Do you have an inferiority complex? Have you struggled to overcome a lack of self-worth, a feeling of inadequacy and inability to measure up, and a constant self-doubt?
This post is inspired by a reader who is currently dealing with it.
I’m happy to receive your book. It is very motivating. I have an inferiority complex problem which I’m working on. It makes me laid back at times. ~ Florence
What is Inferiority Complex?
Inferiority Complex is “an abnormal or pathological state which, due to the tendency of the complex to draw unrelated ideas into itself, leads the individual to depreciate herself, to become unduly sensitive, to be too eager for praise and flattery, and to adopt a derogatory attitude toward others”. ~ Timothy Lin
Inferiority complex is said to develop through a combination of genetic personality characteristics and personal experiences.
Some people are born carrying some faulty genes that cause their inferiority, but to many, it is the result of external variables and conditioning such as growing up in a household where criticism is the norm, being raised by parents or elders with too high expectations, constant comparison between siblings or family members, bullying and cyber-bullying.
You can become inferior if the people you care about do not appreciate you or believe in you.
But the feeling of inferiority per se is actually not bad. It´s a stimulant to a healthy + normal striving, growth and development. It encourages you to achieve, to do better, and to overcome.
It becomes a problem if the feeling of inadequacy overwhelms you, stops you from achieving, growing and improving, and does not stimulate you to doing useful activity. It becomes a problem if the feeling of inferiority makes you depressed and incapable of development.
My Struggle with Inferiority
I used to have inferiority complex. I was a very inferior little girl and I remained one up until my early years in university.
My inferiority complex stemmed from a mix of factors which intensified as I grew older. It started with my grandmother constantly comparing me to my cousin who was prettier, bigger and taller, fairer and more intelligent.
Grandma didn´t mean me harm. She probably simply wanted to encourage me to eat more, gain weight, grow taller, and look more like my cousin who was pretty and fair.
But there was nothing I could do with how I looked. I was naturally slim and petite. I haven´t inherited her Spanish-mestiza features; I got my grandpa´s oblong face and tiny nose, and my dad´s brown skin.
Every time grandma fetched me from home, we drove five hours by bus to her home where my cousins, vacationing from a bigger city, were waiting. While on the bus she told me how my girl-cousin was looking, or doing, which made me feel ugly and not good enough.
When older relatives saw me, their usual comment was, “She is too thin”, sometimes with smirk on their faces. School mates and neighbors regularly called me degrading names like “stick”, “malnourished”, “walking dead”, “skeleton”, etc.
As early as five years old, I already understood that my family had a lower socioeconomic status than my cousins and peers. I would sit quietly in my grandma´s garden beside my cousin who was playing the most high-tech toy in the 90s.
I walked through the rain to school wearing slippers and carrying my grandma´s old + big black umbrella with a broken handle and a leather shoulder bag which my dad sewed but without zipper, while the cutest girls in my second grade class rode on their daddy´s big bicycles wearing a pink raincoat, some rain boots, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty backpacks, and a bright printed umbrella.
Teachers paid attention to the cutest girls with well-off parents. Very early, my insecurity complex was established.
Life didn´t improve for me and my family as I grew older in terms of our socioeconomic status. I felt more and more inferior, especially in school, but it didn´t stop me from studying hard.
However, it made me a sad, grumpy girl. I hardly smiled. My peers and some of my teachers looked down on me, ridiculed or bullied me. I believed I was ugly, a low-class citizen.
Symptoms of Inferiority Complex
I was easily offended. I was awkward. I didn´t know how to relate to boys and to pretty girls. I was self-conscious and too-shy all the time. On some occasions I withdrew social contacts. And when heavily provoked by bullying, I became aggressive.
Other symptoms of inferiority complex include: excessive seeking for attention, criticism of others, overly dutiful obedience, and worry.
A Zigzag Road to Recovery
Overcoming my insecurity complex was a long, tough road for me. I went from extreme low to extreme high.
The opposite of inferiority complex is superiority complex. It is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person’s feelings of superiority counter or conceal his or her feelings of inferiority.
I had no clear understanding of this phenomenon during the time but in my second year in university, a profound change happened in me. I crawled out from my years of inferiority and pulled myself up to land in a “superiority complex” ring.
I was one of the few students which our university administration regarded as the “cream of the crop” scholars. I was popular in the campus as a debater, a student political leader, and the spokesperson for our group of scholars. My scholarship money allowed me to improve my personal style. My school activities and exposures paved way for networking and building connections.
