A Journey Towards Self-Esteem: Feelings of Inferiority vs. Inferiority Complex

Self-esteem is a widely discussed topic. The term has been used to identify countless different things, which ends up leaving us confused.

“Lose x amount of pounds and increase your self-esteem!”

“Be well-dressed and you will notice your self-esteem grow!”

“Say good-bye to the toxic people in your life and regain your self-esteem.”

“Hydrated hair is key to high self-esteem!”

“Self-esteem is selfishness and therefore sinful.”

These are just some of the phrases I’ve heard before.

But what is self-esteem? Do I find it in the salon, in a relationship, at the gym, in the church, through therapy?

I have been studying this topic for over 14 years. During my travels, lectures, contact with teenagers, adults and the elderly, I have understood how poor self-esteem can harm a person in countless ways, in their relationships, in their work, in their health, and especially in their relationship with God.

But still, even though I understood the seriousness of the subject and talked about it tirelessly, some pieces did not fit. Something was missing to unite the theory, the Biblical concept of self-love, and reality.

That was when I learned some intriguing concepts that changed my way of thinking about self-esteem. That’s why I’m here. To tell you things that I wish I had known at the beginning. My intention is to shorten your path, dispel some myths, and share some of my discoveries.

The first point I would like to clarify is the real understanding of two important concepts identified by Alfred Adler, founder of Individual psychology.

The two concepts are feelings of inferiority and inferiority complex.

Let’s understand each one better.

We all experience feelings of inferiority and we need to! It’s a temporary feeling that makes us notice that something is wrong and allows us to see our flaws, which leads to a desire to improve. These temporary feelings motivate me to seek improvement.

“How can I be better?”

“What do I need to change to make this work?”

Spiritually speaking, these feelings arise when I realize my condition as a sinner and seek refuge and help in our Savior, seeking to improve with Him every day.

The inferiority complex, on the other hand, is the feeling of inferiority that has settled in and turned into something harmful and paralyzing. It is when I no longer analyze what I did wrong and how to improve but when I start to question my potential as a human being, criticizing and blaming myself incessantly. I even come to the conclusion that there is no solution, that it’s better to give up.

I’ll give you an example:

Anyone who has watched a MasterChef-style culinary competition or others in the same format will be able to identify the following two patterns.

In these competitions, the judges are known for their harsh evaluations, for their frankness in speaking the truth, sometimes even to the point of seeming rude.

And often, it is not only the judges’ assessments that define the participant’s fate but also how he or she receives the criticisms.

Some participants, when criticized, become irritated on the spot, but then immediately do everything they can to understand where they went wrong and how they can come back even better for the next evaluation. They study, test flavors and recipes until they get it right, and in the end, they are still able to thank the judges for the criticism they received because it helped them to improve. This is feelings of inferiority in action. Without them, we become arrogant and proud.

Other participants, on the other hand, receive criticism and resent it, take it personally, attack the credibility of the person who criticized it (“Who do they think they are to talk to me like that?”).

This is clearly the inferiority complex at work. And usually, when it is at work, things go wrong.

People who are motivated by the inferiority complex are always seeking the approval of others. They want to be recognized, praised. They are afraid of criticism and of exposing themselves to it. They become resentful and are hurt easily. Everything is of an enormous proportion to them. They feel that there is always someone willing to betray their trust, that people are ungrateful, and that relationships are difficult.

Recognizing these two mechanisms at work in your life is essential to understanding the true function of self-esteem.

What about your life? Have you noticed attitudes motivated by feelings of inferiority? Did they help you find solutions and improve your attitudes?

And in what situations have you felt the inferiority complex blossom? Feeling guilty about very small things? Not being able to stop thinking about your mistakes and failures, wondering what it would be like if you hadn’t “done this” or “said that”? Worrying too much about what others are going to say or think?

If you have read this far, you have managed to understand the difference between the two concepts and are now concerned because you have identified various attitudes of the inferiority complex in your own life. But don’t worry! In the next article, we will talk about how to truly improve self-esteem, discover the important steps to stop being guided by the inferiority complex, and find out how the word of God and His commandments will help us regain our self-esteem.

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2 thoughts on “A Journey Towards Self-Esteem: Feelings of Inferiority vs. Inferiority Complex”

  1. Filzah Mahmood

    i truly enjoyed reading this blog. I am a second Year Psychology student who has a quiz in the next two hours on Adler’s personality theories. i googled the difference between inferiority feelings and complex. this was very helpful and insightful. You helped me revisit all those moments in my teen years where, if i had high self esteem and self-confidence, i would have succeeded in co-curricular and academic activities. Not meaning to brag but i had alot of potential and some of my teachers told me so. I enjoyed literature, art and debating but my low self-esteem and inferiority complex held me back from succeeding in these disciplines (except art). I would truly love to read more blogs on these self-help topics.
    God bless you and have a wonderful day.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this article and our little home on the internet :). It’s never too late to explore the potential God has granted in you. With Him guiding us we can do more than we can imagine for His honor and glory. Thank you for reading and commenting! Blessings ~*

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