The Struggle for Happiness— It’s a Normal Thing

By Michelle Doerr, PPC Advanced Adler member

The concept of accepting your imperfect self as normal is difficult for most people. Many see “normal” as a magical, unattainable state, a place where people are perfect and happy— other people, not them. Yet it’s interesting that no one can really describe that magical place. Why? Because normal isn’t a fixed place and it’s not perfect. It is a place everyone experiences to different degrees.  And I’ve found that it is a place you can visit more and more, a place that will make you happier. I’m working on it, and you can too.

Involve Others

This isn’t a conclusion I’ve come to on my own. I’m part of a group of amazing women who came together last year to study the individual psychology of Alfred Adler taught by John Reardon at Phoenix Process Consultants. Our group comes from all walks of life; art, science, medicine, journalism and business. We have various levels of education and experience. What we have in common is that our study of Adler’s psychology of social inclusion has shown us the path to summon courage and strength to handle our work and personal difficulties in a new, productive way. We have found that our struggles are common to everyone (we’re all normal!)

We consider ourselves para-professionals who spread the word that you can make your life happier, permanently, with the tools you already possess. We have learned that we’re all normal, but have times when we falter. Contentment is a matter of how we behave as we face our struggles. Yep, we all have those struggles.

I find this knowledge both comforting and terrifying. I am normal because I’ve overcome significant challenges in my life. At times, I’ve also behaved strangely as a result of mistaken beliefs that I developed early in life. Yep, you did that too. But I am learning to celebrate my resiliency, uncover my mistaken beliefs and make decisions that aren’t influenced by my outdated beliefs. And I am happier as a result!

“What is Normal?”

Our paraprofessional group developed a list of “What is Normal?” as a place to begin. We identified “normal” as a place of struggle; it’s normal to struggle. The belief that happiness is lack of struggle is foolish. Happiness is finding meaning in life, and to find meaning is to recover from struggle.

Normal is:

•Being free to be imperfect. No one is perfect.

•Willingness to struggle. We all struggle.

•Accepting and taking responsibility for choices.

•An openness to vulnerability.

•Being open to and giving constructive criticism (keyword—constructive).

•Both/and thinking (instead of either/or).

•Asking for help or counsel.

•Encouraging, not discouraging.

•Assuming everyone else is normal.

An Exercise in Normal

Here’s an exercise to help you understand that we all are very much normal and atypical. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On the left column write the word “Normal.” On the right column, write “Problem behavior.” Now think of some ways you behave normally and write them in the left column. I go to work each day. I eat a healthy breakfast. I tell my family I love them. I give to charity. I keep my house clean. On the right side, write down the stuff that you complain about but don’t take action to fix. I often miss deadlines at work so I get in conflict with coworkers. I complain about my weight but continue to eat at the buffet or only exercise once per week. I snap at my teenage child for every small mistake even though I know it’s dividing us.

This exercise is meant for you to recognize that you have both, lots of both. Understand that you behave normally at times (or even have moments of excellence) and “abnormally” at times. The thing is, so does everyone else. The great thing is, you can increase your normal behaviors, and this will increase your happiness.

Identify. Plan. Act.

We’ve learned in my paraprofessional group that if we encourage good behavior in ourselves, we’ll be happier. We must also use what we already do well to move the bad behaviors around. Take a look at what you’ve written on the left-hand side of the paper and think about ways you can use that trait to improve something on the right. For instance:

•How can I use my ability to keep my house clean to improve my ability to manage deadlines at work? I put all of my deadlines on my calendar and then reached out to negotiate the deadlines I knew I couldn’t make. For the most part, my coworkers adjusted and I have a better sense of my priorities. I will set time each Monday to review and track progress on my deadlines.

•How can I use my ability to eat a healthy breakfast to improve my junk eating or overeating the rest of the day? We often eat at buffets for lunch so I will suggest another location or commit to walking during the lunch hour at least three times per week. Maybe even get those same coworkers to join you.

•How can I use my ability to tell my family I love them every day to work to become more patient with mistakes made by my child? I can change my snap judgments to something like “because I love you and want you to succeed, I want to help you correct your mistakes. How can I help you so the mistake doesn’t happen again?

