An inferiority complex is a psychological sense of inferiority that is either wholly or partially subconscious. Yet, as we discuss in our article on attachment theory and inferiority complex, what is often fully subconscious is how an inferiority complex develops: It can be traced back to the attachment style we developed as children.
If we perceived that our caregivers were sensitive and attuned to our needs we understood that we were worthy of love and attention. However, if we recognized how our caregivers met our needs as rejecting, inconsistent, or neglectful we internalized the message that we weren’t either important or worthy enough in general.
Overcoming feelings of inadequacy is important for overall mental health, the development of effective coping skills, and the establishment of successful relationships in which we feel valued and confident enough to be our true selves. We cannot control how our past affected our self-beliefs, but the ability to control how valuable we deem ourselves in the present is entirely in our power.
It’s important to challenge an inferiority complex for many reasons. Firstly, our negative self-beliefs can cause us to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, meaning that we predict we will fail, so our actions are driven by this prediction. Such actions then cause our predictions to come true, in turn, reinforcing our negative self-beliefs. Secondly, overcoming feelings of inferiority results in higher levels of self-esteem. The benefits of healthier self-esteem include:
A recent, particularly important, reason for overcoming an inferiority complex was the focus of a contemporary study in which feelings of inferiority were discovered to be higher among people with insecure attachment–as were feelings of perceived loneliness. This finding could be explained by the potential difficulties people with insecure attachment may have in showing weakness or confiding in others. Instead, fearing rejection or abandonment, those with an insecure attachment style may prefer to disguise their perceived inadequacy by creating a shell to protect their fragile sense of self-esteem. However, as we discussed in our previous article on how attachment can predict loneliness, feeling lonely can have a range of negative effects on our mental health.
Therefore, in order to prevent chronic loneliness–amongst the other reasons mentioned–it is important to take steps towards overcoming the feelings of inferiority associated with an insecure attachment style.
Due to how the roots of an inferiority complex form during an early period of our lives, it is often challenging to change as we don’t know any other way of seeing ourselves. However, through taking steps such as the following it is possible to get over feelings of inferiority.
Understanding the impact of your early years, such as that of parenting styles, attachment styles, and early maladaptive schemas, on your adult self-attitudes and actions can help you target problem thoughts and behaviors and make positive changes.
It’s not uncommon for people to set goals based on what they feel they should achieve rather than what they truly want to achieve. Whether this is getting married, having children, or getting a degree–we are all individuals and our goals are inherently different.
When we act in ways that align with our values we tend to feel more content in our own skin. When we don’t, we can feel like we are not thriving in our own life. But what are values? Our values are the things we believe to be truly important: Our priorities and internal measures. They are also relatively stable but may change as you move through life.
Identifying times in your life when you were at your happiest, proudest, and most fulfilled–and why, can help you pinpoint your values. These values may be family, honesty, freedom, professionalism, or any other value from an almost inexhaustible list. Once you have established what they are, aim for creating goals for your life that include these values.
For example, if you identify family-orientedness as a value, you can address whether your current goals bring you away from this value and how you can address this by establishing a goal that strives for more quality time with loved ones. Taking steps such as this will increase your feelings of internal accomplishment as you’re living your life according to your own terms.
It might sometimes feel like everyone else is more successful, better looking, or more popular, but if you have an internal bias against yourself then you’re not making an accurate comparison between yourself and others. Furthermore, your benchmark for success should be based on your own internal values, not on how well everyone else seems to be doing. Other peoples’ accomplishments by no means affect your progression in life.
The next time you find yourself making comparisons or feeling envious of others, try to remind yourself that everyone faces their own challenges in life. If they’re professionally successful, remind yourself of the commitment they probably have to put into their work, and how much they may have to sacrifice to be where they are in life.
Positively focusing on other peoples’ efforts may help you to appreciate them instead of feeling envious. You could start by internally addressing their efforts, and then progressing to voicing them. Say things such as:
Whether or not you voice these statements or use them as internal scripts, practicing them will help you recognize them as true and feel less burdened by comparisons or jealousy.
Feeling inferior to others can cause negative self-thoughts such as, Deep down I know that everyone is better than me. Thoughts like this are indicative of low self-esteem, which is integral to our sense of identity: Our beliefs about who we are as a person result in our negative self-perceptions. Although targeting low-self esteem is a process that involves developing awareness around why we have negative self-views-such as understanding our attachment styles, we can still overcome an internal self-critic through some metacognition work.
The following activity can help you challenge and replace negative self-talk.
Rational or “neutral” affirmations are particularly helpful for people with persistent feelings of inferiority. This is because positive affirmations can feel too absurd or unrealistic for those of us who struggle to see our worth. In general, affirmations can target negative self-beliefs and subsequent negative emotions and actions through consciously challenging our subconscious. Plus, the more realistic and reasonable they are, the more effective they’re likely to be. Instead of using affirmations to express self-love, use them to express self-neutrality. After all, if you have an inferiority complex, being neutral towards yourself is a radical change from being consistently critical towards yourself.
Use the negative thoughts you identified in the previous tip to help you create your neutral affirmations. For example, if your thought is I fail at everything that I do, you can create an affirmation such as “I’m not going to give up.” Furthermore, make sure your affirmations tap into your sense of self by using “I” statements. The following are more examples of rational affirmations.
Practice your rational or neutral affirmations daily by keeping them accessible to you, such as in a notebook or stored on your phone. In time, your mind will start going to these affirmations as natural thoughts rather than concentrated effort.
Therapy is an excellent way to help you understand how an inferiority complex develops and manifests in your thoughts, feeling, and actions as you are given the opportunity to speak about your difficulties openly and without judgment. Talk therapies such as CBT and psychodynamic therapy can be particularly effective in helping you identify how your self-beliefs were formed through previous experiences and understanding how to reshape your life by transforming your opinions of yourself.
Feelings of inferiority may have formed during a period of your life which makes them resistant to change, but it is still entirely possible to learn how to recognize and appreciate your self-worth and who you are as a person. The first step in this process is understanding how an insecure attachment style can lead to feelings of low self-worth. However, once you have achieved an adequate level of understanding it’s important to confront your feelings of inferiority through challenging negative self-talk and replacing it with more accurate and positive reflections of yourself. We all deserve to feel comfortable and confident in our own skin, and those of us with insecure attachment styles are no different–we may just struggle to understand how to sometimes.
“One of the processes of your life is to constantly break down that inferiority, to constantly reaffirm that I Am Somebody.”
– Alvin Ailey
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