An inferiority complex is a psychological term that connotes a lack of self-worth. Individuals are filled with doubt and uncertainty, frequently believing that they do not measure up to society’s standards. Individuals suffering from an inferiority complex are said to overcompensate in some manner, either through achievement or in antisocial behavior.
The idea of the inferiority complex originated with Sigmund Freud and was expanded upon by Carl Jung. Alfred Adler maintained that an inferiority complex led to overt neurotic behaviors in an attempt to overcompensate. Adler distinguished between primary and secondary inferiority feelings.
A primary inferiority feeling arises in childhood, through experiences of helplessness. These feelings are magnified when the individual compares him or herself to siblings or peers. Secondary inferiority feelings result when adults are unable to successfully compensate for inferiority complexes. Neurotic lifestyles are thus manifested when the individual cannot escape from feedback cycles of inferiority and failure.
An inferiority complex can impact both self-esteem and one’s ability to function in society. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, mood disorders and personality disorders are often found to have inferiority complexes as well. Paranoid schizophrenics, for example, use delusions as a defense mechanism against feelings of inferiority.