All but Death, can be Adjusted. – Emily Dickinson
As Adler described in his book “What life should mean to you” (Adler, 1917), each of us in life has varying degrees of inferiority and since self-inferiority can make us nervous, depressed, and anxious, we will strive to obtain a sense of superiority in action to compensate for our inferiority and change its situation. In other words, everyone always believes that the situation where they are needs to be improved at all times.
The concept of compensation originally referred to the phenomenon of an individual causing a defective organ of the body to perform better than a perfectly normal organ (Huang et al., 2019; Stallen et al., 2018). Now it gradually develops into a phenomenon where individuals experience frustration in the pursuit of a goal, or due to a physical deficiency and try to compensate with their strengths. Adler first extended the word compensation from physiology to psychology. Previous studies believed that everyone would make up for the self-inferiority caused by the insufficiency in reality or imagination to overcome this inferiority and become a superior person to others (Hoorens & Damme, 2012; Leach & Spears, 2008). Thus, the current interpretation of inferiority compensation refers to a series of phenomena that which behavioral and cognitive efforts made by individuals enable the individual abilities to be improved in some aspects and function reflected overcome inferiority to regain self-confidence. The method of compensation is to make up for their shortcomings and inferiority through efforts and achievements in some aspects, to give full play to the individual subjective initiative (Akdoğan & Çimşir, 2019), and to use and transform the objective environment to adapt to their problems in society (Tümlü & Şimşek, 2021).
From the perspective of the executors of compensation behavior, Adler believes that the perpetrator of compensatory behavior is only the self and no others, i.e., there is only self-compensation (Vaughan, 1927). Some scholars who support Adler’s view also believe that inferiority is unique to individuals, independent of others, and others do not replace it (Friehe et al., 2021; Toma, 2022; Watermann et al., 2021). Thus, from this point of view, these scholars believe that compensation can only be completed by individuals with inferiority, that is, there is only self-compensation without compensation for others.
However, due to the diverse self-concepts between the eastern and western cultural backgrounds (Dhawan et al., 1995), the ego from oriental collectivism includes the perception of others, while western individualism, where members advocate personal values and are used to distinguishing themselves from the outside, does not include anyone else (Hong et al., 2001). Hence, some scholars put forward different opinions that the individual’s sense of insecurity, and feelings of powerlessness and disappointment due to the inability to achieve the goal, can be regarded as inferiority complex (David & Trandafira, 2012). In real life, this inferiority complex whether from physical, psychological or social obstacles, can all be compensated. In addition, the compensation behavior does not necessarily have to be completed by the inferiority of self, it can also be completed by others or groups, even by the whole country or nation (Proulx et al., 2012; Ritchie & Long, 2021). Friehe et al indicates that if a person incorporates the object of comparison into his system, the threat of others’ success will be significantly reduced (Friehe et al., 2021). According to a study by Booysen et al indicates that there are more possibility to occur others-compensation in individuals under a collectivism culture than under a individualism culture (Booysen et al., 2021). In additions, some scholars proposed compensation for others from the perspective of compensation behavior executor, and further explained that compensation for others is an objective completing method different from self-compensation (Hirao, 2014; Hoorens & Damme, 2012). Since Adler considers that the individual obtains superiority in the form of social identity, it is undeniable that there are other forms of identity to gain excellency, which can be seen as a substitute compensation obtained through the identity of others.
In the development of his compensation theory, Adler insisted that is not a symbol of deformity, but a normal phenomenon in the personal pursuit of excellence (Adler, 1917). And inferiority has a positive or negative effect on individual development depends on the compensation attitude to the individual (Friehe et al., 2021; Rode & Sáenz de Viteri, 2018). If an individual manages to make up for the defects of his own organs or abilities, he will improve the environment around him by direct and practical means, and change the strength of his internal beliefs, and consequently transform the inferiority at this time into the internal motivation for progress. Then that compensation is effective, and inferiority plays a positive role.
If a person simply pursues the sense of superiority but does not attempt to change the surrounding environment, then compensation will point to the useless side of life, make himself intoxicated or numb in fantasy, and obtain the emotional experience of self-confidence in the way of self-paralysis. In this case, the inner self-abasement will not disappear (Fan et al., 2011). Adler believes that such compensation will only become a tumor of their psychological growth, and eventually form inferiority complex (Adler, 1917). But inferiority complex will make people drift apart from society, discouraged, lack of self-confidence, and people with inferiority complex do not believe that they will make any progress in life (Yu et al., 2020; Zhang et al., 2021).
The psychological problems prevail among high school students (Shen et al., 2020). If they can actively make up for the negative factors, they will gain confidence, have higher level of self-evaluation, and their inferiority will be improved to some extent (Greenaway et al., 2015). However, if students do not actively make up for their own shortcomings, while choose to escape, the inferiority complex gradually forms, resulting in psychological abnormalities. For that reason, for high school students, inferiority compensation is one of the vital approaches to get rid of inferiority, gain self-confidence and develop mental health.
Yet, based on cultural background differences, the inferiority compensation questionnaire has not been systematically compiled by scholars. As mentioned above, mental problems are prevalent issues among high school students. It remains unclear that how they view their inferiority, why avoid talking the topic of inferiority and how enhance their social adaptability and self-confidence? Here, we hope to answer the questions above through investigating the patterns of inferiority compensation of high school students.