Birth Order and the Inferiority Complex According to Adler Video

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  • 0:01 Two Adlerian Factors
  • 0:30 Inferiority
  • 2:20 Birth Order
  • 3:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Is it bad to feel inferior? What is an inferiority complex? What importance does birth order have? Learn more about how these concepts from Adlerian theory can impact a person.

Two Adlerian Factors

A child enters the world. It is helpless, small, and needs attention. What effect does this have on the child? What influences how the child adapts to its environment? Does it matter if the child is the first or the second born in the family? These questions illustrate two parts of Alfred Adler's Adlerian theory that have attracted special attention: inferiority and birth order. Let's look at how Adler believed that a child may respond to these two factors.


A child comes into the world helpless. It is surrounded by older people who are more capable, and it's motivated by its inferiority. A child wants to become more like these people around him. This is how inferiority feelings begin early in childhood, and they will continue throughout one's life. You may feel inferior when someone does something better than you, criticizes you, or asserts authority over you.

These feelings are normal; they can even be a positive, motivating force for you to improve yourself. In other words, if you're emotionally healthy, you'll be motivated by feelings of inferiority to find a successful solution to your problems. This means that, according to Adler, we all feel inferior, and this is usually not a bad thing. On the other hand, some people experience such an extreme feeling of inferiority that it leads to an unhealthy response. When this happens, a person develops either an inferiority complex or a superiority complex.

An inferiority complex is an acute feeling of inferiority that can result in extreme shyness or aggressiveness as compensation for these feelings. While normal feelings of inferiority can motivate a person, the inferiority complex paralyzes them. People with an inferiority complex believe they are worthless or that they will always fail. They display low self-esteem and prevent failure through avoidance.

A superiority complex is an exaggerated feeling of being superior to others that is used as a defense mechanism to conceal feelings of extreme inferiority. In other words, a superiority complex is used to cover up for an inferiority complex. People with a superiority complex may act like they're better than other people, but they have inner doubts about their abilities.

Birth Order

Birth order and sibling relationships were also considered important by Adler. He identified five positions from which children tend to view life: the oldest child, the second child of only two, the middle child, the youngest child, and the only child.

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