Do you think it is strange that someone who can address a large crowd still feels inferior when standing next to a single person from that crowd? Well, I’m that guy.
Back in secondary school, I used to address different crowds. In the university, I also had the opportunity to address an entire lecture hall. I won’t say I wasn’t nervous, but I was able to do it, over and over again.
When people hear about inferiority complex, they picture this dumb loser who isn’t good-looking or rich. But, I was always amongst the top in class. I am also tall, and good-looking enough to have been complimented by different ladies (and guys).
A few years ago I used to blame the whole feeling on my financial constraints, but now I know it is just a lie I tell myself. For a start, I’ve seen way too many not-too-good-looking and broke guys mingle with other rich guys, date high-class ladies, and basically feel among in social gatherings.
So, like me, you might be wondering, what really is my excuse? Why don’t I feel worthy of all these people and things I so badly want? And, how do I stop feeling like I am not good enough? Well, that is exactly what we are going to explore in this post.
Why do I worry I’m not good enough?
Whenever I think back to the beginning of my insecurity, I often recall instances where someone older and in a position of authority kept saying things like, “I can’t take you out because you will embarrass me”, “You are/look stupid”, and “Don’t you know we are poor people?”.
There were just a lot of these being drummed into my psyche as a child, it was insane. As I grew up, I found that I had internalized most of them. For example;
- I avoided dancing because I didn’t want to be laughed at (I subconsciously wanted to avoid confirming the idea that I was an embarrassment or looked stupid),
- I avoided talking to ladies (i.e. self-rejection) because I didn’t want to be asked the infamous question “Are you stupid?”, or get rejected because “I was a broke dude”, and
- I always felt like shrinking out of existence whenever I found myself in a classy-looking place with a lot of well-dressed people (because, I still believed I was poor, and do not belong where there are rich people).
I sabotaged my opportunities and experiences by worrying that I am not good enough. And, I consistently felt I was not good enough because I believed the stories/words/ideas from my childhood.
But, don’t feel sorry for me. In fact, my childhood was okay. We never lacked food, clothing, or love. My parents had a house, and a car, and allowed us to play with the kids in the neighbourhood. We had a PlayStation, football, and all the things a middle-class family could afford. In short, the whole stories I was told about being poor or whatever was a lie (mostly said with the intention to hurt or caution).
My story is just one in a billion: In fact, I will consider mine a mild case, even though it has affected me for most of my life. To help you appreciate the cause and effects of inferiority complex, we will have to dive a bit deeper.
What is having an inferiority complex?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) inferiority complex is “a basic feeling of inadequacy and insecurity, deriving from actual or imagined physical or psychological deficiency.”
It is important to understand that the “deficiencies” do not on their own make you unworthy or inadequate. In fact, there are people who have serious deficiencies – height, IQ, strength, money, social media following, you name it – yet feel superior to everyone.
And the above statement highlights the trap most people who are trying to overcome that pesky feeling of being inferior often fall into. People who feel they are not good enough often think that it is because of the size of their bank account, boobs, or something else.
No. Once you fix the deficiencies you assumed were the culprit of your constant anxiety, shame, or insecurity – whether it is by getting rich or getting an implant – all of a sudden you’ll begin to notice a myriad of other deficiencies you have. You might begin to worry that you only have a degree and not a PhD, or your nose needs surgery too, or this and that.
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What are the signs of an inferiority complex?
Just so I don’t end up limiting this to my experiences, I’ve compiled a list of signs and behaviours that suggest someone might be struggling with an inferiority complex. You know you might have some tendencies of inferiority complex when you;
- Withdraw from everyday activities and social situations.
- Feel insecure, incomplete, or unworthy.
- Compare yourself to others.
- Are always trying to prove yourself.
- Are easily discouraged in the face of competition.
- Have a negative self-image.
- Greatly fear failure.
- Have difficulty expressing your feelings.
- Have a hard time trusting others.
