Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Clinical: Approaches · Group therapy · Techniques · Types of problem · Areas of specialism · Taxonomies · Therapeutic issues · Modes of delivery · Model translation project · Personal experiences ·

In psychoanalysis compensation has a more specific meaning and is the name of a defence mechanism. In psychology, compensation is a strategy whereby one covers up, consciously or unconsciously, weaknesses, frustrations, desires, feelings of inadequacy or incompetence in one life area through the gratification or (drive towards) excellence in another area. Compensation can cover up either real or imagined deficiencies and personal or physical inferiority. The compensation strategy, however does not truly address the source of this inferiority. Positive compensations may help one to overcome one’s difficulties. On the other hand, negative compensations do not, which results in a reinforced feeling of inferiority. There are two kinds of negative compensation:

Overcompensation, characterized by a superiority goal, leads to striving for power, dominance, self-esteem and self-devaluation.

Undercompensation, which includes a demand for help, leads to a lack of courage and a fear for life.

A well-known example of failing overcompensation, is observed in people going through a the midlife-crisis. Approaching midlife many people (especially men) lack the energy to maintain their psychological defenses, including their compensatory acts.


Alfred Adler, founder of the school of individual psychology, introduced the term compensation in relation to inferiority feelings. In his book Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation (1907) he describes this relationship: Each individual has feelings of inferiority. Additionally, Adler states that there is a strong, natural tendency to conceal these feelings, since they are regarded as a sign of weakness. Therefore they find their expression in a striving for superiority. This mechanism may explain why some disabled people come to excel in a certain sphere of activity, see for example: Stevie Wonder, Glenn Cunningham, and Demosthenes. (Interestingly, Adler's interest in the phenomenon developed from his knowledge that he was shy and yet that he pushed himself to give academic lectures to auditoriums of students.) This striving can manifest itself in many different ways, therefore each individual has his or her own way of attempting to achieve perfection.

Thus, Alfred Adler transferred this idea of compensation to the area of psychic training. Contemporary psychoanalysts like Alexander Müller, Kurt Adler, Sophia de Vries, Alexander Neuer and Henry Stein elaborated on the theory of Adler in many different areas.

Cultural implications:[]

Christopher Lasch, a well-known American historian and social critic described in his book The Culture of Narcissism (1979) the North American society in the 1980’s as one with a narcissistic color. Narcissism in psychoanalytic theory can be seen in the light of compensation: people who are narcissistic suppress feelings of low self-esteem by talking highly about themselves and making contact with persons they admire. Lasch also describes the idea (of Melanie Klein) that narcissistic children try to compensate for their jealousy and anger by fantasizing about power, beauty and richness. The narcissistic society Lasch describes is characterized by worship of consumption, an excessive fear of aging and death, a fascination with fame, and a fear of dependency.

The worship of consuming as Lasch terms it, is described in an article by Allison J. Pugh: From compensation to ‘childhood wonder’. Today’s market economy acquisition of commodities is an important factor in the creation of experience and identity in people’s lives. Consumption therefore has been put forward as a means of compensation. The strong symbolism of using goods to convey human relationships, can for example urge parents into various act of consumption in order to compensate for their guilt. On the one hand parents may feel responsible to make up for a perceived absence in their own youth (e.g. being part of a poverty-stricken family in childhood), and are therefore keen to ensure that their offspring never need to endure a similar loss. When guilt is directed towards something amiss in the life of their offspring (e.g. a family going through a divorce situation) offering of consumer goods can be interpreted as a compensatory reparative statement on behalf of the parent, a symbolic substitute for care.

See also[]

