At some point in our lives, we’ve all felt the pangs of feeling like we aren’t good enough. Whether it’s at a time in your life when it seems like everyone is getting married, buying a house, and having a baby. Or maybe all of your friends have degrees in you’re still in school, or had to take some time away from developing your career to take care of your health or that of a loved one.
Though a little bit of healthy competition can be useful when it comes to motivation, the constant comparison that leads to feelings of inferiority is not. In fact, research has shown that people who consider themselves to be inferior to others have a higher risk of developing chronic depression. Studies have also shown that over time, feeling insecure and less than leads to feelings of sadness and loneliness as well.
In September of 2014, a study was published in the Northern American Journal of Medical Sciences, that showed that feelings of inferiority also known as an “inferiority complex”, were associated with not only depression but also hostility and suicidal thoughts.
The American Psychological Association defines an inferiority complex as: “A basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, deriving from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.” It’s a term that dates back to 1907 when psychoanalyst Alfred Adler used it to explain why so many people seem to lack the motivation to act in their own best interest and pursue their goals in life. Today, we also know it is having “low self-esteem” and “feeling less than” and “not good enough”.
When it comes to developing an inferiority complex, psychologists have found that common precursors can be a person’s life experiences as well as a potential genetic tie. Other factors include, but are not limited to:
– History of trauma, abuse, stress, depression, and anxiety
– Depression and the inability to meet realistic goals for one’s self can lead to self-failure. Thinking of failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
– Having family members with this kind of mental health condition
– Mental health disorders such as avoidant personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.
Though experiencing feelings of inferiority from time to time, is normal and can, at times, even help us to make positive changes in our lives- an inferiority complex can be profoundly disruptive and destructive. Signs that you may be dealing with an inferiority complex include:
– You always have a poor mood, are constantly depressed, and have no will to change.
– You have a low self-image, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
– You feel helpless or psychologically weak.
– You have low motivation.
– You are often worried, anxious, or feel inadequate.
– You feel guilty about your choices and actions.
– You are easily hurt when people criticize you in social situations.
– You can’t establish proper eye contact.
– You often speak in a low and soft voice tone.
– You belittle your accomplishments and positive qualities.
– You find it hard to give yourself compliments.
– You suffer from a poor and unpredictable sleep pattern.
– You can’t stay long in any relationship.
– You seek attention by pretending to be ill or through aggression.
If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, you are not alone, and help is available. The first step is recognizing that you are affected by these feelings. It can be helpful to jot down what the thoughts and feelings are. What is it that you feel less than about? Is it another person and their accomplishments? Is it your finances, your relationships, in comparison to others, or where you think you should be in your life? Whatever it is, writing it down gets it out of your head, so you can give it an honest appraisal and work towards recovery.
When looking at the thoughts, a helpful tool is to write down an alternative way to think in the areas where you feel inferior. It could be a positive affirmation or a belief about yourself that you would like to have. By giving your mind an alternative way to think, you’ll develop a habit of having better and more positive thoughts about yourself, that can improve your health, your mood, and your self-esteem.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “most people who receive psychotherapy experience relief and are better able to function in their lives,” which rings true when it comes to overcoming an inferiority complex as well. The therapist can help you to really understand where these feelings of low self-esteem are coming from. Maybe it’s a message you received early in life. Or maybe some situation or particular experience has strongly reinforced this idea. With the therapist’s help, you can learn to redirect your thinking, create new thought patterns and ideas, and practice them.
Sometimes the root of inferiority is depression and anxiety disorders. And sometimes an inferiority complex causes these mental health issues. In either case, medication carefully administered by your doctor can be helpful in alleviating some of these symptoms, so that the aforementioned work can be done successfully.
Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So learn to say no to these beliefs and ideas, and do the work to reframe and redirect the false narrative in your mind. And remember, feeling inferior isn’t a result of there being anything inherently wrong with you. These feelings are just a way to get your attention and bring about awareness of your thoughts and ideas about yourself. By seeing them for what they are, you can learn to practice self-compassion and release them, and in the end, find that positive sense of self that you deserve.