Inferiority and Superiority Complexes
Browse articles:
Auto Beauty Business Culture Dieting DIY Events Fashion Finance Food Freelancing Gardening Health Hobbies Home Internet Jobs Law Local Media Men's Health Mobile Nutrition Parenting Pets Pregnancy Products Psychology Real Estate Relationships Science Seniors Sports Technology Travel Wellness Women's Health
Browse companies:
Automotive Crafts, Hobbies & Gifts Department Stores Electronics & Wearables Fashion Food & Drink Health & Beauty Home & Garden Online Services & Software Sports & Outdoors Subscription Boxes Toys, Kids & Baby Travel & Events

Inferiority and Superiority Complexes

Alfred Adler was among the pioneers of psychoanalytic theory. He had a major fall out with Freud over theories. Freud rationalized that our personality was formed from instincts whereas Adler found that the environment had a profound influence in shaping our personality. He is best known for developing the inferiority and superiority complexes.

Even though Jung disagreed with a lot of Freud’s sexual instincts theory Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was less enthused about his theory.  Freud and Adler had a falling out of sorts over his disinterest in his mentor’s theory. 

Adler’s theory was largely based on his own life story. He was a sickly child growing up in Vienna.  Adler struggled with feeling inferior to his peers because of being sick.  He compensated by trying to find ways to be superior to his peers. These experiences led him to think of the important people attach to their social environment and how they just really want to fit in.

He stressed how important it was for people to work towards goals that would enhance their personal abilities and have them blend well in the society in which they lived. Adler like his contemporary Carl Jung provided the antecedents for humanistic psychology which would follow later on in the 20th century.

Inferiority superiority complexes

Inferiority complex

An inferiority complex is a belief that one does not measure up to the standards he or she has placed on themselves, or the standards others placed on the individual. You can clearly see this when children are told over and over again that they are not smart, not ambitious enough, or worst still expressed in negative terms such as, “ You are stupid and lazy and will never amount to anything in life.”  Most people grow up internalizing these feelings about themselves and believing it. Many of these individuals grew up being shy.

Superiority complex

A grossly exaggerated feeling of being superior to everyone, which Adler believed was simply a defense mechanism in most people who really feel inferior to others. Adler said it was as if someone felt inferior because he or she was too short and then went through life walking on tip toes to seem taller. 

Adler also said that it is human to feel inferior as we began life that way as a child; helpless and dependent on adults. The young child does feel inferior and then begins to develop and strive for the skills to become equal with others. In other words it the driving force behind the feelings of inferiority that propels us to do better and to be the best that we can be.


Phenomenology is also known as individual psychology and Adler was one of the key players in the early days of therapy.  His work is used today in the field.  He was also the forerunner for cognitive psychology as he worked with his patients to change illogical thinking. 

His interest in personal growth and prevention of problems helped shape the child guidance movement and the adult education movement.

Additional resources:

Need an answer?
Get insightful answers from community-recommended
in Psychology on Knoji.
Would you recommend this author as an expert in Psychology?
You have 0 recommendations remaining to grant today.
Comments (6)

Excellent article! I must admit I do have inferiority complex which I have not overcome yet. It resurfaces  on some occasions. Thanks for sharing carol!

Great article, Carol!

Ranked #2 in Psychology

yes Vuluz a lot of us do

Ranked #2 in Psychology

Thanks B.

So you need to be somewhere inbetween the two... life's a tricky balance! Great article.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

Yes Ann you need not to have an inferiority complex, must people should not have them