Importance of Birth Order Theory: Case Study of Adolf Hitler

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“Androgyny is not trying to manage between the opposites; it is simply flowing between them”, says American analytical psychologist Dr June Singer. The past few years have been a period of dramatic changes in how people view others as well as themselves in terms of their respective gender roles. The preconceived notions regarding the traditional gender roles and the roles that each individual has to play in their own lives have been challenged, discussed and debated upon. The whole world is embracing changes and so do the people. Androgyny falls into the category of such changes which gives a broader idea to gender roles; a form of integration rather than that of polarization.

Sex-roles can be conceptualized in a different manner rather than the usual way of classifying into either masculine or feminine. This re-conceptualization focus on a combined aspect more than singular, independent concepts. Further, it reflects the idea that androgyny deals with a combination of both masculine and feminine traits that are interchangeably used to perform various life roles. In the light of androgyny, masculinity and feminity are not considered as contradictory; instead they are now regarded as complementary. Bem (1974) suggested the most familiar definition of androgyny: having the flexibility to engage in both masculine and feminine behaviors as the specific situation warrants. Since such a flexibility exists, androgynous individuals differ from one another with respect to their beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, values, life roles and so on. These variations have brought about different ways of defining psychological androgyny among the research community.

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In light of these information, it is advisable to discuss various theoretical concepts in relation to androgyny. There exists several theories of personality that deal with how the personality and related characteristics of an individual is formed, what factors influence personality growth and so on. Alfred Adler’s theory on personality is a framework of how an individual’s personality is formed. This theory emphasizes the importance of birth order (whether the individual is the first born, second born, last born, only child etc.) in the development of personality. According to Alfred Adler’s birth order theory, the category of ‘only boy among girls’ may tend to be effeminate. Also the category of ‘only girl among boys’ may show tendencies to be tomboys and try to outdo the brothers. While a masculine self-concept leads to the inhibition of feminine behaviors, and a feminine self-concept to the suppression of masculine behaviors, the androgynous individual integrates both feminine and masculine traits. There is a chance for these two birth order categories to show psychological androgyny. In this context, it is important to make a comparison between the two categories.

Alfred Adler (1870-1937) developed theories of personality that focused on a therapist's need to understand an individual within the context of social environment. According to Adler, character traits and behaviors derive primarily from developmental issues, including birth order. Apart from the usually discussed categories of firstborns, middleborns, lastborns etc, Adler has also mentioned about various other birth order categories in his theory. Adler describes an only boy among girls. He suggests, this boy may develop into an adult who is always trying to prove his manhood or, conversely, may become effeminate. An only girl among boys may become very feminine or, attempting to outdo the boys, may become a tomboy. She may also tend to work hard to please her father.

In this context, it is important to discuss about the concept of psychological androgyny. The 1970s brought forth a new concept in masculinity and femininity research: the idea that healthy women and men could possess similar characteristics. Androgyny emerged as a framework for interpreting similarities and differences among individuals according to the degree to which they described themselves in terms of characteristics traditionally associated with men (masculine) and those associated with women (feminine). Androgyny comes from the Greek word andros meaning ‘man’ and gyne meaning ‘woman’. An androgynous person is, therefore, one who has both masculine and feminine characteristics. Masculinity and feminity consist of a multitude of dimensions and so androgyny can be viewed as a combination of these dimensions.

The major underlying assumption of this perspective of sex roles is that the individual may act in either a traditionally masculine or a traditionally feminine manner, depending on situation constraints and needs. An androgynous person is characterized as having both high masculine and high feminine traits without employing a gender schema; circumstances dictate which trait feminine or masculine is exhibited by an androgynous person. Research on psychological androgyny has tried to address mainly two questions which focused on Western cultural assumptions about socialization to traditional sex roles, thereby discussing psychological adjustment and mental health of individuals who are psychologically androgynous.

Psychological androgyny is a term used to describe someone whose personality traits fall somewhere in between the traits that are typically associated with males and those that are typically associated with females. In other words, psychological androgyny refers to a person’s ability to be at the same time nurturant and aggressive, rigid and sensitive, and submissive and dominant. The main explanation for the improvement of psychologically androgyny is offered by Sandra Bem. She is an American psychologist recognized for her works in gender and androgyny studies. This was something close to a revolution in how people think of gender. In other words, this brought about a sense of flexibility in terms of gender. Sandra Bem’s approach is based on gender schema theory wherein children have functioning schemas.

