We all have doubts about our worth and abilities. Be it with our looks, grades, jobs, salaries, relationships- chances are we all have questioned our worth with someone who’s doing better than us in a particular area. And it’s human to feel inadequate sometimes. After all, this is what keeps us grounded and motivates us to do better in whatever we set our mind to.

But the problem arises when you find yourself stuck and not able to put your best foot forward because this feeling of inadequacy has consumed your mind so much that it’s difficult to break the pattern of these negative thoughts.

A social comparison is a measuring tool that humans use to evaluate their self-worth by comparing themselves with others. These evaluations cover social stature, job, income that determine the value of a person in society. Even though these comparisons are natural, some people find it difficult to overcome these comparisons. And these recurring comparisons further result in insecurity, scientifically termed as Inferiority Complex.

What does inferiority complex mean?

Inferiority complex is a state of belief where a person lacks self-worth and believes not measuring up to the social standards. It is a complex state of mind where an individual keeps himself under the shield covered with shyness and low self-esteem that ultimately diminishes his creative skills and self-worth.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to feeling inferior among others, and social comparison tops the chart.

Adler’s Inferiority Complex theory:

According to Adler, all humans experience comparison in their childhood which accumulates into inferiority and expend most of their adult life reconciling with those feelings. As people step into adulthood and bear different responsibilities, this feeling of inferiority lingers in different severity in different people.

For example, one might use this feeling as a tool to improve themselves on both professional and personal grounds. And for some, this feeling of inadequacy can consume them in a way that it becomes difficult for them to function normally according to situations and events. People who have a hard time battling inferior thoughts are said to have an inferiority complex.

What causes inferiority complex?

causes of inferiority complex

There are a lot of elements that contribute to feelings of being inferior to others, but some common reasons are as below.

  1. Low self-esteem: Low self-esteem portrays a lack of self-confidence where one feels not good enough and has constant doubt regarding their self-worth. These people perceive themselves as someone who is not capable enough to do great things. And they get easily affected by others' opinions about them. Low self-esteem holds a person back from social events and trying out new things because, in their mind, they already think they are a failure.
  2. Negative self-image: As the saying goes- You are what you think. Our internal thoughts and emotions shape our personalities. People with a negative self-image struggle with even the tasks that require minimum effort. They cannot accept compliments and rewards wholeheartedly because they already perceive themselves as a failure. Their negative thoughts are their enemy, and they annihilate their happiness on their own.
  3. Colour of skin: People with darker skin tone face indifferent behaviour from others. In this digital age, when television advertisements associate success with a fair skin tone, this hurts the sentiments of people belonging to a particular race. It creates a sense of inferiority in them.
  4. Body Image: The sudden growth of digital media has amounted to insecurities among teenagers. When someone cannot stop pondering about their physical appearances and little flaws, they create negative notions about their physical outlook. It is about setting unrealistic views of how other people perceive them. For example, women are conscious about their body figure and try to attain those unrealistic body goals set by models and actors.

How to identify the symptoms of inferiority complex?

One of the most common symptoms of inferiority complex is feeling a lack of belonging in society. These people sense they are not worth having an emotional connection in their social circle because others are always better than them. And most of the time, these are false beliefs that they create on their own and are hardly the truth.

Furthermore, people who have an inferiority complex try their best to outrun other people to feel validated and secured with themselves. And, if by chance they fail to do so, they can start projecting their insecurities on other individuals by criticizing to feel better. However, we can conclude that this is the end of the spectrum of social connection when one continuously lashes against others after failing at some tasks.

Another common symptom that inferior people project is constant blaming. They perceive themselves as a victim of circumstances and always look out for reasons to blame. Instead of finding solutions and taking little actions to better their situation, they blame luck and the universe when things do not go according to them. It is normal to vent out your emotions once in a while, but when it turns into a habit, the feeling of insecurity creeps in because they are not in a mindset that requires them to function normally through conflicts.

Those people who have an inferiority complex, tend to associate others' success with luck and fate. They invalidate other individuals' hard work and struggle to give them credits for their efforts. They always have opinions about others, and most of the time, their judgments are on baseless grounds. These people feel a sense of entitlement by vilifying others' success. But when it comes to them, they are sensitive to criticism. Even if it is a healthy criticism, they have a hard time accepting it, and they perceive the other person with an intent to defame them, which is not the truth.

