You’ll probably know more than someone like that, people who need to feel important at the cost of making you feel inferior. When you are at their side they often look down on you, and you end up feeling bad and wondering what is true in their contemptuous look and condescending tone of voice. They make you doubt of yourself.
The Viennese psychoanalyst Alfred Adler was one of the first to deal with this phenomenon by referring to the “struggle for superiority” in interpersonal relationships. In fact, he was the one who coined the term “inferiority complex” to refer to people who have difficulty integrating their weaknesses and errors into a balanced picture of their “self”.
Inferiority complex and compensatory strategies
The inferiority complex is the feeling of not being up to the situation or the people we are comparing with. The person constantly has doubts about himself and his abilities, he feels inferior because he believes he does not fall within the standards.
The problem, according to Adler, is that “instead of motivating to improve, the inferiority complex paralyzes”. This tendency to constantly compare ourselves with others creates anxiety and anguish, so that the person usually tries, unconsciously, to compensate for these unpleasant feelings.
These compensatory strategies have two objectives. On the one hand, they are a defense mechanism that makes them feel superior to others, so as to protect a fragile “self”. On the other hand, it helps them to defend themselves, so that the others do not discover what they consider their “weak points”.
The problem is that by constructing this “outer shell” with which they intend to present themselves under a more favorable light, they terminate isolating themselves. The person who suffers from inferiority complex will find it difficult to trust the others because he does not want them to discover his weaknesses, so instead of letting they help him, he will raise a barrier and will not connect emotionally. Therefore, it is not surprising that a study conducted at the University of Anatolia has shown that those who feel inferior and insecure feel also more alone.
Of course, to this social isolation also contributes the bad compensatory strategies they can use, which often consist in undermining the self-esteem of the others making them feel inferior. In practice, these people will not try to grow and exceed their limits, but they will try to climb on the shoulders of the others to see farther and look taller. They do not try to shine more, but to turn off the light of the others.
Obviously, is very difficult to maintain a relationship of any kind with a person who is constantly competing with us and tries to “crush us”. In the end, interrupting the relationship is a sort of psychological survival mechanism.
The most common strategies of people who need to feel important
1. They are always in a hurry
They made us believe that a busy person is an important person. Therefore, those who feel inferior always seem to be in a hurry. When you are in the company of this person you can even become anxious because he will constantly watch the clock, walk faster or always say he has little time. His goal is to make it look like he’s doing you a big favor by giving his time to you, to the point that you might feel uncomfortable.
2. They classify ordinary events to make them seem more important
People who need to feel important often resort to a “special” language to name the events of everyday life in such a way that they seem more important. For example, they can refer to the simple call of a customer as a “teleconference”. These people never do normal things, their life is always full of important commitments and activities.
3. They are constantly worried
Busy people are worried people so that, to be important, these people avoid appearing relaxed. Therefore, they will always tell you their concerns and problems, amplifying their repercussions to the maximum. In fact, they are authentic specialists in presenting situations that would almost be blessings to others, like big problems or concerns.
4. They make the others wait
Important people do not have a free minute, so they will never be the first to arrive. They calculate the time to make you wait a little bit’, and then they will apologize by saying that they had an “important and urgent” commitment. In this way they are trying to show you that are more important than you. It is usually very difficult to meet with them, because they say they always have a full agenda and have to jump through hoops to find a “hole” for you.
5. They exaggerate their results
People suffering from inferiority complex will try to compensate for their “faults” or “weaknesses” by exaggerating their results. It is normal that they look for elaborate words to describe their work, so that it looks like a position of greater importance and responsibility. At the same time, they will try to minimize your successes by stating that are not that big or they will point out your past mistakes or failures.
6. They believe they are more intelligent and capable
When insecure people feel threatened, they activate their compensatory protection mechanisms. If they think that you could overshadow their intelligence and ability, they will focus on discredit by making you notice your mistakes and weaknesses. In a group, it is normal that they try to bring the topic of conversation on their own ground, to return to the center of the attention.
7. They are hypercritical
Insecure people are continually confronting with the others, but since they cannot bear to feel inferior, they try to denigrate them. For this reason, they often develop a hypercritical attitude that can end up making you feel bad, because nothing you say or do will ever be worthy of praise. Sometimes you feel like you’re part of a rigged competition since you can never win.
Arianna Huffington, American writer and journalist, said: “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself”. Life is not a competition, even if the society has instilled us this idea. The goal is not to overcome the others but to improve yourself every day. When we understand it, we not only liberate ourselves from a great burden, but life also becomes, surprisingly, much easier.
Akdoğan, R. (2017) A model proposal on the relationships between loneliness, insecure attachment, and inferiority feelings. Personality and Individual Differences; 111(1): 19-24.