Compensation is a psychological term that was first introduced by Alfred Adler in Study of Organ Inferiority and Its Physical Compensation (1907).
Adler understood compensation in terms of underlying feelings of inferiority. In order to cope with the pain of feeling inferior, the psyche develops beliefs at the opposite end of the psychological spectrum. That is, it ‘compensates’ by feeling superior to other people. Hence the now familiar idea of the inferiority-superiority complex.
In 1907 Carl Gustav Jung notes the pathogenic complex posses a quantum of libido which grants it a degree of autonomy that is opposed to conscious will. Though this dynamic has a pathological cast, it conveys the essence of what Jung termed compensation; namely, the capacity of the unconscious to influence consciousness.¹
However, Jung wouldn’t name compensation as such until 1914.
In “The Importance of the Unconscious in Psychopathology” (1914), he introduced the idea, saying, “the principal function of the unconscious is to effect a compensation and to produce a balance. All extreme conscious tendencies are softened and toned down through a counter-impulse in the unconscious.”²
We can see that Jung’s view of compensation, as compared to Adler’s, is geared more toward the idea that the psyche strives to achieve balance and integration.
In fact, Jung believed the psyche has a natural tendency toward balance and integration. If a particular attitude becomes extreme, Jung believed that therapy and close attention to dreams could help to amplify repressed or underdeveloped psychological contents.
On several occasions Jung says that his own particular brand of therapy is essential to this process. And he believed that he had successfully analyzed himself in this regard. But, at the same time, Jung didn’t try to sell potential clients on his views. If an ardent churchgoer, for example, was satisfied with what Jung may have taken as a skewed perspective, Jung would let the person be. Apparently Jung only intervened when clients’ old systems and attitudes lead to neurosis (or psychosis) and help was requested.
This latter claim might, however, be a bit exaggerated, in keeping with the tendency of some Jungians to elevate Jung as some kind of new prophet for modern times. There are also accounts where Jung was quite brash and bold, surprising and even shocking his clients. Perhaps they had asked for his help. But whether or not he was, at times, playing the the ‘wise guru’ and on a bit of a power trip remains open to debate.³
³ Although married to Emma Jung, it seems Carl had sex with at least two of his clients, Sabina Spielrein and Toni Wolff, which certainly wouldn’t wash in psychiatry today. See » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung#Marriage