An inferiority complex is a mostly unconscious sense of inadequacy which can manifest in strange ways as someone attempts to compensate for it. People with this type of feeling believe that they are not as worthy or skilled as their peers, which can cause considerable psychological distress, whether or not they are aware of these feelings on a conscious level. This psychological condition can be treated through psychotherapy, in which the roots of the complex are explored to help the patient process it and move forward.
The theory of the inferiority complex was proposed in the 1920s by Alfred Adler. Adler believed that everyone started out experiencing feelings of inferiority in childhood, due to the inherently unequal position and psychological dependence experienced by children. As people matured, most managed to move past this sense of inferiority to grow into fully functioning adults, but some became trapped in this mindset, developing an inferiority complex and experiencing a persistent sense of inadequacy.
Someone with an inferiority complex simultaneously wants to be recognized and praised, but also fears humiliation. Many have experienced humiliation in the past, and have built up fears around the idea of being mocked by peers. As a result, overcompensation is common to avoid being humiliated and to establish a barrier between patient and society. Some people overcompensate by becoming shy and engaging in self-diminishment, while others may become aggressive, attempting to overcome their psychological distress by dominating.
Certain events in childhood appear to predispose people to an inferiority complex. People who grow up in lower social classes can be more at risk as a result of torment and discrimination from their peers, whether they are different because of their economic status, religion, or skin color. Upbringing also plays a role; for example, someone with siblings may develop an inferiority complex as a result of being constantly compared, usually unfavorably, with siblings. People with physical or mental disabilities can also develop a sense of inferiority as they attempt to navigate a society which is tailored to the able bodied.
Identifying an inferiority complex can be tricky. It is usually recognized during more general psychotherapy, at which point the therapist can address the issue with the client. People who experience feelings of inadequacy, feel like they have difficulty in social situations, or actively sabotage themselves may benefit from psychotherapy to determine whether or not they have an inferiority complex, and to work through the feelings associated with the complex.