Meaning of Adjustment in Psychology

The concept of adjustment is as old as human race on earth. Systematic emergence of this concept starts from Darwin. In those days the concept was

Meaning of Adjustment

In psychology, adjustment is that condition of a person who is able to adapt to changes in their physical, occupational, and social environment. In other words, adjustment refers to the behavioural process of balancing conflicting needs, or needs challenged by obstacles in the environment.

Adjustment in Psychology

The concept of adjustment is as old as human race on earth. Systematic emergence of this concept starts from Darwin. In those days the concept was purely biological and he used the term adaptation. Insects and germs, in comparison to human beings, cannot withstand the hazards of changing conditions in the environment and as the season changes, they die. Hundreds of species of insects and germs perish as soon as the winter begins.

Man, among the living beings, has the highest capacities to adapt to new situations. Man as a social animal not only adapts to physical demands but he also adjusts to social pressures in the society. Biologists used the term adaptation strictly for physical demands of the environment but psychologists use the term adjustment for varying conditions of social or inter-personal relations in the society.

Adjustment as Achievement

Adjustment as an achievement means how efficiently an individual can perform his duties in different circumstances. Business, military, education and other social activities need efficient and well-adjusted men for the progress of the nation. If we interpret adjustment as achievement, then we will have to set the criteria to judge the quality of adjustment.

Criteria for Good Adjustment

Here you must be very clear in the your mind as regards the criteria of adequacy of adjustment. No universal criteria can be set for all times to come because criteria involve values judgement which differ from culture to culture and from generation to generation within the same culture. Four criteria have been, evolved by psychologists to judge the adequacy of adjustment. They are as follows:

(1) Physical health:- The individual should be free from physical ailments like headache, ulcers, indigestion and impairment of appetite. These symptoms in individual have sometimes psychological origin and may impair his physical efficiency.

(2) Psychological comfort:- One of the most important facts of adjustment is that individual has no psychological diseases as obsession, compulsion, anxiety and depression etc. These psychological diseases if occur excessively cause to seek professional advice.

(3) Work efficiency:- The person who makes full use of his occupational or social capacities may be termed as well adjusted in his social set up.

(4) Social acceptance:- Everybody wants to be socially accepted by other persons. If a person obeys social norms, beliefs and set of values, we may call him well adjusted but if he satisfies his needs by antisocial means then he is called maladjusted. But you see that societies differ in deciding the universally acceptable criteria of good behaviour, for example, in our country smoking and drinking are supposed to be antisocial but there are societies where these activities are quite normal for social adjustment.

Adjustment as Process

Adjustment as a process is major importance for psychologists, teacher and parents. To analyse the process we should study the development of an individual longitudinally from his onwards. The child at the time of his birth is absolutely dependent on others for the satisfaction of seeds, but gradually with the age he learns to control his needs. His adjustment depends on his interaction with the external environment in which he lives.

When the child is born, the world, for him is a big buzzing, blooming confusion. He cannot differentiate among the various objects of his environment but as he matures he comes to learn to articulate the details of his environment through the process of sensation perception and conception. The child in his infancy can respond and think about only concrete objects of his environment. The process of abstraction comes afterwards. The young children lack the capacity of self control of the instinctive impulses. Anything which appears to their senses bright they try to take hold of it. Their development is purely on instinctive level The nature of adjustive process is decided by a number of factors, particularly, internal needs and external demands of the child.

When a conflict occurs between internal needs and external demand conditions, there are three alternatives, one, the individual may inhibit or modify his internal need or demand and second, he can alter the environment, and can satisfy his demands and third alternative, is that he can use some mental mechanism to escape from the conflicting situation and may be able to maintain the balance of his personality.

Mechanisms of Adjustment

An adjustment mechanism inay be defined as "any habitual method of overcoming blocks, reaching goals, satisfying motives, relieving frustration and maintaining equilibrium." Every individual uses his own mechanism to maintain the balance of his personality in the society, but psychologists have listed certain adjustment mechanisms which are used by majority of the people in the constant struggle for survival in their environment.

Some Common Mechanisms

1. Simple Denial

The easiest way to maintain the balance of personality is to deny the fact which could create conflict in the mind. When children are busy in play activities, if parents call them, the children will say they heard. nothing. In fact what was said was not allowed to penetrate into their consciousness. In adults, the percentage of denial is higher than children. Adults are not always prepared to admit frankly failures in their daily life. Denial helps to postpone facing a problem or a failure.