A Continuous and Magical Process

Once you take small steps to change, you’ll gain the courage to take bigger steps. I continue to work toward making my life happier and am at peace knowing that I’m not alone in facing challenges and in struggling.

“I am not very creative,” I said once as our group was talking about writing this article. “That’s a little neurotic,” one of the other gals said. “What about those cute [creative holiday] ornaments you gave us in December?” We all laughed. I’d been busted and vowed to use my creativity toward this writing.

We’ve started to catch each other making these useless statements about ourselves and are starting to see how some of them really are counter-productive. We’re learning to claim our inferiorities and work to change and be happier.

Wouldn’t your life be a lot more magical if you did the same?

The Advanced Adler Certificate consists of four classes, each 16 hours in length. They are:
Humankind and Primal Adler
Life Movement – Normal and Neurotic
Exploring and Claiming Spiritual Freedom
Personal Authenticity – Professional Identity
For more information or a description of the classes, contact us at 952-922-8822.

Canticle of the Leaves

By guest blogger Portia Heller

As I look out the window, I swear I can see the leaves actually burgeoning right in front of my eyes. I always love these too few days of green blush that covers the barren branches. The pale, yet vibrant green is a shade that is much too fleeting. Maturity will soon grab the reins and rush the entire pallet into the deep, verdant emerald of pre-summer. Interesting. As I think about that, every year for my entire life, I have wished I could halt this youthful, leafy exuberance. Guess that is the normal cycle in all humans. We want our little ones to stay in the glory of innocence, because it is so extraordinary, and we know that with the cloak of maturity come the storms and winds, and in the case of the leaves, the bigger the leaf, the more area to catch those winds and be shredded, or torn, or brutally ripped from the branch.

America’s Most Cooperative Act

It was Alfred Adler who told us that our most “primal” goal was to survive and that adapting is our most “normal” action. He also reminded us that cooperation is natural, and competition is a cultural invention to be superior “over the others”. He was quite sure that from birth on we are “strivers to overcome” minus feelings and situations. And, he let us know that striving “against the others” was neurotic and unhealthy. And that “striving with the others” is fundamentally “normal”.

In a country like the USA, that prides itself on competing, striving against the other, and Constitutionally protects (if not “glorifies”) “self interest”; how do we find a beacon that promotes cooperation? It is quite simple. It is something most of us do each day, or we rely on others to do it for us. We drive cars, and ride in buses. We travel streets, roads, highways, and superhighways. 

Coast-to-coast we are all moving simultaneously on thoroughfares. Millions are in motion, on the right side of some path. We are acting on basic human desires. We want to: Get home. Get to work. Go to recreate. Take a trip. Deliver goods and services.

Most of the time we have a basic order that parallels that of a beehive. Coming and going, mindful of others, capturing the “honey of purpose”. We move quite freely, based in a shared “common sense” agreement that longs for safety, and being treated as an equal.

Is it perfect? Not at all. We have accidents. Injuries, even deaths. It is very noteworthy, that these human mistakes and tragedies shake us. Someone, quite like us has been harmed. Once we get past the anger, blame, and outrage, we feel the sadness and disbelief of loss of convenience, limb, and life.

All of this brings us back to a basic human innate possession. We have “free will” and freedom of choice. When we look closely at the accidents. Injuries, and deaths we see freedom exercised in a “self-interested and non-cooperative way.” “I was in a hurry.”  “I was drinking.” “I was texting.” “I do not use seat belts.” “I was distracted and went the wrong way.” “Move out my way–this is my road!”

While this use of freedom and choice grieves us, we know it comes from a heightened feeling of “self-interest”. We also know it is held in place by an excusing of the self. And, also an aggression to overcome personal inferior feelings. These feelings can lead to the excluding of “the importance of the Other”.

Conversely, think of how many of us arrive safely at home, at work, at places of enjoyment and fun day in, day out. In the words of Adler, many receive sound and care-filled training in “Social Interest”, “normal” ways of adapting with others, and a desire to live in a Community of security, belonging, and significance.

Perhaps the next time we are out there we should see our drive as a dance, a play, a demonstration, or a game.Something we are doing together. We are, after all, making this daily journey, and a much larger journey together. Right?
John Reardon}


STRUGGLE—————-John M. Reardon

It all starts in struggle.
Pushed and taken out,
Of that place of dark peace,
With easy given nurture,
Of free given growthful life stuff.

