My favorite photos of myself are those that were taken when I was a toddler. There are a fair number in my parents’ basement, but not nearly as many as there are of the kids growing up today, whose parents can catch every moment on their smartphones, so I cherish the pictures I have. Most of the pictures from the earliest years of my life were taken around particular events – usually birthdays and holidays. They capture moments when I was celebrating family, community, and life in general, so I love to look back on them.
One of my favorite photos was taken the day before Easter, the year I was four years old. In the photo, I am in the middle of dyeing Easter eggs. I am standing in front of the table, which my parents have covered with a plastic tablecloth in order to protect it from the vinegar that is used in Easter egg dye. The smell of the vinegar is actually one of the things I remember most vividly from this moment – it wafted through the house as my mother prepared the dyes from the kit that we had picked out at the grocery store only a few hours earlier. The kit itself is in the picture too, sitting on the table. It’s one of those cardboard kits that provides a few different dyes, wire egg-holders to use when removing eggs from cups of dye, and Easter-themed stickers to decorate the eggs after they have dried. The box also has punch-out holes out so that you can stand the eggs up while they dry. At the moment that the photo was taken, I must have already been at it for awhile, because there are nine hard-boiled eggs resting on the kit. I smile a little when I see that the majority – three out of the nine eggs, plus one that is still in the cup of dye – have been dyed my favorite color, purple.
Of course, the small smile that the photo brings to my lips today can hardly measure up to the high-wattage grin that I was wearing when it was taken. I am smiling hugely at the camera, my hair wild, my toddler-chubby arms resting on the table. In that moment, I was giddy with anticipation. It was nearly Easter, which meant that I had lots to look forward to the next day. When I woke up in the morning, the Easter bunny would have hidden the eggs that I had dyed, and I would race around the house and the backyard with my Easter basket until I had found them all. The coming of Easter also meant that Lent was finally over, so I could eat jelly beans and marshmallow Peeps as I searched. After that, my family would go to church, and then there would be a big family dinner of lamb and vegetables to celebrate the holiday. In the photo, my excitement is evident– I loved dyeing eggs, and I couldn’t wait for what the next day would bring.
Because this photo was taken at a moment of anticipation for me, it represents many of the concepts embodied in Adler’s theory of individual psychology. Remembering myself in the photo, it is clear that subjective perceptions were shaping my behavior (“Theories of Personality, 5/e,” 2017). I was dyeing the eggs in preparation for what I expected to be a perfect holiday, on one of the best days of the year. In my imagination, there would be no black jelly beans (licorice, my least favorite flavor) in my Easter basket. I wouldn’t rip a hole in the knee of my tights when I fell on the grass, searching for Easter eggs. There would be no arguments between my mother and my grandmother over how much pepper to put in the carrots. In the end, although these perceptions may not have been in line with reality, they shaped my behavior – I got ready to celebrate. My mindset was forward-looking (“Alfred Adler’s Personality Theory and Personality Types,” 2015), and I couldn’t wait for what the future would bring.
The photo also represents a particularly interesting developmental stage of my life. According to Eric Erikson, the time between the ages of three and five represent a lively, sometimes aggressive period of development, in which toddlers explore the world and assert their independence (McLeod, 2017). Looking at the picture, I can see those qualities in the way that my eyes are wide open, eager to take in everything around me. At the same time, my hair is wild and unruly – I was much more interested in dyeing Easter eggs than allowing my mother to sit me down to try to tame the tresses.
Looking at the toddler in the photo, I have definitely changed a lot: Having learned only a little about the world at the time, I was naïve to a lot of the challenges that I and the people around me would face in the future. Since the moment that picture was taken, I have been through a lot of Lents, and I have celebrated lot of Easters. However, I think that my similarities to the toddler in the photo outweigh our differences. Both then and throughout my life, I have held a distinct appreciation for family and community. It was this appreciation that shaped my desire to pursue a career in mental health. In line with Adler’s theory of striving for success (Watts, 1999), I am motivated by my desire to celebrate community and improve the lives of others, which is a style of life that I have maintained, in some form, since the photo was taken. Therefore, the toddler in the photo is ultimately no stranger to me.
- Alfred Adler’s personality theory and personality types. (2015). Journal Psyche. Retrieved from http://journalpsyche.org/alfred-adler-personality-theory/
- McLeod, S. (2017). Erick Erikson. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.simplypsychology.org/Erik-Erikson.html
- Theories of Personality, 5/e. (2017). McGraw Hill. Retrieved from http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0072316799/student_view0/part2/chapter3/chapter_outline.html
- Watts, R. E. (2012). On the origin of striving for superiority and of social interest. In Alfred Adler Revisited. Routledge.