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Schneiderman, L. (1969). Individualism and the Problem of Guilt. Psychoanal. Rev., 56B(2):313-326.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56B(2):313-326

Individualism and the Problem of Guilt

Leo Schneiderman, Ph.D.

Adler1 has distinguished clearly between authentic individualism and neurotic rebellion and self-isolation. The former attitude enables one to live his life creatively and in a humanitarian spirit. The latter orientation leaves the real problems of life unresolved. Neurotic resentment, no matter how it is disguised, cannot lead to a constructive outcome, because it is, in essence, negative and defensive. For Adler, then, the question of individualism is inseparable from that of social participation. He sets up a precondition for being true to oneself, and that is a willingness to help others to fulfill themselves.

Adler's psychological system, taken as a whole, presupposes that individualism must be rooted in guiltless involvement in the struggle for a better society. Adler was well aware, of course, of the obstacles to attaining a constructive life style. One of these obstacles is excessive guilt feelings. I propose to analyze these life-denying guilt feelings, and to describe some of the characteristic distortions of individualism to which they give rise.

It is best to start by asking why men who want to live a life of principled nonconformity often become guilt-ridden and consequently fail to attain their goal. In this connection, the experience of guilt does not necessarily grow out of the act, or intended act of rebelliousness, but depends on what one is rebelling against. One can try, for example, to differentiate himself from society viewed as the “establishment,” or a power system of conventional institutions and norms.

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