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time posted
Mar 15, 2023

What Is An Inferiority Complex?

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All of us have experienced a time where we have felt less than or inadequate. It may have been in a personal relationship, at work, or at life in general. However, we have managed to move past these feelings and focus on our strengths. Sometimes a person may experience this feeling and cannot move on, this may be an inferiority complex. 

Inferiority complexes have been spoken about for years and there is a common understanding amongst mental health professionals that self-esteem plays a large role. Whilst an inferiority complex is not a diagnosable disorder, it does not take away from the very real impact that it may have on a person’s life.

This impact affects all areas of a person’s life and can become debilitating, which then makes the feelings of inferiority worse.

What is an Inferiority Complex?

An inferiority complex is a state of being where all basic feelings are centered around inadequacy and low self-esteem. This means that you might feel as if you are less than or not as good as the people around you.

These beliefs may be based on actual experiences and then generalized across all areas of your life, or they may be based on perceived inadequacies. Regardless of the origin, these beliefs limit the ability of functioning.

Mental health professionals now refer to inferiority complexes as severe low self-esteem. This can be experienced as hopelessness and a harsh self-critic. Everything you do is not good enough and you are too afraid to try new things, or even try something again in case you fail at it (because you believe you will fail at it.)

This state of being may be present with other psychological diagnoses. It is valuable to remember that an inferiority complex is not a psychological deficiency. Rather it is a mind set that has been developed to protect someone from feeling failure.

However, at the point of an inferiority complex, this protective mindset has become too extreme and in now hampering a fully lived experience.

It is then understandable to see a superiority complex, where someone feels overconfident in their abilities, as the opposite to an inferiority complex. Yet this is not always the case. Often the lack of self-confidence and a low self-esteem is manifested as a superiority complex.

This is a way to protect and mask the perceived inadequacies from the outside world. However, the fear and turmoil of having low self-esteem and negative self-image is still acutely experienced.

Where Does Inferiority Complex Come From?

There are a variety of reasons that an inferiority complex might develop. These are not the only reasons, nor does it mean experiencing these reasons will result in developing an inferiority complex. 

We are individuals and will react differently to situations. Commonalities are observed between the following experiences and the development of an inferiority complex:

  • Genetic predisposition.

There is a suggestion that some people are more prone to lower self-esteem based on their genetic makeup. There is some discussion around the variation of receptors for the hormone oxytocin and the development of low self-esteem.

  • Childhood experiences.

Many of us learn to become independent and feel mastery of how to learn new skills as a child. If we do not have this learning experience, then we will lack the ability to do the same when we grow older.

Sometimes, with the best intentions our parents protect us and complete difficult tasks instead of allowing us to fail and learn from the experience. Having a childhood where you never experienced failure and becoming independent may leave you with feelings of inadequacies as you grow.

Alternatively, if you experienced a highly conflict-ridden childhood or very demanding expectations you may have developed a fear-based response that nothing you did was good enough. 

This could have developed into feelings of inadequacy and a harsh inner critic.

  • Social comparisons.

Being compared to a peer that is doing better than you at something is a difficult experience at any age. This can fill you with feelings that even things you do well at or that are your strengths are not enough to receive approval.

Feeling constantly compared, even when you are doing the comparing yourself, demotivates and devalues all your effort.

  • Societal standards and trends.

Today we are inundated with social media streams of people’s success stories. These create trends and societal expectations that everyone should live up to.

These trends and expectations are not always realistic for everyone. Moving out of the family home at age eighteen is no longer a feasible idea in many countries due to high unemployment rates and an increased cost of living.

Yet often we are expected to meet these expectations and feel inferior when we don’t. 

How Would an Inferiority Complex Affect My Life?

Feelings of inferiority impact your life and often will limit your ability to fully experience everything. This may be seen as declining invites out with friends, not offering to take on a new project at work or letting an opportunity to study further slip away.

