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.
Safeguarding refers to the mistaken movement of the discouraged person in thought, feeling, and action in response to perceived threats to his or her self-esteem. Safeguards may be expressed in anxiety, panic attacks, or paralysis, more or less severe, and all relative to the individual's degree of discouragement or diminished sense of social feeling and connectedness. Safeguarding may show itself in such forms as a claim to being “above it all," marking time, hesitation, or retreat, all of which may be understood as similar in function to the defense mechanisms later posited by other psychological systems. In psychoanalytic theory the “ego" is protected by certain “mechanisms of defense" from recognizing and having to acknowledge the anti-social instincts of the “id." Adler saw the matter differently: What had to be hidden and unacknowledged were not abhorrent impulses, but the cowardice and retreat of the unprepared person, whose confidence in the face of an imperative task is shaken by thoughts of possible failure. From the subjective sense of the individual, the safeguard protects a pretense of superiority, not guaranteed by common sense, in addressing life's ordinary challenges. (Consider Aesop's fable of the fox that, unable to jump high enough to reach a bunch of ripe grapes, walks away dismissing them as sour grapes, so he wouldn't have wanted them anyway.)
Through the safeguarding tendency the individual aims at getting rid of the feeling of inferiority (pp. 109-110).
I have repeatedly described "safeguarding tendencies" as the essential character trait of the neurosis. They are evoked by the oversensitivity of the neurotic and his fear of disparagement and disgrace (p. 109).
Over-valuations of one's own achievements and goals serve the same purpose; they are . . . arranged by, and originate in, the exaggerated safeguarding tendency against the feeling of being "below" (p. 268).
The superiority and safeguarding of the patient can be seen from a fiction which begins with an "if'' clause: "If I didn't have . . . [this affliction], I would be the first" (p. 275).
All neurotic symptoms have as their object the task of safeguarding the patient's
self-esteem and thereby also the life-line [Lifestyle] (p. 263).
© 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. 89).
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.