Note: Page numbers enclosed in parentheses are citations from The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: A systematic presentation in selections from his writings. (H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher, Eds.). © 1964, Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of Perseus Books Group.
Inferiority complex is a term attributed to and adopted by Adler though, according to H. L. and R. R. Ansbacher (p. 256), probably not originating with him. It refers to those feelings of inferiority which are experienced as personal deficiencies as opposed to the universal sense of incompleteness. As such they may come to be felt as so overwhelming that they undermine the courage to move forward with life, to meet and overcome obstacles, and to develop oneself and make a contribution to the community. The term inferiority complex applies when inferiority feelings cease to be a spur to further growth and become themselves a rationale for a hesitating attitude. [As elsewhere in this text, note the distinction between two meanings of the word feeling: one is affect, emotion; the other (as here) apprehension, sense of things.]
It is not the sense of inferiority which matters but the degree and character of it (p. 257).
The abnormal feeling of inferiority has acquired the name 'inferiority complex' (p. 257).
It is more than a complex; it is almost a disease (p. 257).
[Inferiority Feeling] becomes a pathological condition only when the sense of inadequacy overwhelms the individual and, far from stimulating him to useful activity, makes him depressed and incapable of development (p. 258).
The inferiority complex is the presentation of the person to himself and others that he is not strong enough to solve a given problem in a socially useful way (p. 258).
The inferiority complex, that is, the persistence of the consequences of the feeling of inferiority and the retention of that feeling, finds its explanation in greater lack of social interest (p. 258).
We say that a person is suffering from an "inferiority complex" when he reacts fatalistically to a crippling situation, real or fancied, without attempting to correct or improve it (Adler, Alexandra, 1973, p. 3).
The "inferiority complex" does not lead to any compensation. It is a deadlock for any further development (Dreikurs, 1973, p. 180).
The inferiority complex involves an appeal to inferiority feelings, as if in themselves they constituted a handicap, and so may be offered as an excuse from participation and contribution. In fact, in the "complex" they are rehearsed and made to serve as a disguise for loss of courage, or an alibi for failure (B. H. Shulman, personal communication, n. d.).
© Griffith, J., & Powers, R. L. (2007). The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (2nd ed.). Port Townsend, WA: Adlerian Psychology Associates (p. 59).
Definitions of concepts are used by permission of Jane Griffith. A comprehensive list of concepts and definitions can be found in The Lexicon of Adlerian Psychology: 106 Terms Associated with the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler by Jane Griffith and Robert L. Powers, available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Adler, A. (1973). Guiding human misfits: A practical application of Adlerian Psychology. Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprints. (Original work published 1939)
Dreikurs, R. (1973, Rev. ed.). Psychodynamics, psychotherapy and counseling: Collected papers of Rudolf Dreikurs, M. D. Chicago: Alfred Adler Institute.