These examples all look at an idea of self-sabotage. With an inferiority complex we can become our own worst enemies and become self-fulfilling prophecies. Not believing in yourself negatively affects your self-esteem and this will make you hesitant to try anything and if you do try, often it does not work out because you are always looking for the problems.

You might experience yourself reaching out for external praise and validation for your efforts – because if someone else likes them then they are good enough. People with feelings of inferiority find it very difficult to praise themselves or acknowledge their own good work.

Being able to acknowledge your own self-worth is a necessary skill to build a good self-esteem. 

Feelings of inadequacy lowers the quality of life that we experience. It may also increase the likelihood of a substance addiction developing or an anxiety or depressive disorder. The quality of life we experience will affect our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

This may cause us to withdraw from social situations or from putting ourselves out there. Alternatively, we could use bravado as a defense mechanism and assume the superiority complex mask.

This might mean we constantly look out for other people’s weaknesses and comment on them. We will only feel good if we can find someone that we can be ‘better’ than. The blasé front is a more common mask for feelings of inferiority than we realize.

Whichever way we choose to react, the essence of the state of being remains the same. Feeling like you are experiencing an inferiority complex is unpleasant and can become overwhelming.

How Do I Cope with an Inferiority Complex?

Coping with feelings of inferiority will take commitment and effort, however, it is possible to manage and reframe your state of being so that it no longer limits your quality of life.

  1. Positive Affirmations

Finding affirmations that remind you that you are worthy and repeating them to yourself daily builds new neural pathways in the brain. The more you repeat the affirmations, the stronger the pathway gets.

Having a strong neural pathway will help with shifting your automatic thoughts and feelings of inferiority to more realistic ones.

Positive self-talk will often follow from positive affirmations. This is helpful for building up self-esteem and a positive self-image.

  1. Acknowledge Your Victories

We experience victories every day, often without acknowledging them because they seem small, or we don’t think of giving them any thought. We need to recognize our victories no matter how big or small they may seem.

You might want to create a ‘Victory Chart’ or ‘Victory Jar’ where you mark or put in a marker for every victory during the day.

These reckonings must take the small victories into consideration. For example, if you are withdrawing from social gathering due to you low self-esteem and today you had lunch with colleagues, then you count that as a victory.

Or if you comment on someone else’s weaknesses to make yourself feel better, then a victory could be you complimenting them.

  1. No Comparison

It is not helpful to compare ourselves to others. Changing this can have positive effects on our self-confidence, ability to use positive self-talk, increase our self-esteem, and lower feelings of inferiority.

If we experience someone else that compares us and lowers our self-esteem, we need to stand up for ourselves in some way. This may mean communicating with the person and asking them to stop or limiting the contact that you have with that person.

You might find that counteracting their comparison with reality checking to be helpful. To do a reality check you would need to look at the situation objectively. It can be helpful to imagine if this situation was happening to someone else, would I feel the same about them as I feel about myself?

  1. Therapeutic Intervention

Working on feelings of inferiority alone can be very difficult. Having someone in your corner to reflect to you and help you reframe your thoughts and gain perspective is often useful.

A therapist or mental health practitioner can assist you in this manner.

There are a variety of therapeutic approaches that can help such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). 

Each of these therapeutic approaches looks at shifting the focus of your thoughts and supporting you through this reframing. There are also opportunities to build self-esteem so that in future you do not experience these feelings as much.

To Wrap Up

Experiencing an inferiority complex affects our quality of life. Reaching out for help and learning ways to manage these feelings and building our self-esteem can be the first brave steps on your journey.

You can reach out to us at One Life Counselling and Coaching when you are ready to start.

I am the founder of One Life Counselling and Coaching LTD and I am honored to lead a team of professional psychologists, psychotherapist’s and life coaches who dedicate their professional lives to helping people to elevate their mindsets, evolve their beliefs and learn to thrive in the present moment.
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