“What is your greatest enemy?” Gerald Flurry asks in How to Be an Overcomer. “Is it laziness? Or lust? Resistance to government? Discouragement? Do you have to battle selfishness? Or an inferiority complex?” (emphasis added throughout).
An inferiority complex can be a debilitating weakness. It can be our greatest enemy. Young people can be plagued with all sorts of crippling insecurities. This started to be the case for 13-year-old Richard Armstrong, the oldest son of Herbert and Loma Armstrong.
In his autobiography, Herbert W. Armstrong related how Richard had developed an inferiority complex. Mrs. Armstrong had insisted Dick and Ted (16 months younger than Dick) start school at the same time. Later, he and his wife realized this was a “serious” mistake. Ted—who was much shorter than Dick during those early years—became favored among the women teachers. This naturally resulted in Dick developing an “inferiority complex,” as Mr. Armstrong called it. Mr. Armstrong said that later he “managed to apply a treatment that snapped him completely out of his feeling of inferiority.”
In the summer of 1942, Mrs. Armstrong sent Dick—13 years old—to Hollywood where Mr. Armstrong was working on his radio broadcast. “Here he was, sprouting up to a full man’s height, almost 14, but seriously lacking in confidence. … I knew I had to find a way to help him overcome his inferiority complex. I decided on a definite plan.”
This “oversized inferiority complex” is a problem that can afflict any of us.
A Course in Self-Reliance
Mr. Armstrong put Richard through exercises designed to teach him independence. It was a “course in self-reliance, and overcoming a feeling of inferiority to Ted.”
Though we should not be self-reliant in spiritual matters, we need a certain independence in this world—especially a young man who will be expected to lead a family.
Mr. Armstrong balanced moments of leaving Richard to fend for himself, finding his way, with time spent together on boating excursions, teaching him how to operate the boats.
At one point Mr. Armstrong held an evangelistic campaign that attracted a much larger crowd than they expected. The ushers somehow got divided into two factions, and confusion reigned over which group should take charge.
“Dick’s experience in self-reliance and initiative now paid off,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “Immediately he—not yet 14—took charge. He called all the ushers to one side. ‘I’m Dick Armstrong,’ he told them, ‘and I’m taking charge here.’ Then he snapped out orders. He said he would use all the ushers, since the crowds were literally streaming in—and each would do whatever he assigned. He then, without any previous experience, organized the two groups, assigned stations to each man, directed everything, and from that moment there was order.”
They used that hotel for two more Sundays. Mrs. Armstrong and Richard’s younger brother, Ted (age 12 1/2) would come down for the final service. Mr. Armstrong would use Ted’s presence, he said, as a “final exam” for snapping Dick out of feeling inferior.
“When they arrived, I explained to Dick that he would have to take Ted in tow. ‘Now remember, Dick,’ I briefed him, ‘Ted is not as old as you, and he’s never been to Hollywood before. He’ll be pretty green. I want you to look after him—take him places—show him Hollywood and Los Angeles. Take him boating on the lake in Echo Park, but don’t let him handle the boat—he wouldn’t know how.’ During those few days, Dick was the complete leader. For the first time in his life he was made to realize that he was not inferior, but leader over Ted. Dick passed this ‘final exam’ with flying colors and a grade of ‘A.’ The feeling of being inferior to ted was gone. And, it did no harm to Ted, for he did not realize, then, what was being done.”
The Fate of the Fearful
Some might consider a “sense of inferiority” as an aspect of humility. It is not! It is an aspect of self-centeredness and vanity. Mr. Armstrong saw it as something that needed to be overcome. Mr. Flurry addressed it twice in How to Be an Overcomer. We saw the first account; here is the other: “Do you lay siege to your big problems? A siege is a military blockade of a city or a fortified place intended to compel it to surrender. It is a persistent attack. To lay siege means to pursue diligently or persistently. How about preparing a siege against your laziness? Or your lust, or sense of inferiority, or vanity, or whatever problem you face? Lay siege on it—go right at the heart of it with everything you can muster!”
Revelation 21:7-8 say that being “fearful” is a sin that must be overcome, or the alternative is the lake of fire. It is mentioned first in this list of horrible sins. The word means timid; some translations have it as cowardly.
This trait is spiritually fatal. It causes us to shrink back from growth opportunities for fear of failure.
In the parable of the talents, the man given one talent was a victim of this attitude. What did he say? “I was afraid, and went and hid your talent” (Matthew 25:25). His fear kept him from growth. His master called him wicked and lazy and ordered him to be cast into “outer darkness.”