The gender schema theory tries to explain the cognitive process that happens as people learn and internalize gender roles. This theory denotes that gender becomes a core lens through which people learn to see the world, recognize people, things and characteristics as being inherently feminine and masculine. Sandra Bem states that if a person takes on both feminine and masculine personality traits in profusion, they become mentally androgynous. It means that they can pick personality traits as they want and people are not inhibited by cultural stereotypes symbolizing their sex. However, it is essential that one should not be confuse psychological androgyny with hermaphroditism. When an individual is a hermaphrodite, he is of mixed sex. Thus the person’s sex may not be definable. The androgyny person, on the hand other hand, has mixed gender.

Psychologically androgynous individuals may be able to interact with the external world in terms of a much varied and rich spectrum of opportunities. Since androgyny is a broad concept, it allows individuals to accept and embrace not only the strengths of their own gender but also that of the other one. This further paves the way for people with psychological androgyny to increase their repertoire of responses to the environment by almost two times than the non-androgynous individuals. This also allows them to come out of the dichotomy of some of the traits that are stereotypically allotted to each gender. When individuals who are psychologically androgynous in nature possess abilities to make use of behaviors that might be both assertive and yielding, instrumental and expressive and also both feminine and masculine, strongly sex-typed people may have a more limited “behavior arsenal”.

There has been different views on the psychological well being of individuals who are psychologically androgynous in nature. Contradicting viewpoints exist regarding the self esteem of such individuals. Several researches has also taken place to find out whether psychological androgyny is psychoprotective in nature. There has been arguments that psychological androgyny is adaptive in nature. Also that it has close associations with creativity and greater social adjustment.

The current study also includes the concept of self-esteem. Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself; an overall evaluation of one's worth or value. Self-esteem is only one component of the self-concept, which Rosenberg defines as 'totality of the individual's thoughts and feelings with reference to himself as an object”. It can be considered a sort of measure of how much a person “values, approves of, appreciates, prizes, or likes him or herself” (Adler & Stewart, 2004). It can be said that self-esteem comes into being when the ‘self’ present inside a human body can make value judgments based on internal or external sources or factors. Consequently, the judgments or evaluations may become very subjective which adds on to the diversified experiences or observations on self-esteem of different individuals. Fundamentally, in order to make such value judgments, one has to put together some basic frameworks like what one really is and what one is doing into an understandable and relatable concept. In its essence, the self-esteem of an individual can be summarized as all the judgments that the person can make about him or her while assessing oneself, what one possess, who one is, what he or she is capable of etc.

Self-esteem is not the same as the self-concept. However, self-esteem can be a part of an individual’s self or the self-concept. Self-concept deals with the individuals idea on who he or she is. It is basically how one answers the question of “Who am I?”. So it is necessary that self-esteem be considered as a different yet related construct to self-concept.

Early experiences in an individual’s life may contribute to his or her level of self-esteem. Parents, siblings, teachers, peers and several other significant figures in the individual’s life has an apparent role in contributing to his or her own self-esteem, thereby allowing those individuals to approach life-events and life in general with more confidence, enthusiasm as well as assertiveness. According to the World Health Organization’s recommendations mentioned in “Preventing Suicide” published in 2000, it is essential to strengthen students’ self-esteem in order to protect children and adolescents against mental illnesses, distress and despondency, thereby empowering and also enabling them to adjust, cope, manage and overcome difficult, stressful or negative situations in life. This can also help people in setting their goals appropriately and also in finding better ways of achieving them. However, it is essential to consider the importance of maintaining a balance regarding this construct. This in turn means that it is ideal to strike a balance between high and low self-esteem. To be more precise, maintaining a realistic yet positive view of oneself may be considered as the best way of putting it all together.

The term ‘self-esteem’ has been widely used in various contexts and has been centered upon conceptualizations that are closely related to personality variables that may deal with how people generally feel about themselves, based on their feelings of self-worth and also regarding their ways of evaluating their own abilities as well as attributes. So, people high self-esteem evaluate themselves more positively and experience higher feelings of self-worth than do low self-esteem people (Brown, 1998). Because of this complex nature of the concept of self-esteem, many researchers use it in different ways. This explains the fact that the dynamics of self-esteem is complex in nature and it requires a deeper understanding of the related concepts of self-esteem too.

Self-esteem does seem to have two .good effects (Baumeister, 2013). These good effects primarily include happiness because the value judgments that one makes about oneself may define how happy he or she is about his or her self. This is more evident in those with high self esteem. In fact, the person feels happy to consider how good he or she is. The other good effect or benefit of high self-esteem is initiative. This means that high self-esteem may help individuals in trusting and also acting on their own beliefs and impulses.

