For most of us, an inferiority complex sounds like a bad thing. After all, doesn’t it seem like it would set us back to believe we’re not good enough or that we don’t measure up to others?
The truth is that everyone feels inferior from time to time. We all hit roadblocks where we may feel like we’re not quite cutting it. So is that so terrible, or can an inferiority complex actually be positive?
In short, yes—our inferiority complex can be a positive part of our growth. In fact, Alfred Adler purported that the very act of being human means we have an inferiority complex.
When Adler explained the positives of an inferiority complex, he said, “to have no inferiorities is to be without movement… because we are alive, we encounter situations that require more of us than we are currently prepared to offer.” 
In other words, if we’re living life to the fullest, we’re going to encounter situations where we face challenges and maybe even fear we don’t measure up.
For those unfamiliar with Alfred Adler, he was a colleague of Sigmund Freud and is the father of Individual Psychology. Much of what we know about psychology today came from Adlerian theories. What’s important to understand about Individual Psychology is that it “provides not only a strategy of psychotherapy but a philosophical framework with which to comprehend information relevant to an understanding of human nature.”  It gives us the how and the why behind much of what we do.
As a psychotherapist, Adler was not interested in merely diagnosing a patient so much as establishing a philosophical understanding of how his childhood development impacted his adult development. Dr. Bob Wright, a proponent of Adlerian theory and founder of the Wright Foundation and Wright Graduate University, said that “childhood is about developing who are you. Adulthood is about developing who you could be.” 
Most of our Master’s students at the Wright Graduate University have studied Adler and Individual Psychology through a lens of childhood development. We’ve learned that a state of inferiority is part of the shared human condition.
When we think about it, the world is really set up for adults. When we are kids, we don’t know how to operate within the world. We’re constantly learning and discovering new ways of being. We look to mom and dad to tell us what we need to do. We know that we don’t know everything.
As we grow older, we may expect ourselves to know it all. We may even avoid situations where we must learn a new skill (or show others that we don’t know what we’re doing). Many of us are trying to fake it until we make it or pretend that we’ve got it all under control. In reality, most of us encounter new, unfamiliar situations daily. We navigate through them as best we can, but we may be left with feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or fears—in other words, an inferiority complex.
When we don’t know how to do something, instead of masking it or trying to hide our doubts in a situation, what if we stood up and embraced it? What if we used our inferiority complex to help us master the problem at hand—to grow, learn, and become better at the skill we may be trying to develop.
Unfortunately, instead of embracing our inferiority to propel us to greatness, many of us develop a superiority complex to mask our feelings of inferiority. Adler said that “people, by virtue of being human, have ‘defects and vices which we hope to conceal.'”  If a person is too worried about looking superior, he will never fully develop himself.
While this may sound like a healthy sense of self-esteem or ego, it’s actually a mask we use to protect ourselves. None of us wants to feel inferior, so many of us try to puff ourselves up. We act overly confident because we don’t want to be vulnerable. But rather than an over or under confidence, we’d be better off aiming for a realistic view.
Adler believed for a person to embrace and leverage inferiority, he must strive for superiority. He said that “striving for superiority is neither good nor bad. It is part of the human condition. How it expresses itself is what matters.”  This means that how we view our inferiority affects our accomplishments in life.
Believing that we’re already ahead of the game can leave us complacent—even bored. There’s no reason to try because we’ve maxed out our capacity. We’re at the top, and there’s nowhere else to go. This type of superiority complex can be quite dangerous. Not only can it be off-putting to those around us, but it can interfere with our ability to evolve and become what we could be.
Not that we should believe we’re terrible or tear ourselves down. Believing that we’re less than others can throw us into a self-fulfilling prophecy. We think we’re inferior, stupid, or not good enough, so we project that outward. In turn, others treat us the way we believe we deserve, and it continues to reinforce our self-doubt.
On the other hand, some aspects of a realistic inferiority complex can remind us that we have room to grow. It’s not about believing that we can’t do something or that we’ll never get it. Instead, it’s about recognizing our blind spots and realizing where there is room for improvement so we can get on the right path and take the crucial steps to propel us forward toward the life we want to live.
Furthermore, when a person’s “self-concept falls short of the self-ideal, he experiences feelings of inferiority.”  A self-concept is an awareness of what we are, while a self-ideal is what we want to be.
Through my Master’s courses, I have established my self-ideal and who I choose to become. I have also learned the gaps between who I am and who I will become. If I choose to be victorious over my struggles, I will. If I choose to be a victim of my circumstances, I will. As a lover of Adler and the master of my fate, I choose to prevail.
When we wonder how to overcome an inferiority complex, we may be asking the wrong question or looking at it the wrong way. What if, instead of overcoming it, we looked at the areas where we feel inferior and examined what we could do to learn and grow in those places?
We all have areas where growth is critical to living the best life and reaching our fullest potential. We can take a cue from our young friends at the way we can look at the world. When kids view new situations, they see them as a problem to solve. They encounter many new experiences each day—each one bringing with it a chance to stretch themselves and try out a new approach.
We can keep this “young mindset” by looking at situations in a similar light. Each day brings plenty of opportunities to discover and unearth new truths about ourselves. When we tap into our potential, knowing that we don’t “know it all,” we open ourselves to learning and making new connections.
If you’re ready to learn more, please explore our personal growth courses at Wright Now. We offer an array of options to help you unlock your fullest potential and move into your next best self. So don’t miss the opportunity to leap forward today!
1. Primer Of Adlerian Psychology: the Analytic – Behavioural – Cognitive Psychology Of Alfred Adler Harold Mosak – Routledge – 2015 
2. Ibid [Preface X]
3. Wright, Bob Dr. “Fulfilling your purpose” A4S podcast
4. Primer of Adlerian Psychology: the Analytic – Behavioural – Cognitive Psychology Of Alfred Adler Harold Mosak – Routledge – 2015 
5. Ibid 
6. Beames, Thomas B. A Student’s Glossary of Adlerian Terminology. Ladysmith, B.C.: T.B. Beames, 1992. [Superiority Striving]
7. Primer Of Adlerian Psychology: the Analytic – Behavioural – Cognitive Psychology Of Alfred Adler Harold Mosak – Routledge – 2015