Each and every person has certain needs and desires, which he/she would like to fulfill. Many a times some of these needs become difficult to accomplish due to a number of reasons. This develops a sense of helplessness and makes the person feel powerless to a certain degree. When this happens, the individual is very likely to feel inferior.

This feeling of inferiority occurs in everybody, some time or the other. It is quite normal and natural to have this feeling. There is nothing wrong in it. There are times when an individual may be able to overcome the feeling of inferiority, but it may also be resurfaced once certain new needs develop.

According to Alfred Adler, the feeling of inferiority develops due to the innate human tendency of striving for superiority. Each and every individual strives for superiority. This tendency is so overwhelming that as soon as there is some obstruction that comes in between the person and his/her needs then he/she begins to feel inferior.

It is a blessing in disguise to feel inferior because in a way it can help to move forward in life. The striving for superiority makes sure that the person puts in all his/her effort and work harder to fulfill his/her needs and overcome the sense of helplessness and powerlessness. Thus, the striving for superiority causes inferiority as well as helps in overcoming it.

It is alright if there is some control over the feeling of inferiority and it occurs within a certain limit. The problem arises when it becomes too pervasive. When the feeling of inferiority occurs too often and becomes persistent, then it may lead the person to develop into inferiority complex.

Inferiority complex makes an individual feel worthless and instills within him/her a sense of hopelessness. The person begins to feel that he/she lacks certain qualities and is inferior to others with respect to those qualities. Due to an inferiority complex, the normal feelings of incompetence get exaggerated, which makes the individual feel that it is impossible to achieve goals and/or have certain abilities.

For instance, an average or below average student might try hard to score well in his/her examination. Due to his/her continuous failure in doing that he/she might feel inferior to others and think that it is impossible to compete with his/her peers, which in turn makes him/her feel worthless.

Inferiority complex may not necessarily develop in the context of specific tasks or goals. It may develop for more general or abstract things also. For example, a person might feel that he/she is not very good looking compared to others and this might become the cause for inferiority complex for that person.

Likewise, if a person is unable to make friends then that person might feel that nobody likes him/her and that he/she lacks the qualities of having good friends. Also, if a person, compared to others, is confused about his/her goals in life then he/she might begin to feel insecure and think that he/she is good for nothing. This continuous feeling can cause an inferiority complex.

Inferiority complex can become a menace for the individual and can lead to many other problems. The person might develop a feeling of inadequacy. He/she might also have disappointment, dissatisfaction, depression, fearfulness, shyness, self-pity, insecurity, loneliness, withdrawal, etc.

If inferiority complex becomes too overwhelming and lasts for a longer period of time, there is a possibility that it may engulf the person in such a strong way that it changes into superiority complex. Superiority complex is nothing but an exaggerated form of inferiority complex. When a person develops too much of inferiority complex, then it turns into superiority complex.

In superiority complex, the individual feels that a good way to overcome inferiority is to make others feel inferior and thus become superior. For this, the person might become arrogant and aggressive in his/her mannerisms. He/she might try to show off and indulge into too much of self-praise and bragging. The person might also try to bully others to gain a sense of satisfaction.

The person does all this in an effort to regain his/her lost self-worth. He/she tries to seek the attention of others and pretends to be something that he/she actually is not. The individual tries to convince and prove himself/herself as well as others that he/she is not inferior. He/she also tries to think of himself/herself as someone who is highly valuable and probably the best.

Such a person might seem to be very confident from the outside. He/she might appear to hold a very high opinion of himself/herself. But, this may not be the case in actuality. The person is just trying to hide his/her shortcomings and tries to overcome his/her excessive feelings of inferiority.

This attitude is perceived as obnoxious and rude by others. By getting into such behaviour, the person might also be making a fool out of him/her. Others begin to extremely dislike him/her and try to stay away. This further exacerbates the feeling of worthlessness within that person. It may also lead to more and more aggressive behaviour or even chronic loneliness and depression.

The best way to overcome inferiority complex, according to Adler, is compensation. If a person feels that he/she lacks in a certain ability, then that person can try to develop strength in some other ability. The individual can enhance such skills that make him/her feel good about himself/herself and develop self-confidence. In this way, the person feels that it does not matter if he/she lacks in an ability because he/she is very good in some other ability.

For instance, a person who feels that he/she is not good in studies can become good in sports. A person who feels that he/she is not good looking can become very good in studies and other intellectual tasks. A person who feels that he/she does not have a good speaking ability can develop good skills in writing or painting. In this way an individual can compensate his/her lack of ability by developing and enhancing some other ability.

Another way to overcome inferiority complex is to have a high level of self-awareness. A high level of self-awareness will enable the person to know himself/herself in a much better way. Due to this an individual can recognize his/her strengths and weaknesses and work accordingly. If the person realizes his/her strengths and true abilities, then there is no way that the person could develop an inferiority complex.

Many people become too much sensitive about what other people feel or think about them. They begin to worry a lot about how others see them. This is completely unnecessary and a waste of time. Rather than worrying about what others are thinking, it is much better to focus on what we want to do.

