. Whenever he drank alcohol, he became friendly
and talkative, and he became an asset in every gathering. His metamorphosis
was highly rewarded by his spouse. He enjoyed the quick and effective solution to his shyness and introversion, and he consequently formed a drinking
habit. He was desperate to be accepted by his wife, friends, and colleagues;
however, the more he drank, the less they liked him. The method, which
was helpful at the beginning, became the “poison of life.” His wife divorced
him, and most of his friends rejected his presence.
He went to an alcohol rehabilitation center. In his therapy, he started
to deal with his shyness, and he became aware of his need to connect with
others and to excel in his profession. In his profession he felt that his contribution was significant. He started to learn new methods to connect and to
feel that he was not alone, without the help of alcohol. This learning was a
very slow and long process of several years. As he learned to connect with
others and to increase his social interest, he felt a greater sense of belonging.
“Dynamically, the function of social interest is to direct the striving toward
the socially useful side” (Adler as quoted in Ansbacher, 1991, p. 30).
A Clientes journal
The following is a description of a therapeutic process written by a client
who kept a journal during the seventeen sessions we had. She was happy to
share her journal with me, and she gave me permission to choose some parts
of it for this paper. Her personal details were changed for confidentiality.
Her theme was: “\ have to be ‘more wonderful’ in order to belong.”
Sarah was a very bright, young, divorced woman. She came to therapy
to deal with some vocational issues. She worked as a freelancer many hours
every day, feeling tense and anxious most of the time. Her work became
the controller of her life, and she felt she needed help in finding a balance
Adler^s Need to Belong: Mental Health 25
among motherhood, love life, and work. The following are parts of her journal as she wrote it:
After the first session with Rachel, I understand that I follow my father’s model
of working very hard in order to achieve what I want; what is it that I want?
1 understand from an early memory I shared with Rachel that I am trying to
“mother” everyone, at work, at home, and with my romantic partners. In my
memory, my mother is chasing me with a full spoon of soup and I’m running
away. I can see how I take the responsibility for everyone at work and I’m
always sure that I have the “full spoon” and I need to continuously feed everybody, as I have so much “good food” that I have prepared, so please eat it! I
understand that in order to feel significant and needed I combined my father’s
work ethics with my mother’s need to feed. How well I apply it to the world of
work as well as to my other relationships!
In the following sessions, she wrote further,
Rachel asked me whether I want a new relationship in my life. At first, 1 said
that I have no time and no “room” in my life to invest in a new relationship,
but then I gradually understood that in my first marriage I did what I do at
work. I worked very hard, didn’t trust my husband’s ability to lead and care
for the family’s weM-being, and therefore assumed responsibility for the family and “fed” my husband with my “full spoon.” It destroyed the relationship.
Rachel said that I overdid things in order to feel needed all the time, until I
was burnt out completely! We gradually moved in the sessions to talk about
my wish to find the perfect man, the man who will allow me the freedom to be
independent and at the same time will not be dependent on me. When I think
about a relationship, I become anxious and fear that I’m losing my freedom. I
met many divorced men who were looking for a substitute mother rather than
a real friend and partner. I brought an early memory about the simple soup
and bread I used to eat at my aunt’s house and it felt so wonderful. Rachel
asked me if I have the ability to enjoy simple things in life. I thought about it;
yes, I do. As a young child, I did enjoy dancing with my uncle. These simple
things added so much meaning and fun to my life.
Rachel said that I want to feel accepted as I am, without trying too much. I
realize that I’m looking for a man who will accept me as I am, will respect my
need for freedom, one who will not expect me to take care of him but rather
become “a dancing partner.” I feel when I talk with Rachel as if I’m dancing.
This is the dance 1 would like others to join in with me.
In the last sessions, we discussed my relationship with my brother, who is
one-and-a-half years younger. I knovy from my mother’s stories that I was a
wonderful baby. My brother couldn’t accept it. He nagged, hit, and tortured