- Have a pessimistic outlook on life.
- Feel hostile, frustrated, nervous, or aggressive towards successful people.
- Feel depressed, and anxious about where you are in life.
- Are a perfectionist.
- Are excessively competitive.
- Always seek attention.
- Are very sensitive to criticism.
- Find it difficult to admit mistakes.
- Punish yourself when you fail (this could be by abusing substances, hitting yourself, cutting yourself, etcetera).
- Constantly find fault in others.
- Feel good about yourself when you’re doing better than others.
Keep in mind that trying to overcome your inferiority complex by compensating for your deficiencies is like trying to outrun your shadow. More is never the solution. In fact, the root cause of inferiority complex is much more problematic and deep-rooted than most people think.
What causes inferiority complex?
And, I think that is a very insightful statement there. It highlights that the reason having, being, or feeling less – beautiful, intelligent, rich, or whatever – troubles the person with inferiority complex is not necessarily because of the lack, but that they desire to be better than others.
I know this is true because I’ve often found my own insecurities vapourize once I realize that the other person was only putting up a facade; and that I was in fact “better” than them. But, that is not a healthy way to live.
It’s unhealthy because you will always find people who are in fact better than you in some sense (hence your anxiety and low self-esteem will always persist and hold you back). Secondly, you will not be able to truly connect with people you think are beneath you.
Inferiority complex and superiority complex are two sides of the same coin. They both spring from an unhealthy super-ego (i.e. the part of you that want to be seen as good and admirable by society).
And, unhealthy super-egos often emerge due to unpleasant childhood experiences – such as constant negative remarks, conditional love, unfavourable comparisons, being ignored, and so on.
Some people with inferiority complex (unconsciously) overcompensate for their feelings of inferiority by developing a superiority complex (i.e. deluding themselves that they are better than everyone else). This is a false sense of superiority that is only masking the underlying feelings of inferiority.
How do you break inferiority complex?
The true cure to inferiority complex is not trying to be better than anyone else, but simply learning self-acceptance and genuine admiration of others. It’s like finally making peace with the fact that the shadow (your imperfection and insecurities) will always show up whenever a light (someone or something who doesn’t seem to have that particular imperfection) comes close to you. And, that it is okay.
Yes, it is perfectly okay to feel insecure once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you are inferior in any way. In fact, it is wise and good to seek to be around people who complement your shortcomings.
For example, in the Bible, when Moses was asked to go speak with the Pharaoh, he quickly admitted he had trouble speaking. He didn’t feel inferior, nor did he desire to be superior to his borther who was brought to help. He simply accepted himself and admired/valued someone who had what he didn’t.
Of course, it is easier said than done. Scrapping off the stories that were engraved into your brain from childhood, and rewriting the stories in your mind is no easy task. In fact, it is something most people will not even want to admit. But, it is work that is totally worth it.
You must learn to teach your subconscious mind that you are neither superior nor inferior to anyone – even if you may have or lack some things in comparison.
15 Practices that will help you get rid of your inferiority complex:
Below are some practices that might help you achieve this:
Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to what is going on in your mind – what you are thinking and feeling – without engaging – indulging or fighting them. You can practice mindfulness when alone and when in the midst of people. The trick is often to take a pause and listen to your own internal monologue.
Journal about your insecurities:
Whilst mindfulness helps you notice your thoughts, journalling helps you capture them so you can better analyse and understand them. Journalling often can help you start identifying the monsters that hunt your thoughts as they emerge from your subconscious mind in future.
Read books that teach you about yourself:
Books (and other educational content) will help you understand yourself better. It will help you uncover issues you weren’t aware of. It will also let you know what to expect. For example, a book might inform you that you might feel a bit sweaty when you meet a very good-looking person.
Read books that teach you about others:
Books (and other educational content) will also expose to you why and how people behave in specific ways. It exposes their strengths as well as their flaws and helps you see them in a more realistic way.
