What Life Could Mean To You

by Alfred Adler (1931)

3. Feelings of Inferiority and Superiority'

The goal of superiority

We should be careful not to make too hasty an assessment of any particular striving for superiority, but we can find in all goals one common factor - a striving to be god-like. Sometimes we find children who express themselves quite openly in this way, and remark, 'I should like to be God'. Many philosophers have had the same idea. There are also some teachers who want to train and educate children to be like God. In old religious disciplines the same objective is visible: disciples should educate themselves in such a way that they become god-like. This concept of god-likeness appears in a more modest form in the idea of 'superman', and it is revealing - I shall not say more - that Nietzsche, when he became insane, signed himself in a letter to Strindberg, 'The Crucified'.
Insane people often express their goal of god-like superiority quite openly: they will assert, 'I am Napoleon', or 'I am the Emperor of China'. They wish to be the centre of worldwide attention, to be constantly in the public eye, to be in radio contact with the whole world and overhear every conversation. They wish to predict the future, and to possess supernatural powers.
In a more moderate and reasonable way, perhaps, the same goal of god-likeness is expressed in the desire to know everything, to possess universal wisdom, or in the wish to perpetuate our life. Whether it is our earthly life we desire to perpetuate, or whether we imagine ourselves as coming to earth again and again in many incarnations, or whether we foresee immortality in another world, these expectations are all based upon the desire to be like God. In religious teachings it is God who is the immortal being, who survives through all time and eternity. I am not discussing here whether these ideas are right or wrong: they are interpretations of life, they are meanings, and to some degree we are all caught up in this meaning - God and god-likeness. Even the atheist wishes to conquer God, to be higher than God; and we can recognize this as a peculiarly strong goal of superiority.

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