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An inferiority complex is a lack of self-worth, a doubt and uncertainty about the self, and feelings of not measuring up to standards. It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme asocial behavior. In modern literature, the preferred terminology is "lack of covert self-esteem". For many, it is developed through a combination of genetic personality characteristics and personal experiences.
Classical Adlerian psychology makes a distinction between primary and secondary inferiority feelings.
Feeling inferior is often viewed as being inferior to another person, but this is not always the case in the Adlerian view. One often feels anxious when confronted with a task, such as a test in school, due to a fear of failure.
Stemming from the psychoanalytic branch of psychology, the idea first appeared among many of Sigmund Freud's works and later in the work of his colleague Carl Jung. Alfred Adler, founder of classical Adlerian psychology held that many neurolytic symptoms could be traced to overcompensation for this feeling. The use of the term complex now is generally used to denote the group of emotionally toned ideas. The counterpart of an inferiority complex, a "superiority complex" is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person's feelings of superiority counter or conceal their feelings of inferiority.
An inferiority complex occurs when the feelings of inferiority are intensified in the individual through discouragement or failure. Those who are at risk for developing a complex include people who: show signs of low self-esteem or self-worth, have low socioeconomic status, or have a history of depression symptoms. Children reared in households where they were constantly criticized or did not live up to parents' expectations may also develop an inferiority complex. Many times there are warning signs to someone who may be more prone to developing an inferiority complex. For example, someone who is prone to attention and approval-seeking behaviors may be more susceptible. Also, children raised in families where everything is done for them, who have developed what Adler called a "pampered lifestyle". These individuals have developed a form of learned helplessness and are unable to overcome the problems of life without assistance.
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