In the last post I discussed a concept I coined called Personal Nature. The concept of Personal Nature represents to a specific individual what the concept of Human Nature represents to the collective human race.
Human nature represents the evolved and conditioned behaviors, traits, and instincts of the human race. Human nature describes how the human race tends to view the world and its role in it, along with the its preferred strategy for choosing and pursuing collective goals, dealing with obstacles, developing its preferred coping mechanisms for handling and conquering adversity, and forming value systems. Personal nature on the other hand represents the evolved and conditioned behaviors, traits, and instincts of a particular individual. Personal nature describes how that individual tends to view the world and his role in it, along with his preferred strategies for choosing and pursuing goals, dealing with obstacles, developing his preferred coping mechanisms for handling and conquering adversity, and forming value systems.
Alfred Adler had a very similar concept to Personal Nature called Style of Life, or Life Style. Adler was the one who actually coined the term life style. Now, however, a lifestyle is one word and means something very different than what Adler intended, which is why I felt another term should be coined so as to avoid confusion.
What Adler called the Life Style and I call Personal Nature was a person’s consistent pattern of dealing with life, especially setbacks and interpersonal relationships. As this website describes:
Adlerians are concerned with understanding the unique and private beliefs and strategies (one’s life style) that each individual creates in childhood. This cognitive schema and life style serve as the individual’s reference for attitudes, behaviors, and one’s private view of self, others, and the world. It is when we have looked at our early life experiences, examined the patterns of behavior that repeat themselves in our lives, and the methods by which we go about trying to gain significance and belonging that healing, growth, and change occur.
The Wikipedia entry for Style of Life says:
The term style of life (Lebensstil) was used by psychiatrist Alfred Adler as one of several constructs describing the dynamics of the personality.
It reflects the individual’s unique, unconscious, and repetitive way of responding to (or avoiding) the main tasks of living: friendship, love, and work. This style, rooted in a childhood prototype, remains consistent throughout life, unless it is changed through depth psychotherapy…
The style of life is reflected in the unity of an individual’s way of thinking, feeling, and acting. The life style was increasingly seen by Adler as a product of the individual’s own creative power, as well as being rooted in early childhood situations. Clues to the nature of the life style are provided by dreams, memories (real or constructed), and childhood/adolescent activities.
The Wikipedia entry continues:
Adler felt he could distinguish four primary types of style. Three of them he said to be “mistaken styles.”
- the ruling type – aggressive, dominating people who don’t have much social interest or cultural perception;
- the getting type: dependent people who take rather than give;
- the avoiding type: people who try to escape life’s problems and take part in not much socially constructive activity.
- The fourth life style considered by Adler is the socially useful type: people with a great deal of social interest and activity.
Or as this website describes it:
Adler describes four basic life styles: (1) The first type is well-adjusted and does not strive for personal superiority but seeks to solve his problems in ways that are useful to others as well as himself. (2) The second type wants to prove his personal superiority by ruling others. (3) The third type wants to get everything though others without an effort or struggle on his own (4) The fourth type avoids every decision.
You may notice that the three “mistaken” lifestyles correspond to the three faulty coping mechanisms I often mention in my blog posts: overcompensation, surrender, and avoidance.
Many schools of psychology have their own version of the Life Style concept. For example in Transaction Analysis, there is a concept called the Life Script:
Life (or Childhood) script
- Script is a life plan, directed to a reward.
- Script is decisional and responsive; i.e., decided upon in childhood in response to perceptions of the world and as a means of living with and making sense of the world. It is not just thrust upon a person by external forces.
- Script is reinforced by parents (or other influential figures and experiences).
- Script is for the most part outside awareness.
- Script is how we navigate and what we look for, the rest of reality is redefined (distorted) to match our filters.
Each culture, country and people in the world has a Mythos, that is, a legend explaining its origins, core beliefs and purpose. According to TA, so do individual people. A person begins writing his/her own life story (script) at a young age, as he/she tries to make sense of the world and his place within it. Although it is revised throughout life, the core story is selected and decided upon typically by age 7. As adults it passes out of awareness. A life script might be “to be hurt many times, and suffer and make others feel bad when I die”, and could result in a person indeed setting himself up for this, by adopting behaviours in childhood that produce exactly this effect. Though Berne identified several dozen common scripts, there are a practically infinite number of them. Though often largely destructive, scripts could as easily be mostly positive or beneficial.
Schema Therapy has a similar concept that it calls “schemas” or “lifetraps.”
A schema is a pattern that starts in childhood and repeats itself throughout your life. For example, you may have been abandoned, abused, dominated, or emotionally deprived as a child — you were damaged in some way. But then it became part of you, and now it drives you to keep repeating the pattern.
A schema or lifetrap determines how you interpret the world. It organizes how you think, feel, act, relate, and understand.
As you have no doubt realized by now, what Adler meant when coining the term life style is very different than what the term lifestyle currently means. Lifestyle now refers to the job you have, the type of people you hang out with, how much money you make, how much money you spend, the places you choose to spend your money, what you choose to spend your money on, what social “scene” you identify with (hipster, preppy, hip-hop), the types of places you party at, how hard you party, how much you travel, where you travel to, your marital status, how much sex you have, how impressive your home and neighborhood are, what type of car you drive, and how popular you are.
The term went from defining a person primarily by their inner world, personal history and unseen core beliefs to defining a person primarily by their outer world, present circumstances, superficial appearances, externals, and observable behavior. The meaning of the word lifestyle changed because the way our society chooses to define a life’s value has changed as well. This shift in the meaning of the term lifestyle mirrors our society’s metamorphosis into a culture of narcissism. The way a narcissism judges the worth of a human life is now the way general society judges it as well.
- Personality Theories: Alfred Adler (webpage)
- Alfred Adler: Style of Life and Social Interest (webpage)
- Chapter 2 from Adler’s book “What Life Should Mean to You” (webpage)