Another related concept being studied is cognitive flexibility. Cognitive flexibility is the human ability to adapt the cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions in the environment (Cañas, Quesada, Antolí and Fajardo, 2003). This increases an individual’s ability in adapting to new situations, encountering changes, overcoming obstacles thereby finding novel and flexible ways of facing them. It is generally said that the cognitive flexibility increases with the number of neural pathways and connections made in the brain. The more number of neural pathways available, the more connections can be made.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to break old cognitive patterns, overcome functional fixedness, and thus, make novel (creative) associations between concepts (Guilford, 1967). In other words, cognitive flexibility refers to the brain's ability to transition from thinking about one concept to another. This means that the quicker the person is able to switch or shift their thinking from one dimension (e.g. color of an object) to another (e.g. shape of an object), the greater their level of cognitive flexibility. In its essence, cognitive flexibility may help individuals pursue complex tasks. This may include multitasking and finding new, innovative or adaptable solutions to various problems as well as changing demands.

This kind of flexibility is also responsible for updating new information into the person’s belief system. This is especially important when the person comes to know some piece of information better than his or her own existing knowledge. Cognitively flexible people may also have an expanded sense of awareness. Since they can easily adapt to new situations, they may also be able to become more resilient during times of stress. Being cognitively flexible allows you to see different points of view with empathy and understanding, which is a particularly important skill in today’s diverse society. As a result, such individuals may look out for new information and new experiences in life. Cognitive transitions are relatively easier for such individuals. It is to be noted that there exists varying degrees of cognitive flexibility. Even if two individuals are cognitively flexible, one may be more efficient in shifting between concepts and thus may process information faster than the other person.

Cognitive flexibility can be viewed as an aid to various other thought processes. This factor may allow individuals to consider multiple aspects of an object or situation. This is especially important when one has to think and find multiple solutions to real-life problems and other related situations. Consequently, the individual with higher level of cognitive flexibility would try to view the situation from various perspectives and therefore, they may be able to find different alternatives of thoughts as well as actions to deal with the situation. Different researchers have varying views on this cognitive flexibility and hence some view it as a very complex concept. Controversies exist in this case and the fact that cognitive flexibility is a cognitive skill or a property of the cognitive system is still debatable.

Thus, it is very important to consider the level of self-esteem and cognitive flexibility in relation to psychological androgyny among the two birth order categories of ‘one boy among girls’ and ‘one girl among boys’. This may reveal significant information regarding how androgynous individuals are different from the masculine, feminine and undifferentiated types with respect to their self-esteem and also the ability to be cognitively flexible. It is a notable aspect that the integration of both feminine and masculine characteristics in an individual may allow him or her to act in different ways according to the needs of the situation. Acting according to one’s own will and interests may also give the person a sense of confidence in oneself which may or may not manifest in his or her own self-esteem. However, there can also be chances that such androgynous individuals may encounter chaos and confusion due to their contradicting ways of behavior in varying situations. This can in turn affect their level of self-esteem and sometimes may hinder their flexible ways of thinking too.

Earlier research literature suggests that there are no existing significant researches on the two birth order categories of ‘one boy among girls’ and ‘one girl among boys’. Here ‘one boy among girls’ refers to a male adult who has two or more sisters but not brothers and ‘one girl among boys’ refers to a female adult who has two or more brothers but not sisters. In that case, the findings of the current study would be useful for the research community and related fields. Another fact to be noted is that there are contradicting studies regarding the self-esteem of androgynous males and females. If psychologically androgynous individuals lack self-esteem, then this information would be an eye-opener for the research community. Consequently, it helps in suggesting some of the techniques in which such individuals can be trained in order to boost their self-esteem. Also different views on cognitive flexibility of androgynous individuals exist. This means that there are varying opinions or views as well as findings associated with the relation of psychological androgyny with respect to the other two variables, which include self-esteem and cognitive flexibility. The current study is intended to aid this set of existing knowledge about these variables.

The results of the research may also add on to the information regarding individuals who are psychologically androgynous. Since the study is regarding the birth order categories, this may also be useful for effective parenting, dealing with siblings and various other concepts related to families. On the other hand, the research may be of practical application in family therapy, especially for cases with systemic causes. Systemic causes include those causal factors that mainly involve the individual along with a prominent issue in ‘systems’ that the individual is a part of. These systems may include the settings like family environment, educational settings like schools, society that he or she belongs to, peer groups and various other settings that form a system. Such causal factors have to be brought into attention because they may manifest in the form of various psychological symptoms in individuals.

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Importance of Birth Order Theory: Case Study of Adolf Hitler. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
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