Feeling inferior is something we all experience at some point in our lives. Whether you didn’t make the school football team or your sibling received higher grades than you, feeling inferior to them is a familiar feeling. In most cases, this feeling of inferiority is short-lived; we bounce back from those negative feelings, and it causes us to work harder. But in some people, this pattern of dejected feelings can become so overpowering it rules their lives. If not caught and addressed at an early age, an inferiority complex can cause people to belittle themselves continually, think of their achievements as minor, and become extremely sensitive.
Sometimes, an inferiority complex can be the result of strict or authoritarian parenting or extreme peer pressure from classmates or sibling rivalry. Strict parenting may cause children to feel as though nothing they do will ever be “good enough,” even if the child is performing well in school, on a sports team, or in other activities. This sort of deep-rooted sense of failure is something children can carry with them for the rest of their lives, or until they seek therapy later in life. An inferiority complex can also cause children to experience unnecessary stress or anxiety due to high expectations from parents or classmates. Later in life, this complex can cause people to under-perform at work because of a feeling that nothing they do will be “good enough,” similar to what they were told during childhood.
The symptoms of inferiority complex may not seem as outward as those of depression or anxiety, although people who suffer from an inferiority complex may sometimes exhibit signs of depression or anxiety. Although many mental illnesses produce tell-tale signs (some people with depression seem withdrawn or may have scars from self-harm, and those suffering from anxiety may have panic or anxiety attacks,) with an inferiority complex, the self-depreciating feelings are primarily internal. Feeling perpetually less than other people may produce visible symptoms, however, such as being withdrawn from co-workers, colleagues, or family members. People with inferiority complexes may also show signs of anxiety because of unrealistic self-expectations or the constant urge to “do better.” People with inferiority complexes may also “blame the universe” for everything, saying their shortcomings are not their fault because “that’s just how life works,” or because of the company they keep or the socioeconomic class they were born into. Those with this complex may also constantly demean others as a way to project (in Freudian slang, pass their fears and feelings off to others) as an attempt to transfer their feelings of isolation and failure. These people may also be very attention-seeking, and may seem narcissistic in the way they make everything about them – this isn’t the case, however. This attention-seeking may present itself as pretending to be sick, pretending to feel depressed, or continually bringing the conversation back to the topic of them.
Although suffering from an inferiority complex may seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome at times, there are a number of exercises you can perform at home in order to boost your morale or self-esteem – although some of these activities may seem “babyish” at times, practicing positive self-talk can help you overcome the negative feelings associated with an inferiority complex.
Sometimes, it is easy to neglect yourself inadvertently – whether it’s physically (from eating junk food or not sleeping enough) or constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling negative as a result, these patterns or habits can be detrimental to your happiness and outlook on the world. For people with an inferiority complex, these self-neglecting habits are exacerbated. What does self-compassion even mean, you may be asking yourself. Practicing self-compassion may be more natural than you think – whether it’s recognizing what you’re good at or catching yourself when you compare yourself to other people, these simple activities can help you change a negative pattern of self-doubt. Self-compassion has become a viral sensation as well; but rather than called self-compassion, it is referred to as self-care, and includes pictures of Instagram models wearing facemasks and doing yoga by the beach. Although these are great examples of taking care of yourself (i.e. self-compassion,) not everyone has time for these activities on a daily basis. Beginning by recognizing your negative thoughts is a significant first step, and from there you can practice the difficult yet all-too-important art of truly loving yourself.
One of the likeliest thought patterns people with an inferiority complex may develop is comparing themselves to others – whether this comparison is of materialistic things or power (or even personal appearance,) this thought pattern can be incredibly frustrating and in some cases debilitating. One of the things you can do to help lessen this thought pattern is to recognize what you are good at – not how you compare to others, but what you offer in the workplace, at home, or in social situations. What gives you value at work? What do your family members love about you? What makes your family smile when you walk into a room? Thinking about these things can help divert your energy from what others have and do, and onto what you do and what gives you value. Although this may seem difficult, especially to someone with an inferiority complex, practicing this positive self-talk will benefit you in the short and long run. If it helps, or if you are more of a visual person, sometimes making a list of your strengths may help you visualize what you bring to the table.