Compensation neurosis


  • Ambrogne, J. A. (1999). Patterns of compensation in alcohol-dependent women. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Area, R., Garcia-Caballero, A., Gomez, I., Somoza, M. J., Garcia-Lado, I., Recimil, M. J., et al. (2003). Conscious Compensations for Thought Insertion: Psychopathology Vol 36(3) May-Jun 2003, 129-131.
  • Backman, L. (1989). Varieties of memory compensation by older adults in episodic remembering. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Baumeister, R. F., & Jones, E. E. (1978). When self-presentation is constrained by the target's knowledge: Consistency and compensation: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 36(6) Jun 1978, 608-618.
  • Boerner, K., & Jopp, D. (2007). Improvement/maintenance and reorientation as central features of coping with major life change and loss: Contributions of three life-span theories: Human Development Vol 50(4) Jul 2007, 171-195.
  • Boker, W., & et al. (1984). Self-healing strategies among schizophrenics: Attempts at compensation for basic disorders: Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica Vol 69(5) May 1984, 373-378.
  • Boney-McCoy, S., Gibbons, F. X., & Gerrard, M. (1999). Self-esteem, compensatory self-enhancement, and the consideration of health risk: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol 25(8) Aug 1999, 954-965.
  • Bratt, C. (1999). Consumers' environmental beahvior: Generalized, sector-based, or compensatory? : Environment and Behavior Vol 31(1) Jan 1999, 28-44.
  • Brotemarkle, R. A. (1930). Review of The lure of superiority: Psychological Bulletin Vol 27(1) Jan 1930, 72-73.
  • Burka, A. A. (1983). The emotional reality of a learning disability: Annals of Dyslexia Vol 33 1983, 289-301.
  • Casement, A. (2006). The shadow. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Cervone, D., & Rafaeli-Mor, N. (1999). Living in the future in the past: on the origins and expression of self-regulatory abilities: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 209-212.
  • Chalus, G. A. (1976). Defensive compensation as a response to ego threat: A replication: Psychological Reports Vol 38(3, Pt 1) Jun 1976, 699-702.
  • Chiland, C. (1992). Transsexualism and psychotic decompensation at adolescence. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Codina, N. (1988). Adler: A proposal for the study of leisure time activities as "compensation." Revista de Historia de la Psicologia Vol 9(1) Jan-Mar 1988, 103-110.
  • Coleman, R. L., & Croake, J. W. (1987). Organ inferiority and measured overcompensation: Individual Psychology: Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice Vol 43(3) Sep 1987, 364-369.
  • Colman, S. V. (1991). The sibling of the retarded child: Self-concept, deficit compensation motivation, and perceived parental behavior: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). The rejoining of immediacy and delay: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 213-214.
  • Dallett, J. O. (1974). The effect of sensory and social variables on the recalled dream: Complementarity, continuity, and compensation: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Damon, W. (2002). Dominance, Sexism, and Inadequacy: Testing a Compensatory Conceptualization in a Sample of Heterosexual Men Involved in SM: Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality Vol 14(4) 2002, 25-45.
  • Dittmann, J., & Schuttler, R. (1990). Autoprotective mechanisms in patients with schizophrenic psychoses: Compensation and coping: Fortschritte der Neurologie, Psychiatrie Vol 58(12) Dec 1990, 473-483.
  • Dixon, R. A., & Backman, L. (1999). Principles of compensation in cognitive neurorehabilitation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  • Domino, G. (1976). Compensatory aspects of dreams: An empirical test of Jung's theory: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 34(4) Oct 1976, 658-662.
  • Earleywine, M. S. (1991). Personality risk for alcoholism, drinking habits, and compensatory responses to cues for alcohol: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Eischeid, A. W. (2001). Compensatory self-presentation strategies of physique-anxious individuals. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Eisenstadt, D., Hicks, J. L., McIntyre, K., Rivers, J. A., & Cahill, M. (2006). Two Paths of Defense: Specific Versus Compensatory Reactions to Self-threat: Self and Identity Vol 5(1) Jan-Mar 2006, 35-50.
  • Eiser, J. R. (1999). Et in Arcadia ego: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 214-217.
  • Elliott, J. E. (1992). Compensatory buffers, depression, and irrational beliefs: Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy Vol 6(3) Fal 1992, 175-184.
  • Elsner, R. J. F. (2002). Changes in eating behavior during the aging process: Eating Behaviors Vol 3(1) Spr 2002, 15-43.
  • Erber, R. (1999). The tireless social psychologist: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 217-219.
  • Fosshage, J. L. (1997). "Compensatory" or "primary": An alternative view. Discussion of Marian Tolpin's "Compensatory Structures: Paths to the Restoration of the Self". Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Gilger, J. W., Hanebuth, E., Smith, S. D., & Pennington, B. F. (1996). Differential risk for developmental reading disorders in the offspring of compensated versus noncompensated parents: Reading and Writing Vol 8(5) Oct 1996, 407-417.
  • Greenberg, J. (1999). On imagined cultures and real ones, and the evolution and operation of human goal striving: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 220-224.
