Theories of Personality 9th Edition

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88 Part II Psychodynamic Theories

discussed safeguarding tendencies only with reference to the construction of neu-
rotic symptoms. Excuses, aggression, and withdrawal are three common safe-
guarding tendencies, each designed to protect a person’s present style of life and
to maintain a fictional, elevated feeling of self-importance (Adler, 1964).


The most common of the safeguarding tendencies are excuses, which are typically
expressed in the “Yes, but” or “If only” format. In the “Yes, but” excuse, people
first state what they claim they would like to do—something that sounds good to
others—then they follow with an excuse. A woman might say, “Yes, I would like
to go to college, but my children demand too much of my attention.” An executive
explains, “Yes, I agree with your proposal, but company policy will not allow it.”
The “If only” statement is the same excuse phrased in a different way. “If
only my husband were more supportive, I would have advanced faster in my pro-
fession.” “If only I did not have this physical deficiency, I could compete success-
fully for a job.” These excuses protect a weak—but artificially inflated—sense of
self-worth and deceive people into believing that they are more superior than they
really are (Adler, 1956).


Another common safeguarding tendency is aggression. Adler (1956) held that
some people use aggression to safeguard their exaggerated superiority complex,
that is, to protect their fragile self-esteem. Safeguarding through aggression may
take the form of depreciation, accusation, or self-accusation.
Depreciation is the tendency to undervalue other people’s achievements and to
overvalue one’s own. This safeguarding tendency is evident in such aggressive behav-
iors as criticism and gossip. “The only reason Kenneth got the job I applied for is
because he is an African American.” “If you look closely, you’ll notice that Jill works
hardest at avoiding work.” The intention behind each act of depreciation is to belittle
another so that the person, by comparison, will be placed in a favorable light.
Accusation, the second form of an aggressive safeguarding device, is the
tendency to blame others for one’s failures and to seek revenge, thereby safeguard-
ing one’s own tenuous self-esteem. “I wanted to be an artist, but my parents forced
me to go to medical school. Now I have a job that makes me miserable.” Adler
(1956) believed that there is an element of aggressive accusation in all unhealthy
lifestyles. Unhealthy people invariably act to cause the people around them to suf-
fer more than they do.
The third form of neurotic aggression, self-accusation, is marked by self-
torture and guilt. Some people use self-torture, including masochism, depression,
and suicide, as means of hurting people who are close to them. Guilt is often
aggressive, self-accusatory behavior. “I feel distressed because I wasn’t nicer to
my grandmother while she was still living. Now, it’s too late.”
Self-accusation is the converse of depreciation, although both are aimed
toward gaining personal superiority. With depreciation, people who feel inferior
devalue others to make themselves look good. With self-accusation, people devalue
themselves in order to inflict suffering on others while protecting their own mag-
nified feelings of self-esteem (Adler, 1956).
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