Inferiority complexes can arise from strenuous relationships, whether it is between you and a parental figure, classmates, colleagues, or siblings. These relationships will only “help” you perpetuate the pattern of self-doubt and dejection you have become accustomed to. Building healthy, meaningful relationships is one of the sure-fire ways to distance yourself from anyone who tells you that you are lesser than you are, or you need to do more. Sometimes distancing yourself from people – in some cases, people who mean a great deal to you – may be quite difficult. But in the long run, these relationships will only harm you.
People with inferiority complexes may seem timid at times because they feel as though their contribution is negligible. Practicing assertiveness is incredibly important in “breaking out of your shell” and in doing so, you will also help reduce some of the doubt you feel. In the workplace, don’t be afraid to share your suggestions or concerns – at home, don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Although being assertive is a behavior that may take time to master, it will help you show what skills you bring to the table and the positive feedback that occurs because of this will help boost your self-esteem as well.
Saying no is incredibly difficult, especially for someone with an inferiority complex. People who feel as though they are lesser than everyone who surrounds them may say yes to every task that is thrown their way, and as a result become very stressed or overloaded with work. Saying no may mean as something as small as saying no to going out to lunch because you have work to do, or saying no to an extra project because your workload is already significant. Although saying no to things may be anxiety-inducing at first because you are used to being a “yes-man,” over time you will thank yourself for not being over-extended.
Seeking outside help may seem like a drastic step when dealing with an inferiority complex – but keep in mind, the job of mental health professionals is to help you feel more comfortable, or in this case, less self-deprecating and doubting. Going to therapy or attending a group therapy session with other people who are suffering from an inferiority complex may be the right move for you, and may drastically improve your symptoms.
Support groups are a great way not only to meet new people but establish connections with other people who are going through the same set of symptoms as you. Although you may view a group session as something reserved for “more serious” problems such as drug addiction, attending a support group will allow you to hear the perspectives of others, as well as their coping mechanisms, triumphs, and setbacks. These support groups are often led by a licensed therapist, but may also be organized by someone who has suffered from an inferiority complex in the past and wishes to help others. Support groups may also help you break out of your shell if you feel timid around others.
Therapy is a great way to discuss what is on your mind one-on-one with a mental health professional. Therapy appointments can be scheduled at your convenience and can lead to profound insight into what may have caused your inferiority complex, and what you can do to adjust negative patterns of doubt or dejection.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to finding a therapist – every therapist handles patient care in a slightly different way, and it may take more than one try to find someone who is right for you. Before scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional, however, there is some research you can do to see if he/she is a good fit for your mental health needs.
You should see if the mental health professional has experience dealing with patients who suffer from inferiority complexes. How long have they been treating patients with inferiority complexes? What other conditions do they treat? Also, many mental health professionals focus on a particular age group. Some focus on children, while others have experience with patients of all ages.
When discussing treatment with a mental health professional, ask about the insurance plans accepted at their place of practice – often, your insurance will provide coverage for therapy, but it is wise to have a conversation with your insurance agent before scheduling an appointment. When talking to your potential mental health professional, ask how long treatment would last, and their availability for sessions around your work schedule. Also, be sure to ask what psychological perspective they adhere to – Freudian therapists will focus more on the role of the subconscious and unconscious mind, while cognitive-behavioral therapists will focus on the role behavioral patterns influence our thoughts.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides a number of free resources, including a website rife with information and a helpline you can call to discuss potential treatment options and what you are currently going through. Your friends, family members, and co-workers are also a great source of guidance and support. Inferiority complexes can be serious and debilitating, but tackling those negative feelings can help you live a happier, stress-free life.
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