What Inferiority Complex and Superiority Complex means and where it comes from.
So we all go through moments in life where we feel good about ourselves and feel proud of what we’ve achieved and similarly moments where we feel down, doubt our abilities and lack self-confidence. However, your reaction to both situations, can tell you so much about yourself.
Some people go through difficulty or something that makes them feel bad about themselves and will do something to motivate themselves or change how they feel, whereas others struggle to get out of that slump and place blame on themselves and others for why they feel this way.
Psychoanalyst Alfred Adler researched why there are some people who feel low or insecure yet lack the motivation to change the way they feel and can’t work towards their goals in life. As a result of his research, Alfred introduced the term inferiority complex, which, according to the American Psychological Association, is “a basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, deriving from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.” This means a person who has an inferiority complex will feel inadequate or insecure because of real or imagined flaws in themselves over a long period of time.
Not only can this severely impact a person’s enjoyment in life it can also heavily affect relationships with others.
On one side you have inferiority complex and then on the opposite side you have superiority complex. A person who is overly boastful, thinks highly of themselves and believe they are above others in all, or most aspects of life are those who psychoanalyst Alfred Adler would class as having superiority complex.
Adler concluded that an inferiority complex was focused on weakness and hides real aspirations and capabilities. There are some common signs you can look out for that indicate inferiority complex –
Constantly thinking about their flaws and mistakes that they have made.
Talking negatively to themselves out of guilt, embarrassment, or shame.
Feeling unworthy or undeserving of good things.
Repetitively comparing themselves to others.
Projecting their insecurities on others, by bringing them down and highlighting their flaws.
Constantly seeking attention or reassurance.
Hate taking part in competitions or taking risks as they might be compared to others.
React aggressively when losing and want to quit and hide themselves away.
In comparison, a superiority complex was an overexaggerated sense of self-worth and hides any insecurities or feelings of being mediocre. The most common signs of a superiority complex include –
Has a very high opinion of themselves.
Always boasting about their accomplishments.
Believing they are smarter and better than others.
They are not willing to listen to the views of others.
They have a strong need to control everything and make conversations all about themselves.
If they are not the center of attention they get bored and want to leave.
Constantly reacting in extreme ways, for example, they are full of anger when others question their abilities.
They struggle to listen to criticism even if it is from people of authority.
Sense of entitlement even if they haven’t worked for something.
Although the signs of both inferiority complex and superiority complex are clearly different, the reasons why a person exhibits either complex are a little similar. Here are a few causes that lead up to an inferiority complex –
X 4 Demeaning childhood – If a person grew up being told “you’re stupid”, “you can’t do anything right” or “you’re ugly”, “you’re disappointment” “you embarrass me”, these harsh comments stay with them for a lifetime. They may not consciously think about it, however, those experiences will shape how they see themselves and this leads up to the guilt, shame and embarrassment over the smallest of things. It’s easier to believe something you’ve been told at such an impressionable age. Rather than seeing yourself for the amazing, capable person you are – these old deep rooted beliefs may come up
I can definitely relate to this, until I had a personal breakthrough session done on my 15 years ago, I had so many limiting beliefs about myself and my looks. Even though I could see my achievements, I had no faith that I would be able to continue to accomplish. I was insecure in my personality, looks, and job despite being a high achiever.
Unrealistic societal expectations – Depending on where you live and your social network, your friend, family and work circles you may feel inferior or inadequate if you believe that others are better. For example in cosmopolitan cities it’s the norm for people to have manicures, dental veneers and the Hollywood smile, botox and plastic surgery to look good and fit in. It can also be the norm to have a high paid job, certain level of education, live in a certain area and drive a type of car. Those with an inferior complex may be more susceptible to keeping up with the Jones’s and comparing themselves with their networks picture perfect life on social media. This is where social media can create extra pressure and a sense of not being good enough. All comparing can leave people to feel inadequate, insecure and the urge to fix themselves. The advertising industry doesn’t help much either with the picture perfect models and their material possessions sharing if you buy this you will be happy. That is why in my individual breakthrough program I make sure that we get to the root of all the beliefs of not feeling good enough and remove them, so a person can feel free and happy.
