You experienced feelings of inferiority, from the moment you were born. They helped you grow and develop as a human. This is why a child strives to copy others. It progresses through observing and emulating behaviour and language.
Inferiority feelings are no bad thing. You need them. They say, “I could do better here”, and drive you to desire better.
From Inferiority Feelings to an Inferiority Complex
Childhood can change what drives inferiority feelings and turn them into a full blow complex. Were you compared unfavourably to someone else?
If you had a parent or teacher who constantly weighed you against a sibling, for example. You lived with the message that you are ‘less than’, or ‘not as good as’, your sister. All your thoughts, actions, and words are subtly driven by that story. You live life in the shadows of that person.
Unreachable and Unrealistic Goals
An inferiority complex is identifiable in the values and goals you set for yourself. They are highly subjective and unmeasurable by any sensible means. For example, I have to look perfect. I have to get perfect scores, and I must win everything. I must be gregarious, outgoing, and the life and soul of the party.
Inferiority Amongst Introverts and HSPs
We can see see why this might become an issue for introverts growing up in extroverted environments. And why you might struggle with this as an HSP if you didn’t grow up in a nurturing and understanding place.
Inferiority feelings can evolve into an issue for introverts and sensitive types if they are fed by messages such as:
“You’re quiet compared with your sister”
“Why can’t you be more outgoing?”
“You spend too much time alone…it’s not normal for someone your age.”
These stories can create a picture of inferiority, all linked to one’s innate temperament. They create a deep internal conflict where the belief is that in order to be accepted you need to be a different person.
Extroverted children can experience this too. If they grow up in an environment which fails to accept them in the right way. A child who is loud, energetic, and demands a lot of attention, might be fed the opposite message:
“Why can’t you be a nice well behaved child like your brother?”
“You’re always getting into trouble. Keep quiet and follow the rules like the other kids.”
This isn’t linked with a particular personality type other than the expectations and assumptions we build around them. We must communicate more mindfully, and be aware of the impact we are making with the comparisons we place on others.
From Inferior to Superior
Inferiority and Superiority feelings are not opposites. They are closely linked. In fact, a superiority complex can emerge as a way to compensate for an inferiority complex. The belief that the thing you thought made you inferior, actually makes you special, and you should be treated as such.
This mindset can appear when introverts first discover the truth about their temperament. That it doesn’t make them weird or abnormal.
They might flip to the other end of the spectrum and embrace the idea that it makes them special and superior to others. We all need to beware of this. Both inferiority and superiority complexes are focussed outside of oneself. They are based in comparison with others…either “I’m worse than others” or “I’m better than others”. Neither of these internal narratives is helpful or healthy.
Superiority is not the same as confidence (self-acceptance). This is the difference between confidence and arrogance. If you are self-accepting you do not need to boast or judge other people.
Arrogance is insecurity at its most acute. It declares “I’m great” as a way to compensate for the fact that it doesn’t believe it to be true. If it really was great it would just quietly get on with the job of being great.
The Power of Weakness
“You wouldn’t understand, you had money growing up”, or “you can’t understand what it’s like to have a teacher pick on you, all the teachers loved you”, or “you would never understand, you’re an extrovert and make friends so easily”.
These phrases turn inferiority into superiority. They sew division between people and shut down the conversation.
Adler suggests that “if we were to ask ourselves who is the strongest person in our culture, the logical answer would be the baby. The baby rules and cannot be dominated.”
On one level this is not true, but it carries a deep truth at its core. The baby rules the adults with its weakness. It requires full commitment and attention from the parent, including life changing sacrifices. It is a one sided relationship.
An inferiority complex can lead to behaviours of control through weakness, which declare subconsciously, “I am weak, therefore I am special…that is how I know I matter and feel significant”.
If we want to move to a place of self-acceptance and flourishing, we must break the cycles of inferiority and superiority.