A Guide to Overcompensation in Psychology

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What is overcompensation in psychology? How is it a part of antifragility?

Redundancy, a form of overcompensation in psychology, is that we tend to push back harder and continue doing the same thing when faced with adversity or challenge. It’s why banned books become more popular and why some social movements become stronger.

Read more about overcompensation in psychology and how it works.

Forms of Overcompensation in Psychology

Redundancy is a form of overcompensation and therefore, of antifragility. Physically, humans (and many other organisms) have redundant systems to improve their chances of survival. For example, we have two lungs and two kidneys, though we could survive with only one of each. Humans developing an extra kidney is no different from the hydra growing an extra head after being injured—it’s a preparation for worse events that may happen in the future, but in the meantime, it makes us stronger and more efficient at filtering waste from the blood. 

In fact, all organisms follow a similar pattern of redundancy and overcompensation. If you were to trace evolutionary trends throughout history, you’d find that natural selection tends to favor species that overcompensate for their environments, rather than those that adapt to meet the exact challenges of their surroundings. 

We can also see redundancy in many places outside of organisms. Countries that stock supplies of food or oil in preparation for a future disaster are practicing redundancy, storing away more than they need now in case hard times hit later. Those supplies can also, if the opportunity arises, be sold at great profit to other countries who find themselves in dire need of them—this shows again that the overreaction to hardship can strengthen the system in the long run.

Even abstract ideas can demonstrate antifragility. Riots and rebellions, for example, respond to any attempt to put them down with force by becoming stronger—the people are outraged about their situation, and oppressing them more only fuels their rage. 

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, there are countless stories of love demonstrating antifragility. Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most famous example—the young lovers’ feelings become stronger with every attempt their families make to keep them apart. 

Information, too, is antifragile. Attempts to ban books invariably make those books more popular—just look at The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the Harry Potter series. Similarly, harsh criticism of books or ideas only serves to draw more attention to them; millions of people have read Ayn Rand’s extreme libertarian works despite—or  because of—all the negative attention they receive. 

Even some (though not all) careers are antifragile. There are accounts of actors paying journalists to write about their performances; many actors would pay for positive reviews, but the truly clever ones would pay for negative reviews, knowing that those would attract much more attention. On the other hand, someone like a bank manager needs to have a clean reputation and would suffer terribly from bad press.

A humorous rule of thumb is that the more flamboyantly someone dresses, the more antifragile his or her job is.

A Guide to Overcompensation in Psychology

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Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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