“An inferiority complex is an intense sense of personal inadequacy that arises from a belief that the person is deficient or has certain limitations compared to others,” explains Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, certified psychiatrist
People with this complex often compare themselves to others and constantly believe that they are not good enough, she says. “This is a mistaken assumption that the person has things that can affect psychological well-being and social life. They feel that they are unable to cope with certain aspects of their life because of some real or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.”
The thought of impending failure can become a self-fulfilling prophecy as a person struggling with an inferiority complex may completely disregard their positive traits and self-sabotage.
The term Inferiority complex was coined in 1907 by the Austrian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who believed that the conscious or unconscious overcompensation of these feelings of inadequacy leads to many other mental and emotional states. Adler posited that everyone was motivated to define and achieve their own sense of accomplishment, but to get to this desired point we all have to balance between working with others (family, classmates, coworkers and society at large) and striving for it Balancing bigger things. If these elements get out of whack, it could either lead to an inferiority complex, a tendency to overfap and underestimate our worth compared to others – or Superiority complex, a pattern of behavior that assumes that one person’s skills and performance are far better than those of others.
In the 90 years since Adler first defined the term, our concept of an inferiority complex has evolved. Today psychologists recognize inferiority and superiority complexes as different sides of the same coin, with superiority complexes typically representing a cover-up of an inferiority complex. According to Arash Javanbakht, MD, psychiatrist and director of the Stress, Trauma & Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University, the term “inferiority complex” is no longer used in clinical diagnostics either. That is, “extremely low self-esteem that is not based on truth or any reasonable reason is not good – it is never normal. I would always consider it pathological.”
To determine if your feelings of self-doubt are what Adler viewed as the inferiority complex, it is important to examine the causes behind the feelings of inadequacy. Javanbakht says extremely low self-esteem could be linked to clinical depression or anxiety, which can be managed with talk therapy or medication.