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Safeguarding Tendencies: A Clarifying Perspective

Safeguarding tendencies denote Adler’s belief that people develop behavioral patterns for protecting personal feelings against public criticism. Excuses, aggression, and withdrawal are the three most common tendencies outlined by the scholar and represent different types of approaches that people use for the purpose of shielding themselves from public disgrace. The result of a lifestyle that is based on safeguarding implies the lack of understanding of how to meet criticism correctly and learn from mistakes. As mentioned in Proverb 19:20, it is imperative to accept instruction and listen to what others may advise as “in the end you will be wise.” Connecting Adler’s approach with the Scripture’s teachings can reveal that safeguarding is very common and should not be overlooked.

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Excuses are the most common, usually implying blaming someone else for completing or not completing the desired action. A person may use such phrases as “if only” or “yes, but” to justify either action or inaction that has been met with disapproval. The deception of the serpent is the most notable example of an excuse mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 3:12-13, it says, “Then the Lord God said to the woman, “what is this you have done?” And the woman said, “the serpent deceived me, and I ate” [the apple]. Such an example illustrates a person blaming someone else for an improper action. If the safeguarding tendency was not used, the woman could have taken responsibility for her actions and acknowledged the wrongdoing.

Aggression is a safeguarding tendency, which is most commonly used to protect oneself from a superiority complex. Aggressive behaviors may range from accusation to severe criticism, thus showing negative attitudes toward others. It is common for people to be spiteful about the matters of others as well as be depreciative, as Adler had mentioned (as cited in Clark, 1999). Proverbs 15:1 states, “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The excerpt teaches people to be kind to others, and they would do the same in return. Aggression is never the answer to criticism, nor can it prevent anger in the long-run. Being respectful and kind to people regardless of their opinions can help foster positive relationships with them, bring peace and understanding.

Withdrawal is the third type of safeguarding tendency associated with protecting oneself and developing a distance from other people. There are four approaches to withdrawal, moving backward, standing still, hesitating, and constructing obstacles, all of which are intended from creating a gap between critics and the one being critiqued (Clark, 2000). Titus 3:10 says, “as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” The verse teaches people to get closer to one another to develop a sense of belonging and comradery. Division can lead to further misunderstandings that create barriers and ignite opposition.

To conclude, Adler’s safeguarding tendencies all describe the ways in which people can respond to external negativity. The behaviors characterizing safeguarding are rather ineffective in fostering positive relationships with people, furthering criticism and negativity. The examples from the Scripture have all pointed to the importance of being kind and accepting of others regardless of their flaws. Such a holistic approach toward the world can foster self-esteem and encourage authentic feelings that improve life quality.


Clark, A. (1999). Safeguarding tendencies: A clarifying perspective. Journal of Individual Psychology, 55(1), 72-81.

Clark, A. (2000). Safeguarding tendencies: Implications for the counseling process. Journal of Individual Psychology, 56(2), 192.

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