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The Very Real Dangers of Having an Inferiority Complex

It’s normal to worry about your abilities once in a while. But if you find yourself doing it all the time, so often that you limit your career choices or any other part of your life, then it’s a problem. It’s not uncommon for many people, even those in high-powered positions, to suffer from an inferiority complex. But this condition can be more serious than you might think.

Feeling inferior all the time can be tiring and stressful, and it can have an impact on your emotional, physical, and mental health. So, if you think you may have this condition, then here’s how to know for sure.

What Is an Inferiority Complex?

An image of a man holding his hands to cover his faceIt’s normal to worry about your abilities sometimes, in some situations, or around certain people. But these are usually situational or occasional circumstances. When you experience these feelings, you may talk to friends or family, set goals in the areas of your life that you feel need work, or use those feelings as motivation to do better.

But an inferiority complex is different. This term was first coined in 1907 and is used to describe feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that occur so often they form a major part of your perspective on the world. These feelings are often why some people can’t or won’t go after the things they most want in life. This type of complex usually doesn’t go away without help, and it can affect someone’s life for years if not decades.

Inferiority complexes aren’t mental disorders that can be identified by a mental health practitioner. Instead, the feelings of low self-esteem are often seen as a symptom of other mood disorders and other mental issues.

Signs You Have an Inferiority Complex

The signs of an inferiority complex may not be as clear as you think. It can result in other behaviors and feelings like:

  • Attention seeking
  • Feelings of sadness and loneliness
  • Extreme insecurities
  • Ongoing anxiety
  • People pleasing
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Withdrawal from other people
  • Excessive self-consciousness
  • Social phobias
  • Feelings of unworthiness
  • Mood disorders
  • Over competitiveness
  • Extreme attachment
  • A reluctance to carry out responsibilities
  • Unrealistic self-expectations
  • Passivity in relationships
  • Calling yourself names
  • Brooding over your own perceived shortcomings
  • Seemingly continuous life, career, or relationship disappointments
  • Feeling as if you’re less than others across most aspects of your life
  • Ongoing rumination on feelings of inferiority
  • Perfectionism
  • Impaired thinking and concentration
  • Eating disorders

Feeling bad, unmotivated, or as if you’re inferior to someone else once in a while is fairly normal. But the key is what you do with these feelings. If you’re using these feelings as a reason to punish yourself further, then there’s a problem.

The Causes of an Inferiority Complex

An inferiority complex is usually the result of a combination of factors including:

  • Genetics, often related to an inherited variation in the receptor for oxytocin, a hormone that makes you feel positive emotions, optimism, and improves self-esteem.
  • A highly critical family, who makes negative comments that become internalized.
  • Unrealistic expectations and standards from social media, advertisers, celebrities, and other segments of society.
  • Bullying.
  • Internal biases, often caused by racial, gender, or other differences and society’s reaction to them.

How to Overcome an Inferiority Complex

It can be very difficult to overcome an inferiority complex on your own. Many people find they need professional help to get to the root causes, to ease symptoms, and to retrain lifelong habits.

So it's important to set your expectations in advance. Overcoming an inferiority complex can take a while and will likely change depending on your personality, history, environment, and mental health. These are some strategies that can help:

    An image of a man talking with a therapist

  • See a therapist to help unravel the causes of the low self-esteem and retrain negative thought patterns. A therapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can be especially helpful.
  • Medication might be considered if there’s a biological cause for the feelings.
  • Positive self-talk is helpful, especially when you notice negative self-talk. Mantras that directly address and change negative thoughts are a good way to start this practice.
  • In some cases, you can identify triggers for negative self-talk and eliminate or reduce your exposure to them.
  • Refrain from comparing yourself to others.
  • Avoid people who bring a lot of negativity into your life.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Establish good boundaries in all of your relationships.
  • Practice assertiveness and share your opinions without aggression.
  • Establish healthy life habits including sleeping, eating, and exercising well. This can make a big difference in your mood.
  • Work on eliminating your fears.

