Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washngton

Classical Adlerian Quotes - Feeling of Inferiority

Developed by Henry T. Stein, Ph.D.

The following Classical Adlerian quotations are from the Adlerian Translation Project Archives at the Alfred Adler Institute of Northwestern Washington (AAINW/ATP). Selected works of Alfred Adler, Kurt Adler, Lydia Sicher, Alexander Mueller, Sophia de Vries, Anthony Bruck, Erwin Wexberg, Alexander Neuer, Sophie Lazarsfeld, Ida Loewy, Ferdinand Birnbaum, and other Classical Adlerians have been collected, translated, edited, and converted into electronic text. All of this material is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced without the expressed consent of Dr. Stein at

Alfred Adler:

"If one has sufficiently sharpened his grasp for the connections within the unity of each individual, one will easily understand how the inferiority feeling presses constantly towards its own resolution. The value and significance of this resolution rest totally in the existence and the degree of social interest which at times more strongly, at times less so, determines the fate, the failure, or the possibility for happiness of a person." (From "Advantages and Disadvantage of the Inferiority Feeling," in "Superiority and Social Interest.")

"The inner life of the child, on the strength of his feeling of inferiority, grows in the direction and toward the goal that promises tranquility, satisfaction, standing, and superiority, in short, expansion." (From a new translation of "The Child's Inner Life and Social Feeling," in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"A person with a sensitive ear would not feel well and surely would feel inferior if he were forced to become a blacksmith. A person without a real interest in listening would feel inferior if he were forced to choose music as a career. A child with a sensitive stomach will feel inferior on an improper diet." (From "The General System of Individual Psychology," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Lydia Sicher

"Children during infancy develop very normal ideas of inadequacy in a situation of discomfort. This idea of inadequacy is important because it forces people to develop, to strive after achievement. It forces them to strive for a situation in which this inadequacy would be erased and for which adequacy would be substituted. In doing so, children look for some kind of prototype, some person among the grown-ups according to whom they try to model their lives. Thus, these feelings of inferiority may be replaced by a feeling of achievement, worth, value. This is the creative power of the individual. They then have the idea that each situation would make it possible to be adequate, secure, powerful, safe. The children now live a small part of reality that they can extract out of the whole picture of life as their realm of living. They form some idea of living, some idea about the self. Thus, with this segment in mind, they have selected out of all the possibilities of living, this pattern. They will then try to experience this the rest of their lives according to these pre-conceived ideas."

"The more inferior individuals think they are, the more superiority they will have to gain in order to think they are really secure. "

(From "The Collected Works of Lydia Sicher: An Adlerian Perspective," edited by Adele Davidson, published by QED Press.)

Anthony Bruck:

"Labels only describe or name what the children do. The real explanation is the desire for significance and the feeling of inferiority. It is the inferiority that hurts the children and makes them aggressive." (From a transcribed lecture given on 1-25-77, in the AAIS/ATF Archives.)

"The Inferiority Feeling is a very useful thing, if it remains within limits. It is particularly useful from the viewpoint of the teacher, as the interest of the child in its education springs from this feeling. There are, however, two great reasons that hamper the child's interest in learning: one is an excessive feeling of inferiority, the other, the usual consequence of the former, the development of a striving, no longer towards security and equality, but towards power and superiority." (From "The Inferiority Feeling," an article that appeared in "School", New York, November 27th 1930, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Alexander Mueller:

"The inferiority feeling does not mean that the person is convinced of his inadequate "worth," - that would be tantamount to resignation - but that there is doubt about one's own worth. There is a constant fear of not measuring up to whatever demands are being made." (From "Principles of Individual Psychology," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

"There is hardly a child or adult who can pass through life without the feeling of inferiority. What are significant are the conclusions that are drawn from one's self-evaluation. If one feels dissatisfied or unfulfilled, knowing one's failings and negative characteristics can become the drive to master and overcome external and internal obstacles and shortcomings. This result decisively furthers development. Should the feeling of inferiority, on the other hand, lead to the belief that one's powers and capabilities are insufficient, that one is useless, a failure, then it can dominate significantly the prevailing mood of a person. These reinforced feelings of inferiority impede the development of the child, and interfere with the lifestyle of the adult." (From "Principles of Individual Psychology," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP archives.)

"We find it significant that an actual inferiority or insufficiency does not automatically have to lead to a feeling of inferiority. It is possible not to feel inferior when in a situation, or be faced by a task, that exceeds one's capabilities, or at least is one that one person is less able to handle than another. A person can consider himself to be fully worthy even when he knows that he cannot master all situations in life - difficulties, dangers - and also when he knows himself not to be the strongest, smartest, most efficient, best, beautiful, etc." (From "Alfred Adler's Individual Psychology," an unpublished manuscript in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Sophia de Vries:

"Inferiority feelings may develop in children who are very beautiful, if they get too much attention and affection without doing anything useful. They can believe that this is how life will continue. Then, when they have to perform, they have not learned to perform. Usually they have been the center of attention, and they have been helped too much because they are so cute. Many people even have the bad habit of saying in front of the child and mother, "Oh isn't he or she darling!" That type of comment, repeated frequently, is enough to cause inferiority feelings. If, as a child, you think that flattery makes you important, and you do not practice and struggle to improve, then you fall behind. " (From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 1-23-76, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Erwin Wexberg

"The child's inferiority feeling is built up from three groups of experience: The feeling of helplessness, the feeling of being weaker than adults, and the feeling of dependency on adults."

"The feeling of being weaker is an exaggeration. The child does not understand that adults as well as children harbor desires which are unattainable with their present means. The child has no conception of the goals of his grown-up environment. He sees only his parents' relative omnipotence as compared with his own weakness, and measures their ability only in the light of his own desires and goals. Thus the child's conception of omnipotence is developed."

"As the child progresses in his individuation, recognizing the presence of adults, he sees that the unfavorable ratio between desire and means of attaining desire does not exist for his father, mother, older brothers and sisters, to the same degree which it exists in him. His parents seem relatively omnipotent. As soon as he can compare himself with another, the feeling that he is weaker than someone else is superimposed on the previously existing feeling of helplessness."

(From "Individual Psychology," an out-of print book in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

Henry Stein

"In the practice of psychotherapy, I make a distinction between primary and secondary inferiority feelings; both have to be resolved in treatment. Primary inferiority feelings refer to a client's original childhood experience of insufficiency in the face of normal or overburdening circumstances. Secondary inferiority feelings refer to the adult's experience of insufficiency when comparing performance to a fictional final goal or ideal. It sounds paradoxical, but a fictional goal, originally adopted to compensate for a feeling of inferiority in childhood, can actually be the cause of an inferiority feeling in an adult." (From a transcribed, tape recorded interview of Henry Stein on 3-28-95, in the AAINW/ATP Archives.)

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