2. Aggression

A person who tries to gain something from other is also called aggressive. The person who tries to dominate is also called aggressive. Aggression is a typical adjustment mechanism used as an attempt to hurt or destroy the source of frustration. It may be classified into-two broad categories:

(i) Extrapunitive:- Extrapunitive responses are those in which the individual aggressively attributes the frustration to external persons or things. It may be a physical attack upon the source of obstacle. It may be in the form of criticism against the person. Sometimes the individual fails to take any aggressive step against the person in authority who is the source of frustration, in such cases aggression is shifted to inanimate objects or animals. The child beats his doll, the boy kicks the dog. Aggression tends to generalize from the original object to similar objects in the environment.

(ii) Intropunitive:- Intropunitive responses are those in which the individual aggressively attributes frustration to himself. Sometimes the person feels that he himself is the source of frustration. He criticizes himself and may inflict physical punishment to himself.

3. Compensation

When a person feels weak and fails in one area, he compensates in another field. He works hard to become strong and successful. Needs which are frustrated and unmet are gratified in order to release tension and conflict. The person may compensate in the areas of biological, psychological and social weaknesses. The students who do poorly in school work, compensate in non-academic activities. The boy who is weak in English, may compensate in Hindi. Compensation is generally of the following types.

(i) Direct compensation:- It is the process when an individual removes his specific weakness and frustration in the same field by unusual effort. The boy who is weak in English is compensating directly when he tries to become strong by hard labour in the same field. Demosthenes who had physical defect and was not able to speak effectively due to stuttering. became great orator.

(ii) Over compensation:- It is the process when an individual moulds his outstanding weakness into an outstanding strength. Theodre Roosevelt, asthemic and often sick as child, became a rough rider and a lion hunter in his later life.

(iii) Substitute compensation:- When an individual finds himself weak in one area and sees no scope for improvement in that area, he attempts to become outstanding in another area. A weak student may compensate by becoming an outstanding athlete.

(iv) Indirect compensation:- Most of the compensation is indirect. A boy may steal things to compensate for being humiliated by his parents. A weak student who is poor in academic achievement may compensate in games. The most common form of indirect compensation is sought by parents through their children. The father who wanted to be an engineer but failed, enjoys his son's success as an engineer. This compensatory mechanism used by parents, sometimes, pushes children into unsuitable programmes.

(v) Neurotic compensation:- This process is used by an individual when normal compensatory mechanism fails. The mentally weak student attempts to get first division but his ability is not equal to it. He fails in his attempt again and again. He develops neurotic compensation, he falls ill and develops symptoms, stays at home and becomes the centre of attention of the members of his family.

4. Sublimation

It is a substitute reaction which may be classified as compensation. Among all the mental mechanisms of defense, sublimation is the most advanced, highly developed and a constructive mechanism. Through the use of its operation, the energy of personally or socially intolerable impulses and drives is successfully directed into consciously acceptable channels. Their direction and aim thus become deflected and redirected toward substitute goals. Sublimation supplies an outlet for blocked and intolerable drives.

Allport defines sublimation as, "a device by which an individual's anti-social impulses are made socially acceptable."

Coleman defined sublimation as, "the gratification of sexual desires in non sexual activities that serve as a substitute."

Sublimation is healthful. It is the mechanism in which all divisions of the psyche, the id, ego and the superego work in concert with each other. Sublimation can be done through dancing, music, arts and crafts etc.

5. Identification

Identification may be identified as a mental mechanism operating outside and beyond conscious awareness through which an individual, in varying degree, makes himself like some one else; he identifies himself with another person. This results in the unconscious taking over and transfer to oneself of various elements of other. Such elements may include thoughts, tasks, behaviour mechanism, or character traits and emotional feelings. Adolescents identify themselves with some political leaders, youth leaders or actors and actresses and attempt to acquire their characteristics.

6. Projection

It is the most common adjustment mechanism which is used by all people in daily life. Freud used projection as a process by which we ascribe to the external world the rejected impulses of the id. We defend ourselves against our repressed guilt feelings by projecting them into other things and people. It is a mechanism which relieves frustration of the individual.

The range of projection in the classroom is very wide. Children who are doing poorly, often, are very critical of the teacher or the pupils. They frequently act as if they were expecting a teacher or another child to display toward them the hatred, love or contempt which they themselves feel. When projection is used too frequently, it indicates symptoms of mental ill health. The most extreme form of projection is a central quality of the psychosis known as paranoia in which the patient experiences delusion of persecution.

