Explanation of Overcompensation in Psychology with Examples


Overcompensation involves shading one’s inadequacies by excelling in another field and feeling superior. Here, we will understand this defense mechanism in greater detail.

Did you know?
Alfred Adler was responsible for introducing the term “overcompensation” in his work “Study of the inferiority of organs and their physical compensation” (1907). He said that “if people feel inferior and weak in an area, they try to compensate elsewhere.

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Our actions, behavior and speech (and, by extension, our personality) are influenced not only by our conscious mind (what we see and hear), but also by the effect that these varied stimuli have on our subconscious and unconscious mind. Therefore, our behavior has many layers and observable behavior (which we can observe openly) is supported by several experiences and defense mechanisms. And what are the defense mechanisms? These are coping techniques that are adopted by the subconscious mind to treat and decrease the intensity of the stimuli that are presented as unpleasant, threatening and unwanted. Without these, our mental health would be seriously compromised.

What is Compensation?

To understand what overcompensation means, we must first become familiar with the concept of compensation. Compensation implies covering up the insufficiencies and feelings of inferiority and incompetence in one area excelling in another area and obtaining gratification. The compensation can be of two types: negative and positive; overcompensation characteristics under the negative compensation support.

The operation of overcompensation

Overcompensation implies the same principle, one tries to compensate feelings of inferiority by being led to excellence in the same field or another. However, overcompensation occurs when a person not only compensates an insufficiency, but in doing so is driven by the goals of fighting for power, domination, control and superiority over others, all of which can be detrimental to behavior and personality

The feelings, the weaknesses, the desires and the frustrations that one tries to compensate in excess can be real or imaginary, and can involve both physical and personal inferiority. In addition, it is not always necessary for a person to try to compensate for their insufficiencies in one field while excelling in another, they could also excel in the same field (like Sara in the image above).

According to Alfred Adler, the propagator of this theory, compensation and, by extension, overcompensation, have their roots in childhood. Psychologically, a person can not cope with feelings of being inferior or inadequate, and therefore needs to feel good about himself to redeem himself and the world. Driven by this need, he begins to look for something in which he can excel, and when he does, his deficiencies are eclipsed.

Is overcompensation a negative trait?

Although it works to overshadow deficiencies and highlight achievements, overcompensation can be very detrimental to one’s psyche. How? Because this defense mechanism, as we said before, could be undertaken with the aim of dominating and controlling others and exercising their own superiority over them. Therefore, it is not driven by the goal of excelling to feel good about itself, but to overthrow others.

Overcompensation is considered a mainly negative technique because it prevents a person from addressing the main problems from which these feelings of inferiority and inadequacy stem. Which is especially true if you choose to excel in another field altogether.

Examples of overcompensation

The following are some examples of the overcompensation defense mechanism.


Let’s expand the image that has been given at the beginning of the article, Sara does not pass a test and her classmates make fun of her. She compensates for this insufficiency by studying much more and not just passing the test, but obtaining the highest grades in the next test. This overcompensation could take a negative turn where she enjoys so much the feeling of superiority over her classmates that this is what leads her to study from now on.


Mia feels bad about the fact that she does not have a good social life. She tells herself that this is because she is concentrating on her studies and overcompensated by immersing herself in books and excelling in class. However, her main problem of not having a social life is not solved because instead of striving to make friends, she is studying. Then the original problem continues to prosper.


A child is never chosen for any sports team at school, it is overcompensated by becoming the editor of the school’s magazine.

Overcompensation takes place at a subconscious level and leads to curb feelings of inadequacy and incompetence. However, if left unchecked, it can become a very negative trait that could make a mean and petty person.

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