  • Greve, W., & Wentura, D. (2007). Personal and subpersonal regulation of human development: Beyond complementary categories: Human Development Vol 50(4) Jul 2007, 201-207.
  • Heine, S. J., Kitayama, S., & Lehman, D. R. (2001). Cultural differences in self-evaluation: Japanese readily accept negative self-relevant information: Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology Vol 32(4) Jul 2001, 434-443.
  • Hortacsu, N. (1973). Reactions of advantaged and disadvantaged to a situation of inequity: Dissertation Abstracts International Vol.
  • Kalizhnyuk, E. S. (1983). Situationally induced reactions of compensation and decompensation in infantile cerebral paralysis: Zhurnal Nevropatologii i Psikhiatrii imeni S S Korsakova Vol 83(10) 1983, 1552-1556.
  • Kasari, C., Chamberlain, B., & Bauminger, N. (2001). Social emotions and social relationships: Can children with autism compensate? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
  • Kasser, T. (1999). I-D compensation theory and intrinsic/extrinsic goals: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 224-226.
  • Kennick, C. K. (1999). Of hunter-gatherers, fundamental social motives, and person-situation interactions: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 226-229.
  • Kessler, J. J., & Wiener, Y. (1972). Self-consistency and inequity dissonance as factors in undercompensation: Organizational Behavior & Human Performance Vol 8(3) Dec 1972, 456-466.
  • Knauper, B., Rabiau, M., Cohen, O., & Patriciu, N. (2004). Compensatory Health Beliefs: Scale Development and Psychometric Properties: Psychology & Health Vol 19(5) Oct 2004, 607-624.
  • Lancaster, J. (1975). Coping mechanisms for the working mother: American Journal of Nursing Vol 75(8) Aug 1975, 1322-1323.
  • Leary, M. R., & Cottrell, C. A. (1999). Evolution of the self, the need to belong, and life in a delayed-return environment: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 229-232.
  • Lehman, H. C. (1928). Review of The Lure of Superiority: Journal of Applied Psychology Vol 12(4) Aug 1928, 451-453.
  • Li, K. Z. H., Lindenberger, U., Freund, A. M., & Baltes, P. B. (2001). Walking while memorizing: Age-related differences in compensatory behavior: Psychological Science Vol 12(3) May 2001, 230-237.
  • Martin, L. L. (1999). Another look at I-D compensation theory: Addressing some concerns and misconceptions: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 257-267.
  • Martin, L. L. (1999). I-D compensation theory: Some implications of trying to satisfy immediate-return needs in a delayed-return culture: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 195-208.
  • McKee, H. (2006). The british children evacuees: A life-span developmental perspective on resilience and psychological well-being. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Miller, C. T., & Myers, A. M. (1998). Compensating for prejudice: How heavyweight people (and others) control outcomes despite prejudice. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Miller, C. T., Rothblum, E. D., Felicio, D., & Brand, P. (1995). Compensating for stigma: Obese and nonobese women's reactions to being visible: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol 21(10) Oct 1995, 1093-1106.
  • Miller, C. T., Rothblum, E. D., Felicio, D., & Brand, P. (2000). Compensating for stigma: Obese and non obese women's reactions to being visible. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
  • Minkowski, E., Targowla, R., & Ziadeh, S. (2001). A contribution to the study of autism: The interrogative attitude: Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology Vol 8(4) Dec 2001, 271-278.
  • Motazedian, N. (1999). Variables that affect job satisfaction in home health nurses. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Naudin, J., & Azorin, J.-M. (2001). Schizophrenia and the void: Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology Vol 8(4) Dec 2001, 291-293.
  • O'Maille, P. S. (2001). The impact of compensation on symptom distortion in chronic pain patients: An examination of MMPI-2 symptom distortion measures. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering.
  • Pachoud, B. (2001). Reading Minkowski with Husserl: Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology Vol 8(4) Dec 2001, 299-301.
  • Palombo, J. (1991). Neurocognitive differences, self cohesion, and incoherent self narratives: Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal Vol 8(6) Dec 1991, 449-472.
  • Payne, A. D. (1983). Communication in the context of failure: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Pyszczynski, T., & Goldenberg, J. L. (1999). Self-awareness, future-orientation, and human social motivation: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 232-235.
  • Reichborn-Kjennerud, T., Bulik, C. M., Sullivan, P. F., Tambs, K., & Harris, J. R. (2004). Psychiatric and Medical Symptoms in Binge Eating in the Absence of Compensatory Behaviors: Obesity Research Vol 12(9) Sep 2004, 1445-1454.
  • Riediger, M., & Ebner, N. C. (2007). A broader perspective on three lifespan theories: Comment on Boerner and Jopp: Human Development Vol 50(4) Jul 2007, 196-200.
  • Rieken, B. (2003). Compensation and overcompensation within folk tales: Zeitschrift fur Individualpsychologie Vol 28(2) 2003, 174-190.
  • Robinson, E. S. (1920). The Compensatory Function of Make-Believe Play: Psychological Review Vol 27(6) Nov 1920, 429-439.
