An inferiority complex is the erroneous belief of an individual that they are unable to cope with real or imaginary deficiencies. Everyone has feelings of inferiority from time to time. An inferiority complex is a negative reaction to this that causes problems for an individual. The following are illustrative examples.
ChildhoodFeelings of inferiority are very common in childhood and don't always lead to inferiority complex. Feelings of inferiority can originate with the common experience of standing out from others or being less successful than others in some situation. These can also stem from negative experiences of being harshly criticized, compared to others or bullied. These feelings progress to inferiority complex where a child feels they can't cope or copes in some negative way. For example, a child who becomes socially withdrawn after a series of harsh criticisms from parents, teachers and peers.
AdulthoodIt is common for inferiority complex to resolve in childhood or early adulthood as individuals find positive ways to cope with feelings of inferiority or find ways to avoid these feelings. Adults who continue to suffer from inferiority complex may have habitual neurotic behaviors driven by feelings of inferiority. For example, narcissistic behaviors such as constantly seeking attention and validation from anyone who will provide it.
CopingIndividuals can deal with feelings of inferiority in a variety of positive ways such developing healthy self-confidence to quickly overcome these emotions.
AvoidanceIndividuals who can't cope with feelings of inferiority may seek out ways to avoid such feelings. This is less healthy than coping as you will remain vulnerable and may also miss out on opportunities by shaping your life to avoid things like criticism and competition.
RemediationThe process of fixing the root cause of your feelings of inferiority. For example, studying harder when you feel that everyone is getting ahead of you in a class. Feelings of inferiority can be fully irrational such that their often isn't anything to "fix."
AcceptanceAccepting yourself and things that you can't change to overcome feelings of inferiority. For example, an older worker who experiences mounting feelings of inferiority around younger colleagues who overcomes this by accepting the aging process and seeing the beauty of it.
CompensationCompensation is a coping mechanism whereby you work to mitigate a weakness. For example, an individual with a speech impediment who works to become a brilliant public speaker. This is a positive type of coping.
Overcompensation Overcompensation occurs when an individual uses feelings of inferiority as a form of motivation to pursue negative strategies and goals. For example, a hockey player who feels inferior to other players on their team who overcompensates with poor sportsmanship.
RedirectionThe practice of redirecting negative emotions to produce positive motivation. For example, a foreign worker in Germany who feels irrationally inferior to their German coworkers due to their strong accent in German who redirects these negative feelings into motivation to be productive and earn promotions. The ability to turn something negative into something positive is an admirable human characteristic that shouldn't be labeled negatively as overcompensation.
Superiority ComplexA superiority complex is the process of dealing with feelings of inferiority by trying to establish superiority over others in some negative way. Alfred Adler, the doctor and psychotherapist who originated the theory of inferiority complex, believed that feelings of inferiority are a fundamental type of motivation behind a wide range of problematic behaviors. For example, an individual with an authoritarian personality who tries to establish social dominance over others using rules and regulations could be motivated by deep seated feelings of inferiority.
Inferiority Complex BiasAn inferiority complex bias is the invalid assumption that people who have faced disadvantages are always "overcompensating." This can be used as a type of sour grapes argument to diminish the accomplishments of others, label them and pathologize them. The inferiority complex bias is commonly applied to anyone who is perceived to have a "disadvantage" in life. In particular, it is very commonly applied to people with disabilities and short men. For example, an unusually successful person with disabilities may be unfairly accused of "overcompensating."
NotesThe concept of inferiority complex is commonly overused by popular psychology that encourages people to view positive efforts as "overcompensating." This is a negative way of viewing the efforts of others that may be based on jealously, mediocrity, schadenfreude or feelings of superiority over those you view as disadvantaged.An actual inability to cope would not be an inferiority complex.
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ReferencesAdler, Alfred. Social interest: A challenge to mankind. Vol. 108. New York: Capricorn books, 1964.Heidbreder, EDNA F. "The normal inferiority complex." The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 22.3 (1927): 243.
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