Personality development can be halted when people run away from difficulties. Adler referred to this tendency as withdrawal, or safeguarding through distance. Some people unconsciously escape life's problems by setting up a distance between themselves and those problems.
Chapter 3 Adler: Individual Psychology 83
Adler (1956) recognized four modes of safeguarding through withdrawal: (1) moving backward (2) standing still, (3) hesitating, and (3) constructing obstacles.
Moving backward is the tendency to safeguard ones fictional goal of superiority by psychologically revertmg to a more secure period of life. Moving backward is similar to Freud's concept of regression hi that both involve attempts to return to earlier, more comfortable phases of life. Whereas regression takes place unconsciously and protects people against anxiety-filled experiences, moving backward may sometimes be conscious and is directed at maintaining an inflated goal of superiority. Moving backward is designed to elicit sympathy, the deleterious attitude offered so generously to pampered children.
Psychological distance can also be created by standing still. This withdrawal tendency is similar to moving backward but, in general, it is not as severe. People who stand still simply do not move in any direction; thus, they avoid all responsibility by ensuring themselves against any threat of failure. They safeguard their fictional aspirations because they never do anything to prove that they cannot accomplish their goals. A person who never applies to graduate school can never be denied entrance; a child who shies away from other children will not be rejected by them. By dohig nothing, people safeguard then self-esteem and protect themselves against failure.
Closely related to standing still is hesitating. Some people hesitate or vacillate when faced with difficult problems. Their procrastinations eventually give them the excuse, "It's too late now." Adler believed that most compulsive behaviors are attempts to waste time. Compulsive hand washing, retracing one's steps, behaving hi an obsessive orderly maimer, destroying work already begun, and leaving work unfinished are examples of hesitation. Although hesitating may appear to other people to be self-defeating, it allows neurotic individuals to preserve their inflated sense of self-esteem.
The least severe of the withdrawal safeguarding tendencies is constructing obstacles. Some people build a straw house to show that they can knock it down. By overcoming the obstacle, they protect their self-esteem and their prestige. If they fail to hurdle the barrier, they can always resort to an excuse.
In summary, safeguarding tendencies are found hi nearly everyone, but when they become overly rigid they lead to self-defeating behaviors. Overly sensitive people create safeguarding tendencies to buffer their fear of disgrace, to eliminate then exaggerated inferiority feelings, and to attain self-esteem. However, safeguarding tendencies are self-defeating because then built-hi goals of self-interest and personal superiority actually block them from securing authentic feelings of self-esteem. Many people fail to realize that then self-esteem would be better safeguarded if they gave up then self-interest and developed a genuine caring for other people. Adler's idea of safeguarding tendencies and Freud's notion of defense mechanisms are compared in Table 3.1.
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