Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Inadequacy Complex

Originally posted on September 16, 2013

I wasn’t sure if I had an inferiority complex—it just wasn’t the right word. (The term was originated not by Freud but by Alfred Adler.) If you left me alone with my books or play I was fine. Finally at age 76 I found a better word: Inadequacy complex, which senses and feels bad about a disparity between what was expected (or felt to be expected) and what one could deliver. A glass of water is wonderful for a thirsty person, but doesn’t measure up if one wanted a gallon of water, or a glass of wine. So inadequacy is not an objective measure in itself, but rather relative to expectation or desire.

In fact, this sub-type of inferiority complex is not uncommon, because it’s an act of “projective identification.” If a person feels dissatisfied, they project that dissatisfaction to those around them, sort of “I’ve been unfairly deprived, and it’s your job to make it better.” Those around them may more or less readily take on that expectation, feel guilty. They identify with the projection. The idea that it’s not their place to live up to others’ expectations is not at all apparent. (Fritz Perls’ line that “I am not here to live up to your expectations” had extra power because it helped to correct this complex—a little.

I’ve had relatives who were fairly satisfied, but also were at time some-what dissatisfied, and I picked up on these unconscious projections when I was younger. (My wife confirms that this was indeed a quality of the people in my early life.) Although I read about psychology, the power and subtlety of interpersonal manipulation wasn’t sufficiently emphasized. I thought more blame was placed on the neurotic people for feeling guilty. That others did things that would clearly feed into such complexes—well, I missed that.

In the last several decades the interactional nature of relationships have been more clearly elucidated, as well as the dynamics of social manipulation—interpersonally, in groups, in society, in politics, in advertising, etc.

Having an “inadequacy complex,” I’ve been over-sensitive to reproach, even a faint whisper, a look, a lack of clear appreciation. I hurt if I’ve disappointed someone. I don’t let it bother me so much, knowing about this dynamic. However, getting completely beyond this over-reactivity is, I think, impossible for me. Rather, I minimize the probability of it happening by avoiding people who are inclined to expect more from me than I can give comfortably. I avoid roles that tend to be associated with unrealistic expectations—such as leadership roles.

This is very deep. I realize that I don’t even want to achieve the kinds of things that go with other people’s expectations. If they want more than I can give, or want something else, it’s not my problem. This makes me less capable of dealing with many situations that are faced by many therapists—especially the plight of a client with a fair amount of not neurosis but personality disorder. This latter type, personality disorders, are the type of people who, if there’s some friction in a relationship, tend to blame you  rather than themselves. I really don’t want to deal with such folks, as much as I really don’t want loud noise or the smell of tobacco smoke.

This doesn’t make “them” intrinsically “bad.” I don’t need to judge them, and some folks probably feel okay with such people—some even like them. But not me. So I remove myself into my own little world—well, it’s not so little, and indeed might be called rather large—and that’s good enough for me.

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