Most of all, be gentle with yourself during this process and don’t turn it into another way to punish and denigrate yourself.

Adrenal Fatigue and Emotional Issues

You might think that an inferiority complex would have little impact on your physical health. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The negative thoughts and emotions that come along with an inferiority complex can be a cause of ongoing stress. And constant stress can be very damaging, even life-threatening.

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands produce cortisol, driving changes throughout your body to help you survive the stressful situation. This is all part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response, which is comprised of six circuits that each contain three interconnected organs and systems.

Once you’re past the stressful time, your cortisol levels go back to normal, and your body’s circuits normalize. However, if you’re stressed on an ongoing basis, this return to normal doesn’t happen. Over time, the high workload can cause your adrenals to fatigue and start to malfunction. The ongoing high levels of cortisol in your body can also cause imbalances and dysfunctions in the NEM stress response and its individual circuits. This can result in Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) as well as troubling and debilitating symptoms and other health issues.

The psychological and emotional stress that an inferiority complex can cause can be a serious cause of stress. If you’re already dealing with other stressors, such as work or relationship problems, unhealthy lifestyle habits, or environmental stress, then this extra stress may be enough to bring on or worsen AFS. It can also lead to consequences for the Neuroaffect Circuit.

The Neuroaffect Circuit and Inferiority Complexes

An image of the brainThe Neuroaffect Circuit is part of the NEM stress response and is made up of the biological aspects of the brain, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), and the microbiome or the bacterial balance in your body. These three components work together to help you resolve stress.

Stress can start to make this balance malfunction and an inferiority complex, with its negative emotions and thought patterns, can contribute to this kind of dysfunction. Here’s how it could affect the different components of the Neuroaffect Circuit:

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is made up of multiple branches. The two that are important in stressful times are the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the adrenomedullary hormonal system (AHS). The SNS is activated during mild or moderate stress and the AHS during high stress.

When these two branches are activated, they release the neurotransmitters (NTs) norepinephrine or epinephrine. Epinephrine is more potent and associated with the AHS. If you don’t find a way to alleviate your stress, then the high NT levels prompt the release of more cortisol from your adrenals, worsening adrenal fatigue and causing issues like sleep disruptions and anxiety.

As an ongoing issue, feeling inferior can cause this kind of chronic stress and worry. It may activate the AHS or SNS, causing high NT levels. Long term, these negative feelings can make your autonomic nervous system unbalanced and dysfunctional, leading to adrenal fatigue as well as other long-term problems.

The Brain

As your stress worsens and NT levels go out of balance, the balance and functioning of your brain can decline as well. Other NTs go out of balance, which can affect everything from memory to concentration and cause significant health problems. And the health of the brain affects the health of the other components of the Neuroaffect Circuit, causing more stress and dysfunction.

The Microbiome

The gut and brain are in direct communication through the vagus nerve, and imbalances in one affect the other as well. As the NT imbalances in the brain worsen because of ongoing stress, the microbiome will become dysfunctional as well.

The balance of bacteria in the gut is essential for good health and affects everything from digestion to inflammation and nutrient absorption. As the bacteria become unbalanced, it will also worsen NT imbalances, brain health, and the health and functioning of the Neuroaffect Circuit. It could even bring on or worsen AFS.

The Takeaway

An inferiority complex can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you don’t think that you deserve better, you don’t get better opportunities in your life; it’s as simple as that. Here’s what to do if you suspect you may have an inferiority complex going on:

  1. Honestly assess your life, your emotions, and your thoughts to determine if there are signs of a problem.
  2. Start working on recognizing and changing negative thought patterns.
  3. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional help.

For help with other issues that cause mental or emotional stress, you can get help and support from our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

If you have an inferiority complex, then you may feel as if you aren’t as good as other people or aren’t worthy of the things that you really want in your life. It can be a debilitating and stressful issue that controls and directs your life in many ways.

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