Overcompensation: What It Is And How It Influences The Mind According To Alfred Adler


The term “overcompensation” was extensively studied by the Viennese physician and psychotherapist Alfred Adler widely known for being the founder of the school of individual psychology, as well as for having been a collaborator of Sigmund Freud.

Overcompensation in psychology is the exaggeration or aggrandizement of a certain capacity that a person possesses with the aim of disguising or covering up another characteristic or capacity that they consider to be inferior compared to other people, this self-perception being real or imaginary. In Adler’s theory, overcompensation is closely related to the inferiority complex.

In this article we will see in more detail what both the concept of overcompensation and the inferiority complex consist of.

What is overcompensation?

Although The concept of overcompensation had already been used by Sigmund Freud it was Alfred Adler, the founder of the school of individual psychology, who introduced this term in his theory in relation to the feelings of inferiority suffered by some people, thanks to which this concept took greater consideration in the field of psychology. .

And Adler’s theory of individual psychology has as one of the foundations the belief that one of the main motivations of people’s psyche is this tendency to try to compensate for one’s own physical characteristics that people consider to be “inferior” to those of other people

In other words, overcompensation is the tendency to try to exaggerate a series of capabilities that a person has in order to cover up or compensate for other capabilities or characteristics that they consider to be inferior to those of other people, which may be real. or even imaginary, the result of an exaggeration created in their imagination.

In the process of overcompensation, it can also happen that a person has any type of physical or cognitive impairment and tries to correct it in an excessive and even exaggerated way

Overcompensation and inferiority complex in psychology

The inferiority complex is made up of a series of attitudes, mental representations and behaviors related to a feeling of inferiority with respect to other people. It could be said that the inferiority complex is a personal feeling of inadequacy

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Adler in his theory of individual psychology used this construct to give a central meaning to that way of self-perception that some people have, relating some aptitude or physical characteristic, which they considered to be inferior with respect to the functionality they consider it should have ( For example, a person has a complex with their arms because they think they are “too thin” and that they will not allow them to pick up heavy objects, and may even underestimate their own strength).

So, in his theory he meant that people tried to overcompensate for that physical characteristic that causes them to have a complex or feeling of inferiority (e.g., to “compensate” for that complex that he has with his arms, he usually always carries Long sleeve t-shirts).

Adller became especially interested in the study of the inferiority complex and the negative and positive effects of self-esteem during the time in which he worked with children who had some type of physical disability, in which observed notable differences in his patients’ ability to achieve, and some of them achieve great success in sport, seeing in them a great motivation to surpass their own abilities day by day. At the same time, other patients felt despondent about their disability and had no motivation to try to progress. Therefore, Adeler understood that these differences were due to the self-esteem of each of them,

In psychoanalysis, there are manuals on the subject that explain that the inferiority complex has been characterized by a struggle to achieve certain unrealistic or unattainable goals, thus causing insecurities and complexes in the person.

Freud considered that the inferiority complex was a symptom that should be analyzed in psychotherapy sessions in reference to the possibility that there were two types of causes for this complex: real or imaginary. Likewise, Freud referred to the inferiority complex, regardless of whether its cause is real or imaginary, as a series of thoughts about oneself that could trigger feelings of guilt or even depression being in any case a negative evaluation of oneself.

Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology

To better understand overcompensation, it is convenient to better understand Adler’s theory of individual psychology, which in its psychological approach emphasizes studying and understanding people, with all their characteristics, as a whole that is in contact with the environment in which they live. that they live, since Adler conceives the human being as a unitary being that is fixed in its environment. That is is influenced by what happens in the community in which he lives On the other hand, Freud gave less importance to the environmental context and focused more on the intrapsychic life of people.

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At the same time, Adler sees the human being as an entity that worries about its future, and not so much about its past, as Freud did, which guides it by its own instinct for self-improvement, which keeps people motivated to put launching a series of tasks that allow the achievement of goals that have previously been proposed.

Therefore, there are two fundamental ideas in Adler’s theory: people’s desire for superiority and sense of community

Inferiority complex

This sense of community is given by the fact that people are social beings who need relationships and unity with other people for their survival. On the other hand, the desire for superiority is the motivation that people have to improve throughout their lives and is also related to the sense of perfectionism. So this desire for superiority and perfectionism is produced in the social context, given that by nature human beings tend to be competitive and compare themselves with others.

At the same time, this desire for superiority and perfectionism is usually triggered by people’s attempts to compensate for some feeling of inferiority, by perceiving some kind of weakness or weak point of their own compared to that of other people around them, and this could seen as a form of overcompensation. According to Adler, All people suffer from this feeling of inferiority at some point in their lives and to some extent, so they try to overcompensate in some way

Adler believes that this feeling of inferiority could be very pronounced and cause great discomfort in those people who suffer from complicated problems throughout their childhood that make them feel insecure or also in those who suffer from a physical limitation of any kind. The importance that Alfred also gave to the impact of experiences during childhood in adulthood is due to the influence that Freud had on him, and Adler also considered that certain complicated events in childhood could condition the rest of his life.

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Its relationship with people’s lifestyle

According to Adler’s theory of individual psychology, all human beings live driven by an impulse to improve what he calls a lifestyle, which can be understood as all the choices and all the actions that a person makes throughout their life in order to overcompensate for the feelings of inferiority that the person experiences. person.

So people, according to Adler, usually lead a lifestyle that gives meaning to their beliefs and at the same time allows them to progress toward their goals.

Here we see again Adler’s premise that people function as wholes that try to achieve a promising future that overcomes the current situation in which they live, so that a better constant is produced in different areas that each person considers important and that also serve as an overcompensation for any feeling of inferiority.

Adler’s theory of lifestyle has three central concepts:

Example of overcompensation

In childhood and adolescence, comparison with other people is very common at the same time that people tend to be more insecure in these stages of their life due to lack of maturity, among other factors, at the same time that their self-concept and personality have not yet fully developed.

When a child feels inferior, due to the perception that he is surrounded by other children who are more intelligent and stronger, this inferiority motivates him to do certain things in order to improve himself and achieve specific objectives, which could be a way of overcompensation.

It must be taken into account that if this child has a psychological balance, achieving success could be beneficial and consolidate self-confidence, while if he does not have a mental balance, achieving success does not alleviate his feelings of inferiority, so he could develop an inferiority complex.