When before I was nobody, I became somebody. I acted superior, but deep down; the deep-seated insecurities were still there. I was always too anxious to lose my scholarship, and to not graduate. My entire confidence was built on them.
Both extremes—superiority and inferiority complex—are not healthy for the soul. I was on both ends and I didn´t find genuine happiness.
How to Overcome Inferiority Complex
If you too are working on overcoming inferiority complex, here are four tips to help you.
1. Acknowledge that you have the complex.
Some people with inferiority complex compensate their disorder with denial. When they do things out of the impulse of the complex, they compensate by denial of reality, distortion of reality, attack of reality, or retreat from reality. They do this through sour graping or sweet lemon-ing.
For example, if Sally who has an inferiority complex is given a chance to represent their department in a conference, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to show her capabilities, she will decline the offer.
If a colleague grabbed the offer, did the job great, came back to the office with everyone’s applause and got awarded with a promotion, Sally will tell herself that it was a staged conference with favoritism on the play. Climbing the ladder makes life miserable, anyway.
Sally needs to admit that the real problem is her feeling of incompetence to perform the task. Awareness of the inferiority complex can lead her to seek solutions.
2. Know + accept yourself
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. ~ Romans 12:3-6
If you have inferiority complex, you often feel either inferior to another person or incompetent to perform a task.
But Apostle Paul addressed these two issues head on—1) God bestowed you gifts, and 2) your gifts are different than others.
Don´t use other people´s stick to measure your gifts, for God has given you unique gifts and He created you for a unique function. Know yourself by discovering the gifts and talents you were given, by discovering your calling, and by fulfilling your purpose.
Don´t underestimate the gifts that God has given you. Through His blessings and help, you are capable of doing great things more than you can ever imagine.
Sure you have weaknesses, disabilities and limitations, but hear what the Bible has got to say about those:
He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. ~ Isaiah 40:29-31
Therefore don´t hate your disabilities and handicaps, or your weaknesses and limitations. Don´t let them discourage you or fuel your inferiority.
God promises to give you power and strength when you are weak and powerless. [Tweet “As long as you walk in God´s will and wait for Him, He will help you conquer all your disabilities.”] He will help you overcome your inferiority complex.
This also applies to your beauty and physical attributes. You may fall short from the standard beauty of the world but be comforted that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) A gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4) is more beautiful and precious than a perfect face, a flawless skin and a gorgeous body.
It took me long to know and accept myself. But by God´s grace I am now comfortable, contented and happy with my gifts and looks.
2. Develop your strong points.
If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. ~ Romans 12: 7-9
The Bible tells you to use your talents, improve and develop them. Whatever it is that you can do, do it with all your might (Ecc 9:10). Develop your strong points for the glory of the Lord.
Doing something that you are naturally good at will give you joy. Doing something that you are called to do will make you inspired.
Spend no time dwelling on what you can´t do. Instead, spend all your energy on what you can do, enhancing the gifts and talents that God bestowed you.
3. Forget the Past
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, ~ Philippians 3:13.
It takes time and practice. Even Apostle Paul took time to master it.
But since inferiority complex is a by-product of past experiences, to remember the pain and failures of the past would only produce regret, fear and bitterness. Stop dwelling in the past.
Let it go. Set yourself free.
Focus on what´s about to come, on all the blessings that God is yet to pour, and on all the endless possibilities.
Focus too on Heavenly things. While here on Earth you´re bombarded with constant competition and comparison, in Heaven all saved saints will share the spotlight equally. There will be no inferiority complex in your Father´s kingdom.
4. Realize your position in Christ
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Philippians 4:11-13
[Tweet “It´s easy to feel superior when you have plenty, and to feel inferior when you have less.”] Your human nature wants to be the greatest. It covets what it doesn´t have. It boasts when it has plenty.
But Apostle Paul´s advice is to be content.
If you have a simple contented spirit, it won´t burn you if your college friend makes more money than you. It won´t make you inferior if she lives in a big house and you´re just renting a tiny place. It won´t send you to depression if others seem to have it all.
Leaning in Christ for strength will cultivate a contented spirit in you and a mindset that is confident in God´s blessings and guidance.
The emotional feeling of incapability and inadequacy caused by inferiority complex is tough to overcome (on your own). But as a Christian, the cure is to be found in your spiritual understanding of your position and privileges in Christ.
For more stories, tips + guides, check out this quarter´s magazine issue, Self-Confidence.