What really is an inferiority complex? And do you have one?
On this page, I’ll revealseveral little-knownsymptoms of an inferiority complex, so you can testand see if you have this deep-seated problem.
Along the way, I’ll also give you some practical tips and insights for how to overcome the feeling of inferiority.
Where Inferiority Comes From
When you were a baby, you were inferior.I know that sounds weird, yet think about it.
A baby can’t even stay alive on its own.It’s completely dependenton adults for survival. Andas yougrew from a baby into a child, you were still surrounded by older people who were more strong, capable and powerful than you.
The famous psychologist Alfred Adlersaid thatfeeling inferior is oftena healthy motivation.When you receive criticism or see someone do something better than you, thiscandrive youto eliminate your weaknesses.You’remotivatedto become more powerful in the world so you don’t feel inferior anymore. Feeling inferiormakes you learn from the superior people around you. You develop yourself, and eventually become one of these confident adults yourself.
However, some peoplefeel such a strong feeling of inferiority that itstops being healthy or useful. This is what Adler called an “inferiority complex.” Instead of motivating you, an inferiority complex paralyzes you. It can result in extreme shyness or social anxiety, feeling worthless, and the desire to prevent failure through not trying.
So that’s the difference between feeling inferior and an inferiority complex. Feeling inferior sometimes can actually help you improve yourself and your life. But an inferiority complex usually means you feel incomplete, unworthy and unacceptable as a person no matter what you do, achieve or fix about yourself.
TwoMain Types of Inferiority
In the people I’ve studied and worked with, I’ve noticed a common pattern. People who feel inferior generally fall into one of 2 categories:
- People who “know” they’re actually smart, good looking, successful, etc… but still feel inferior. It’s like a mysterious feeling that they aren’t good enough that they know isn’t based on anything real or solid.
- If this is you, then people around you may say “You’re so pretty/smart/etc… I don’t understand why you’re so shy/afraid/sad/etc” Well you don’t understand it either, you just feel this way: “I recognize that I’m beautiful, but I still feel ugly.”
- People who “know” they’re ugly, dumb, boring, failures, etc… and their flaws make them feelunable to get the affection, support and friendship of others.
- If this is you, then you probably feel that if you were onlyreally good looking, tall, successful, or whatever else… then many of your problems would be instantly solved and you would feel great about yourself. Here’s a quick test: How would you complete this sentence?“I would be confident, happy and attractive if I was only…”
Yes, both of these people could certainly have an inferiority complex.
Which one do you fit into better? #1 or #2?
The main difference between the two types is that type #1 seems to have a feeling that is unrealistic, while type #2 believes the feeling is caused by actual flaws they have. Whichever type you are,you’ve probably been stuck with this problemfor most or all of your life. And here are a few of the ways in which an inferiority complex can reveal itself in your day to day life:
1. Being Ultra Sensitive
When you feel inferior, any small critical comment can often send you into a spiralof depression and self-hate for days. Any slight sign of rejection or exclusion will make you feel totally miserable.
New comic- “Photo Sharing”: pic.twitter.com/9300EDbGwL
— Nathan Cooper (@Nate_NotSoGreat) February 12, 2015
You wish you could just somehow“stop caring what people think” and “not give a fuck”… but it’s not that simple.
Unfortunately, most of the advice you may have read for how to be less sensitiveprobably tried to give you a rational argument for why you shouldn’t feel bad like: “Their opinion doesn’t really make an impact on your life.” In my experience, this type of advice doesn’t help, because you cannot reason your way out of a feeling you did not reason yourself into in the first place.
How To Actually Stop Caring:
Actually the solution to being sensitive to what people think isNOTto care less… but to care more about what you think of yourself. The people who seem to “not care” the most are actually just firmlyrooted in theirown values.
Aperson’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.
You stop caring so much about other people’s judgements when your own sense of judgement becomes stronger. (This is an extremely important point, and unfortunately something I can’t explain properly in this short article.)
Women often say a man who “knows who heis” is attractive.I never knew what that meant, until I realized they like a guy who is rooted in his own value system. Meaning he knows what is important to HIM in life, and he’s not constantly changing or bending himselfdepending on who is around.
2. Always ComparingYourself To Another Person’s #1Winning Quality
Comparisoncauses the feeling of inferiority or superiority.That’s obvious. Now let’s look at the problemcloser:
Why is everybody always better than you?