And last, but not least attention-seeking behaviour is the most common among inferior people. In a social event, they try to seek the attention of others by being excessively friendly or being sad and happy. For example, putting up continuous updates on social media sites about their daily lives is one sign of attention-seeking behaviour.

Is inferiority complex a mental disorder?

Inferiority complex is not a disorder but a psychological condition where a person has low self-esteem. Adverse events, past traumas, and childhood comparisons are some of the reasons that attribute to feeling inferior. If not coped well, it can aggravate one to have anxiety and other mental health issues. There are two types of inferiority complexes.

  1. Primary inferiority complex: This vastly occurs in children when they are critically compared with their peers to perform better in both academic and extracurricular activities. These experiences affect the same child in their later stage of life.
  2. Secondary inferiority complex: This takes place in adults as a result of past experiences in their childhood. The individual might find it hard in doing easy tasks in their day-to-day life.

How to overcome the inferiority complex?

no one make you feel inferior without your consent - Eleanor Roosevelt about Inferiority Complex

Treating an inferiority complex is possible, and it is more like an inside job where one has to identify and deal with complex psychology to form necessary measures.

  1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Cognitive behaviour therapy is a common type of psychotherapy. Here, the therapist teaches the clients to be aware of their negative thought patterns. And over time, people steadily bring a change in their negative thought patterns and finally learn to function well with conflicting thoughts. The patients determine their thoughts from two perspectives. Some of them are as follows:

    Simplifying goals so that it is easier for people to achieve them instead of focusing on the result.

    Accepting that your thoughts are not facts. (For example, changing the thought “I’m not a good speaker” to “I may not be a good speaker but with practice, I will improve.”)

    Facing situations that are difficult to cope up. (E.g., greeting a stranger with a “Hello”.)
  2. Talk Therapy: Talk therapy is a great strategy when you’re starting to cope with the symptoms of an inferiority complex. Here, your therapist will guide you to identify the unhealthy patterns and the root cause of them. The therapist will evaluate your past experiences or any traumas that might have resulted in a negative self-image.

    Talk therapy takes time before you notice any progress. Nonetheless, it is a promising start to battling your inferior thought patterns, and that rebuilding your self-confidence is always possible. With time and patience, the individual can learn how to cope better with their emotions.
  3. Maintaining a Journal: Daily journaling is therapeutic to the soul. Taking some time from your daily routine and writing down your thoughts in a notebook helps you provide a better understanding of your thoughts. Writing a daily journal can open up a whole new door in having a healthy relationship with ourselves. It helps an individual to learn better about their thoughts. It is a practical tool that every therapist uses in their practice because of the easy availability.
  4. Positive affirmations: Thoughts shape our personalities, and positive thoughts have immense benefits on our overall well-being. The human mind is very flexible. It can be moulded and framed in a positive mindset. Exposing yourself to a positive environment, listening to positive talks of inspirational people can help change our outlook towards life from negative to positive.
  5. Medication: Even though medication treatment should be the last resort, even if therapy does not show any progress, medication may be prescribed by a professional. Since severe symptoms of inferiority complexes include anxiety and depression, psychiatrists can approve for medicated treatments to the sufferer. This treatment regulates mood by increasing the levels of mood-lifting hormones.

What is superiority complex?

In psychology, the superiority complex is defined as a behaviour where individuals perceive themselves to be superior to others. People with this complexity have notions about themselves that surpass others. They are highly opinionated and may believe their success always outran other’s success and achievements. However, those who have superior complexes, often use it as a defence mechanism to shield their low self-esteem issues.

How is inferiority complex different from superiority complex?

It is easy to identify people with these complexes. Here are some examples.

People with inferiority complex:

  • Struggle to initiate conversations in social events.
  • Are extremely fragile to criticism as they take others opinions personally.
  • Are wary of taking any risks as they might feel their efforts will get compared with others.
  • Can’t take compliments well for they believe they’re undeserving of it.
  • Make themselves the victim of circumstances to get the attention and validation which they seek.
  • Might exhibit reclusive tendencies due to fear of shame, guilt, and embarrassment.

Now, a person who has a superiority complex, holding others less worthy, actually has deep-rooted inferior feelings for themself. And that’s why they end up often displaying the same symptoms of inferiority complex. Both conditions are two sides of the same coin, except the confidence that a person with a superiority complex exudes to compensate the areas they lack in, is nothing but a facade.

Inferiority complex is not life-threatening as every person has felt inferior at some time. But an early diagnosis of this behaviour can help prevent one from self-sabotaging thought patterns.