Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
In Adler’s early experiences as a physician he began to use these terms to describe the phenomena of the movement of living creatures, persisting in often heightened activity under the burden of a handicap, or the impairment of an organ; and the concomitant exaggerated, often superior development of another organ or organ system. Many of his patients came to him from the nearby Vienna Prater, an amusement park with circus features. Adler particularly noted the anxieties of acrobats and other performers concerning physical weakness or impairment and the corresponding attention they paid to self-care and physical training. He concluded that in response to a felt organ inferiority the organism as a whole moves to compensate for the particular organ weakness. This provided him with a bridge from the study of physical processes to an understanding of psychological processes.
In Adler’s earliest medico-psychological text (Study of Organ Inferiority and its Psychical Compensation, 1907/1917), he referred to compensatory activity as mediated by what he termed the “psychical superstructure” (p. 41). Increasingly, as the effects of opinion and ambition — independent of organic structure — came clearer to him, he moved away from biological determinism, turning his attention to compensation tending toward over-compensation (exemplified in the classic story of Demosthenes, the stammerer who by dint of ambition and effort became a great orator). Considering the effect of cultural and societal biases and prejudices, especially as concerns ideas of masculine superiority and feminine inferiority, his thinking moved in a further fateful awareness, away from a strict physicalism toward social-psychological factors, and to the various ways individuals struggle to compensate for assumed ideas of inferiority. He observed that the more pronounced the inferiority feelings, the more intense is the compensatory striving. This led to his further postulating that the only true compensation for such feelings is the development of community feeling. [See Feminism; Historical Context: Adler in his Time; Masculine Protest.]
As in organic compensation, the effectiveness of psychological compensation is linked with increased activity and brings about striking, often superior and novel psychological phenomena (p. 98).
The entire bearing, the identifying gestures, the play of children and their wishes, their day-dreams and favorite fairy tales, thoughts about their future occupational choice, all indicate that the compensation tendency is at work making preparations for the future role (p. 99)
Social interest [community feeling] is the true and inevitable compensation for all the natural weakness of individual human beings (p. 154).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 12).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1917). Study of organ inferiority and its psychical compensation. New York: Nervous & Mental Diseases. (Original work published 1907)