Inferiority Complex: Meaning, Symptoms, Causes, & How To Stop

Stand up to the crippling sense of mediocrity to embrace the amazing person you are!

Reviewed by Alana Belik, RCH
By Harini Natarajan, Certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner

Inferiority complex is a feeling of inadequacy. It can cause bouts of self-doubt while you struggle to work toward your goals. It can also make you compare yourself to other people. However, sometimes, it can help you push through the odds and do better. But, constantly feeling inferior to other people is not beneficial to you or your near and dear ones. This article explains everything about inferiority complex, its causes and symptoms, and how to stop feeling inferior. Scroll down to learn how to deal with it!


The thought behind inferiority complex comes from the psychoanalytic part of psychology. It initially showed up among a significant number of works by Sigmund Freud, which were later crafted by his partner Carl Jung. Alfred Adler was the originator of classic Adlerian psychology and pioneer of the term inferiority complex (1). Adler held that the feeling could be overcompensated by numerous neurotic manifestations.

Presently, the term complex is commonly used to indicate the gathering of emotionally conditioned thoughts. The partner of the feeling of inadequacy, superiority complex, is a mental safeguard mechanism where an individual’s feelings of predominance counter or disguise their feelings of low self-worth.

Well, that’s about the history. Let’s try to get a perspective on the various aspects, including situations, symptoms, and tips for dealing with this psychological turmoil.

What Is Inferiority Complex?

Inferiority complex is a pathological state where a person feels overwhelmed by imagined or real inadequacy


Inferiority complex is not just the feeling of being inadequate in life. It is a pathological state where the person feels overwhelmed by imagined or real inadequacy. It results in a lack of self-confidence, and people tend to become overly critical of themselves.

Feeling less important in rare moments of your life does not culminate into an inferiority complex unless other significant symptoms manifest. Just as sadness and depression are two different states, a feeling of momentary inadequateness and inferiority complex are also different.

A sense of constant comparison and low self-value are the two drivers of inferiority complex. It could be related to one’s social, intellectual, psychological, or physical appearance. For example, a child may feel substandard compared to others he considers splendid in his group in the light of his poor performance.

The feeling of mediocrity or being not good enough is experienced by almost everyone at some point ofin their lives. It becomes a matter of concern when the feeling becomes a state of mind. The feeling of inadequacy is a lot more extensive and a long-lasting sentiment of deficiency that stems from early youth and influences practically all parts of a person’s life. The individual does not feel sufficient and expresses extreme sensitivity.

Adlerian psychology (as proposed by early psychoanalyst Alfred Adler) separates this inferiority complex into two parts – primary and secondary (2). Primary inferiority happens in adolescence, with the emotions carried forward into adulthood. It is frequently brought about by youth stressors, like parental disregard, parental abuse, insufficient emotional and passionate backing, and poor performance in academics. It is regularly heightened by comparison with kin, companions, and grown-ups. A primary feeling is established in a kid’s first encounter of shortcoming or reliance upon others. This underlying portion of feeling, disastrously accompanied by escalated and continuous comparisons against guardians and kin, leaves the individual with unsolved awkwardness and self-doubt.

Secondary inferiority starts in adulthood and results from a grown-up’s powerlessness to accomplish objectives set to make up for their original sentiments of inadequacy that stemmed in their youth. Secondary feelings of inferiority come to us as grown-ups when an individual cannot arrive at the final objective of subjective security and achievement. Failure to graduate or reach career goals can give rise to self-doubt. Battling with such emotions to discover a fitting way of life as an adult frequently triggers deep-rooted emotional havoc. This cycle can proceed throughout life, making it difficult to work soundly in society.

Adler further defines inferiority complex as a neurotic state, where the sentiment of mediocrity rules an individual, making him feel discouraged and unequipped to move forward in life. While the feelings are regularly subliminal, it frequently urges its unfortunate victims to overcompensate in their presentation and performance. This can appear as either exceptional accomplishment or serious withdrawn and antisocial jokes and antics. In serious cases, the individual can vary between the two limits.

While a normal human sentiment of inadequacy can drive somebody to substantial achievement, an individual experiencing the complex can arrive at such an increased phase of demoralization that they can turn into a risk for themselves and others around them. Hence, it is imperative for individuals to know about the symptoms of inferiority complex to understand themselves and look for help.

