Most of us struggle with our self-esteem from time to time. However, a constant need to feel superior to others may be hiding deeper feelings of inferiority, which can become an inferiority complex.
The concept of the inferiority complex was first proposed by Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler, in his work during the 20th century. He placed emphasis upon feelings of inferiority as an element of individualistic psychology which can hinder personal development.
The APA (American Psychological Association) describes an inferiority complex as: ‘a basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, deriving from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.’ Here are a few signs to look out for if you think you may be struggling with an inferiority complex.
Competitiveness and perfectionism.
This one may seem contradictory at first, but an obsessive need for perfection and the drive to be better than others may appear on the surface of an inferiority complex. Oftentimes, the need to be better than those around you is coming from a place of perceived inferiority. You feel less than, so you push to be better than everyone else to prove to yourself that you aren’t. While there’s nothing wrong with having high standards and pushing yourself to be better, extreme perfectionism can become unhealthy if you feel like you aren’t good enough for not meeting unrealistic expectations of yourself.
Constantly comparing yourself to others, leading to low self-esteem.
Humans are social creatures, and drawing some comparisons of ourselves to friends and family is normal. However, the kinds of thoughts these comparisons generate can be the key to defining an inferiority complex. If, instead of motivating you, the comparisons cause you to mentally shut down and feel like you aren’t doing enough, they can snowball into a pattern of negative thinking.
A dislike of criticism and heightened sensitivity.
If you already are struggling with feelings of inferiority, what is intended as helpful criticism may come across to you as a personal attack. Sensitivity to the words and opinions of others is a common result of an inferiority complex, meaning even well-meaning comments may make you feel less than. This can also express itself in jumping to negative conclusions; an offhand comment by a friend or family member could have you assume they are angry at you, even though it might not be the case.
One way of combating an inferiority complex is to work out where it comes from. Adler claimed that there are two types of inferiority complexes – primary inferiority, and secondary inferiority.
Primary inferiority is thought to stem from childhood, originating in feelings of helplessness or from constantly being compared to others. These feelings can carry on into adulthood if left unaddressed.
Secondary inferiority, however, starts in adulthood. It can result when people begin to feel inferior because of not meeting personal goals, whether these are based in life security, success, or your career. This kind of feeling of inferiority can build over time, or can be onset by the occurrence of something such as an unexpected job loss.
No matter the cause, if you think you could have an inferiority complex, there are ways to move past it. Safe Place Therapy can provide you with a non-judgemental space to voice your concerns and work towards a better future. If you have any questions about how we can help, send us a message through Facebook here.
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