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 Adlerian Psychology, organ inferiorities are discussed in two domains. First, in Adler's original understanding of organ inferiorities as the underlying motive for human forward movement, and second, in relation to the training and self-training of children who are overburdened with organ inferiorities.
As regards the first domain: Adler, as a physician, noticed that human beings strive to overcome their organ inferiorities by means of physical compensations, and he proposed organ inferiorities as the basis for human striving. In his first medical book (1907/1917), Study of Organ Inferiority and its Psychical Compensations, he presents the idea of compensation and its tendency toward over-compensation. At the time of writing, Adler's concerns were directed toward the limited field of objective observations and diagnoses; inferiority feelings or other subjective materials were not in his purview. In his later work, however, he came to see that compensation and over-compensation operate both physically and psychologically.
Seeking a more encompassing explanation for human motivation, Adler next proposed the concept of the masculine protest. In this new turn, Adler took into account human beings' subjective assessments of their situations in life. Freud's view of the female as a deformed male consumed with envy for the penis was devised in reaction to Adler's thinking, and was complicit in confirming a belief in female inferiority generally held at that time (and into this time). Observing a society in which boys and men had unassailable positions of dominance, and in which girls and women were invariably disrespected and subordinated, Adler posited that the demand females might make, if they were able to verbalize their feelings, would be "Treat me like a man!", and that those boys and men with exaggerated ideas of masculine power (and a matching apprehension of falling short of it) might also press to be treated like "a real man!"
Adler reached his conclusive understanding of the origins of human striving when he came to see that both organ inferiorities and the masculine protest were particular forms of a more general and universal inferiority feeling that is, in itself, the spur to striving.
The second domain of organ inferiorities in Adler's work addresses child development. Adler noted that some children endure unusually stressful, overburdening childhood situations, and that among these (along with pampered and neglected, abused, unwanted, and hated children) is the situation of the child with organ inferiorities. [See Compensation/Over-Compensation; Masculine Protest; Overburdening Childhood Situations.]
We understand that children with inferior organs will feel inadequate for the tasks of life and that the minus situation will be felt by a child with inferior organs more intensely than by the average child. . . . The organic weakness does not necessarily function as a minus situation, but the child experiences the weakness of his organic equipment for average social tasks, and he feels impelled to reorganize it accordingly (Adler, 1979, p. 88).
The inferiority feeling constantly presses toward its own resolution Adler, 1979, p. 58).
© 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. 76).
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)
Adler, A. (1979). Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings (3rd Rev. ed.). (H. L. Ansbacher & R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). New York: Viking Compass. (Original work published 1964)