  • Robinson, E. S. (1923). A concept of compensation and its psychological setting: The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology Vol 17(4) Jan-Mar 1923, 383-394.
  • Roeder, P. C. (1996). Leading women: How women who are leaders evaluate the leadership of others. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences.
  • Romanova, O. L. (1982). Experimental psychological investigation of the personality of patients suffering from physical defects: Zhurnal Nevropatologii i Psikhiatrii imeni S S Korsakova Vol 82(12) 1982, 1854-1858.
  • Ross, S. R., Putnam, S. H., & Adams, K. M. (2006). Psychological Disturbance, Incomplete Effort, and Compensation-Seeking Status as Predictors of Neuropsychological Test Performance in Head Injury: Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology Vol 28(1) Jan 2006, 111-125.
  • Rothermund, K., & Brandstadter, J. (2003). Coping With Deficits and Losses in Later Life: From Compensatory Action to Accommodation: Psychology and Aging Vol 18(4) Dec 2003, 896-905.
  • Rudman, L. A., Dohn, M. C., & Fairchild, K. (2007). Implicit self-esteem compensation: Automatic threat defense: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol 93(5) Nov 2007, 798-813.
  • Ryan, R. M., & Couchman, C. E. (1999). Comparing "immediate-return" and "basic psychological" needs: A Self-Determination Theory perspective: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 235-239.
  • Schachter, M. (1972). Study of acute psychotic episodes in mentally retarded adolescents and the idea of "decompensation" in child psychiatry: Annales Medico-Psychologiques Vol 1(4) Apr 1972, 507-528.
  • Schultheiss, O. C., & Brunstein, J. C. (2000). Choice of difficult tasks as a strategy of compensating for identity-relevant failure: Journal of Research in Personality Vol 34(2) Jun 2000, 269-277.
  • Senon, J. L., Lafay, N., & Padet, N. (2003). Pharmacopsychoses: L'Encephale Vol 29(5,Pt2) Sep 2003, 8-11.
  • Seta, J. J., Seta, C. E., & McElroy, T. (2003). Attributional biases in the service of stereotype maintenance: A schema-maintenance through compensation analysis: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol 29(2) Feb 2003, 151-163.
  • Shaver, P. R., & Hendin, H. M. (1999). Imagined hunter-gatherers, happiness without a self, and the preference of neurotic individuals for immediate relief when frightened: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 239-244.
  • Silverstein, M. L. (2001). Clinical identification of compensatory structures on projective tests: A self psychological approach: Journal of Personality Assessment Vol 76(3) Jun 2001, 517-536.
  • Sipps, G. J. (1982). Masculinity and femininity: Construct validity and unconscious compensation using the EPAQ and TAT: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • Solomon, M. (1917). Review of Study of organ inferiority and its psychical compensation: A contribution to clinical medicine: The Journal of Abnormal Psychology Vol 12(5) Dec 1917, 348-351.
  • Solomon, S. (1999). Death and the evolution of human social motives: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 244-247.
  • Stanghellini, G. (2001). A dialectical conception of autism: Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology Vol 8(4) Dec 2001, 295-298.
  • Strube, M. J., Hanson, J. S., & Fargher, K. (1999). Back to basics in the search for the motives of human behavior? : Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 247-250.
  • Tolpin, M. (1997). Compensatory structures: Paths to the restoration of the self. Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Tolpin, M. (1997). Response to Fosshage. Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press.
  • Trijsburg, R. W., Bal, J. A., Parsowa, W. P., Erdman, R. A., & et al. (1990). Prediction of physical indisposition with the help of a questionnaire for measuring denial and overcompensation: Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics Vol 51(4) 1990, 193-202.
  • Usui, W. M. (1977). Causal relations among types of formal and informal social participation: A test of the generalization, cumulative, and compensation hypotheses: Dissertation Abstracts International.
  • van Amstel, H., & van der Geest, S. (2004). Doctors and retribution: The hospitalisation of compensation claims in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea: Social Science & Medicine Vol 59(10) Nov 2004, 2087-2094.
  • Vaughan, W. F. (1926). The psychology of compensation: Psychological Review Vol 33(6) Nov 1926, 467-479.
  • Weary, G., Jacobson, J. A., & Vaughn, L. A. (1999). I-D compensation theory and the Causal Uncertainty model: Related models of self-control? : Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 251-253.
  • Wicklund, R. A. (1999). The disappearance of defensiveness via I-D compensation: Psychological Inquiry Vol 10(3) 1999, 254-256.
  • Wood, J. V., Giordano-Beech, M., & Ducharme, M. J. (1999). Compensating for failure through social comparison: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin Vol 25(11) Nov 1999, 1370-1386.
  • Zemore, R. W., & Greenough, T. J. (1973). Reduction of ego threat following attributive projection: Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association 1973, 343-344.
  • Ziegelmann, J. P., & Lippke, S. (2007). Use of selection, optimization, and compensation strategies in health self-regulation: Interplay with resources and successful development: Journal of Aging and Health Vol 19(3) Jun 2007, 500-518.

  • Christopher Lasch (1979). The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York: Norton.

External links[]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).