Inferiority Complex: 5 Tips for Fighting Low Self-Esteem

Inferiority complex is beyond the occasional feelings of inadequacy and inferiority everyone feels at some points in life. It is a pathological state of being overwhelmed by a real or imagined inadequacy, causing an individual to be less confident and being overly critical of themselves.

Inferiority Complex: What does it mean?

Inferior Definition – Feeling inferior means feeling inadequate or below others in terms of social, physical, intellectual, or psychological attributes. For instance, a student may feel inferior to others he considers brilliant in his class because of his poor performance. Feeling inferior stems from comparing oneself with others and perceiving oneself as not being up to par with others on a certain scale.

While everyone, at some point in life, has felt inferior to someone else in terms of knowledge of a subject, ability to play a musical instrument, and so on, inferiority complex is a much broader and long-lasting feeling of inadequacy which stems from childhood and affects almost all aspects of an individual’s life.  People with inferiority complex usually don’t feel good enough and they express extreme sensitivity.

Adlerian Psychology (as theorized by the Psychologist Alfred Adler) differentiates inferiority complex into two types: Primary inferiority and secondary inferiority. Primary inferiority occurs in childhood with the feelings persisting into adulthood. Primary inferiority is often caused by childhood stressors such as parental neglect, parental abuse, inadequate emotional support, and poor academic performance. It is often intensified by comparison to siblings, friends, and adults. Secondary inferiority begins in adulthood and results from an adult’s inability to achieve goals set to compensate for their original childhood feelings of inferiority.

According to Adler, everyone feels inferior to others in a certain way once in a while, and it is completely normal. Adler notes that this feeling is a stimulant to the healthy, normal developmental process of a human being. He differentiates it from inferiority complex as the latter being a pathological state where the feeling of inferiority dominates an individual and causes them to feel depressed and incapable of progressing to the desired stage.

Inferiority Complex vs. Low Self Esteem

Although contemporary psychologists (and a lot of people) interchange inferiority complex and low self-esteem, they have slightly different conceptual meanings. Low self-esteem is a feeling of doubt in oneself, sense of self-worth, or one’s ability to do something. It typically stems from a subconscious perception of oneself as below a certain physical, social, or intellectual standard. Inferiority complex stems from a low self-esteem. It is a manifestation of a low self-esteem and refers to how a person’s constant thoughts of inadequacy and self-doubt affect their emotions, interactions, relationships, and general worldview.

What Could Cause Inferiority Complex?

Inferiority complex results from an imagined or real feeling of inadequacy and inferiority. Some of these factors that cause inferiority complex include:

  • Parental upbringing – Children who are brought up by caregivers who are disapproving and always critical of their actions and performance are at a high risk of developing a low self-esteem and inferiority complex.
  • Social Limitations – Discrimination against an individual based on their family, race, sex, socio-economic status, educational level, religion, and sexual orientation may place them at a risk of inferiority complex.
  • Physical defects – Some defects in appearance, such as weight issues, visual defects, skin diseases, burn wounds, may trigger feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem in some individuals. Other physical features such as speech defects including stuttering may also lead to feelings of inferiority complex.

Inferiority Complex “Symptoms”

It is important for people to recognize the signs of inferiority complex so as to better understand themselves and how to seek help. These signs include:

1. Social Withdrawal

People with inferiority complex usually feel uncomfortable being around others, particularly in a crowded place. This is because of an imagined belief that others would soon find out that they don’t fit into the group, causing them to feel embarrassed. People with inferiority complex often have trouble making new friends or maintaining the ones they have, because they feel they are not good enough and the friends may not like them.

2. Fault Finding

A key sign of inferiority complex is the urge to make others feel inadequate or incompetent too. An individual with an inferiority complex is not driven by the need to achieve or succeed at something, therefore, they do not train their minds to recognize and compliment the positive attributes of others. To feel better about themselves, such individuals tend to make others feel bad about themselves too by finding faults and pointing out the wrong things about others. They also do not take responsibility for their failures and mistakes, blaming them on others.

3. Performance Anxiety

An individual with inferiority complex already feels they can’t achieve as much as others in a certain task, therefore, if placed in a situation where they have to complete a task, they may feel very apprehensive. You may find yourself feeling so anxious when asked to sing a song or operate a device, for instance. This occurs because of the fear of failure or the fear of being laughed at or criticized, resulting from your feeling of inadequacy and belief that you cannot perform the task.

4. Craving for Attention

An individual with an inferiority complex has a strong need to be loved and validated. Inferiority complex robs an individual of a healthy sense of self and sense of worth, so they seek to receive validation from others. These people usually need to be flattered and are dependent on such flattery for their happiness. They may pretend to be ill or unhappy so as to get attention or cheer from others.

