A concept of the Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870–1937) indicating a general sense of unworthiness resulting from repressed perception of one’s bodily defects. In popular usage the term simply implies a generally self-critical attitude or a boastful, self-exalting manner that compensates for feelings of inferiority.
Take this quiz…
Find out if your self-esteem needs a boost.
Having healthy self-esteem and self-confidence doesn’t mean you never experience moments of doubt, guilt, embarrassment, and regret.
However, if these feelings keep recurring and are persistent, they could be signs of an inferiority complex.
While inferiority complex is not a term that today’s mental health professionals use, we all know that it generally means having such low self-esteem, self-doubt, and constant feelings of inadequacy that it’s difficult to function and accomplish one’s goals.
How’s your self-esteem?
Try giving it a mini check-up with this six-question quiz.
While it won’t provide a professional diagnosis, it may suggest that your self-esteem — defined by the American Psychological Association as “a person’s physical self-image or self-view of his or her accomplishments and capabilities, and values and perceived success in living up to them” — could use a boost.
How you interpret the results is up to you.
This is because it is just a small snapshot of your personality.
But your “B” responses can point to areas that could use shoring up.
If you find that to be true, don’t despair:
Being aware is the first step toward developing a healthier mindset.
The next step is to get help, either with the aid of a self-help book, such as The Undervalued Self by Elaine Aron, PhD, or by consulting a mental health professional.
As poet E. E. Cummings so wisely put it, “Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
1. If I’m invited to a party, I’m more likely to:
A. RSVP yes immediately.
B. Find an excuse to stay home.
Many people with chronic low self-esteem experience social anxiety disorder, a diagnosable condition per the American Psychiatric Association’s current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Also known as social phobia, it’s marked by extreme discomfort in classes, parties, work gatherings, and similar situations due to an intense fear of being judged or rejected by others.
A more deep-rooted condition, avoidant personality disorder, similarly causes intense feelings of nervousness and fear of disapproval, embarrassment, or ridicule that lead a person to avoid group activities and contact with others, according to research published in March 2018, in the journal Psychological Research and Behavior Management.
2. When it comes to good fortune, I’d describe myself as:
A. Extremely lucky.
B. A bad luck magnet.
People with chronic low self-esteem sometimes cope with their uncomfortable feelings by blaming external factors, such as bad luck, for their perceived mistakes and failures.
The irony is that research by experimental psychologist Richard Wiseman, PhD, author of The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind, shows that believing you’re unlucky tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, the unluckiest people of all are those who — like someone with an inferiority complex — expect to be unlucky.
3. My preferred method for staying in shape is:
A. Signing up for a class or joining a team.
B. Going solo by taking a walk or using a workout video.
According to “The Comparison Trap,” by Rebecca Webber, published in November 2017 in Psychology Today, “Unsurprisingly, those with low self-esteem are more likely to feel that they don’t stack up.” They often avoid any type of activity where their abilities will be compared with others.
But Webber notes that it’s not “all bad news,” referring to a study published in 2015 in The British Journal of Social Psychology. Researchers showed that the tendency to engage in comparison processes declines as we age, and suggested this could be because as we get older, the more likely we are to evaluate ourselves against our own past rather than the present of others.
4. When someone criticizes me, I typically:
A. Defend myself, if appropriate, or use the feedback in a positive way to improve my future performance.
B. Feel like a failure and replay the criticism over and over in my mind.
“For people with low self-esteem, the inner voice becomes a harsh critic, punishing one’s mistakes and belittling one’s accomplishments,” according to the University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center.
5. Offered a chance to head a new project at work, I’d probably:
A. Be proud, excited, and eager to start.
B. Try to turn it down by saying I’m too busy.
As psychologist Lois Frankel, PhD, president of Corporate Coaching International and author of the bestselling Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, explained to Forbes, “People with low self-esteem often try to remain under the radar screen because they don’t think they’re capable of success.” As a result, they hold themselves back, preventing them from achieving the very goals that could enhance their self-esteem.
6. If a friend cancels on me at the last minute, I’m most apt to:
A. Check my calendar to schedule a new meetup.
B. Feel hurt, even angry, and avoid setting up another date because I’m sure they don’t really want to see me.
One telltale sign of an inferiority complex is misinterpreting the behavior of others, which then sets off feelings of anxiety, frustration, depression and even anger.
Mental health professionals call these unhelpful, inaccurate thoughts “cognitive distortions.”
One example of a cognitive distortion is mind reading (aka jumping to conclusions):
You assume you know what someone else is thinking and feeling — in this case that your friend is feeling negatively toward you — without any proof.