Let’s try something different today.
Get a piece of paper. Now write down the first memories that come to mind when I say the words “elementary (primary) school.” You can also answer questions such as:
– Who did you sit next to in class? Who did you play with at recess?
– What was your favorite subject? What was your least favorite?
– Did you enjoy going to school, or did you have to basically be dragged into the classroom every morning?
– Who was your favorite teacher? Why did you like that person?
– Who was your least favorite teacher? Why did you dread interactions with him/her?
Industry v. Inferiority
Erikson’s fourth stage (“industry versus inferiority”) occurs between the ages of approximately six and 11. Did you know that the experiences during this period of your life could still impact you today? Much of the development in this stage revolves around school, as this is a primary socializing element for this age. School expands a child’s world considerably and provides the opportunity for friendships to develop. Additionally, school provides an environment in which children can begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
Nancy Rockey (2017) further explains:
Through social interactions at school, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities. They are given a task or assignment to accomplish and move ahead to complete that task diligently. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their abilities to be successful, even in the years ahead.
While it is not uncommon for children in this age to struggle with certain elements of school life (be it social or academic), the predictor of success during this time is linked to the support of parents/caregivers and teachers. If a child is struggling, yet is provided adequate help and encouragement, s/he can move forward through this stage successfully, developing feelings of industry. However, if the child does not receive help and encouragement, it is possible for him or her to become stuck in this stage, developing feelings of inferiority that can last a lifetime.
Signs of Inferiority
Those who suffer from feelings of inferiority (sometimes called an “inferiority complex”) often experience negative attitudes and behaviors. These may include (but are not limited to):
– Feeling worthless. Those who feel worthless often see others in an idealistic manner. Instead of understanding that others have shortcomings and imperfections, those with an inferiority complex will only notice the good qualities in others. They often feel as if they, themselves, could never measure up.
– Being overly sensitive to criticism. Let’s be real: no one loves However, those who feel inferior often take even constructive criticism to heart, causing feelings of rejection or worthlessness.
– Imagining that others are passing negative judgement on you. Those who struggle with feelings of inferiority often assume that others view them as negatively as they view themselves. This only serves to affirm feelings of inferiority.
– Being overly submissive. It is common for those who suffer from an inferiority complex to have difficulty asserting their wants and even their needs. This can cause them to become overly submissive and/or passive.
As you consider the answers you wrote down in our opening exercise, how do you think those experiences shaped you? Did you make friends easily, or did you struggle to connect with peers? Did school come easily for you, or were academics “just not your thing?” Did you have caring adults in your life (be it caregivers, teachers, or other important adults) to support and encourage you, or were you left to fend for yourself? Did your experiences lead to lasting feelings of inferiority, or were you able to develop into an industrious, productive person?
Carefully analyzing our childhood experience is often a good way to understand our thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors as adults.
Want to Decrease Feelings of Inferiority?
If you find yourself fighting off thoughts and feelings of inferiority, there are things that you can do to combat and overcome them.
1. Determine to whom you feel inferior. Instead of stopping at simply acknowledging that you feel inferior to others, try to determine more specifically to whom you feel inferior. Do you feel inferior to your siblings? Those in your workplace? Others who are more attractive, smarter, richer, more successful than you? Once you have a better sense of the people (or the type of people) who make you feel inferior, identify one thing that you can do (or something you have) that they cannot do (or have). You are special; sometimes, it simply takes reflection to realize you own worth!
2. Stop worrying what others think. By disconnecting yourself from what others think of you (or your perception of what they think), you can focus more clearly on what you think of yourself. Additionally, this allows you to focus on your own strengths, giving you the freedom to grow and change in your own direction, rather than in a direction dictated by someone else.
3. Engage in positive self-talk. Positive self-talk “refers to how you speak to yourself in your own mind; the words you use, the tone you imagine, and the origins of your inner critic. This internal voice has an enormous impact on how you see yourself and your actions” (Hurst, n.d.). Negative self-talk can easily feed an inferiority complex and your feelings of rejection. However, positive self-talk allows you to see your worth and offers the potential of happiness in the long term.
4. Community matters. When you surround yourself with positive people, they can impact you in a positive manner. The same goes for negative people. Take an inventory of the people in your life; if you find that some (or many!) are negative, perhaps it’s time to eliminate some of those toxic people from your life. “To develop better self-esteem and a more positive sense of your identity, find people who build you and support you. Nurture the friendships in which reciprocal listening, kindness, and responsibility are present” (Hurst, n.d.).
Isn’t it amazing that events that transpire when we are children can set is up to succeed or fail for the rest of our lives? Just remember, though, that even if you have baggage, you are not doomed to a miserable existence. If you are able to learn new methods of dealing with your baggage and are willing to work toward health and vitality, healing and happiness is possible!
Cherry, K., & Morin, A. (2020). Industry vs. inferiority in psychosocial development. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/industry-versus-inferiority-2795736
Hurst, K. (n.d.) Do you feel worthless? How to overcome an inferiority complex. The Law of Attraction. Retrieved from https://www.thelawofattraction.com/overcome-inferiority-complex/
Rockey, N. (2017). Growing up–step #4 industry. Life Renewal. Retrieved from https://fixablelife.andrews.edu/2017/09/24/growing-up-step-4-indust