It’s because you focus on their oneBEST quality and then compare yourself to that.Reality check: It’s unavoidablethat most people are going to be better than you at the #1 thing they spend the most time practicing or have a natural talent for.
- Joe spends 6 days a week in the gym, so he has a better body than you.
- Suzy spends her days endlessly chatting on Facebook messenger and parties every weekend, so she has a larger social circle than you.
- Bill spends every afternoon studying to please his parents, so he’s at the top of every class.
Then you look at them and you say: “I’m worse than Joe. I’m worse than Suzy. Hell, I’m even worse than that nerd Bill!” and you feel inferior. And you know what?
An excellent quote from “Psycho Cybernetics” book by Dr. Maxwell Maltz (Image credit)
Yes, it’s true, you’re always going to measure yourself shortif youare using a constantly changing ruler. And don’t forget that unusual success in one area usually comes from focus, which means the person you’re comparing yourself to neglects other areas of life.
If you could settlefor beingthe best YOUyou can be, it would greatly relieve your inner mental pressure to meet everyone else’s standards.
You are not inferior, you are not superior, you are simply YOU. Your value comes from your uniqueness.
3. Submissive Behavior
In psychology there’s an idea is called “social rank theory.”
This theory says that how you act and feel insideare often determined by what you perceive your social status or rank to be.
So if you FEELinferior to others, looked down on and low status… then you will start ACTING submissive.
Alot of the behaviors usually called “shyness” could also be labelled “submissiveness”! Think about how a shy person usually acts:
- Weak eye contact,
- Talking quietly and timidly,
- Being afraid to be assertive.
If a scientistsaw a chimpanzee acting this way in the wild, he would label it as… submissive! And that’s where a lot of low social confidence comes from: a deep unconscious belief in other people being superior toyou, more deserving of respect and higher social status.
If you can overcome this feeling of inferiority, then you will find it easy to stop acting submissive & shy.I talk a lot about this in my System, in the chapter called “Value &The Social Hierarchy”.
This study explores the associations between shame, depression and social anxiety from the perspective of social rank theory. Social rank theory argues that emotions and moods are significantly influenced by the perceptions of one’s social status/rank; that is the degree to which one feels inferior to others and looked down on. A common outcome of such perceptions is submissive behaviour. […]
Results confirm that shame, social anxiety and depression (but not guilt) are highly related to feeling inferior and to submissive behaviour.
– Study by Paul Gilbert: The Relationship of Shame, Social Anxiety and Depression:TheRole of the Evaluation of SocialRank
Inferiority and perfectionism often go together because both are usually rooted in comparison. To a perfectionist, nothing they do is ever good enough.
Let me share with you a story…
There wasone 19 year old guy named PaulI knew who wanted to be an artist. Just one problem: he considered himself a perfectionist. And he thought being a perfectionist was good because it would make him try harder to be great at his craft. But that’s not what usually happens to perfectionists…
Paulwould visit online forums and galleries where the best artists of the world showed off their work. And seeing how amazing every one of these artists were, he felt discouraged. There was no way his works would match up to theirs so what was the point?
Paulwanted his first works to be perfect, like the famous artists he admired. Yethis comparison became unhealthy, causing him feel so inferior to his art heroes that hebecame discouraged from even trying. And for years, he felt scared to even practice doingart because he knewit would not measure up to his expectations.So he was stuck.
Ironically enough…perfectionism usually WORSENS someone’s quality of work.
Yes,it’s true that some people areborn with certain natural abilities… but nobody becomes great at what they do through talent alone.This is a big myth in our modernsociety that is slowly being busted. The author Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours to reach a level of genius or greatness in anyfield. And the artists that Paul admired so much were in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They had createdyearsof mediocreart, before making their modern masterpieces.
Which leads me to the next symptom…
5. Procrastination and Inaction
Perfectionism usually leads to procrastination and inaction.Constantly comparing yourself to others and having too high standards for yourself does not make your work better. It’s more like shooting yourself in the foot.
You becomeso emotionally sensitive to failure that you avoid trying at all. And since it usually takes amillion little failures to reach success, you end up trying nothing and accomplishing nothing.
Thisapplies to every area of your life, not just art…
For example, you mayavoid meeting new people because you’re afraid of being sociallyawkward, yet there is no way to become good at conversations except through practice. So if you can avoid beating yourself up when you do poorly (being perfectionistic), then you will actually develop your social skills much faster.