An individual knows himself/herself better and if he/she goes according to others then there is a possibility that the person might get into things in which he/she lacks proper ability. This may cause constant failures and eventually lead to inferiority complex.

Comparing oneself to others also does no good to the person. If a person is good in something that does not mean that another individual also has to be good in that. The individual might have his/her own strengths and should focus on that. Trying to ape others can be misguiding and lead to insecurity, which may further develop into inferiority complex.

The feeling of inferiority can be a good thing for an individual until and unless it is not exaggerated. Inferiority complex is obviously something that can cause a lot of troubles to a person.

The longer inferiority complex stays the worse it gets. Therefore, a person should do his/her best to overcome it once he/she develops it. Rather than overcoming it would be much better if an individual uses his/her thought processes in an appropriate manner and try to dissociate himself/herself from inferiority complex as much as possible.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India


Anonymous said...

A good way to help get rid of an inferiority complex is to participate in a group activity, mixing with other people helps to regain lost confidence and break the shyness.

Saif Farooqi said...

@ cutesangel
Yeah it can be quite possible, but a person with an inferiority complex may not even be able to gather the courage and confidence to be in such activities. also, it may further increase the inferiority complex because an individual might unreasonably see himself/herself as incompetent when compared to others. participating in group activities is a good way to overcome loneliness, but not sure if it could work for inferiority complex.

Luscious Sealed Lips said...

But what about a situation wherein the subject fails to get what he really wants, and Compensation is not the solution he/she wants?


Saif Farooqi said...

@ Jennifer
yeah, but it can be both ways.

narcissistic personality disorder is a sign of pathological inferiority (an extreme level of superiority complex, to be precise). an overwhelming inferiority complex can lead to superiority complex and an extreme level of superiority complex causes narcissistic personality disorder.

so, pathological inferiority can also be a sign of narcissistic personality disorder (as you have said) and narcissistic personality disorder is definitely a sign pathological inferiority.

but, this is only in clinical cases and my post is about people who are not clinical patients.

@ Luscious Sealed Lips
Compensation is only required when a person has inferiority complex. in this case it is not necessary that the person has inferiority complex, he/she might just have the normal feeling of inferiority, which further motivates the person (like i mentioned in my post).

but, if the person has inferiority complex then a reassessment has to be done on his part. everybody has their own strengths and abilities and should act accordingly. in this case there's a possibility that the person has been unable to recognize his/her true abilities. so, the person has to make a reassessment in order to recognize those true abilities. here, self-awareness (that i mentioned in my post) comes into play. once that is done, the person can reevaluate the whole situation and act accordingly. so ultimately, sooner or later, compensation has to be done. that is the only solution.

compensation may not necessarily be a deliberate action. many a times compensation happens in a natural way. the person may not even realize that he/she is compensating. it happens automatically. in psychological terms, it happens unconsciously.

if a person is unable to compensate then that it may get difficult to overcome inferiority complex ... it may further increase the inferiority complex, which will make the condition of that person more and more miserable.

Anonymous said...

I was also thinking about narcissistic personality disorder when reading this. It is easy to confuse the two. One good sign to tell them apart is that narcissists are rarely obnoxious or irritating, quite the opposite, they can be very interesting and engaging - to start with anyway. They also enjoy other people's company (as in admiration) which I don't think people superiority complex do that much. I think I've known both type. Another good difference is that narcissists are very scary to other people. You don't want a conflict with them because you're not quite certain of how far they would go to revenge you. People with superiority complex would probably just lash out at you and maybe call you an idiot but leave it at that. They wouldn't plot against you for the rest of your natural life in order to ruin it.

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Sebastyne
I didn't know that there would a confusion between superiority complex and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). there are significant differences between the two that make them quite distinguishable from one another.

the most obvious one is that NPD is a clinical disorder (a personality disorder) and superiority complex is found in non-clinical patients. there are a lot more dimensions to NPD compared to superiority complex. NPD is something that is quite rare and superiority complex is very common. compared to superiority complex, people with NPD have a grandiose sense of self-importance and they expect others to treat them in the same way. this grandiosity is much more than someone with superiority complex. superiority complex at a much extreme level can cause NPD. but as i said NPD has a lot more dimensions to it compared to superiroity complex.

contrary to what you have said, people with NPD are in fact quite obnoxious and aggressive in their behaviour. because of this there have been many similarities found between NPD and anti-social personality disorder. people with NPD are terrible when it comes to relationships. their relationship problems are one of the main causes for them to seek therapy. they lack empathy. they give very little of affection in return. they are manipulative in their relationships and make friendships only if it is going to benifit them and only if they'll get the kind admiration that they expect.

such behvaiour may not be found in superiority complex. also, superiority complex cannot be termed completely as a disorder. it can be a cause or a symptom.

superiority complex is an underlying factor of NPD, but it is the same with many other personality disorders. both inferiroity and superiority complex are found in other personality disorders like histrionic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder, etc. both of these have been found to be quite similar to NPD.

also, as you have said, people with superiority complex do not go out of their way to prove their superiority. they might do so within a limit, but people with NPD completely go out of their way and can become too insensitive and aggressive.

so, there a lot of differences between superiority complex and narcissistic personality disorder. narcissistic personality disorder is much more complicated than superiority complex.

thepianoplayersdaughter said...

