There are many ways that during our childhood our risk of developing an inferiority complex as adults can be increased. For example, certain types of parenting can increase this risk, such as over-controlling, over-critical, over-protective, over-demanding, and/or emotionally neglectful parenting. Being brought up by such parents, or in a way that is psychologically destructive, can result in the young person developing: feelings of self-hatred, a defeatist thinking style, a generally negative attitude towards life, self-destructiveness, excessive and irrational self-blame, fear of failure, excessive sensitivity to failure and self-doubt in social situations.
Research also shows that any serious traumatic emotional distress experienced during childhood can, potentially, have similar effects.
The psychologist, Gilmor, identified six specific signs that an individual may have developed an inferiority complex. These six signs are as follows:
1- oversensitivity to criticism
2- a propensity to perceive oneself as being criticized, even when this is not the case
3- excessive reaction to flattery/’fishing for compliments’ or the opposite, namely having great difficulty accepting compliments/flattery
4- avoidance of others (due to not feeling good enough/interesting enough/likable enough etc to be in their company)
5- an inability to be a ‘gracious’ loser
6- a fondness for/ urges to ‘put others down
Additionally, the psychologist, Nanka, suggested that those with an inferiority complex had a tendency to believe/ claim/declare that they are ‘always right’ as well as a habit of always insisting that others agree with them.
Other research shows they may try to mask their feelings of inferiority behind a façade of arrogance, crave and seek high social status, be very materialistic (wanting to impress others by owning expensive cars, jewelry etc), crave and seek power/control/dominance over others, constantly seek approval and behave in a self-righteous manner.
The Compounding Effect Of Depression:
If an individual has developed an inferiority complex as a result of a difficult and traumatic childhood, such a person is also at an elevated risk of developing a depressive illness. Unfortunately, this can intensify feelings of inferiority as it is known that depressed people tend to develop a distorted and unrealistically low opinion of themselves; in a depressed person’s mind his/her shortcomings become exaggerated whilst his/her skills and abilities are minimized, dismissed or ignored.
Due to the above, a vicious circle can easily develop: the depression leads to feelings of low self-worth, self-hatred, etc which in turn serves to accentuate the depression…and so on…and so on…
Possible Subconscious Reasons For Self-Criticism:
The idea has also been put forward that there can be subconscious reasons or ulterior motives why we criticize ourselves in ways often associated with having an inferiority complex. These include:
1 – to gain sympathy
2 – to appear humble/modest
3 – because we think self-deprecation is somehow charming or endearing
4 – as an expression of guilt
5 – to avoid responsibility (e.g. by saying: ‘I’d really love to help, but I’m useless at that kind of thing’)
6 – to discourage others from criticizing us (‘getting in there first’)
7 – to encourage others to admit their faults too
8 – avoid disappointment (e.g. ‘I’ll never pass that exam’)
9 – to motivate ourselves to do better (think John McEnroe berating himself on the tennis court). Indeed, being highly self-critical and/or having feelings of inferiority drives some people on to achieve great success – such people are driven by an overwhelming need to prove themselves to others.
Possible Remedies For An Inferiority Complex:
1) Stop being a perfectionist and accept weaknesses as part of our humanity
2) Work hard to improve particular areas of weakness
3) Become very good at one particular thing to compensate for weaknesses or feel less bad about having them
4) Understand the source of our feelings of inferiority (eg. grew up being ridiculed by parents) and seek appropriate therapy (eg. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)/ utilize self-help
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).