Inferiority Complex Symptoms

Symptoms of inferiority complex


The symptoms of inferiority complex vary from person to person. However, they frequently include a particular level of insecurity, immaturity, and weakness, a strangely aggressive nature, or the inability to finish duties either personally or professionally. Hostility issues, anxiety, nervousness, and sadness are basic indications. Those experiencing a feeling of inadequacy may pull back totally from their group of friends or take the other extreme of ceaselessly searching out for consideration or criticism from their companions.

Some significant symptoms include:

1. Social Withdrawal

Individuals with feelings of inferiority and inadequacy generally feel awkward being around others, especially in a packed spot. This is a direct result of an imagined conviction that others would find them unfit for the gathering and make them feel humiliated. Such behavior can have serious relationship implications. The person can find it difficult to not only make new companions but also to keep up with the existing ones. This is because there is constant self-doubt about the possibility of being liked or respected by someone.

2. Finding Flaws

A key indicator – the inclination to make others feel lacking, incompetent, or awkward. A person with a feeling of inadequacy is not driven by the need to accomplish or prevail at something. The psyche is not prepared to perceive and compliment the constructive traits of others. This act gives satisfaction and makes the person feel at ease and better about themselves. However, when encountered with disappointments and missteps, they refrain from assuming liability and tend to accuse others instead.

3. Anxiety Regarding Their Performance

A person with an inferiority complex feels that they cannot accomplish as much as others can in a specific task. Whenever they are set in a circumstance where they need to finish an undertaking, they may feel fearful and doubtful. For example, they may feel on edge when requested to sing a tune or work a gadget. The dread of disappointment or of being giggled at or scrutinized leads to performance anxiety.

4. Need For Attention

A person with a feeling of inadequacy has a solid need to be cherished and approved. The feeling of inadequacy ransacks a person’s self-worth. Hence, they look to get approval from others. These individuals, for the most part, require complimenting and sweet talk for their satisfaction. Some may even claim to be sick or miserable to get consideration or cheer from others.

5. Increased Levels Of Sensitivity

Individuals with a feeling of inadequacy are profoundly sensitive to what others do, think, or state about them. They do not take compliments or reactions well and may turn out to be excessively aggressive when they are scrutinized. This happens on the grounds that such basic remarks about them strengthen their own considerations about themselves. And in their attempts to shield or secure themselves, they become forceful or excessively emotional.

6. Easily Disrespected

People with inferiority complex regularly disregard their needs and feelings to be preferred and liked by others. They set their needs last to keep accepting consideration from others. One may end up enduring a few scenes of maltreatment from the relationship partner, for example. This is generally an after-effect of the absence of confidence and poor limits.

In the next section, we will look at the causes.

Causes of Inferiority Complex

Various causes of inferiority complex


One isolated occurrence in life is not usually enough to trigger a lifetime of the troubles referenced previously. As a rule, those dealing with feelings of inadequacy and inferiority have encountered a progression of occasions during their youth that usually leads to such an issue.

The primary drivers of this disorder are frequently found in external oppressors. Parental dispositions toward a youngster are perhaps the biggest contributors toward a feeling of inadequacy and inferiority. Consistent negative comments and stressing on mistakes and failings can change the disposition and lifetime outlook of a youngster.

Mental confinements can be triggered when a youngster is continually informed that a kin or partner is increasingly wise, innovative, or ready to perform at a more significant level. Both of these parentally based negatives can hugely affect small children as well.

Being brought into the world with a physical imperfection, be it a distorted body part or speech impediment, can also fill in as a reason for such turmoil.

Figuring out how to conquer this feeling of inferiority can be troublesome as this is an internal factor that a kid must battle on his own. Social weaknesses can also cause this psychological issue to thrive. For example,  being born into an impoverished or a less affluent family or encountering victimization against a specific race or sexual orientation.

Superiority Complex Vs. Inferiority Complex

Superiority complex is a misrepresented feeling of self-esteem. It conceals genuine feelings of average quality. Inferiority complex is an exaggerated inclination of shortcomings. It frequently shrouds natural thought processes, for example, goals for control.

In Adler’s hypothesis of individual psychology, superiority complex and inferiority complex are integrated. He held that an individual who acted better than others and held others as less commendable was really concealing a sentiment of inadequacy. In a similar manner, a few people who have truly high goals set for themselves may endeavor to hide them by professing to be humble and modest or even unfit.

