All human beings tend to defend themselves from negative emotions, both consciously and unconsciously. The safeguard tendencies, contrasted with Freud’s defense mechanisms, were introduced and conceptualized by Alfred Adler in the first half of the 20th century. According to Clark (1999), it is “a self-deceptive evasion that deters functioning in experiences which evoke threat and feelings of inferiority” (p. 192). The Austrian psychotherapist identified three main tendencies, including excuses, withdrawal, and aggression. In general, these self-protecting patterns of behavior are applied by individuals to avoid failure or painful evaluations. It makes them able to preserve and artificially inflate the sense of self-esteem by not recognizing their own limitations, lack of competency, or talent. This essay will be further focused on excuses as the most common behavior.
Safeguarding by way of making excuses is also known as a hesitating attitude. Under this pattern, individuals who desire to participate in social life prevent this involvement from occurring by deploying various justifications restricting their activity. In his article, Clark (2000) reveals that excuses serve as exaggerated alibi he personally witnessed while counseling. Furthermore, people tend to blame others for their shortcomings using excuses. For instance, the patient who abuses alcohol may blame his relatives for remissness, which provoked him to find his pleasure in strong drinks (Clark, 2000). When individuals feel inferior in some life situations, they tend to use “yes-but” statements to retreat from challenging attempts. For example, a man may come up with an excuse to avoid playing billiards with his professional friend, evading inferiority.
The most obvious and prominent example of an excuse may be found in the Book of Genesis. It is a well-known story of Adam and Eve who disobeyed the Lord by tasting the tree of knowledge’s fruit. The first human couple was allowed to use the whole garden freely, except for the one unique tree. As a result, Adam comes up with an excuse, “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Gen. 3:12). In her turn, Eve reapproaches the serpent for her disobedience, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat” (Gen. 3:13). It was a matter of excessive pride and insincerity that was severely punished by God. If safeguarding tendencies were not used, they probably would have milder punishment thanks to conscious penance.
Another excellent example of excuse within Scripture is one from the Book of Luke, where Jesus does not want to hear any excuses from people who intend to follow the Lord. People give various reasons why they cannot immediately join God’s son, mentioning funeral obligations and desire to say goodbye to their families. Jesus responds to one of them, “No one, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). It means that he rates people’s excuses as the spirit’s weakness caused by internal doubts that makes them unfit to spread the Lord’s word. In this case, safeguarding tendencies helped Jesus to select individuals who will give their whole heart to the church.
To conclude, excuses are an embedded element of everybody’s life. It is the most common type of safeguarding tendency seen in the workplace and even at home. People construct excuses and reasons to quit doing things that make them uncomfortable or they do not want to do. These defensive patterns usually become the main reasons for further failures and obstacles to self-development. The Bible teaches us to avoid safeguarding tendencies in order to live an honest and fully-functioning life.
Clark, A. J. (1999). Safeguarding tendencies: A clarifying perspective. Journal of Individual Psychology, 55(1), 72-81.
Clark, A. J. (2000). Safeguarding tendencies: Implications for the counseling process. Journal of Individual Psychology, 56(2), 192- 204.