Inferiority complexes – causes, treatment

Inferiority complex

The term inferiority complex was adopted by Alfred Adler from the literature and today describes serious psychological problems. Unfortunately, often used as a prejudice, complex is a mental disorder that makes the sufferer feel inferior and inadequate. Therapy is carried out with psychotherapeutic intervention.

What is inferiority complex?

People who are burdened with feelings of inferiority also suffer from a negative self-image. Their achievements and successes never seem to be enough for them, because they make unattainable demands on themselves.

Those affected tend towards perfectionism, cling to supposed character weaknesses and react depressively if their actions do not meet the high demands they make of themselves. This spurs them on to ever new, ever more extreme top performances, which, however, are associated with mental and physical illnesses.

Many of those affected are suicidal and suffer from gender-related symptoms such as aggressiveness when criticized, eating disorders and addictions. Those who suffer from inferiority complexes often withdraw into themselves to avoid confrontation with others. A lack of social contacts and loneliness are the consequences and further reinforce the inferiority complexes.


As with all mental disorders, the causes of inferiority complexes are to be found in childhood.

According to the research results of Sigmund Freud, those affected suffered from a lack of parental love and care and insufficient recognition of their achievements from an early age. According to Freud, typical parental mistakes such as not breastfeeding, not enough time for the child and lack of empathic support are the causes of inferiority complexes. Those affected were often criticized as children and only rarely praised.

Paul Häberlin supplements Freud’s theories with the statement that spoiling children too much also promotes later inferiority complexes. Because if there is no pampering, the child and the adult will always be looking for this recognition, which is impossible in healthy relationships.

Even in adulthood and despite often remarkable careers, those affected by both causes are constantly seeking recognition and cannot enjoy success. Their constant insecurity and the almost compulsive habit of comparing themselves to others in everything they do make those affected depressed outsiders.

diseases with this symptom

  • Borderline Syndrome

Diagnosis & History

It is important to differentiate between normal doubts about one’s own achievements and an excessively negative self-image and pathological inferiority complexes.

The diagnosis of pathological inferiority complexes can only be made if the person concerned seeks help themselves. A visit to a psychologist or a psychiatric outpatient clinic with a request for help provides information about the presence of a mental abnormality and the severity of the inferiority complex.

The professional diagnosis of feelings of inferiority takes place in one or two sessions lasting several hours with the completion of standardized questionnaires and several discussions with psychiatrists or psychotherapists . Based on the results determined in this way, therapy is initiated.

In some cases, inferiority complexes are a symptom of a personality disorder such as borderline , in which case healing is questionable. If inferiority complexes appear as independent problems, self-help and psychotherapy promise good prospects.


Feelings of inferiority can be associated with various mental disorders or develop into larger problems if left untreated. It is possible, for example, that feelings of inferiority turn into social anxiety. People with judgment anxiety fear being judged poorly by other people. Even when they know that this fear is excessive or unfounded, they often cannot break away from it.

Social anxiety often causes sufferers to withdraw and avoid situations in which others might judge them. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt can also impair performance at work, at school or in front of other people in general. In some cases, the performance can only be called off at the decisive moment (e.g. in an exam), although in other situations the person is perfectly capable of providing the corresponding performance.

Other mental disorders are also possible as a result of feelings of inferiority or as their cause. These include depressive disorders and various personality disorders . Further complications such as listlessness or suicidal tendencies are possible here.

Some people with feelings of inferiority feel that they or their problems are too unimportant. It is therefore important for those affected to take their own problems and complaints seriously and to allow themselves to talk to a doctor or therapist about them.

When should you go to the doctor?

With inferiority complex, it is difficult to predict when medical treatment will be needed. Outsiders and friends of the person affected can often assess the situation well and give the patient advice. If the inferiority complex occurs mainly in the teenage years and is related to puberty, a visit to the doctor is usually not necessary. At this age, it is common for adolescents to suffer from inferiority complexes. If these are within limits and are related to bad skin, for example, no medical treatment is required.

If you have an inferiority complex, you should see a doctor if your life is severely restricted as a result of the illness. This is the case, for example, when the patient withdraws due to the inferiority complex and no longer participates in social gatherings. Psychological complaints or depression also require treatment by a psychologist in order to treat the inferiority complex.

Urgent medical attention is required when the patient causes pain to himself. Self-injurious behavior can lead to serious consequences and should therefore be treated as soon as possible. If there is general dissatisfaction, it is usually worth visiting the doctor to find out and treat the cause of the inferiority complex.

Treatment & Therapy

The pillars of treatment for inferiority complex are psychotherapy and self-help.

The self-help consists of an exchange with other affected persons and the advice of a person of trust who could give neutral and objective assessments of the professional performance. A statement about the performance of those affected should be neutral and well justified.

Since the patients usually have problems asking others for an assessment of their performance and accepting the objectivity of this statement, initial psychotherapeutic discussions should be held before this step.

For inferiority complexes, behavioral therapy is usually the best choice. First, the causes are explored and realistically questioned in a slow thought process. This is followed by tasks to learn a new behavior and to experience what you have learned in everyday life. The aim of psychotherapy is to develop healthy self-confidence.

Outlook & Forecast

Overcoming inferiority complexes without outside help is difficult, but not impossible. As a rule, they can be traced back to mistakes in upbringing in early childhood. If the psychological strain is very severe, the help of a psychotherapist should be sought.

Nevertheless, those affected can learn to deal better with their low self-esteem . The easiest way to overcome inferiority complexes is when sufferers face their fears. This method is also used in exposure therapy . The feeling of one’s own worth can be increased with psychological tricks. Positive affirmations, i.e. positive beliefs that are said regularly, help to overcome and make you happier. Through constant repetition, these sentences are firmly anchored in the subconscious . The reciting can be supported by writing it down in a diary.

It is helpful to know that no human being is born with a certain value. Comparing yourself to others usually leads to a negative spiral. A pessimist always finds something wrong with himself. Those who generally refrain from such thoughts live easier and more freely. Inferiority complexes and a tendency towards perfectionism often occur together. If you allow yourself to make mistakes and don’t react immediately to obstacles you think you’ve caused yourself, you can free yourself from many problems.

However, if feelings of inferiority are associated with a mental illness, they must be treated by a doctor.


Parents protect their children from inferiority complexes by instilling in them a healthy self-confidence, being loving with them, and taking their feelings seriously. A healthy dose of praise and criticism are the keys to a healthy psyche.

You can do that yourself

If you have an inferiority complex, you don’t need to see a psychologist right away. In most cases, clarifying conversations with your own friends, family or another trusted person help. The person concerned must not lock themselves in under any circumstances and should report openly and honestly about their problem. Self-help groups can also be visited here, which can treat the inferiority complex.

The person concerned should no longer perform activities that lead to the inferiority complex. This includes, for example, watching programs on television in which fake desired dimensions are presented. These have a particularly negative effect on children and young people and can lead to misconceptions. Likewise, contact with the people who have contributed to the inferiority complex should be cut off.

In many cases, books and sharing experiences help to eliminate the symptom. It is also always helpful to follow a healthy rhythm of life. This includes, above all, a healthy diet and lots of physical activity. The exchange of experiences can also take place anonymously on the Internet and can also help to solve the inferiority complex. Adults should always teach children a reasonable sense of self-esteem , thereby protecting them from inferiority complexes.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.