me, but my mother didn’t pay attention to my suffering. The only way to attract
my mother’s attention was through being “more wonderful.” It was important
to be the adorable child in a warm loving family. However, I have learned
that I’m responsible for myself, and I have to develop techniques to avoid my
brother’s torturing me. I have taught myself creative methods to survive!
26 Rachel Shifron
I understand from the last session that in order to be noticed and to feel that
I belong I have to be even “more wonderful.” I know that my work today is
highly appreciated and valued. I am aware of the fact that I need to put some
boundaries on the time I invest at work because I realized that “I am noticed”
even when I don’t try too hard. I understand that if I will succeed, to do so I
will feel that I am not controlled but rather gain control. I understand that the
metaphor about my mother chasing me with the spoon around the table is
actually what I have been doing to myself in my life.
I finally agree that I avoid dealing with the issue of a romantic relationship
in therapy and in life. I know that I perceive the risk of rejection as a real catastrophe in my life, and therefore I avoid the commitment to a relationship with
a man whom I respect.
I understand that I’m afraid of a relationship with a man who will control
my life as my brother used to do, and I became aware of the fact that in my
first marriage I looked for a man that I was able to control. I made a choice to
avoid living with a man who might control me. It was a bad solution. I didn’t
feel that I emotionally belonged to the relationship.
I discussed with Rachel my totality. When I do something, there are no
boundaries. I invest so much energy in my being total. 1 shared a memory
about my mother and her total devotion to our dog. Yes, I’m the same. I’m
Invested totally in everything that I assume as my responsibility. What is it
that I’m so afraid of? I know totality is aimed to achieve something. What is it?
Rachel asked what is it that I am running away from? Is my totality aimed to
avoid something?
In session fourteen I spoke again about my fears of a relationship with a
man. I shared an early memory. I was six when my parents argued. My father
threatened my mother, and she was very upset but stood up to him. I know
that it is a metaphor that describes my fear about a relationship. Even a nice,
loving, adorable man like my father could be mean and make me very upset.
I’m afraid of the fact that I might feel disappointed once more. It became
easier to avoid a relationship and to fantasize about the idéal man.
Rachel told me that I have a very good intuition. I’m a quick observer of
other people, and I’m creative in dealing with extremely complex situations. It
is possible for me to use these creative abilities in order to feel confident in my
choices and to have the courage to reduce some of my extreme behaviors that
enabled me to run away from choosing. 1 shared a few more early memories
about my first boyfriend when we were teenagers. I remember that I was too
controlling, which was the reason why I lost him. Am I today afraid that I’ll
be over controlling? I know that if I’ll be less demanding of myself and more
accepting of me as I am, I’ll be able to accept a man in my life. I’m on my
journey to find my ways and abilities to be moderate.
In my last concluding session, I described that for a long time I felt as if I
were sitting on a torch and therefore needed to keep running until I exhausted
myself. Now I feel that I operate from a quiet, relaxed me. I fully understand
that in order to feel that I belong to my family I needed to feel at all times
highly appreciated, accepted, and wonderful! I know I did it in all of my life
Adier’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 27
circles, with friends, in my marriage, and at work. I noticed that I could sense
my belonging only through extreme acting. I feel that in therapy I was like an
onion that is gradually peeled. I feel that I now reached the center, and I don’t
need to continue with my search for being “more wonderful.”
I decided that this is a good place to end the therapy and to enjoy my new
inner peace and to make sure that my children are noticed by me without their
putting too much effort In attracting my attention . . .
When I, as therapist, read Sarah’s journal it was an exciting, eye-opening experience for me. It helped me enter Sarah’s head and to appreciate the
tremendous effort one expends in order to belong. Sarah understood that
she used her childhood techniques to belong and to be loved in her adult
life. Her techniques were to work and to give. I hope the readers will join
me in thanking Sarah for her permission for us to “enter her head.”
