Once upon a time, you were inferior.
You were smaller, weaker and less capable than everyone else. You didn’t speak the language. You had no money or any way to get it. You weren’t productive nor able to do anything well. By all definitions of the word, you were inferior.
And then as you grew, things people said to you and the ways they acted reinforced your feelings of inferiority. They told you to hurry up, to grow up, to stop whining, to be smarter and quieter. You were pushed to get past childhood, a phase that seemed to inconvenience and burden the people around you. You began to believe that being small and weak was wrong and that it was part of who you were rather than a state you were passing through.
We develop lifelong feelings of inferiority when we fail to grow out of our initial limited beliefs about who we are. This often happens when our efforts to prove our capableness are thwarted, or when we get inconsistent and incomprehensible messages about what it takes to be loved and feel valued by our caregivers. When we’re asked to jump through hoops to please our parents, we grow up believing we could never do enough. We fail to develop into a mature version of our being and become stuck believing that we are still that inferior child, smaller, weaker and incapable of taking care of ourselves or anyone else for that matter.
In a society that thrives on comparison and keeping up, it’s easy to perceive yourself as less than others, unable to attain success and constantly at a loss for why things don’t stack up evenly in life for everyone. When feelings of inferiority rule your life, we call it an inferiority complex. It’s present in almost everything we do and with everyone we encounter, that nagging need to prove we’re good enough, strong enough, smart enough, pretty enough and rich enough to deserve love.
As a result, we usually try one of two strategies to overcome our feelings of inferiority:
- Overcompensation – trying to prove that we’re strong, capable, competent and confident even when we’re not. We might be rigid on our ways and over controlling. We might be hard on others because we’re still being hard on ourselves. We don’t show compassion or understanding for others struggling in their lives, because essentially we don’t believe we (any of us) deserve compassion and understanding.
- Undercompensation – exhibiting apathy toward our tasks and/or not putting oneself out there for fear of failure. We might continually blame others for why we can’t do what we want or why things don’t work out the way we planned. We have a million excuses for why we define our life as a failure (even when it isn’t).
Neither of these will work because they’re designed to “compensate” for our shortcomings. In compensating, we’re still honoring the beliefs that we adopted as children about who we are: inferior = wrong/bad. And damn it, we’ve grown!! We’re capable and we’re learning and leading lives of value. No matter where you are on our journey, you’re not inferior anymore. You simply are wherever you are leading a life of your own defining.
The only real way to overcome your feelings of inferiority is to get back in touch with how it felt to be a child. Give respect and honor to the necessary inferiority of your childhood self, the beauty of innocence, the timeless nature of growth and the inevitability of pain. We all start there, knowing nothing, having nothing. Recognize the stage as something others tried to help you out of – sometimes in good ways, other times, in insensitive and impatient ways.
You must go back, in some way and reunite with the vulnerableness of your youth. Accept and love the inferiority of your child self. That part of you still exists longing to be accepted and loved as-is. Children are only hard to love and accept when you expect them to be adults too soon. And that happened to a lot of us.
If others pushed you to mature too quickly, you probably had a lot of negative judgments about the weakness in your young human form. You used them to define who you are. Like thousands of others, you’ve fought to get rid of your feelings of inferiority (an impossibility), and in turn, buried them deep within. Over time they became like sharp thorns poking you every time you were faced with any doubt about who you are or your place in the world.
Jeff Brown, the author of “Grounded Spirituality,” says, “One of the keys to working this through is to see the parents for who they really are—in their own issues and limitations—so that their lens on you loses its grip. Another is building the self-concept from the inside out—learning to rely on yourself for validation—and, when you are ready, inviting those who value you a little closer…”
As infants and children, we needed to be affirmed in our process of growth, to be loved and encouraged to explore the world and who we are in it. We needed to be allowed to be small and weak and incapable and still loved every step of the way into something more. And in many cases, it didn’t happen that way.
If you suffer from feelings of inferiority you have to do the work of re-parenting yourself, of giving to the girl or boy you once were all the love and acceptance he/she deserves. Allow a good cry once in a while without judgment or “getting over it.” Accept a few mistakes as part of your humanity and others as well. Follow an unmarked path into fantasy every now and then. There were gifts in your childhood that you were supposed to carry with you forever, unbridled joy, wonderment, excitement, compassion, and a penchant for loving everything, so don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.