5. Increased sensitivity

People with an inferiority complex are highly sensitive to what others do, think, or say about them. They do not take compliments or criticisms well and may become overly aggressive when they are criticized. This occurs because such critical comments about them reinforce their own thoughts about themselves, and in trying to defend or protect themselves, they become aggressive or overly emotional.

6. Easily Feeling Disrespected

Individuals with inferiority complex often neglect their needs and emotions in order to be liked by others. They put their needs last so as to continue receiving attention from others. You may find yourself tolerating several episodes of abuse from your relationship partner, for instance. This is usually a result of your lack of self-esteem and poor boundaries.

Five Tips for Raising Self Esteem

At the core of the manifestations of inferiority complex is low self-esteem and until this is addressed, you may continue to experience those thoughts and emotions of inadequacy. Here are some ways of building your self-esteem and becoming a more confident person:

1. Practice Self-Compassion

One of the key steps to feeling less inferior to others and more confident about yourself is being kind to yourself. Everyone makes mistakes, everyone fails and it takes getting back up and trying again to succeed. Having this at the back of your mind will reduce the anxiety and depression you feel when you make a mistake. Be happy when you make a mistake and learn from it so it can be avoided in the future. You need to realize that some weaknesses are not abnormal and are completely surmountable. If you define yourself by your mistakes or past failures, you may find it difficult surpassing those barriers to achieve further successes.

2. Recognize your strengths.

One thing low self-esteem does to an individual is to make their weaknesses overwhelming. People with inferiority complex usually focus a lot on what they can’t do well and less on what they are capable of doing. If you focus on the things you are good at, whether it is singing, writing, cooking, or talking, you will find that you get better at doing such things and you will feel much better and much more confident about yourself.

3. Form Positive Relationships

You should avoid people who tend to bring you down or who constantly say demeaning things about or to you. Choose to build friendships with people who identify and bring out the best in you. Move with people who build your strengths and who will help you become a better person.

4. Practice Assertiveness

Assertiveness involves setting boundaries in your relationship with others. It involves respecting other people’s needs and opinions and expecting that yours be respected as well. Some examples of being assertive include standing up for yourself, letting go of toxic friendships, and stating your needs confidently. The more assertive you are, the more people will respect you and the better you will feel about yourself.

5. Learning to say “No”

People with a poor self-esteem typically fall into the trap of agreeing to everyone’s demands. They do this, not because they want to, but because they do not want to lose their friendship with others. Learning to say “No” is a great way of being assertive and making your own needs clear to others. In time, others will learn to respect you, your time, your space, and so on because you clearly stated your boundaries. This will also make you feel better about yourself.

Should you seek outside Help?

While it is possible for you to manage your feelings of inferiority by changing your attitudes and behavior on your own, you may need the help of support groups and therapy.

Support Groups

Support groups provide you with the right environment and emotional support to overcome the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. In these groups, you will meet with and learn from people who have experienced the feelings of inferiority in the past.


Cognitive behavioral therapy may be initiated for you if you have an inferiority complex. The therapist will recommend strategies for you to modify your behavior, emotions, and thoughts for you to overcome the feelings of inferiority and become a more confident person.

How to Find a Therapist

Your primary care physician will refer you to a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for therapy. You may also ask friends and family for good therapists, or check through online resources and directories to find the right therapist for you.

What should I be looking for in a Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)?

Qualities you should look for in an LMHP include:

  • Good Communication Skills: An effective LMHP should be able to effectively communicate their expert ideas about how you can overcome this feeling of inferiority.
  • Empathy: You do not want a counselor who would rush through medical facts without considering your emotional needs. You need an LMHP that is considerate, patient, calm, and compassionate with you.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Your chosen LMHP must be knowledgeable enough to help you through to a satisfactory resolution of your symptoms. While the outcome is not entirely up to your counselor, they must demonstrate ample ability to help manage your symptoms effectively.
  • Good multicultural Relationship: Your counselor must be able to strike a strong patient-therapist relationship with you irrespective of your racial, ethnic, or cultural differences. Therapy must be devoid of such prejudices which may hamper on the effectiveness of treatment.

Questions to ask a Potential Therapist

You should ask a potential therapist the following questions to help you gain more insight into your symptoms and the scope of your treatment options.

  • Why do I feel and act the way I do?
  • Am I having an inferiority complex?
  • Are these behavioral patterns long-lasting or transient?
  • Can I overcome this feeling of inferiority?
  • Is therapy necessary?
  • How long will therapy be for, it necessary?
  • Are there any resources or websites you recommend?

Inferiority complex is a pathological feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt which stems from low self-esteem. People with inferiority complex usually have this imagined or real feeling of being below others in social, psychological, physical, or intellectual terms. You can overcome this feeling by deliberately changing your behavior, thoughts, and belief system. This will make you appreciate your uniqueness and feel more confident about yourself.


author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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