Replace comparison with curiosity and admiration:
When you see someone with something very nice, maybe the latest iPhone, don’t compare your little phone with theirs but get really interested in learning about the features of the phone. Take it for a spin – take pictures, play music, and just appreciate the wonders of the technology.
Learn to love unconditionally:
If you’ve been raised in a place where you were only shown love when you did certain things or looked specific ways, it might be hard to understand that love can be given unconditionally. And, it is this belief that you won’t be loved or accepted if you don’t look a certain way that causes you to feel inferior. So, by loving others without demanding they do something or look a certain way, you will begin to reprogram your mind to start believing that you too are worthy of being loved regardless of what you do or how you look.
Think in terms of what you have to offer:
When in a place filled with people who are more good-looking, skilled, or powerful than you are, don’t revert to comparison, rather think of what you can offer these people. That is, think in terms of your strengths and how they can help everyone else (or the mission at hand). Be the little bird that still sings in the forest despite the other bigger birds singing too.
Spend time with people who make you feel loved and accepted:
If you find people who have expressed genuine love and care for you despite knowing your shortcomings, then always make out time to hang around them. These people will make you feel validated and accepted.
Intentionally connect with people you usually feel insecure around:
This might feel a bit uncomfortable, but if you consistently stay (rather than run away) from people you feel insecure around, soon you will realize that they really are not all that perfect, and may not care so much about their strengths/features as much as you do. For example, pretty ladies may put more emphasis on trustworthiness or kindness than on looks; but you may never realize this standing 12 feet away all the time.
Go to places you usually avoided:
Go to the restaurant and hotels you usually felt were beyond you. If you can afford it, try paying for a first-class ticket at the airport. Experiences like these train your mind to understand that you are enough – that you are worthy of the good things in life.
Wear clothes that make you feel good:
Our clothes affect our behaviour and confidence. Multiple research has found this to be true, and that’s besides the fact that you will generally feel more prepared to mingle with people when you are looking your best.
Challenge negative thoughts:
When negative thoughts creep in despite all you’ve done so far, don’t be afraid to question and challenge them. Ask the voice in your head that told you that you don’t deserve the good things of life why it thinks so. The more you probe it, the more it will diminish and you can take charge of your life. Never let it ramble uninterrupted in your head.
Rephrase your words:
Even when you make mistakes or fall short of some standard, instead of calling yourself stupid, say you still have more to learn. Encourage yourself that you are improving and that with time you’ll get there.
Keep track of your accomplishments:
It’s also a good practice to keep a record of all the things you’ve accomplished so far. You passed that test, graduated from school, got that girlfriend, made X amount of money, helped that lady, wrote that book, and so on. Track records like these help you better challenge negative thoughts and motivate you to keep going.
Go for therapy:
If you find that despite everything, you still can’t shake the feeling of inferiority, it might be time to go see a professional. It’s also important to note that you can visit a therapist just to help fasten your recovery process. It doesn’t always have to be when things have gotten critical.
Conclusion: We are all made of stardust, everyone is majestic.
Most times we feel insecure because we are looking at life through the distorted lenses, and an inferiority complex is when you can’t take off that faulty lens. The truth is that there is really nothing to feel insecure about. We are all naked primates that are less conspicuous than a speck of dust on a tennis ball in the middle of the Sahara.
“Whenever you feel superior or inferior to anyone, that’s the ego in you.”– Eckhart Tolle
What we should all be is humble and grateful that we can see other sentient beings with whom we can work together to achieve a happy and meaningful life.
Below are other resources you might find useful:
- 7 Practical Steps To Overcome Envy and Achieve Your Success
- The Habit of Humility: How To Be Humble Without Selling Yourself Short
- The Habit of Gratitude: How Practicing Gratitude Daily Changes Your Life
- How To Get What You Want In Life: 7 Lessons From Elisha And The Widow’s Oil
- Gain Confidence In Yourself With These 10 Tips
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)