Always keep this motto in mind:
Sucking at something is the first step at being sort of good atit.
6. SocialMedia TriggersFeelings Of Guilt, Jealousy OrShame
When you see other people living their lives on Facebook, it makes you feel self doubt and inferiority.
- Maybe you’re young and all the people at your college seem to be out socializing and partying.
- Maybe you’re older and your friends are starting families, which makes you question if your own life decisions are correct.
- Maybe you see how many “likes” other people’s posts have, which makes you feel insignificant or worthless in comparison.
To make matters worse, people tend to only present the best parts of their lives on Facebook. So you are comparing your life to a distorted version of theirs that has all the sad, boring and plain parts editedout. In fact, studies have even proven that using social media too much makes people feel worse about themselves on average. I believe this problem is multiplied when you already feel inferior as it is.
[In a recent study…] researchers found that using social media during the day or nightwas significantly related to decreased sleep quality, lower self-esteem,increased anxiety and depression levels in the study participants. – LiveScience Writer
(And don’t even get me started on the news or magazines, which beam images of the most successful, attractive and wealthy people in the world straight into your home 24/7.)
7.You’re Secretly VeryJudgemental Of Other People
Here’s an interesting patternI’ve noticed…
Often guys who have been very unsuccessful with women will start to dislike them. A guy who is a 30 year old virgin may feel resentful and angry if he sees a group of happy attractivewomen walk by. Why? I believe it’s because the women remind him of what he feels inferior about… his own insecurities about his attractiveness, hisfeelings of failure around the opposite sex, and his loneliness in general.
A woman who looks at a magazine cover with a skinny supermodel and isoutraged about “society’s unrealistic standards” isnot looking at the real reason WHYthe model makes her so mad. The supermodel triggers feelings of unattractiveness and unworthinessinside her. Deep down, she may feel physically attractive women are more valuable than less attractive ones, and therefore believes everyone else is judging her the same way. It’s a core fear that a woman’s value to others depends on how physically attractive she is.
(In my observation, women are more likely to compare their appearancelike thisthan men. Who knows why? There have been HUGE protests against Barbie to make her proportions more “normal”… yet nobody is protesting that Superman or Batman action figures should be more “realistic” so boys don’t feel insecure compared to them.)
Are you starting to see the pattern here? One last example…
People who make fun of a millionaire driving a Ferrari are often trying to cover up the inner feeling of inadequacy and lack they feel that istriggered when they compare it to their rusty Toyota. If they suddenly won a biglottery, they would probably be the first in line to buy an expensive car themselves.
So here’s the lesson…
Inferiority causes you to be judgemental towards other people. When you judge someone else, you are usually trying to make yourself feel better than them in comparison. This always backfires. Look at when you feel the most hateful and condemning towards others. It’s probably a hint about what you feel inferior about in yourself.
What you perceive in the outside world is really a reflection of what’s happening inside you.
So if you don’t judge others, you’re less likely to feel constantly judged.
8. You TryTo HideYour Flaws Or Distract People From Them… Without Success
Sometimes people who feel ugly or insecure about their appearance will give up trying to improve it completely.Other times they will carefullytry to hide whatever it is they feel ashamed of:
- This could be as simple as wearing baggy dark clothes when you don’t like your body shape.
- Or maybe trying to always strike a certain pose in photos.
- Constantly checking yourreflectionin windows and mirrors.
- I remember avoiding smiling as much as possible back when I was painfully insecure about my slightly crooked front teeth. I notice teenagers who have braces also often do this, or cover their mouth with their hand when they laugh.
- And I suppose some women may wear more makeup when they’re feeling ugly, but I’m no expert here.
All of these examples areways of trying to control how other people see you,so that you can avoid their judgement of your inferior qualities. All it usually does is make you feel more self conscious and stressed, from all the strained effort and constant alertness.
(I only mentioned examples that do with your looks, but this applies to anything about you that you are embarrassed about: lifestyle, personality flaws, past history, etc.)
So Where Do You Go From Here?
Before I finish up, there’s one last point I need to make…
There’s a difference between knowing you’re inferior and feeling inferior. Knowing you’re inferior to other people is realistic, it means you have a good grasp on reality.
For example, Arnold Schwartzenegar probably knows that he in inferior in intelligence than Stephen Hawking. And Stephen Hawking knows he is inferior in acting to Leonardo Dicaprio. But just because they can recognize the true level of their abilities or achievements, does not mean they have to feel inferior as a person because of it.