Otto Rank said it best, each of us “is a hero in our birth”. It is
the heroic overcoming of the terror of suffering loss of our known world. Us
reacting to a loss inflicted by an “outside force” moving us in
unwanted ways.

In our bodies and our primitive forming brain this struggle is etched. Perhaps
a life long resistance to being “pushed” is
ingrained. And, our tendency to dislike being “rushed”, and wishing
to slow things down is forged.

In this nascent state, our primitive feelings of smallness, weakness, loss, and
panic are being imprinted. A primal and sentient feeling of
“inferiority” is growing. At some point, our “steam valve of
spirit” bursts, and we take a first action. We cry!

Our survival protest explodes,
Against, our, dangling in air.
Cut off, disconnected, lost,
We squirm, shake and thrust about.
They come. Soothingly they hold us.

Birth is our initiation into our social nature and life. The struggle of birth
creates our first “minus” experience. We exercise our first social
action—we cry. They respond to us. We have just resolved our first big
struggle. Crying has brought us a “felt plus”; the “minus”
has changed.

Alfred Adler told us, “Each is the artist of their own personality.”
With birth we have begun our life long artistry. We are now “wired”
to want to move the “minus to a plus”. “Minus to plus” is
one of the major canvases we will paint on. Each new struggle affords the
opportunity to grow and develop. Each struggle affords us a new moment ripe
with creativity.

Struggle also provides us with a new image. Struggle makes each of us “a
life athlete”. In its Greek roots, athlete, carries a deep human meaning.
Athlete is—“the one who enters the arena and struggles for the
prize.” The Greeks also had another word that may well describe “the
prize”. Arête. Arête, calls us “to be the best possible self”.
These are coupled tightly with Adler’s “primal” understanding of
human as having an urge to grow and develop, and to do so within a
“community feeling” marked by Social Interest and contribution.

Within our “struggle for the prize”, we have what Adler called “innates”:
—we will strive “to overcome the minus”.
—we will strive to move from “inferiority” to
—“superiority” is our Goal—thus—we are goal oriented,
overcoming, and movement oriented.
—Adler identified the “primal” Goals as:
—–to survive
—–to procreate
—–to adapt in a given environment
—–to be victorious in that adapting in that environment.
—we have a “creative force” inside us that is “identical with
the Life Force” that will help us.
—our striving, overcoming, adapting, and surviving will be done with Social
Interest and Self Interest.
—in Social Interest we will strive “with” the others in cooperation
and in contribution.
—in Self Interest we will strive to overcome “inferiority” by
moving “against” the others in competition and self

Adler was quick to understand and let us know that the “innates” could be used in a manner that would be
“useful” or in a manner that would be “useless”. Striving
“with” was seen as “useful”. The hopeful and encouraging
message of Adler is—our “innates” will
help us in all the struggles and difficulties Life confronts us with. Perhaps
one of the biggest mistakes in the psychological Life Style of being
“against”, is to fear and to reject “the reality” that Life
is made up of struggles and difficulties.

Within the desire to deny that Life will challenge us with struggles and
difficulties there lurks a more formidable reality. Change is a given in our
lives. Struggle and difficulty are the children of Change. Adler was pretty
clear that “Normal” people adapt and swim successfully in a sea of
Life and Change. Swimming and helping others swim brings belonging and
significance, as well as security. By trying to escape, fight, and exclude
struggle, those with “neurotic” patterns live with anxiety and the
fear of the undertow of discovery of their own inferiority. Fighting the
struggles and difficulties usually creates a sinking feeling. And, denial is a
tool that one can practice to stay out of the water of Life. The consequence is
clear—anxiety driven isolation.

