What is overcompensation in psychology?

Through overcompensation, people pretend to be unaware of their weaknesses. However, since it is taken to the extreme, it becomes an obstacle.

Last update: 26 January, 2022

To talk about overcompensation, it is necessary to first explain what compensation is. In general terms, it is about putting the accent on an area of ​​our lives to hide another facet that we do not like or does not favor us so much. A priori, it is considered positive, since it allows better work on the strengths so that they have greater weight than the weaknesses.

However, taken to the extreme, it becomes what we call “overcompensation”, a mode of defense used to avoid or ignore those weaknesses. Its great drawback is that it becomes an obstacle to grow and to get out of the comfort zone. It leaves us prisoners precisely of what is rejected or feared. What is it and what is its origin?

What is overcompensation?

We all use defense mechanisms. In principle because they serve us to make a transition until we can accept a certain situation. That is to say, they are put into play to avoid suffering until balance is reached again.

However, these must suppose something temporary and cannot leave us anchored. Its purpose should be to strengthen our ability to face new realities and adapt to them. To cite a few examples, we find ourselves with projection, denial and intellectualization.

Likewise, among these, overcompensation stands out. It is the exaggeration of a certain aspect with the aim of hide, distract or minimize a characteristic that shames us and makes us feel inferior. In other words, emphasis is placed on one side to divert attention from the other. However, traits can be both real and imagined.

The idea of ​​overcompensation was developed by Alfred Adler, creator of “individual psychology”, who explains it from events that occurred in childhood. Adler referred that the situation of dependence on the adult in the first years of life could generate in the boy or girl a situation or complex of inferiority, of feeling vulnerable.

In addition, all of the above would be enhanced by other factors such as authoritarian parenting styles, excessive consent or overprotective. Thus, in adult life, these same children seek to avoid repeating this situation of inferiority and they defend themselves against it through overcompensation, that is, exaggerating some traits to minimize others.

As can be seen, childhood experiences have a great impact on adulthood, according to Adler, who became interested in this idea based on what was proposed by Freud.

Overcompensation often hides feelings of insecurity and shame. Therefore, it becomes limiting.


Examples of overcompensation

Here are some examples of how overcompensation works:

  • A person who feels inferior because throughout his childhood he heard that he was not capable, that he was useless and that nothing was going well for him he becomes an authoritarian boss, arrogant, incapable of considering other people’s opinions, since “he knows them all.” In this way, that inferiority is overcompensated in a negative way, since he becomes unpleasant and none of his employees want to be near him.
  • A person who did not feel loved and who seeks affection becomes complacent, seeks to please everyone, at any cost. He accepts being the butt of jokes, he is always the one who gives in, he is not able to say what bothers him for fear of offending.
  • Someone who has been very controlled, with little autonomy and freedom to decide, will try to be very independent in their adult life; he will flee from everything that he feels is limiting and that leaves him a prisoner.


What to keep in mind about overcompensation?

Overcompensation is characterized by a supposed form of “balancing”, which is expressed in an exaggerated and extreme way. Therefore, over time it is a measure that becomes dysfunctional. Nothing taken to the extreme is positive or authentic.

We must pay close attention to this trait of “the grotesque”, because that is where the difference between using a healthy resource or not is found. No one denies how positive it can be to seek not to focus on what we value as a defect. to put all the attention on what we feel strong in.

The drawback of overcompensation is that it is a “defect” that is not elaborated, but rather rejected. Thus, we are always on the verge of threat, as if in a precarious balance, because at any moment what is being hidden can come to light.

So, who can live peacefully making a permanent effort because “it doesn’t show”? For all this, this mechanism is rather a counterattack, instead of being a resilient resource.

Overcompensation can lead to energy wasting. It is not good to take to the extreme the need to avoid what we dislike about ourselves.

Learn to recognize our emotions as signals

In principle, well-applied overcompensation and in specific situations is not harmful, quite the opposite, it can be very functional. The drawback is when it becomes a rigid defense, which we use as a wild card, permanently, without distinguishing between situations.

Thus, it is important to learn to have contact with our emotions, accept those things that do not do us good and work to improve it. Denying it and hiding it doesn’t make it go away. In fact, trying to “keep down” what we dislike causes a significant drain on energy.

Furthermore, contrary to what we think, it leaves us at its mercy, in a passive role. So, the healthiest thing is to face it, process it and overcome it. Although it will require work and professional support, it is worth starting a process of change.

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