7. Rationalization

Rationalization has been defined as a mechanism by which the individual justifies his beliefs and actions by giving reasons other than those which activated or motivated him. Rationalization is the most popular adjustment mechanism which is used, almost, by all persons in daily life. It is a response to reality that falsify circumstances. The aim of rationalization is to lessen frustration by giving sound and worthy reasons for an action which is frustrating.

No one is ready to accept failure to reach his goal or accept that his behaviour falls short of what people expect from him. The child who fails in the examination blames the paper setter or lack of books etc. The stumbling child blames the chair. The boy who is rejected by a girl, finds fault in the girl. In rationalization, we try to give socially acceptable reasons of our failures. It is a mild form of repression in which the facts are distorted rather than forgotten. There are two types of distortion:

(i) Sour grapes:- When the individual fails to attain his cherished goal, he starts blaming the various factors in order to rationalize his failure. When the fox in Aesop's fable could not reach the grapes, she blamed that grapes were sour out of frustration. They boy who fails in his examination blames teachers, examiners or attributes his failure to illness.

(ii) Sweet lemon:- It is a form of rationalization when the individual is not satisfied with his achievement or the situation is bitter but in order to maintain balance he accepts them as good. Most of the teachers in our country use this adjustment mechanism to maintain the balance of their personality.

8. Regression

Regression has been defined as, "an unconscious back tracking" either in memory or in behaviour which might have been successful in the past. The adult who has been frustrated in fulfilling his needs may return to more primitive modes of behaviour. He may cry like a child, have temper tantrums. He may attack his problems like a child in the simple, emotional and primitive manner. Sometimes psychologists call regression the process of fixation. The old man who always talks of his youth, shows the mechanism of regression. The old man, by this mechanism, is trying to live again in "the good old days."

9. Repression

Repression is a dynamism which is fundamental in Freudian theory of personality. It has been defined as motivated forgetting. White (1964) defined repression as "the forgetting or ejection from consciousness of memories of threat and especially the ejection from awareness of impulses in oneself that might have objectionable consequences." It is an attempt by the individual to push into the unconscious those experiences and thoughts which are in conflict with his moral standard or which are painful to contemplate. Repression is caused due to forces active within ourselves. We try to forget what makes us feel inferior, ashamed, guilty and anxious.

10. Reaction Formation

Reaction formation is also called reversal formation. It is to substitute opposite reaction formation which causes anxiety. Repression is accompanied by behaviour and feelings exactly opposed to the repressed tendency. The boy frightened by graveyard, whistles happily, an extremely aggressive man, afraid of his own destructive impulses, acts humble. The man who is kind and idealistic can be diagnosed as either loving or hating mankind.

11. Negativism

Negativism is a mechanism by which an individual draws the attention of other persons. It is partly a defense and partly an escape mechanism. The person develops strong and irrational resistance in accepting the suggestions of others. The use of this mechanism is at peak at the age of two to three years of age. The foundations of this mechanism are laid down in early childhood and later on appear in adulthood. Most of the adults use negativism in milder forms, in special situations. They do not oppose, but they do resist suggestions by others.

Students have some negative feelings towards their teachers. Negative feelings do not serve some useful purpose but they hinder the achievement of goal.

12. Fantasy

Fantasy is a mechanism of wishful-filling. Fantasy is at its peak in adolescence. The adolescents day dream of their future success in life. In fantasy, sometimes, the individual hits upon "better ideas than the critical thinker. Fantasy is important for creative thinking, provided that it is followed by action. A world without fantasy would be one without music, painting, literature, drama or new ideas.

Excessive fantasy without action may be harmful for the individual. Those who feel they dream too much can help themselves most by conducting a more successful attack on the obstacles which are blocking them.

Characteristics of Adjustment Mechanisms

1. Adjustment mechanisms are almost used by all people. They are constructs which are inferred from the behaviour of the individuals. They have protective orientation. All mechanisms are used to protect or enhance the person's self-esteem against dangers. They defend the person against anxiety and frustration. They increase satisfaction and help in the process of adjustment if used within limit.

2. The danger is always within the person. He fears his own motives. The fear and danger are manifested in adjustment mechanisms.

3. Invariably in all adjustment mechanisms, the individual distorts reality in one way or the other, because the method of protecting against dangerous inner impulses or escaping from anxiety involves some kind of distortion of the conscious representation of the person's impulses.

4. The overall effect of adjustment mechanisms is to cripple the individual's functioning and development through falsifying some aspects of his impulses so that he is deprived of accurate self-knowledge as a basis for action. There is self-deception underlying all adjustment mechanisms. We deny and disguise the real cause of our behaviour in order to maintain the balance of our personality.

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