Website owner:  James Miller

[ Home ] [ Up ] [ Info ] [ Mail ]

Cause of the inferiority complex, lack of confidence

   What causes an inferiority complex?  I present the following 
   kind of experience as a possible main cause:  Someone explains 
   something to you.  You don't understand at all.  It sounds like 
   Chinese.  They explain it again in slightly different words.  
   You don't understand.  They explain it a third time.  They 
   start losing patience.  You still don't understand.  It is all 
   Greek.  It doesn't make any sense.  You can't tell top from 
   bottom.  You can't even think of any questions to ask to get to 
   the bottom of things.  They explain a fourth time.  The 
   explanation leaves you blank and cold.  They explain a few more 
   times with no success.  With each explanation you are feeling 
   more and more stupid, more and more embarrassed, more and more 
   humiliated and mortified.  And with successive explanations the 
   person doing the explaining is losing his patience.  He is 
   doing his best to explain it and he is thinking, "This is so 
   simple!  What is the matter with this person!  How could 
   anybody be so stupid!"  After a few explanations you start 
   thinking, "We are not going anywhere in this.  I don't think I 
   would understand it if he explained it a hundred times.  Better 
   to drop this subject and forget it.  I am only going to become 
   more and more humiliated."  That is, this is what you start 
   thinking unless it is your boss trying to explain to you how to 
   do a job.  In this case there is real cause for concern and 

   Now let us suppose this experience happens to you a number of 
   times when you are a young child growing up.  You have the 
   experience over and over.  What is the effect on you?  Perhaps 
   a sense that you have some kind of problem in connection with 
   understanding things?  A sense that you are not up to par in 
   certain ways?  An inkling, perhaps, that something is wrong 
   with you?  Well, I know a little about it.  It is something 
   that has happened to me many times, both when I was young and 
   later in life.  I do believe that this experience, repeated, 
   had a strong molding effect on my personality and outlook 
   during the formative years of my life.  What did it do to me?  
   It caused me to consciously avoid situations that put me in a 
   position where someone was explaining something to me (all 
   creatures act in such a way as to avoid pain and humiliation is 
   pain).  It made me independent, not wanting any help from 
   anyone;  it made me angry at people, a loner.  It affected my 
   confidence in myself -- gave me a complex. 

   There is something I have come to appreciate as the years have 
   passed, however: that I am not alone in having had such 
   experiences.  I have noted that there are many people who don't 
   want to ask questions or don't want to have someone explain a 
   thing to them because they are afraid they won't understand.  
   They have a complex about being unable to understand things and 
   don't want to run a risk of being humiliated.  They have been 
   humiliated in the past and lack confidence in themselves. 

   NOTE.  When something like this happens to you it may not 
   necessarily be your fault.  It may be the fault of the person 
   doing the explaining.  He may not be very good at explaining 
   things.  We may be inclined to assume it is our fault but the 
   assumption may be wrong.  I suspect this is often the 
   case.  I think now that the problem often lies with the person 
   doing the explaining but when I was a boy and it was an adult 
   explaining a thing to me my inclination was to blame myself, 
   not to suspect the blame lay with the adult (I was brought up 
   to respect and obey adults). 

   Nov 1996

[ Home ] [ Up ] [ Info ] [ Mail ]