Everyone feels down about themselves from time to time, especially if you feel like others are doing better in life than you are. It's common to feel that way. But if this is a constant feeling and you're acting out in ways that are harmful to you or others, experts say, you may have
an inferiority complex.
"We all know the term inferiority complex as it relates to cultural references, however few realize how it manifests in a person’s daily life," NYC-based psychotherapist,
Alana Barlia, LMHC, tells Bustle. "The term inferiority complex comes from founder and father of Individual Psychology, Alfred Adler. It's basically a term used to denote an intense feeling of not belonging, or a feeling of being less than."
According to Barlia, an inferiority complex can come from a person's experiences. For instance, a person may develop it by growing up in an "invalidating environment," in which parents, siblings, and others around them say things that make a child feel inferior or less than.
As you can imagine, these types of
childhood experiences can affect your thoughts and behavior as an adult. Because it's a "subconscious experience," Barlia says it typically presents itself differently based on the individual. So here are some signs you may have an inferiority complex, according to experts.
An inferiority complex usually manifests in two opposite ways. Some may overcompensate to make up for whatever it is that's making them feel less than. "An individual may attempt perfection and achievement in everything they do," Barlia says. "Sometimes they can be cocky in their presentation, almost to the point where you find yourself questioning how real it can be."
You're Most Comfortable Fading Into The Background
The second way an inferority complex usually shows is through
avoidant behavior. For instance, you may feel more comfortable fading into the background, or you may avoid putting yourself out there in social situations because you fear rejection. According to Barlia, it may get to the point where others notice the discomfort you feel with yourself.
You're Very Sensitive To Criticism
"People with an inferiority complex are highly sensitive to what others think and often take offense even when no offense is intended," licensed professional counselor,
Nickia Lower, MHS, NCC, tells Bustle. Any kind of critique or criticism will stay with you for a long time. You don't respond kindly to teasing or jokes made at your expense. If you ever feel disrespected, you may act out with aggression in order intimidate others and decrease your feelings of being "attacked."
You Have A Tendency To Find Faults In Others
When you have an inferiority complex, you may have a habit of finding faults in other people. For instance, you may have a friend who you feel is more successful than you. If you have feelings of inferiority, you might tell yourself that their career path isn't as great as they make it out to be rather than feeling happy for them. According to Lower, some may even take it a step further and will bully others or constantly put them down.
You Only Feel Good About Yourself When You Think You're Doing Better Than Other People
It's human nature to compare yourself to those around you. But as
Aimee Daramus, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle, there are healthy and unhealthy ways to handle it. If you're handling it in a healthy way, your focus will be on bettering yourself. But when you have an inferiority complex, your main focus may be on becoming better than other people. "You might have seen this at the gym, which is pretty much a temple of inferiority feelings," Daramus says. "People with a healthy view of it are focused on their workouts and they’re probably being pretty cooperative with others. People with unhealthy perspectives flex to show off, make loud grunting noises on the machines, or try to make others feel weak or less important." On the inside, they're trying to cover up their "painful" feelings of inferiority.
You Don't Believe It When People Compliment You
When you have self-esteem issues that stem all the way back to childhood, it can affect the way you see compliments. As
Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist, tells Bustle, "People with an inferiority complex won't be comforted by positive feedback, or if they are, it won't stick for too long."
You're Quick To Assume The Worst
"I’ve noticed that the number one red flag that equals an inferiority complex is when someone blows off others for the smallest reasons," Sherri Murphy, president and founder of
Elite Connections International, tells Bustle. For instance, if a date cancels for a good reason, you refuse to set up another date because you assume they're probably not that attracted to you. "People that give up quickly over the smallest infractions are typically those with inferiority complexes," Murphy says. "They want to be the one to leave for ego's sake and usually expect negative results with anyone they meet."
An inferiority complex will not only hurt you, but those around you. So there are things you can do to manage these feelings of being less than. For one, Lower says you can try practicing self-love through
positive words of affirmation. You can also try using positive self-talk daily, by saying reassuring things to yourself whenever you're feeling down. Journaling can also help you work out your feelings of inferiority and where they come from.
Of course, therapy can also be beneficial. "A therapist can help work through some of those old wounds you may have received as a child or from some other traumatic event so you can begin to heal," Lower says. "As the old saying goes, 'hurt people hurt people.'"
At the end of the day, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. There's no reason why anyone should feel like they're less than anyone else.