Psychological Compensation

All of us are born with imperfections. Some people are naturally overweight while others are made fun of for being overly thin. For one person throwing a baseball is second nature, while another person is born with no athletic talent. Whether it is a speech impediment, a skin complexity, a learning disability or any number of other problems, there remains one question: How does a person who is born with one of these conditions cope with it?

Learning to cope with a deficiency and fitting into society is where psychological compensation comes into play. Nobody wants to be seen as different, and we all have our own ways of dealing with our shortcomings. Compensation is one way that we can feel better about ourselves and develop the self-esteem that is necessary to lead a fulfilling and happy life. Compensation is a strategy whereby one covers up, either consciously or unconsciously, feelings of frustration, inadequacy, incompetence or desires by striving for excellence in another area. Maybe you have an asthma problem and cannot run a very long distance, but you have a knack for playing musical instruments. You may feel inferior in gym class, but compensate for it by excelling in orchestra or band.

Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler, founder of the school of individual psychology, coined the term compensation. Individual psychology emphasizes the drive to overcome feelings of inferiority by compensation and the need to achieve personal goals that have value for society. Compensation is a coping strategy that has an important influence on behavior; it can cover up real or imagined deficiencies, along with personal or physical inferiority. He believed that people compensated for a behavioral deficiency by exaggerating some other behavior. If one feels inferior or weak he or she usually tries to compensate for it somewhere else.

There are different types of compensation, or coping strategies. Some of these are positive while forms of compensation are negative. Positive compensations may help one to overcome his or her difficulties and lead to feelings of value and self-worth. However, negative compensations do not help one surmount his or her imperfections. This can result in a reinforced feeling of inferiority, a feeling that others are always stronger, smarter, quicker, etc. There are two kinds of negative compensation: In overcompensation, superiority is the goal. Overcompensation leads to striving for power, dominance and self-esteem. It is always putting others down in order to feel better about you. Under compensation includes a demand for help and leads to a lack of courage and a fear for life because one feels that he or she is unable to perform up to par and does not want to try.

By nature, most people strive for perfection and to be the best. No matter how a person responds to a physical or mental limitation, the field of psychological compensation asserts one thing: When people unable to perform better or just as well as their peers, they will find a way to compensate for this weakness and learn to excel in another area to build a sense of worthiness.