The development of the child is Increasingly permeated by the relationships
of society to him. In time, the first signs of the innate social interest appear,
the organically determined impulses of affection blossom forth, and lead the
child to seek the proximity of adults. One can always observe that the child
directs impulses of affection toward others and not toward himself, as Freud
believes .. . the feeling of belongingness, the social interest, takes roots in the
psyche of the child and leaves the individual only under the severest pathological changes in his mental life. (Adler as quoted in Ansbacher & Ansbacher,
1956, p. 138)
Each child, according to Adler, uses creative power to overcome feelings of inferiority in the family. Each child is a creative individual who strives
to belong and to be significant through special contributions to the family.
Lack of encouragement often leads to isolation, anxiety, depression, or addiction (Lew & Bettner, 1995).
Adier’s (1935) optimistic psychology is encouraging to therapists because it focuses on the individual’s basic need to belong—a situation that
can be corrected and cured in the therapy process with the use of early
recollections. Using early recollections is a quick and accurate method to
disclose the creative abilities that enable a person to actualize the primary
goal of life, to belong. Encouragement of the individual’s creative abilities to
contribute serves to trigger one’s sense of social interest, and it creates feelings of belonging and a sense of emotional health.
While the need to belong is basic for every human being, each individual finds different and unique ways to satisfy this need. Tlie therapist’s
role is to unfold the individual’s creative special methods and to encourage
the person to use these constructively.
28 Rachel Shifron
Adler, A. (1932). What life should mean to you. London: Allen &
Adler, A. (1935). The fundamental views of Individual Psychology. International Journal of Individual Psychology, 1, 5-9.
Adler, A. (1991). The progress of mankind. Individual Psychology: The
Journal of Adierian Theory, Research and Practice, 47, 17-21. (Original
work published in 1937)
Ansbacher, H. L. (1991). The concept of Social Interest. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adierian Theory, Research and Practice, 47, 28-46.
Ansbacher, H. L., & Ansbacher, R. (1956). The Individual Psychology of
Alfred Adler. London: Harper.
Dreikurs, R. (1950). The fundamentals of Adierian Psychology. Chicago:
Adler School of Professional Psychology.
Dreikurs, R. (1991). An introduction to Individual Psychology. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adierian Theory, Research and Practice, 47,
Ferguson, E. D. (2006). Adierian theory: An introduction. Chicago: Adler
Holland, J. L. (1985). Making vocational decisions (2nd ed.). Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Huppert, F. A. (2008, October 22). Five a day—A well-being report to
the government. London Times.
Lew, A., & Bettner, B. L. (1995). Responsibility in the Classroom. Media,
PA: Connexions Press.
Linden, G. W. (1995). Holism: Classical, cautious, chaotic, and cosmic.
Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adierian Theory, Research and Practice, 51, 253-265.
Manaster, G. J., & Mays, M. (2004). Early recollections: A conversation.
The Journal of Individual Psychology, 60, 107-114.
Mosak, H. H. (1991). “I don’t have social interest”: Social interest as
construct. Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adierian Theory, Research
and Practice, 47, 309-321.
Shifron, R. (1999). Addictive behaviours: An Adierian perspective.
In P. Prina, A. Millar, C. Shelley, & K. John (Eds.), UK Adierian Year Book
(pp. 114-127). London: Adierian Society for Individual Psychology.
Shifron, R. (2006). Unemployment and reemployment: An Adierian perspective. In R Prina, A. Millar, C. Shelley, & K. John (Eds.), UK Adierian Year
Book {pp. 110-121). London: Adierian Society for Individual Psychology.
Adler’s Need to Belong: Mental Health 29
Shifron R. (2008). Coping with change: An Adierian model. In P. Prina,
A. Millar, C. Shelley, & K. John (Eds.), UK Adierian Year Book (pp. 70-77).
London: Adierian Society for Individual Psychology.
Shifron, R. (in press). Addictions—workaholism. In P. Prina, A. Millar,
C. Shelley, & K. John (Eds.), UK Adierian Year Book. London: Adierian Society for Individual Psychology.
Shifron, R., & Bettner, B. L. (2003). Using early memories to emphasize the strengths of teenagers. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 59,
Copyright of Journal of Individual Psychology is the property of University of Texas Press and its content may
not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder’s express written
permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

