“I never do anything right.” While this is an overgeneralization with evidence to the contrary, some people actually believe they can’t to do anything right. Perhaps you have a client like this. It is unproductive to argue the specific points of the matter with them because no amount of reason stops the inferiority feeling. What does work is understanding the origin of the thoughts and then rationalizing the emotion.
The fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Development is Industry vs. Inferiority which occurs during the prime school age of six to twelve. During this time, most learning is root memorization and children have an amazing ability to grasp large quantities of information. This is why the show, “Are You Smarted Then a Fifth Grader” is so interesting.
Industry is the ability to develop some pride in the work a child does separate and apart from their parents’ expectations. Inferiority arises when a child has been told the quality of their work is not good enough or they are not capable of doing as well as other children.
The Psychology. This is a time in a child’s life when they are most likely to try different sports, begin to like one subject over another, develop friendships at school outside of parental involvement, and start to question “why is it this way.” While they ask the “why” questions now, their ability at this age to critically think has not fully developed yet.
If the child feels a sense of accomplishment, believes they are capable of doing a good job, or finds value in their natural abilities then they will develop a sense of industry. If however the child believes they are inadequate, produce poor quality work, or are weak compared to others then they will develop a sense of inferiority.
The Teenager. As the child grows into a teenager, the sense of industry propels them to work harder in the areas that they already excel naturally in doing. They may be excellent basketball players so now they work harder to achieve a goal of a scholarship and take pride in their ability to dunk a ball.
By contrast, the teenager who develops a sense of inferiority sometimes shuts down and refuses to perform because they believe their work to be inadequate. Or they do just enough to get by, never really trying to excel at anything because they are afraid of the pending rejection if they fail.
The Adult. A sense of industry will serve an adult well as they need little micromanagement to accomplish a task. They are confident in setting goals and while they may not achieve them every time, they still keep on trying and generally enjoy doing some type of work.
A sense of inferiority keeps an adult tangled in a web of fear: if they don’t do a task, they will be rejected by others; if they do a task and it works, it is never good enough; if they do a task and it doesn’t work, they will face rejection again. So they opt for the easiest way out which is to do nothing and usually end up with jobs that are far beneath their level of ability.
The Cure. One of the hardest concepts for an inferior feeling adult to grasp is that everyone is unsure about themselves from time to time. They have so internalized the feelings of inadequacy that they believe others really are better than them because they have more talents, gifts, opportunities, friends, and support.
Surrounding them with supportive people, helping them realize that they do have a purpose in life and special talents to match that purpose will help to improve industry. Once this area of their life has been transformed, the other areas will follow and the adult will have a new sense of how they fit in the world around them.