A term used by Alfred Adler to denote strong feelings of inadequacy and insecurity stemming from real or fancied deficiencies of a physical, mental, or social nature. He believed that such feelings, together with the anxiety, resentment and overcompensatory drives they arouse, are bound to affect the individual’s entire adjustment to life.In Adler’s theory, all persons have some feelings of inferiority, arising partly from the helplessness of infancy and partly from a sense of inadequacy in handling significant situations of life. These feelings are the major driving forces which impel normal individuals toward improvement and achievement. They are often manifested with special clarity by the physically handicapped who strive to compensate for their defect by developing special skills or interests.Some people, however, develop a constellation of deep-seated, exaggerated, and unhealthy inferiority feelings which distort their attitudes and behavior. The special term “inferiority complex” is applied to this group of feelings. They usually exist partially or wholly on an unconscious level, and arise from many sources: an actual “organ inferiority” such as poor eyesight, short stature, defective sex organs; a position in the family or birth order which the individual considers unfavorable; severe parental discipline; excessively high standards imposed by the family; low social status; and, in the case of women, an inferior position in society as compared to men. See MASCULINE PROTEST.According to Adler, many personality disorders result from faulty reactions to the conviction of inferiority. Some individuals react by avoiding competition or by getting sick when they are faced with situations that might expose their inferiority. Others go to the opposite extreme and strive not only to compensate but to overcompensate for feelings of inadequacy by becoming excessively ambitious, competitive, aggressive, or domineering. All these reactions have a destructive effect on relationships with other people and militate against what Adler called “social interest”—that is, the common good. And if they are persistently expressed, they will eventually militate against the individual as well and give rise to a clear-cut neurosis.

Cite this page: N., Sam M.S., "INFERIORITY COMPLEX," in, November 28, 2018, (accessed October 1, 2022).


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