This sinful fear can manifest itself in a number of ways. One is an inferiority complex—insecurity or feeling of inadequacy. Some are chronic worriers. This often manifests itself in procrastination and indecision—fear to take action.
We must control our emotions and overcome feelings of inadequacy and inferiority. Of course, spiritually all of us are inadequate—nothing without God, no matter what our age. Even Jesus said He could of His own self do nothing (John 5:30). But He didn’t shrink back, walk around whipped, or exude an apologetic attitude. And we, even though we fall short of real spiritual adequacy, cannot let the feelings of inadequacy, the emotions of an inferiority complex, overpower us and cause us to draw back.
Cast Out Fear
If you have feelings of inferiority, you are not alone. Even great men of God, at their calling, used their insecurities as excuses. Moses felt inferior as a speaker. Jeremiah felt particularly inadequate because of his youth. Both overcame these feelings. After all, who are we to argue with God for calling us to His purpose? If He wants us in His Family, who are we to believe we are not good enough?
Overcoming begins in the mind. We have to change our mind-set about our perceived inadequacies. Now, overcoming this is not just a matter of positive thinking. But Proverbs 23:7 says, as a man thinks in his heart, “so is he.” Fixating on these inadequacies can lead to all sorts of other character flaws.
Overcoming sinful fear actually begins with the proper fear of GOD. “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence …” (Proverbs 14:26). Psalm 112 says the man who fears God shall not be afraid (verses 1, 8). This kind of fear is reverence, respect, awe and being afraid to disobey.
Something else that casts out sinful fear is the proper love of God, which is embodied in His law. 1 John 4:17 states: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment ….”
Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. If we have God’s love, we envy not. How much is envy the result of insecurities and inferiority complexes?
God’s love also vaunts not itself. So much of our boasting is usually little-man syndrome. We try to make ourselves appear bigger and more important to make up for how small we feel.
God’s love is not easily provoked. The word for provoked means to burn with anger. We get angry because they joked about something we are overly sensitive about. For many, anger is a mask for pain.
Therefore insecurities and feelings of inadequacy are not rooted in God’s love. Rather they are rooted in selfishness, self-centeredness and vanity. Insecurities are rooted in sin!
Insecurities Caused By Sin
Satan works to amplify our inferiority complexes. He really wants us to have a distorted picture of ourselves—to either extreme. Some reject criticism. Others reject any sort of praise or compliment. Whether too high an opinion of one’s self or too low, which extreme doesn’t matter to Satan, as long as we focus on ourselves.
He wants to inflict self-awareness on us that leads to self-consciousness.
In Genesis 3:7, we see that the eyes of Adam and Eve “both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” They were self-aware and self-conscious. And what was the result?
Verse 8 says, when they heard God’s voice in the garden, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD ….” Why? Adam tells God in verse 10: “I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
There was self-consciousness and fear, like the wicked servant who was afraid and hid his talent.
This sin, and its subsequent fears and complexes, led to more sins, including blame and accusation of others (verses 11-13).
Satan loves to pummel us with a debilitating kind of “guilt.” He wants us to dwell on it—not to move on once the guilt has been removed upon repentance and forgiveness. He wants us to dwell on these inadequacies, and then hide from God. But actual guilt, actual inadequacy, should drive us to God.
Of course, we have to remember our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. But we should not dwell negatively on something that God has removed “as far as the east is from the west” (see Psalm 103:10-12).
Dwelling on and punishing ourselves with past guilt is also a sin.
Security Rooted in Righteousness
Contrast that with the fruits of righteousness and obedience to God’s law.
Psalm 119:165 reads, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Peace is the Hebrew shalom, which can mean wholeness, tranquility, safety and security. This is the opposite of feeling insecure or unsafe.
Someone who loves God’s law has security. He knows he is safe, protected, tranquil and whole. This verse says he has not just peace, but great peace. We should be exceedingly or bountifully secure!
If we keep and love God’s law, nothing puts a stumbling block in our way. We don’t get tripped up by stray negative comments; we aren’t insecure about what other people think of us. The Apostle Paul said the “peace of God … passeth all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Loving God’s law gives us a peace beyond human comprehension—a peace that keeps us from tripping over every little thing (see also Isaiah 32:17).
Fear No Man—Not Even Yourself
Notice this encouraging passage in Isaiah 51:12-13: “I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the LORD thy maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if he were ready to destroy? and where is the fury of the oppressor?”