As one quote goes:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
It’s human nature to try to rearrange the outside world to keep us happy, instead of starting with the only thing we truly can change: yourself.I hope this articlehas given you a clarity andinsight into how your feelings of inferiority work.
Understanding is the first step to change.
Why do I feel inferior to others? ›
If you feel inferior much of the time, you're at greater risk of anxiety and depression. If you feel you're not as good as other people, you may feel anxious in many situations – and suffer from social anxiety. And low self-esteem is a key factor in the development and maintenance of depression.What is an example of inferiority complex? ›
For example, a person who wants to look like a supermodel may experience strong feelings of inferiority, but looking like a supermodel is an unreasonable goal; even supermodels do not look like supermodels without airbrushing and expert camerawork.What does it mean to feel inferior? ›
1 : of little or less importance, value, or merit always felt inferior to his older brother. 2a : of low or lower degree or rank. b : of poor quality : mediocre. 3 : situated lower down : lower. 4a : situated below another and especially another similar superior part of an upright body.Do Narcissists have an inferiority complex? ›
The narcissist then appears to have an extreme sense of inferiority and is actually always alone. Narcissists are often lonely, also because of their behaviour. If someone addresses the narcissist about his/her behaviour, a feeling of being hurt quickly follows.How do you deal with an inferiority complex person? ›
Psychotherapy — talking with a supportive mental health professional who is neutral, objective, and nonjudgmental — is often effective at helping people with inferiority complex.How does inferiority complex affect us? ›
Alfred Adler identified an inferiority complex as one of the contributing factors to some unhealthy childhood behaviors. Individuals with increased feelings of inferiority have a higher tendency toward self-concealment, which in turn results in an increase in loneliness and a decrease in happiness.How do I know if I have a superiority complex? ›
- high valuations of self-worth.
- boastful claims that aren't backed up by reality.
- attention to appearance, or vanity.
- overly high opinion of one's self.
- a self-image of supremacy or authority.
- unwillingness to listen to others.
- overcompensation for specific elements of life.
Antonyms. high quality superiority rightness unpleasantness unfaithfulness popularity unresponsiveness.What is the difference between feelings of inferiority and inferiority complex? ›
Wherever he went people asked him about inferiority complexes. Adler explained there was an important difference between inferiority feelings, which are universal and serve as a positive motivating force, and inferiority complexes, which are relatively rare and tend to paralyze people rather than motivating them.How does inferiority complex affect relationships? ›
Feelings of inequality and inferiority are particularly damaging in enduring romantic relationships, as any shared experiences between the couple can be impacted (Ben-Ze'ev, 2000; 2019). According to John Gottman's studies, unequal relationships are laced with contempt, which significantly correlates with divorce.
What is another word for inferiority complex? ›
In this page you can discover 3 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for inferiority-complex, like: low self-esteem, personality-disorder and superiority complex.
The definition of inferior is someone or something that is not very good, that is not as good as something else, or that is of lower quality. An example of inferior is a cheap knock-off purse, which is of low quality. An example of inferior is a job that is not as good as other positions.What does socially inferior mean? ›
: of little or less importance or value. They were considered a socially inferior group.How do I stop my partner from feeling inferior? ›
You just need love, respect and understanding. Give it time: As you get to know him, you will start noticing his flaws, Not that you should keep an eye out for them, so that you feel better about yourself, but this will make him seem more human and you will become more aware of what holds him to you.Is an inferiority complex a mental illness? ›
An inferiority complex is not a diagnosable mental health disorder. Instead, clinicians use low self-esteem as one possible symptom when they assess for other psychological problems, including: Anxiety Disorders “If you feel as if you're not as good as others, it can provoke anxiety in many situations,” explains Dr.What is the opposite of inferiority complex? ›
Superiority complex — a condition in which someone thinks they are superior to others — is considered the opposite of inferiority complex.How does inferiority complex affect us? ›
Alfred Adler identified an inferiority complex as one of the contributing factors to some unhealthy childhood behaviors. Individuals with increased feelings of inferiority have a higher tendency toward self-concealment, which in turn results in an increase in loneliness and a decrease in happiness.What's the difference between superiority complex and inferiority complex? ›
Superiority complex vs.
A superiority complex is an exaggerated sense of self-worth. It hides real feelings of mediocrity. An inferiority complex is an overstated feeling of weakness. It often hides true motives, such as aspirations for power.