Holism and Compensation Explained Through Aaron SpellingTags: Adler, bullying, motivation, theory
Aaron Spelling’s obituary appeared in the New York Times on June 24th, 2006.
He was noted as “the most prolific producer in American TV” with hits like “Dallas”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “Beverly Hills 90210” and on and on. Mr Spelling was a hard working man with a long and successful career.
In reading about his early formative years, (as us Adlerians love to do) the obituary revealed that he was born in Dallas in 1923 to a poor immigrant family from Russia. His father was a tailor and they struggled with prejudice as a Jewish family in the South of that era. Apparently, Mr. Spelling, a frail child, “was so traumatized by bullying that at age 8 he psychosomatically lost the use of his legs for a year and was confined to bed. But that turned him into an avid reader (Twain was a favourite) and would-be writer.”
That story reminds me of two Adlerian principles I teach in my parenting classes: holism and over-compensation.
Adler was a physician before becoming a psychiatrist. He knew how the human body worked, and he recognized the involvement of the human psyche in a mind-body connection that is far more accepted today than it was at the turn of the century. He explained that we are unified in our being and everything is tied and woven in a way that unites us in a singular direction. That idea was contrary to Freud who argued that the we are divided into an id, ego and super ego that fight against each other. The loss of use of Spelling’s legs meant being confined to bed and safe from the bullying. Spelling could make himself sick as a solution to his bullying problem. The human mind is a wonderfully powerful and creative thing!
This story is also interesting because his bed-rest turned him into a reader and eventual writer. Adler wrote that it is not what you “got” but what you “choose to do with it” that is important. Spelling created his own handicap, but he still managed to find a usefulness in his sad situation. If he had not found himself up against the bully, perhaps he would not have become an avid reader, perhaps he would not have become a producer, perhaps there never would have been a Charlie’s Angel for me to watch and dream of being all smart and sexy like Kate Jackson and where would I be today!
I am not suggesting we should put our children up against bullies. I make this point because life is about facing challenges of all kinds and it is fallacious to think we should remove challenges from our children’s experience. Adler’s own childhood experience of being told he was going to die of pneumonia by his family doctor upset Adler and it lead him to defy the doctors prognosis and to pledge to himself that he would become a doctor himself. Students with terrible teachers pledge to become teachers in an attempt to do it the way it should be done! Don’t sanitize your child’s life – it only weakens their ability to handle challenges later. The more important consideration is what your child decides to make of the problems they have.
In Spelling’s career, we see that his initial feelings were of being inferior; he was a poor sickly immigrant, with bug eyes and twiggy limbs and he felt he had to compensate for these perceived shortcomings. Humans never just compensate – they over-compensate – just as your body lays down MORE bone when healing a broken one. If you loose your sight your hearing becomes acute. There is a law of overcompensation at play in the psyche as well. I believe Spelling’s success and over achievement as a TV producer was a result of this drive to compensate for feelings of inferiority.
So when you ridicule him for the extravagance of having snow delivered to his mansion in LA so his children could have a white Christmas – maybe now you’ll see it from a different perspective.
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