Within Change, there is another dynamic that helps us use our “innates”.  In the face of struggle and difficulty
we can make any struggle more difficult, by using “dualism”, and an
“either-or” view of Life’s movement. It is interesting that this view
of Life’s movement came out of many stories of the Creation. Note:


We now know that the true dynamic of Life is CHAOS. Note: CHAOS is the movement
between states of:


We do well to read struggle and difficulty as a state of Order and a state of
Disorder. Adler would guide us to understand that the Goal, and chosen
direction and movement create Order and disorder. And, along with the
“either-or” story from Creation there was an assumed judgment—Order
was “good” and Disorder was considered “bad”. Adler was
able to show the following:
—order can create difficulty and struggle.
—disorder can also do that.
—order as a way to handle difficulty and struggle may be “useful”
and also be “useless”.
—the same is true of how disorder is done.
—both order and disorder activate minus feelings, inferiority, striving to
overcome, the goal of superiority, and movement that may be “useful”
and “useless” based on Social Interest and Self Interest as goals and
—movement “against” will create difficulty and struggle, and probable
—movement “with” may settle difficulty and struggle, and bring
possible order.
—our “innate” “creative force” can generate
“order” and “disorder”, the “useful” and
“useless” behavior and results.

What forces can pull us away
From our deep embedded self?
Who can conjure our clear soul,
Seducing us toward “easy”?
Who makes any struggle a dis-ease?


Given the description of our
foundational experience with struggle and difficulty, and a solid grasp of our
innate capabilities to handle both struggle and difficulty, what is mitigating
against the handling of struggle and difficulty from being a primary life norm?
From this observer’s point of view, there are 2 forces that are promoting
“the easy” and “stress less life”:

—trend in parenting

—device centered life


Concerning parenting:

What is the impact of a parenting
style that emphasizes both protection and validation? With no struggle, how
would a child get to use and strengthen their “spirit to overcome”?
How would they develop a sense of self, an esteem for self, by not having to
confront “minuses” and learn to turn them to a self
generated “plus”? In a “praise” oriented validation
culture, how would a child ever learn to be “self-encouraging”?


Why do some parents think their
children are “incapable” of handling the stress and strain of
challenge? What will it take to help parents shift from “protection
from” to “protection for”? In the “old neighborhood”
culture, protection was a neighborhood, therefore community action. Does parent
protection from having their children experience defeat, failure, and loss help
the children be more human?


Concerning Devices:

—interesting how
“selfies” are used to fulfill a personal “significance”

—the logic—if I show you and
tell you who I am, you will treat me as significant.

—how does one achieve
significance without acting with others, and demonstrating character?

—why would someone think that
if they say they are “important” without any human contact and action
with others, anyone would believe them?

—is there any “real”
and authentic belonging and significance without “real” tangible
human contact?

—how does the isolation
inherent in the use of the device, to gain belonging and significance,
inoculate the user from the stress, strain, disagreement, conflict, and
disappointment innate in “real” person-to-person human


Finally, Adler told us what
Normal is:

—when we adapt to real life
circumstance. And,

—our adapting inadvertently
benefits others. And,

—we use our energy and courage
to overcome life’s difficulties we are Normal.

What are some of the actions we
must take:

—share widely, how
“innately” we are equipped to handle struggle and difficulty.

—train people working with
others in this human understanding.






—–medical personnel

—–community organizers

—offer through schools and
churches to support parents who will use the “innates”
with their children.

—train young people and those
entering human development professions on “engagement” using the

—support people in using their
“innates” and the importance of persistent

—learn to appeal to
“innate” qualities in people experiencing struggles and difficult

—form “community”
among those trained in this grounded and engaged process.

—continue to write and speak
about the “human capability based in human innates”.


And so, our work begins. John M.




In an age of instantaneous communication, rapid change, tweets, twitters,
“selfies”, as well as 24/7 news, noise, and opinion, it is important
to be grounded. In this light, the key question is–“What is Normal?”

In the “Science of Living” (p. 41), Alfred Adler tells us what
“Normal” is. Grasping “Normal” alters how one sees their
life and practice. The significance, and “Common Sense” of Adler’s
reading of humanity as “Normal”, once internalized, changes life, Life
Tasks, and Life Style.

Having allowed the meaning of “Normal” to excite and awaken; several
practice decisions and changes were taken:
1) In contrast to the “symptom and disorder orientation” of the
“medical model” of practice, the simpler “Normal” as an
action in a life movement was embraced.
2) Adler’s clear description of “Normal” made assessing
“barriers” more specific and human.
3) This assessing and transforming of “barriers” was used to form a
“Wellness Process” that was piloted with 8 individuals. Action within
this process demonstrated how when “Normal” was grasped as the basis
for one’s unique humanity, many fears, anxieties, and pretenses ceased to have
power in the participant’s life.

