An inferiority complex, is a behavior that is displayed through a lack of self-worth, an increase of doubt and uncertainty, and feeling of not measuring up to society's standards. It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme antisocial behavior. The term was coined to indicate a lack of covert self esteem. For many, it is developed through genetic personality characteristics, home life or other personal experiences.
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Classical Adlerian psychology makes a distinction between primary and secondary inferiority feelings.
- A primary inferiority feeling is said to be rooted in the young child's original experience of weakness, helplessness and dependency. It can then be intensified by comparisons to siblings, romantic partners, and adults.
- A secondary inferiority feeling relates to an adult's experience of being unable to reach a subconscious, fictional final goal of subjective security and success to compensate for the inferiority feelings. The perceived distance from that goal would lead to a negative/depressed feeling that could then prompt the recall of the original inferiority feeling; this composite of inferiority feelings could be experienced as overwhelming. The goal invented to relieve the original, primary feeling of inferiority which actually causes the secondary feeling of inferiority is the "catch-22" of this dilemma.[clarification needed] This vicious circle is common in neurotic lifestyles.
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 inferior to a task, such as a test one would take in school.
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 neurotic 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. Along with the inferiority complex, there are also a number of other complexes defined in this time such as the Oedipus complex, Father complex, God complex, and of course the Superiority complex.
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, of different ethnicity, have low socioeconomic status, or have a history of depression symptoms. 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. Often, it is difficult to place an exact cause to the development of an inferiority complex. Those afflicted sometimes place blame on race, gender, genetics, sexual orientation, family, social class, mental health, physical appearance, or any character trait that the individual feels is lacking.
Performance Impact 
When an inferiority complex is in full effect, it may impact the performance of the individual as well as impact the individual's self-esteem. Unconscious psychological and emotional processes can disrupt students’ cognitive learning, and negatively “charged” feeling-toned memory associations can derail the learning process. Hutt found that math can become associated with a psychological inferiority complex, low motivation and self-efficacy, poor self-directed learning strategies, and feeling unsafe or anxious.
In the mental health treatment population, this characteristic is shown in patients with many diseases such as certain types of schizophrenia, mood disorders, and personality disorders. Moritz found the people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia used their delusions as a defense mechanism against low implicit self esteem. Alfred Adler identified an inferiority complex as one of the contributing factors to problem child behaviors.
- Science Daily from http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/i/inferiority_complex.htm
- Moritz, Werner, von Collani. The inferiority complex in paranoia readdressed: A study with the Implicit Association Test. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry. Jan 15, 2007, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13546800444000263
- inferiority complex. (2013). In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/287581/inferiority-complex
- Hutt, Guy K. Experiential Learning Spaces: Hermetic Transformational Leadership for Psychological Safety, Consciousness Development and Math Anxiety Related Inferiority Complex Depotentiation. Department of Organizational Behavior, Case Western Reserve University. May, 2007 from http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Hutt%20Guy%20K.pdf?case1175892374
- Moritz, Werner, von Collani. The inferiority complex in paranoia readdressed: A study with the Implicit Association Test. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry. Jan 15, 2007, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13546800444000263
- Adler, A. The Education of Children. 1930. from http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1930-04004-000