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If only very self-assured people achieved anything in life, then little would be accomplished. In actuality inferiority feelings are among the greatest energizers of effort and accomplishment. They are, I believe, at least as important as talent, and may often efficiently substitute for it. As Edward Strecker and Kenneth Appel write in their article Discovering Ourselves: "The inferiority complex has been called the 'golden complex,' and a article has been written on the Glory of the Imperfect. As a matter of fact, it would be a sorry world without this sense of the imperfect, without this knowledge of our limitations.
As Browning says, it is the 'Spark that disturbs our clod.' It keeps us striving to reach beyond our poor selves. It prevents us from reclining in smug satisfaction with what we have and what we are. It is the very breath of inspiration and progress."2
The sense of inferiority instills a fighting spirit within us. Why should the superior person strive to develop his assets? He already has a strong sense of his own self-worth. Excessive effort is unnecessary. Only those who feel the sting of inferiority will make a strong effort to cultivate their strengths.
Whether we're talking about insecurity, inferiority, or both (which is most usually the case), these "complexes" provide fuel for the fight of life. But the gold mine of energy they give us can remain untapped. The person whose past history repeated the lesson to him, "You are inferior. Ifou don't measure up," may simply submit to those feelings. His attitude may become, "You are right. What is the use of struggling?" rather than, "I must prove you wrong. I must prove my own worth."
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In order to make maximum use of these dynamic forces the following advice should prove helpful.
Managing Insecurity and Inferiority:
1. Don't compare yourself with others. This is old advice, but it's useful. No two individuals are alike. One person's strength is another's weakness. Even when two people have the same talents, they will still use those talents in their own individual manner. How can Shakespeare be compared with Charles Dickens? Each achieved the height of literary creativity and yet their styles were completely different. You cheat yourself when you compare your own strengths with those of others. You fail to learn to
appreciate your own individuality.
Of course, this presupposes that you have identified your areas of strength and are currently developing those strengths. Unfortunately this is not the case with many people. Too many people have not bothered to take extensive looks at their own personalities with the intent of developing their potential. This neglect leads to stagnation. Those who don't develop their own strengths usually are left to envy those who have developed theirs.
2. Admit your human nature, your fallibility. This is one of the most common sources of chronic insecurity: the person comes to evaluate himself in terms of absolute standards. As Maxwell Maltz observes, our insecurity is usually not caused by a lack of resources, "but due to the fact that we use a false measuring stick. We compare our actual abilities to an imagined 'ideal,' perfect, or absolute self. Thinking of yourself in terms of absolutes induces insecurity."He goes on to point out that the insecure person thinks that he should be "good"period; or that he should be competentperiod. These are goals to aim for but never quite reach. Stop thinking in terms of absolutes.
3. Make use of overcompensation. Probably the best way to handle feelings of insecurity (or inferiority) is to concentrate your energy upon one goal or one asset and pursue it with a sense of dedication. Psychologists and educators might scoff at this advice, calling it too narrow. But it is so common hi the histories of famous people that it would appear to be almost the sole route to recognition.
There appear to be two types of overcompensation. In the first type, you focus upon something that you lack, but strongly desire. This is the Charles Atlas type of overcompensation: a ninety-eight-pound weakling devotes himself to a lifetime of weightlifting until he finally wins the Mr. America bodybuilding contest. Other examples of this type of overcompensation abound. Theodore Roosevelt was weak and sickly as a boy. Paderewski had weak, delicate fingers. Dr. Trudeau, himself afflicted with tuberculosis, established one of the world's most famous fresh-air sanitariums.
With the second type of overcompensation, you take some specific strength that you already possess and develop it to its maximum. Some strengths have obvious potential. Writing skill, athletic ability, business acumen, a pleasing personality are all easily identified strengths and should be developed. But other strengths are dormant; they aren't easily identified until some enterprising person makes use of them. Clifford W. Beers presents an example of a person who overcompensated in this latter sense of the word.
He had been insane, committed to an asylum. After his release he wrote a article that has become a classic in its area: A Mind That Found Itself. In it he documented his experiences and offered encouragement to those similarly afflicted. Then he went a step further and founded the National Committee for Mental Hygiene. This is an excellent example of energy well used the energy itself springing from an inferiority-breeding affliction.