Was this a letter to me!!!!!!!!
Seriously what helped me most with this was learning to play a musical instrument it opened up my life.
The piano players daughter

Iti said...

"The longer inferiority complex stays the worse it gets"

True.I have gone through it and hated it. Its even worse when it is born out of superiority complex :(

Saif Farooqi said...

@ thepianoplayersdaughter
That's really nice to know. its all about realizing your true abilities and then acting accordingly ... :)

@ Iti
Yeah, those who have experienced it, very well, know what they have been through ...
but, there's a bit of misunderstanding here ... inferiority complex cannot be born out of superiority complex. it is always the other way round, i.e. superiority complex is born out of inferiority complex.

Iti said...

Arghhhh......that's confusing...

And yea...Will you sometime write about the people who get confused very easily.....a post about me, that is?

I really am tired of staying confused all the time....

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Iti
hahaha ... well, if you are saying it, then i think i will definitely have to write a post about people who get confused easily ... i.e. a post about you :D

... jokes apart, its not that confusing. if inferiority complex is too pervasive and persistent then it turns into superiority complex. so, that's why superiority complex is always born out of inferiority complex, and not the other way round.

ladyinpurple said...

This is very true.I'd learned these things in my psychology class way back in college days.That time I somehow understood myself and realized that I need to have a good turn!

It's hard to believe but my self-esteem was very low and it developed into the so called inferiority complex.With the help of amazing people and God's grace I was able to overcome it.

I believe that the environment and the people are the strong factors of this.

Good post (^_^)

Saif Farooqi said...

@ ladyinpurple
yeah, the kind of environment that you are in and the kind of people that you interact with can be an important factor in overcoming inferiority complex. if the people around are supportive and encouraging then it can be a good confidence booster.

Unknown said...

This is a very good article on inferiority complex and superiority complex. But I have a question. If a person is doing very well in life and has got everything in life and tries to dominate other people and can be annoying,Does that mean that he/she has a superiority complex?

Saif Farooqi said...

@ S
Well, there can be a possibility that that person, despite doing well, might have some kind of inferiority, which results in such a behaviour and thus, it can be said to be as superiority complex. But, this seems to be somewhat unlikely.

There is more of a possibility of pride or vanity in such kind of a behaviour. Because of having too much of pride, the person might indulge into arrogance. There is also a possibility that the person might be naturally aggressive. Aggressive people like to show their success and achievements by dominating and annoying others.

Anonymous said...

quite informative

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Anonymous

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have been through inferiority complex and actually still have a bit of it..I avoid going to school on special days like teacher's days , children's day and school picnic as well because I find it difficult to face my classmates and teachers..the feeling is miserable...!! I hate classmates and friends who are better off than me in studies and other activities. And it becomes difficult for me to face them when I know that they are doing much better than me so they have the right to enjoy and I don't. My cousins and friends say that I have inferiority complex.It sucks ! Anyways , the article was quite good.

Saif Farooqi said...

@ Sidhant
Thanks for liking the article. Yeah, inferiority complex is not a very good feeling to have. But, every one has their own unique features. You also might be having some really good qualities. All you have to do is realize what you're good at. If you already know that then you have further enhance it. You got to realize your true potential. Once this is done, you'll certainly feel good and confident about yourself. Wishing you all the best in life ... take care!

Anonymous said...

so... just found this article and have a quick opinion question. An acquaintance from high school contacted me about a week ago via Facebook. the first two days of conversation were catch up with mild bragging on his part. Within the last three days I have reached the conclusion he suffers from a superiority complex. Im not overly familiar with this so I looked it up and read a few articles and now I'm quite certain. I'm going to block him as he has now taken the attitude that he might give me a chance, since everyone is beneath him( which I reviewed my messages and very clearly did not
give him the impression I was interested). he is getting creepy. but me being me, I always feel bad for people who are struggling emotionally and feel compelled to suggest counseling. My question: when dealing with this disorder in a person who you are barely friends with, is it ok to say something or would it just be destructive?

Unknown said...

Hi John. My story is quite similar to your story. I was gifted with intellect in a very young age. In fact my teacher at elementary school used to call me philosopher. I was very easygoing and friendy. This made my so called friends and classmates very jealous. Then the bullying started. I was phisically small and was intimidated phisically by bigger kids. My ethnic background and my exotic name was distorted to taunt me and make me feel inferior. Today i understand why i was so depressed and shy as teenager and young adult.

I developed inferiority complex that went on to superiority complex. After alle these years(i am 32 now) what bothers me most is that i treated some of most winderful people very badly by alwas being negative and make them feel inferior. Today i know that forgiveness is a great tool for healing the scars. I accept that those who treated me bad was feel bad inside themselves. After all the superiority complex is nothing more than a survival strategy. We must accept that in reality no one is perfect. And it is never too late for learning and changing.