Individual psychology depends on the possibility that we are, for the most part, endeavoring to conquer a feeling of insufficiency or mediocrity. This leads us to ace aptitudes and skills and make a significant existence of having a place, a sense of belonging, and achievement. Defeating feelings of mediocrity and inferiority acts as an inspiration to create the reality needed. In this unique circumstance, superiority complex is the outcome or response to an inability to accomplish one’s objectives or to satisfy interior hopes.

Freud felt that the superiority complex is actually a route to compensate or overcompensate for things we are missing or coming up short. He figured it could be deemed as an approach to assist us with adapting to disappointment. It turns out that superiority complex appears as bogus certainty and bravado when posed next to genuine accomplishment.

One thing is clear – inferiority complex poses a threat to an individual’s mental health and hinders personal, professional, and social development. But what can we do about it? Is there a way out? Yes, there is! Here’s a list of a few mindful steps you can take to overcome an inferiority complex.

How To Overcome Inferiority Complex

Good ways to overcome inferiority complex


1. Practice Self-Compassion

What does self-empathy mean? It is treating yourself with respect and love. Start by taking care of your health (mental, physical, and emotional). Eat healthy. Try out activities – pick up a hobby for pleasure (without contemplating about your performance). Do meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises. Nourishing your body, mind, and soul with compassion and love will help you in bringing forth a positive you.

2. Find Your Strengths

We all have strengths. Find yours and recognize them. Think about all the good things about you and write them down in a diary or journal. You will be surprised to learn you have more strengths than you thought you had. Each one of us is unique and has qualities – it’s time you start recognizing yours.

3. Develop Relationships With Positive People

This is an important one. Choose relationships that make you feel valued and good. Stay away from people, be it relatives, friends, family members, who are condescending towards you and make you feel terrible about yourself. Develop fellowships with individuals who distinguish and draw out the best in you. Surround yourself with people who are encouraging and have a constructive feedback approach. This will bring a noticeable change in your perspective about yourself.

4. Be Assertive

Assertiveness includes defining limits in your association with others. It includes regarding other individuals’ needs and sentiments and expecting that yours be regarded, too. Remember, you must stand up for yourself and not give in to people’s mercy. Don’t be scared to express your opinion. People will respect you, provided you respect yourself.

5. Learn To Say “No”

Consenting to everybody’s requests and pleasing them is not what you were born for. Making use of the word ‘No’ at the right place and the right time can have manifold benefits. Though it may seem hard, practice the art of saying no as and when required, and you will see how people come to regard you, your time, your space, and your life.

The feeling of constant inadequacy and inferiority hurts not only you but also the people around you, especially the ones who genuinely care for you. Hence, it is vital to address and deal with these sentiments. Improve your self-esteem through positive, uplifting statements. You can inculcate positive self-talk every day by directing compassion toward yourself at whatever point you are feeling down. Journaling can also help in working on feelings of inadequacy and where they originate from.

Inferiority complex can eat away at your self-esteem faster than anything else. So, it is important to understand how it manifests and what it means to have an inferiority complex. Symptoms like avoiding social interactions, focusing on your shortcomings, and being overly sensitive to criticism point towards inferiority complex. However, you do not need to lose hope yet, as you can deal with it by shifting the focus towards more positive things and not feeling pressured to say ’yes’ to everything. Finally, you can seek professional help if you think the symptoms gravely affect your productivity and damage your self-image.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can inferiority complex be cured?

Yes. It is possible to overcome an inferiority complex. Psychotherapy treatment options, self-care strategies (getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet), and mindful meditation can help overcome inferiority complex.

Is depression a sign of an inferiority complex?

Experiencing depression and anxiety are some of the symptoms of an inferiority complex.

Key Takeaways

  • Inferiority complex is a pathological state where a person gets submerged by either imagined or real inadequacy.
  • It can develop self-doubts where you compare yourself to other people and get overly critical.
  • This may result in a lack of self-confidence, feeling substandard, poor performance in academics or career, insecurity, immaturity, and weakness.

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Alana Belik

Alana Belik, RCH, is a Master Certified Trainer of Hypnotherapy and a multiple award-winning clinical hypnotherapists and BWRT® specialist. She... more