The Bible is full of statements about not fearing man. Basically, an inferiority complex is being afraid of a person. It often comes from putting too much stock in people—in their opinions, their prejudices, their judgments. It often comes from comparing yourself with others. Sometimes it is simply an unhealthy focus on your own deficiencies. An unhealthy, unbridled fear of yourself.
If we rely on the God who stretched out the heavens, God does marvelous things through us in spite of our shortcomings!
We need God. We need His power. Young people should be seeking after the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul told Timothy to, “… stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7). We don’t have the spirit of fear—that is, timidity or cowardice. God’s power gives us a sound mind—one of the opposites of the “spirit of fear.” Fear is an emotion that can ultimately lead to a nervous breakdown or insanity! We must stir up the gift of God to combat fear.
The Righteous Are BOLD
The opposite of an inferiority complex is godly confidence and faith. It is not vanity, cockiness or self-confidence. In fact, putting confidence in the self leads, in the long term, to more insecurities!
Godly confidence and faith don’t make us more self-reliant, but rather, they drive us toward God.
After Mr. Armstrong helped Richard overcome that inferiority complex, his son actually became self-confident. “So now I had to go to work on him again, and get him back in the ‘middle of the road,’” he wrote. “And with God’s help this was achieved, and later he came to have the supreme confidence that is faith in God rather than confidence in self, and to have full assurance, yet in humility. That is a difficult state for any human to attain—but one of the supreme right goals of life!” (op. cit.).
Obedience and righteousness bring about supreme confidence and faith in God. As Proverbs 28:1 states: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.”
Bold can mean to be confident, or even to be secure, or to feel safe. Is there anything that makes a lion feel unsafe? The word can also mean “to trust in.” Righteousness yields confidence, security, safety, trusting (in something that is trustworthy). That makes us bold.
Cast Not Away Your Confidence
Many struggle with inferiority complexes. Perhaps, instead of assuming that someone is just rude, consider that they may have an insecurity, and a remark or action hit a nerve. Perhaps they lashed out not from anger, but from pain or feeling scared, unsafe and self-conscious.
We must be forbearing, forgiving, longsuffering—and willing to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us to “comfort the feebleminded,” or the fainthearted; to “support the weak,” or the infirmed; and to “be patient toward all men.” Romans 15:1-2 tell us that we who are strong must “bear the infirmities of the weak.”
Hebrews 10:25 tells us to exhort one another—that means to comfort, to intreat or literally to call to one’s side. Be sure you are not contributing to someone else’s feelings of inadequacy or inferiority.
Verse 35 reads, “Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.” Confidence means freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, cheerful courage, boldness or assurance. We can come before God’s throne boldly, and we can speak to Him unreservedly! With true, godly confidence, nothing will discourage us or make us feel inadequate or inferior.
God has no pleasure in those who draw back—those who are timid, who cower, who shrink or withdraw (verses 38-39). God has no pleasure in those who hide behind the fig leaves out of sin and fear like Adam and Eve did, or who bury their talent in the dirt.
Don’t mistake inferiority complexes for humility. Humility is seeing your nothingness in comparison to God’s greatness. Sinful inferiority is something that causes us to draw back from spiritual growth. The humblest people in the Bible were the boldest. They were the ones with the most confidence. They were the ones who grew the most!
Daddy—Our Confidence Builder
Romans 8:14-15 read: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
We are not to be bound or handicapped by fear. With God’s Spirit leading us, we should be free from inferiority complexes.
Remember, God is our abba—our Daddy! That should solve all sorts of insecurities: We have a perfect, loving Father!
How many insecurities or inferiority complexes stem from the lack of a strong father? Having God as our Father should give us a certain assurance and security that God intends us to have. God wants children to be able to go to someone for physical and emotional support—to share their accomplishments (“Daddy! Guess what I did today!”).
Richard Armstrong was able to overcome his inferiority complex largely because of his daddy.
We, as children of God, have to go to our spiritual Father—our Daddy—for physical, mental, emotional and spiritual support!
He will help us overcome this character flaw of being fearful—which leads to the second death. It’s caused by sin; it causes us to hide; and it causes other sins: envy, boasting, sinful anger, accusing others, drawing back, indecisiveness, procrastination and an overall lack of spiritual growth.
He will help us keep and love His law—reaping the peace and assurance that comes from that.
Draw close to your daddy rather than hiding from Him. We can go to Him with anything. He comforts us and grieves with us.
Let Him implant that proper boldness and confidence in you!