When you compare yourself to others, it’s completely normal to feel inadequate or insufficient. Growing up, there was always another kid that would perform better in class, played sports better, or was generally loved by everyone.
Feelings of jealousy and inferiority would naturally be experienced in these cases. Even as an adult, these feelings can be common. Looking toward friends, family, or co-workers and comparing your lives can end up causing you to feel pretty low about your situation and status in life. Maybe they have higher-paying jobs, a loving family, or more exciting adventures.
Whatever the case may be, experiencing feelings of inadequacy is completely normal and can even be healthy as it may create the drive to improve the thing causing this inferiority. However, in some people, these feelings consume them, and they become overwhelmed by an all-encompassing sense of failure or low esteem that often leads to rumination or self-deprecation. In some cases feeling inadequate may serve to push someone forward, but in others, it causes a person to become stuck in their inferiority leading to major problems.
These intense feelings of being a failure and being inadequate can take over someone’s life and make it very difficult for them to function or accomplish goals. The people who experience these feelings are suffering from an inferiority complex.
What Is an Inferiority Complex?
As defined by the American Psychological Association, an inferiority complex is a basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity that derives from actual or perceived physical or psychological deficiencies. This essentially boils down to mean that a person almost constantly feels as though they are less than anyone else.
What can be fascinating about inferiority complexes is that they tend to create a superiority complex. This complex is the polar opposite of an inferiority complex and occurs when an individual has a wildly exaggerated opinion of their abilities and accomplishments. Superiority complexes are usually formed as a reaction to feelings of inadequacy as a person will tend to overcompensate for their deep feelings of inferiority. It’s not to say that anyone with an inferiority complex will develop a superiority complex or that people with superiority complex are secretly suffering from an inferiority complex, but the correlations are worth noting.
Most often an inferiority complex is developed during childhood due to an invalidating experience or being raised in a family that influences them to feel less or not as good as another. Inferiority complexes are subconscious and so they manifest in people differently, but there are still enough common symptoms to be able to easily diagnose.
What Are the Symptoms of an Inferiority Complex?
It’s human nature to feel inferior from time to time but what’s important is how you may respond to those feelings.
Do they motivate you to try harder and learn more in order to do better or do they cause you to ruminate and shut down? Maybe they cause you to feel jealous of others and put people down so as to build yourself up? Do you blame others for things that were your fault and personal responsibility? If you experience such patterns consistently, then you may have an inferiority complex. At its core, an inferiority complex is possessing a collection of negative thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and tendencies.
Some signs that you may have an inferiority complex include:
- Insecurity and low self-esteem
- Inability to reach goals or feeling “stuck”
- Wanting to give up on easily
- Always assuming the worst
- Feelings a need to withdraw in social situations
- Often feeling down on yourself
- Experiencing anxiety and depression
- Being highly sensitive to criticism
- Repetitively focusing on upsetting thoughts
- Shutting down due to shame, guilt, embarrassment, or a sense of defeat
- Withdrawing from friends, coworkers, colleagues, or family members
- Demeaning others in order to transfer feelings of isolation and failure
- Not taking compliments seriously
- Feeling responsible for other people’s shortcoming and failures
- Seeking attention by pretending to be sick or depressed, constantly bringing the conversation back to you
- Avoiding competition where your efforts may directly be compared to others
These signs are often mistaken for someone that appears overly confident, but in reality, are symptoms of an inferiority complex:
- Highly competitive
- Attention seeking
- Very sensitive to criticism
- Constantly finding flaws in others
- Difficulty in admitting mistakes
- Feeling good about yourself when you’re doing better than others
How To Overcome an Inferiority Complex
The feelings of inferiority are so deeply rooted that it can prove to be almost impossible to rid yourself of them. This complex goes much farther than simply not liking yourself. You wholeheartedly believe that you are inferior to others and that no one and nothing will be able to convince you otherwise. It’s not a rational belief, but it’s how you feel.
Despite these facts, it is possible to overcome an inferiority complex, but it will take a lot of hard work. These are some examples of what you’ll have to do to overcome your feelings of inadequacy:
- Deal with your past and tackle difficult emotional memories. There are most likely one or more instances in your past where you felt particularly traumatized by feeling inferior to someone or something. What was this event, or what was this person? Take a deep look into the reasoning and origin behind your inferiority complex. Understanding these layers will help you to find what created your problem and help you to solve it. Once you better understand your feelings and where they come from, you can take the steps toward overcoming them.
- Be nicer to yourself. Practicing self-compassion may be a particular struggle for you as you may tend to think badly of yourself, but try your best to be nicer and practice self-care. Not just thinking higher of yourself, but also taking care of yourself physically too. Exercising more, eating healthier or just going out and doing things that you enjoy are all important to fighting your inferiority complex. In addition, you should learn how to use your inner voice to encourage you better. Berating yourself and constantly talking down to yourself will not help you to improve. Be more positive in how you mentally talk to yourself.
- Surround yourself with positive people. If you have any kinds of toxic relationships with others then you need to remove them from your life, regardless of whether or not they are close friends or family. Very often an inferiority complex is linked to difficult parenting or challenging circumstances during childhood, so anyone that may make you feel like less of a person should be removed. Focus your time and energy instead on relationships with people that make you feel good and feel as though you are good enough.
- Learn how to say “no.” You probably have a strong sense of wanting to please people and tend to never say the word “no.” It may be difficult, especially if you frequently desire to prove yourself, but being able to say “no” is a valuable form of self-care. Avoid doing things that you don’t enjoy or aren’t helpful to you just so that other people may like you more. Seeking their validation will distract you from focusing on yourself and improving your own image of yourself.
- Be more assertive. If you are too afraid to try something new because you have a fear of failing, then that’s something you need to work on. You may be missing out on really exciting and wonderful opportunities because you are overthinking too much. The first and most likely person that is stopping you from being happy or successful is you. Get out of your own way and try something that you’ve wanted to, even if it means failing spectacularly.
- Recognize your strengths and embrace your differences. Instead of focusing on the things that you are not good at and comparing them to others, focus instead on what you are good at. The ironic thing is someone else may be comparing themselves to you and your strengths and thinking they are the ones that are inadequate. Instead of being concerned about what you think society’s image of happiness or success is, learn to embrace who you are in actuality. Just because you don’t meet what you think society’s standards are, does not mean that you are in any way inferior.
- Let go of unreasonable expectations. There are certain things that you will never be able to control. You can’t just will yourself to be something that you are not. If there is something in your life that feels unnatural to who you are or makes you feel worse instead of better, then it is not worth continuing. Whether this is a relationship, goal, or capabilities, it does not matter. At some point, you’ll have to recognize you are better off moving on.
Trying to overcome an inferiority complex can be a very difficult and challenging process. With enough patience and commitment, you will be able to stop thinking so negatively about yourself and improve your life.
What you believe that others may think about you, ultimately, does not really matter. The most important opinion of you should be yours. Comparing yourself to others is an easy way to feel down about who you are, but it doesn’t matter who they are or how great you think they may be. What matters is how you view yourself and how great that you are.
Overcoming an inferiority complex can be difficult and will take time and a lot of effort. You may consider seeing a mental health professional in order to help the process. However, once you start viewing yourself better, you’ll see your life improve dramatically, so it’s very much worth the time and effort.