We all make comparisons. In fact, the comparison is a fundamental activity of our thinking. Since childhood we learn to know the world through comparison. While we compare things and situations we make a better idea of the world around us.
But the problem starts when we compare us with the others and finish to despise ourselves. Then is when the inferiority complex comes in and we start feeling smaller, miserable, less important and capable then others.
What is the inferiority complex?
The inferiority complex concerns a person who has low self-esteem and the permanent feeling of not being up to the others.
This categorization is based in Adler’s ideas, for who there were two kinds of inferiority complex:
– The primary inferiority complex. In this case the source can be traced back to childhood, when the child experiences feelings of weakness, helplessness and dependency. Following these feelings can be reinforced by negative comparisons with brothers, classmates, or in relationships.
– The secondary inferiority complex. In this case the origin is located in adulthood and is linked to the feeling, often unconscious, of not being able to achieve safety and success. The person experiences negative feelings related to his abilities and feels inferior to the others, which considers secure and successful people.
However, regardless of the period in which it arose, the inferiority complex is based on a generalization, on irrational judgments respect to ourselves. This misconception is deeply fixed in our mind at the point it ends up influencing our lives and the image we have of ourselves.
Why does the inferiority complex appears?
Most people who suffer the inferiority complex think that this is due to their fault, often physical, or the fact that they are not competent enough in some areas. But this is just an excuse.
The inferiority complex doesn’t depend only on “difference”, but also by the inability to properly manage this difference. It is not diversity, but our interpretation of that “difference” which creates an inferiority complex. In fact, you can meet people who have the same defect, disability, weakness or special characteristic and have not developed an inferiority complex, but are self-confident with themselves.
Some people can take advantage of this alleged “defect” learning to be more resilient, while others focus on the negative impact and end up aggravating the problem. In this sense, Henry C. Link stated that: “while a person doesn’t try because feels inferior, another continues to do errors and is improving little by Little”.
Obviously, this way of dealing with the “difference” depends largely on our beliefs, many of which have been developed during childhood. For example, if we think that a person can only be successful is able to accumulate goods and money, it is likely we feel inferior and failed if we hadn’t be able to do it. If we think that to be happy we need to be physically perfect, we will be perpetually obsessed with our appearance and every little “defect” can help to develop an inferiority complex.
People who believe that everything must necessarily be black or white, good or bad, all or nothing, are also more likely to underestimate and despise themselves because are not able to appreciate the different shades of life. These people, dealing with others, always end up focusing only on negative things and feeling inadequate or disadvantaged.
The danger of overcompensation
Some people, when feel inferior, behave as if they really were so, then they end up reaffirming the low opinion they have of themselves. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. These people also tend to isolate themselves from others because they think that everyone will notice their “defect” and will deride them. In some cases they may also develop fears or phobias. They become dependent people, who need someone stronger by their side that offers a permanent emotional support.
In other cases, people with an inferiority complex unconsciously react by activating a compensation mechanism. That is, they try to compensate for the “defect” setting an goal almost impossible to achieve that haunts them and eventually cause even more problems.
In fact, it is important to distinguish between compensation and overcompensation. Compensation involves simply develop some resources to compensate for a deficiency. In this case the person is aware of the problem and works to compensate, improving skills and other skills.
Overcompensation goes one step further, it involves the desire to feel superior. People who implement a compensation mechanism often exhibit extreme behavior, try to excel in certain areas to any means, projecting a false image of security. For example, a man with an inferiority complex associated with masculinity, can react with misogynistic attitudes that lead him to despise women.
Another problem of overcompensation is that normally occurs at an unconscious level. That is, the person does not accept that, at the base of these extreme behaviors hides the feeling of inferiority. Obviously, in this way we end up sinking into a vicious circle that does not allow us to grow. In fact, even if these people manage to achieve certain results or even excel in some areas of life, they can never feel better, because do not exceed the inferiority complex behind it.
How to overcome the inferiority complex?
Repeating positive phrases endlessly in front of the mirror is completely useless. In fact, a study by psychologists of California and Yale University indicates that people who have low self-esteem feel worse when repeat themselves phrases like: “I accept myself totally” or “I will succeed”. It is not so easy to fool ourself.
Overcoming the inferiority complex requires a very deep psychological effort.
1. Determine in what you’re feeling inferior. The first step to solving a problem is knowing that it exists, becoming aware of the difficulty. If you suffer a complex you have to find that part of you that you do not like.
2. Evaluate the extent of the damage. Usually, the inferiority complex starts from a deficiency, a weakness or defect but gradually spreads to the whole personality. Evaluate like this feeling influenced your life. It doesn’t mean to find a reasons to fall depressed, but to understand the extent to which this complex limited you.
3. Begin to think in terms of diversity. Being inferior than something implies a comparison, in which we often use schemes which are too rigid. Rather than compare yourself to others, it would be better you began to see life in terms of diversity. It is not about being better or worse, but only to highlight what makes you unique and different.
4. Focus on what you can improve. Crying over spilled milk is counterproductive. We all have weaknesses and limitations, if we are not able to go further in some fields, it is best to focus on those areas where we can give the best of us. Of course, we should not get obsessed to compensate a defect at all costs, but we simply have to find satisfaction and happiness. Remember that you do not have to prove anything to anyone, just make sure to develop the skills that make you happy.
5. Be yourself. In a society where everything is standardized and homogenized, it is normal that many people feel bad if they perceive to be different. But what is absurd is pretending to be equal to the others, because this way you’re choking your identity and even your worth as a person. Look inside yourself, discover who you are and have the courage to be different.
Finally, remember that you do not need a lot to be happy. When you discover who you are, you will realize that many of the things we longed were superficial or utopian. You will realize that you do not need these things to be happy because happiness and satisfaction does not come from outside but from within you.
Ackerman, J. M. et. Al. (2009) You Wear Me Out The Vicarious Depletion of Self-Control. Psychological Science; 20(3): 326-332.