Get Professional Assignment Help Cheaply

Buy Custom Essay

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
Adier’s Need to Belong as the Key for Mental Health
Just from $10/Page
Order Essay

Are you busy and do not have time to handle your assignment? Are you scared that your paper will not make the grade? Do you have responsibilities that may hinder you from turning in your assignment on time? Are you tired and can barely handle your assignment? Are your grades inconsistent?

Whichever your reason is, it is valid! You can get professional academic help from our service at affordable rates. We have a team of professional academic writers who can handle all your assignments.

Why Choose Our Academic Writing Service?

  • Plagiarism free papers
  • Timely delivery
  • Any deadline
  • Skilled, Experienced Native English Writers
  • Subject-relevant academic writer
  • Adherence to paper instructions
  • Ability to tackle bulk assignments
  • Reasonable prices
  • 24/7 Customer Support
  • Get superb grades consistently

Online Academic Help With Different Subjects


Students barely have time to read. We got you! Have your literature essay or book review written without having the hassle of reading the book. You can get your literature paper custom-written for you by our literature specialists.


Do you struggle with finance? No need to torture yourself if finance is not your cup of tea. You can order your finance paper from our academic writing service and get 100% original work from competent finance experts.

Computer science

Computer science is a tough subject. Fortunately, our computer science experts are up to the match. No need to stress and have sleepless nights. Our academic writers will tackle all your computer science assignments and deliver them on time. Let us handle all your python, java, ruby, JavaScript, php , C+ assignments!


While psychology may be an interesting subject, you may lack sufficient time to handle your assignments. Don’t despair; by using our academic writing service, you can be assured of perfect grades. Moreover, your grades will be consistent.


Engineering is quite a demanding subject. Students face a lot of pressure and barely have enough time to do what they love to do. Our academic writing service got you covered! Our engineering specialists follow the paper instructions and ensure timely delivery of the paper.


In the nursing course, you may have difficulties with literature reviews, annotated bibliographies, critical essays, and other assignments. Our nursing assignment writers will offer you professional nursing paper help at low prices.


Truth be told, sociology papers can be quite exhausting. Our academic writing service relieves you of fatigue, pressure, and stress. You can relax and have peace of mind as our academic writers handle your sociology assignment.


We take pride in having some of the best business writers in the industry. Our business writers have a lot of experience in the field. They are reliable, and you can be assured of a high-grade paper. They are able to handle business papers of any subject, length, deadline, and difficulty!


We boast of having some of the most experienced statistics experts in the industry. Our statistics experts have diverse skills, expertise, and knowledge to handle any kind of assignment. They have access to all kinds of software to get your assignment done.


Writing a law essay may prove to be an insurmountable obstacle, especially when you need to know the peculiarities of the legislative framework. Take advantage of our top-notch law specialists and get superb grades and 100% satisfaction.

What discipline/subjects do you deal in?

We have highlighted some of the most popular subjects we handle above. Those are just a tip of the iceberg. We deal in all academic disciplines since our writers are as diverse. They have been drawn from across all disciplines, and orders are assigned to those writers believed to be the best in the field. In a nutshell, there is no task we cannot handle; all you need to do is place your order with us. As long as your instructions are clear, just trust we shall deliver irrespective of the discipline.

Are your writers competent enough to handle my paper?

Our essay writers are graduates with bachelor's, masters, Ph.D., and doctorate degrees in various subjects. The minimum requirement to be an essay writer with our essay writing service is to have a college degree. All our academic writers have a minimum of two years of academic writing. We have a stringent recruitment process to ensure that we get only the most competent essay writers in the industry. We also ensure that the writers are handsomely compensated for their value. The majority of our writers are native English speakers. As such, the fluency of language and grammar is impeccable.

What if I don’t like the paper?

There is a very low likelihood that you won’t like the paper.

Reasons being:

  • When assigning your order, we match the paper’s discipline with the writer’s field/specialization. Since all our writers are graduates, we match the paper’s subject with the field the writer studied. For instance, if it’s a nursing paper, only a nursing graduate and writer will handle it. Furthermore, all our writers have academic writing experience and top-notch research skills.
  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment  Help Service Works

1.      Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2.      Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3.      Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4.      Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

smile and order essaysmile and order essay PLACE THIS ORDER OR A SIMILAR ORDER WITH US TODAY AND GET A PERFECT SCORE!!!

order custom essay paper