This experience led to some conclusions. Once we were aligned with participants
and had started with and were working through the belief “You are
Normal” the resulting assessing of “barriers” was clear, more
open, and honest. Further, all activity including interaction, disclosure,
psycho-ed, and intervention fit what was going on “in the moment”. In
fact, the “You are Normal” dialogue was a first and powerful

What was it about Adler’s stated belief that gave courage, encouragement, and
hope to both therapist and participant? Read and hear Adler (p.41–Science of
—the normal person lives in society.
—their mode of life is so “adapted” that–
—society derives a certain advantage from that work.
—psychologically, they have energy and courage to meet problems and
difficulties as they come along.

Using Adler’s grounding wisdom a simple assessment was created and used:
Start: “We talked about ‘how Normal you are,’ let’s go further.” (Use
scale—1=low & 10=high)
—now, how are you doing living with others? (Use scale and describe)
—what are “barriers” to your relating? (Record)
—how is your “adapting” to life’s events and circumstances going? (Rate)
—what barriers do you note to “adapting”? (Record)
—how much do you see others benefitting from your actions? (Rate)
—what are “barriers” to their benefitting? (Record)
—how well do you accept life’s problems and difficulties? (Rate)
—how well do you use your energy and courage to meet life’s difficulties?
—what “barriers” do you have to meeting life’s difficulties? (Record)

This simple assessment helped shape both the one-to-one and seminar meetings
that were staged. Individual and group work sessions were alternated. This fit
Adler’s contention we are unique individuals, and very socially embedded, by
nature. The personal claiming and expressing of “my normalcy” created
both personal courage, and a strong community bond based on self-disclosure.

Along with the exploration of “Normal”, within the first seminar,
Adler’s powerful belief in our innately human “sense of inferiority and
inferiority feeling” was mapped and shared. The dialogue about these two
innately human realities had two purposes. The first was, to set a pathway to
claim personal authenticity. And the second was, to contrast such authenticity
with Adler’s portrayal of “neurosis” (“Alfred Adler
Revisited”—article “What is Neurosis?”).

The purpose of “neurosis” being to escape the discovery of personal
“inferiority”. And, to use pretense, distraction, and safeguarding
excuses, aggression, and exclusion to maintain a pseudo-Superiority. All of
which promote a highly anti-Authentic Life Style.

The net effect of the Wellness Process was:
—embracing “Normal” and “inferiority” helped participants
clearly grasp their Authenticity.
—Authenticity was worked on within self and with “the
—doing this work socially created a self-confidence, and a useful
—participants see that their Wellness and Authenticity are a life long
process of growth.

Through this experience, the “Power of Normal” was palpable and


–John M. Reardon




On June
7-10, 2018
 the Adler Tribe will gather in Toronto. The
focus will be “Social Interest in Challenging Times.” That is a compelling
challenge, calling forth transforming effort and energy. Adler was definite:
Social Interest is the mark of mental health.


As “People of Social
Interest” we ask:

—how is Social Interest
innate in humans?

—given the “current
state,” what do we face?


Adler in his article
“Origin of the Striving for Superiority and of Social Interest” (in
“Alfred Adler Revisited”– p. 49-56– hereafter AAR) declares that
“the striving for perfection is innate.”(p. 49) Further, that
striving “is innate as something which belongs to life, a striving, an
urge, a developing, a something without which one could not even conceive of
life.”(p. 49)


Also, on that page, Adler

—“to live means to
develop.” And-

—“in the ovular cell
rests the fundaments for the development.” And-

—“we are dealing
here with something primary, something which adhered already to primordial


What to expect

What you can expect in and from your PPC experience:

  • We work hard to schedule based on your time availability.
  • Your story, struggles and life difficulties are heard and respected as normal.
  • You are assisted in setting “Your” goals.
  • Each session is an exercise in the experience of interaction, exercises learning, self discovery, and setting more positive life direction.
  • Length of sessions (1-4 hrs) are based on goals and desired results.
  • Mid course evaluations are used based on goals, and fewer overall sessions are required to reach goals.

When you are ready, we are prepared to engage and help you create a Life worth Living.

To start: Call PPC 952-922-8822, and set an appointment.


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