How to Treat Inferiority Complex: Therapy, Medication, and More

An inferiority complex — persistently doubting your self-worth or feeling that you are inadequate — can affect all parts of your life. Feeling less than others may overwhelm you, triggering abnormal behaviors or reactions, according to the American Psychological Association.

“The term ‘inferiority complex’ was coined by the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler over a century ago and is used by some therapists to describe a sense of inferiority to the world and others,” says Blake Hilton, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. “More modern or commonly used terms among clinicians and researchers would be low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, or low self-confidence.”

It’s normal to experience feelings of inadequacy or inferiority in certain circumstances, like failing a test, getting passed over for a promotion, or being dumped by a partner. But if you have an inferiority complex, these feelings are strong and persistent despite the situation.

“Although responses to these feelings may vary, they can impact our lives in many problematic ways,” Dr. Hilton says.” For example, some individuals experiencing feelings of inadequacy avoid situations and opportunities due to the fear of failure or criticism. Other individuals may overcompensate for these feelings through attacking or criticizing others.”

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