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  • Writer's pictureMya L. Adams M.Ed., LAC

Your Personality - Was it Predicted 100 Years Ago?

This edition of Mindful Moments is all about Alfred Adler’s Birth Order Theory. Take in a little history, learn what your birth order might suggest about you, and if any connections to mental health exist. Happy Reading!

Kind of a Rebel

Over 100 years ago, Austrian psychotherapist, Alfred Adler set out to understand human behavior. Adler’s contributions to the field of psychology have been lasting. He emphasized the importance of understanding the subjective experiences of individuals as well as the role of social factors in shaping one’s personality. This was a rather unique perspective for the time. A hundred years ago much of our understanding on human behavior was defined by the work of Sigmund Freud, who was a big supporter of determinism. Freud believed that human behavior was largely determined by unconscious drives, things which we have no control over. Appropriately so, critics argue this deterministic view fails to acknowledge free will or environmental/external influences on human behavior.

Adler not only broke away from the (then) primary understanding on human behavior, but he also revolutionized what a therapy session looks like. Guided imagery, role-playing, and encouragement all have roots in Adler’s work. Unlike a session with Freud, which was likely to resemble the stereotyped image of therapy: the client laid back on a couch, facing away from the therapist, while their every word was analyzed. The way Freud saw it the therapist could find underlying repressed thoughts and emotions within the client. However, Adler opted for a more collaborative therapeutic relationship and focused on empowering clients to take control of their lives and make positive changes.

Birth Order Theory

Adler developed Birth Order Theory, which suggested the order in which we are born influences our personality. He believed that each birth order came with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

In a nutshell, he believed something like this:

  • First Born Children First born children are often described as responsible, ambitious, and conscientious. They tend to be natural leaders while seeking approval and validation from authority figures. First borns may also be perfectionists, as they often felt pressure to set a good example for their younger siblings.

  • Second Children The second child is often competitive as well as ambitious. This competitive nature can often look like sibling rivalry. Second children often set high goals and try to ‘outdo’ others. Sometimes second born children are more successful than the first born but can easily give up on their own goals if the first born is high achieving. Optimism is a common trait of the second born child.

  • Middle Children Middle children are thought to be more flexible and sociable than their siblings. They often develop strong negotiation and peace making skills, as they navigate between the demands of the older and younger siblings. Middle children may feel overlooked at times, leading them to seek attention through other means, such as humor or rebellion.

  • Youngest Children Youngest children are often characterized as charming, outgoing, and creative. They may be more risk-taking and adventurous, as they seek to differentiate themselves from their older siblings. Youngest children may also be more dependent on others for support and guidance, as they are used to being taken care of by their older siblings.

  • Only Children Only children may exhibit traits similar to both first borns and youngest children. They often receive a lot of attention and resources from their parents, which can lead to high expectations and a strong sense of responsibility. Only children may also struggle with sharing and compromise, as they are not accustomed to competing for attention with siblings.

  • Psychological Birth Order One’s psychological birth order is one’s perceived position within the family and is more crucial than numerical birth order. Perceived position and actual birth order can be different. For example, someone may be numerically a middle child but take on oldest-child responsibilities/traits if the chronologically eldest sibling has a disability.

Mental Health & Birth Order

Our understanding of mental health was in its infancy during Adler’s time, remember this was 100 years ago. Making connections from birth order to mental health is not exactly what Adler set out to do. He focused more on personality development and understanding/explaining human behavior. Today we understand mental health is multifaceted and influenced by various psychological, biological, social, and cultural factors.


It's important to note that birth order theory is a general frame work and may not apply to every individual. Other factors, such as gender, family size, and cultural background, also influence personality. Additionally, research on birth order theory has been mixed, with some studies supporting its validity and others finding little to no evidence of its effects.

The wide variety of things that make you who you are all deserve attention!

-Mya L. Adams M.Ed., LAC

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