inferiority complex

Dealing with an inferiority complex? Here’s how you can overcome it

If you feel pressured due to social expectations and find it hard to receive constructive criticism to the point that you perceive the opinions of others as a personal attack, chances are that you are suffering from an inferiority complex.

You are invited to a friend’s party at their house. They introduce you to their colleague, whose clothes, luxury watch, and latest iPhone model cause a crippling sense of insecurity in you. Even when you return home, you can’t stop thinking about them. How can I be as successful and rich? You brood over these thoughts while lying in bed, unable to sleep. As you compare your achievements with your friend’s colleague, you discredit all the hard work you have put into your career and life. This feeling of self-doubt and insecurity is referred to as inferiority complex. American Psychological Association defines inferiority complex as “a basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, deriving from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.”

Viennese psychoanalyst, Alfred Adler first proposed this term in 1907. According to Adler, inferiority complexes are of two types: primary and secondary. Primary inferiority is believed to emerge in childhood, which stems from feelings of inadequacy and constant comparison to others. When ignored, these feelings can spill into adulthood. Secondary inferiority dawns in adulthood, which emerges when people feel inferior as a result of not meeting their personal goals.

While it is normal for us to compare ourselves to others, an unhealthy obsession with perfection and the drive to become better and more successful than those around us could lead to negative thinking and mental health issues. Moreover, if you feel pressured due to social expectations and find it hard to receive constructive criticism to the point that you perceive the opinions of others as a personal attack, chances are that you are suffering from an inferiority complex. If you are constantly getting bogged down by these negative feelings, these tips can help you tackle and nip them in the bud.

Build self-confidence

Self-confidence enables you to place trust in your capabilities. You feel worthy and have a sense of self-belief, irrespective of what others think about you. It’s an important step in tackling your inferiority complex. It’s all about changing I cannot to I can. Whenever feelings of self-doubt creep in due to low self-esteem, remind yourself of what you are capable of. When you make a mistake, instead of delving into too much negative self-criticism, tell yourself that you still have the chance to learn from it and improve in the future. Identify the instances when negative self-talk—thoughts that create fear and anxiety and make you feel miserable—rears its ugly head. Replace those perturbing thoughts with encouraging affirmations.

Embrace your strengths

Anna Freud, who established the field of child psychoanalysis, famously said, “I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.” Your strengths are what define you, but when you are dealing with an inferiority complex, you may focus more on your weaknesses than strengths. You can counter this by reminding yourself that your strengths can get you through adversities. Begin by noting down your strong points, and things you are good at, and think about how you can amplify them to triumph over negativity.

Surround yourself with supportive people

The people you surround yourself with play a big role in your life. Do not be around the ones who constantly criticise your lifestyle choices, career and are unsupportive of your goals. Create a circle of supportive people who support and encourage you. Doing so can help in overcoming the inferiority complex. When you spend time with supportive people, it can help boost positivity and eliminate negative thoughts that lead to feelings of inferiority.

Practice self-care

Practising self-care can help alleviate symptoms of inferiority complex. Focus on your needs, follow a healthy diet, practice meditation, and indulge in all meaningful activities that bring you joy. If you like to play the guitar, don’t worry about your playing skills. Just enjoy the instrument, sing along and have a great time. Similarly, if you like to paint, use the canvas as a vessel to express your emotions and feelings. Give shape to your innermost thoughts and discover the fountain of joy that lies within you.

Stop worrying about others’ opinions

People experiencing an inferiority complex tend to constantly worry about the opinions of others. For instance, when you chose your career path, think about whether you were doing it while being influenced by the opinions of others. Or, when you were trying to sign for a singing class, did you care about what others think of that or did you do it because you truly wish to learn how to croon? Don’t let the opinion of others define who you are. Moreover, don’t make assumptions about what others think of you. Sometimes it is just your perception, not the truth itself.

Seek therapy

If you feel that your feelings of worthlessness are interrupting meaningful life engagements, opportunities and relationships, you may consider reaching out to a therapist, Vani Subramaniam, Counseling Psychologist at Azim Premji University, tells Soulveda. “Every person struggles with some degree of self-doubt and may have a critical voice that they may want to tune out. On some days, these may be much louder, depending on the environment they are in, the pressures they face, and how resourced they are feeling to respond to it,” she adds. Subramaniam advises that if you feel these are acting as a hindrance to your wellbeing, it may be a good time to chat with a therapist. While talking about psychotherapy approaches to tackle inferiority complex, she informs that some are “more directive and may choose to work with challenging negative assumptions and offering more balanced views that inform action.”

She says that people often look for therapists practising cognitive behaviour therapy, “as it is a structured, directive, short term approach.” However, she recommends other, lesser-known “but equally exciting” approaches such as transactional analysis, psychodynamic approaches, emotion-focussed therapy, person focussed therapy, narrative therapy, rational emotive behaviour therapy, et cetera.


How can individuals overcome an inferiority complex?

Embracing personal strengths and acknowledging one’s capabilities helps counteract feelings of self-doubt. Surrounding oneself with supportive people who encourage and uplift and practise self-care, following a healthy lifestyle, and engaging in activities that bring joy contribute to alleviating symptoms of an inferiority complex.

How does self-confidence help in tackling an inferiority complex?

Self-confidence is a crucial tool in overcoming an inferiority complex. It involves placing trust in one’s capabilities, believing in oneself, and changing negative self-perceptions.

How can focusing on strengths help counteract an inferiority complex?

Focusing on personal strengths and achievements helps shift the focus from weaknesses to areas of competence. Celebrating accomplishments and amplifying strengths can empower individuals to overcome negative self-comparisons and regain a sense of self-worth and confidence.

What is an inferiority complex and its types?

An inferiority complex is a feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, stemming from real or imagined physical or psychological deficiencies. It has two types: primary, which emerges in childhood and results from constant comparison to others, and secondary, which arises in adulthood due to unmet personal goals.

How can building self-confidence help overcome an inferiority complex?

Building self-confidence involves trusting one’s capabilities and fostering a sense of self-belief. By changing negative self-talk to positive affirmations and focusing on learning from mistakes, individuals can tackle feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.

How can embracing strengths help combat an inferiority complex?

Embracing one’s strengths and focusing on personal accomplishments can counter the tendency to dwell on weaknesses. By recognizing and amplifying their strong points, individuals gain the resilience to overcome negativity.

How does surrounding oneself with supportive people contribute to overcoming an inferiority complex?

Being around supportive individuals who encourage and uplift can boost positivity and eliminate negative thoughts associated with feelings of inferiority.


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