In psychology, compensation is a strategy whereby one covers up, consciously or unconsciously, weaknesses, frustrations, desires, feelings of inadequacy or incompetence in one life area through the gratification or (drive towards) excellence in another area. Compensation can cover up either real or imagined deficiencies and personal or physical inferiority. The compensation strategy, however does not truly address the source of this inferiority. Positive compensations may help one to overcome one’s difficulties. On the other hand, negative compensations do not, which results in a reinforced feeling of inferiority. There are two kinds of negative compensation:

Overcompensation, characterized by a superiority goal, leads to striving for power, dominance, self-esteem and self-devaluation.

Undercompensation, which includes a demand for help, leads to a lack of courage and a fear for life.

A well-known example of failing overcompensation, is observed in people going through a midlife-crisis. Approaching midlife many people (especially men) lack the energy to maintain their psychological defenses, including their compensatory acts.


Alfred Adler, founder of the school of individual psychology, introduced the term compensation in relation to inferiority feelings.

In his book Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation (1907) he describes this relationship: If one feels inferior (weak) he / she (usually) tries to compensate for it somewhere else.

He presumes that there is natural tendency to conceal feelings "inferiority" or "weakness".

To conceal them people (mostly) try to distract others by performing better than others... Some disabled people (so We presume the feeling of inferiority), who exceled in certain activities : Stevie Wonder, Glenn Cunningham, and Demosthenes.

Adler's motivation to investigate this was from personal experience. He was shy and yet that he pushed himself to profess in lecture-rooms.

Adler also "transferred" this idea of compensation to psychic training.

Cultural implications

Narcissisticic people, by compensation theory, mute the feelings of low self-esteem by :

Narcissistic children try to compensate for their jealousy and anger by :

(see studies of Melanie Klein)

Christopher Lasch, a American historian and social critic wrote in his book The Culture of Narcissism (1979) that North American society in the 1980’s was narcissistic (had narcisstic colour). The narcissistic society :

Therefore it is "fascinated" with fame (by Lash).

Consumption has been put forward as a means of compensation (see study by Allison J. Pugh: From compensation to ‘childhood wonder’). Examples: