an unrealistic feeling of general inadequacy caused by actual or supposed inferiority in one sphere, sometimes marked by aggressive behavior in compensation.
Everyone probably has developed a complex, in one form or another, at least once in their lifetime. Complexes can come in many forms. One that is particularly well-known is called “Inferiority Complex”- a complex that makes an individual feel inadequate or incompetent, usually caused by their experience of weakness or dependency upon others. There are two types of inferiority complex: primary and secondary. Primary inferiority is typically rooted in childhood experiences. For example, children can experience primary inferiority by being compared to their peers or feeling incapable of fulfilling their parent’s expectations. On the other hand, secondary inferiority typically begins in adulthood. For instance, adults may experience secondary inferiority due to their college rejections, inability to graduate on time, or even unsuccessful job attempts.
One of the possible causes of the inferiority complex is the beauty standard established by society. Mediums such as social media, television ads, and even fashion model posters could make the audience become self-conscious about their looks. This is especially relevant/pertinent in South Korea due to Koreans’ obsession with the appearance of K-pop idols who stereotypically have a small and slim face, milk-white face, and large colored eyes. Beauty standards like this could negatively affect people who lack self-esteem about their appearances, such as their skin, face structure, and their body weight.
Another common trait that is found in people who have an inferiority complex is that they are more likely to be motaesolos (모태솔로)1 due to their lack of self-esteem. They tend to give up quickly over the smallest infractions and wants to be the one to leave for ego’s sake. Furthermore, they are highly sensitive to what the opposite sex thinks of them and often take offense even when no offense is intended. As I previously mentioned, individuals with an inferiority complex are vulnerable to the negative side of the beauty standard. Therefore, motaesolos tend to have higher beauty standards because their ideals reflect from their attributes of being a “perfectionist” in order to compete with others. Often times, this is particularly one of the reasons why individuals with this complex are stuck as motaesolos or “forever alone”.
Interestingly, certain group of millennials has transformed this concept into Internet memes through a Facebook group page: Subtle Asian Traits (SAT). This popular Facebook group mainly focuses on Asian experiences of growing up with immigrant parents and experiences of being a minority ethnicity. In this group, the variety of memes showcasing surprised Pikachu reaction and boba addictions are endless. At the same time, however, SAT has also become ground zero for social issues endemic and unique to the Asian community at large.
For instance, SAT reveals that growing up with immigrant parents is an experience tinged with a constant inferiority complex. This is obvious from an abundance of posts referring to cultural pressures that many immigrant children can relate to. “My father almost flipped a shit and started yelling at my brother when he didn’t get into Columbia. Toxic mindset for the win,” one popular post reads. “Any other not-skinny/not-small Asian folks out there who struggle with body image shit? Especially as a Korean ... every time I go back to Seoul, I feel this crippling insecurity, like by not being thin I’m a disgrace to my culture,” another popular discussion post reads, with almost eight-thousand Facebook reactions.
Along with this, the SAT members also bond over being shuttled between weekend language schools, piano lessons, and test prep academies. They joke about how they have become their parents’ disappointment by choosing career options, not in the medical or engineering field. Overall, it seems like a variety of SAT posts retain the casual tone of memes but hint at the inferiority complex that many Asian Americans have struggled with. What could be the cause of such a toxic phenomenon?
Arguably, the root cause of this problem is the perpetuated stereotypes about model minorities. A sociologist William Petersen first coined the term "model minority" in order to celebrate the apparent success of a particular Asian American group. However, the “model minority” label has trivialized the real struggles that Asian Americans have gone through. Furthermore, the term has categorized all Asian Americans as one homogeneous group despite their heterogeneity and distracted everyone from perceiving institutional racism. Most importantly, the term has also created standards for success which many Asian Americans cannot fulfill, ultimately leading to an inferiority complex.
Nevertheless, everyone has had a feeling of inferiority. But the feeling of inferiority is not a disease; it is rather a stimulant to healthy development in life. It becomes a pathological condition only when the sense of inadequacy overwhelms the individual. At the end of the day, everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. There's no reason why anyone should feel like they're less than anyone else.
Korean word for a person who’s been single ever since they were born