Physical or mental limitations – There may be cases where a person has something that makes them feel inadequate, misunderstood or embarrassed, for example, a person with a stammer may be overly conscious when they are speaking openly which might make them feel embarrassed to speak publicly and could lead to withdrawing from others. Additionally, conditions like social anxiety can force people to feel angry with themselves as they are not able to socialize as easily as other people, or maybe their friends can’t understand their inability to commit to social events and so they start to feel isolated and lack self-confidence. I had one lady who did the breakthrough session with me because she felt in social situations people weren’t interested in her, she often felt left out, hurt and awkward and ended up leaving early making it awkward for others. So we need to get such negative thoughts out of her head. Because if you think you are boring and not interesting and you have those thoughts running in your head whilst you are talking to people, you are not going to be engaged and a person will feel that.
Financial difficulties – Everyone has different financial circumstances. Some people are living comfortably, others are living paycheck to paycheck and this can affect the way they feel within their social circle. If they can’t afford lavish nights out like their friends or struggle to buy designer clothes and can’t travel to exciting hot spots around the world, it can make them feel inferior to their friends, like they are lower class, when of course everyone has different circumstances and there should be no comparisons made. Plus we all value, manage and organize money in different ways, some save and some spend, some are balanced. It’s important to focus on managing your own money in a way that makes you and your partner happy. It’s also very important to remember than Money doesn’t equal happiness, there is so much research to prove this and sadly we can all probably think of a few celebrities that were or are suicidal.
Lastly big life changes and emotional pain in adulthood can also cause inferiority complex. I had a lady who did my breakthrough program to get rid of her negativity and inferior complex. She had a loving, nurturing positive childhood and secure attachments. Things changed for her when she went on maternity leave after giving birth to a beautiful baby girl. The first thing that knocked her confidence was discovering her husband had gone out one night and slept with a prostitute. It created a huge distance between them and she felt unattractive and not good enough. Then when she went to get her old job back, the company offered her a different job on a salary lower than her previous one, with no real valid reason. She carried the resentment and feeling not good enough into her every thinking and didn’t believe she was liked, valued and deserving of happiness. The negative thinking grew and grew and her confidence and self-worth plummeted. Thankfully she reached out for help, we got rid of the self-deprecating thoughts, she applied for a new job and is now everything is fantastic in all areas of her life. She was able to move past the cheating, forgive and see it as her husbands weakness not hers, she was getting promoted and managed to save enough to pay for the deposit on her dream home.
I will now share some possible causes of a superiority complex and you may notice a few similarities to those of a inferiority complex –
Difficult childhood – If a child grows up without love, care and attention, they may start learn to self-soothe or develop coping mechanisms where they make themselves feel better. For example, telling themselves they are worthy or loveable, to counteract the feeling of neglect or being unloved. This also links to other childhood experiences where, for example, a child may have been made fun of or bullied and so they learnt to defend themselves by pushing their authority and highlighting their abilities. Sibling rivalry and lack of parental approval is fairly common with the people I have helped overcome superior complex, where they had to constantly showcase their achievements to get any attention from their parents.
Adopting beliefs of influential people – It’s common in early life to adopt beliefs of those we admire because we want to be like them and fit in. This can often be behind a superior complex, for example let’s say a significant family member or teacher believes that unless you are / were educated by an IVY league school or Oxford or Cambridge you are not successful. Unless you get a 1st class degree it’s not worth it, unless you have made a million USD by 30 you are XYZ. Of course I am just making this up, but for someone who really wants to be respected and admired by people holding such beliefs they will do everything they can to achieve that status and believe in it because it makes them feel good about themselves. Another example could be people who had nothing as a child and built a life for themselves from nothing, they may feel superior to all those who had an affluent upbringing and mock them and not respect them because they didn’t have to struggle.
Coping mechanism – For some people who struggle with anxiety or any other condition that makes them feel different to others, they may choose to highlight their positives any chance they get, so that others see them as worthy, and this helps them to forget that they are struggling in other ways. It reinforces that they are more than their anxiety and so it makes them feel better about any difficulties they may experience because of the anxious thoughts.
Hides any flaws – For anyone who has tried something and failed, they may struggle to cope with this and so they talk as though they are far above this particular thing. They boast about what they can do and how well they have done other things so that it shifts the focus from what they can’t do to what they say they can do – even if they are far from the truth.