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An Insight into the Concept of Superiority Complex in Psychology

We live in a world that urges us to constantly compete with others in order to get to the level we want to be or to achieve something. But what happens when the battle is within yourself? One that rages on between your self-concept and true identity? The result maybe a mask that you wear each day in front of the world. We bring you the definition of the superiority complex, one of the results of such a mental battle.

Some Paradox!

Paradoxically, superiority complex rises from the deep-seated and repressed feeling of inferiority or lack of self-esteem.

We live in a world where there is constant competition and the need to go one up over the other person in order to feel successful or get ahead in life. Often it leads to frustration, depression, sadness, and anger. And it doesn’t help when the media feeds us with an invisible rulebook that dictates what we should wear, how we should act, what we should eat, and more shockingly, what we should believe in. This throws most of us, if not all, into a frenzied state to conform, excel, and portray ourselves based on the image that society has asked of us. Don’t get us wrong, competition is great when it pushes you to strive and excel. But what happens when you can’t match those standards?

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In order to cope with these constant challenges, people tend to overcompensate with wrong portrayals of themselves. In our case, we look at the false sense of superiority that we feel, as opposed to the feeling of inferiority. The term ‘superiority complex’ is often thrown around in reference to a person’s behavior that seems narcissistic or exaggerated. Psychologically, it has a more serious undertone. So what is superiority complex, you ask?


✦ It is a psychological defense mechanism in which a person’s feelings of superiority counter or conceal his or her feelings of inferiority. It was a term coined by Alfred Adler with regard to his School of Individual Psychology.

✦ According to Adler, every human being feels a sense of inferiority at one point or another. And this is actually a good thing, because that feeling of inferiority motivates us to excel and achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. In simpler terms, it is the guiding force or motivation behind our need to excel. But sometimes, people are unable to cope with these new standards that they have set for themselves, and they eventually end up in one of the two extremes: Inferiority Complex, which is a lack of self-esteem, and Superiority Complex, which is an exaggerated feeling of self-importance.

✦ When this manifests itself into the person’s behavior, it can turn into the Superiority Complex Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Disorder, or Megalomania (the last two may be considered a part of the first). People with this complex tend to confuse their self-ideals with their self-concept―meaning, they confuse what they want to be to what they think they are. It is not the mere act of behaving like you are better than everybody, but actually believing in it.

✦ Adler believed that inferiority and superiority were two sides of the same coin. So, if you have the Superiority Complex, you are most likely to have some deep, intrinsic feeling of inferiority, which further pushes you in a manner that makes you exaggerate your true self in order to feel better about your own image. There is one other thing here that is important to note―most people tend to confuse someone’s confidence as a superiority complex, but there is a clear division between the two. When someone is actively good at something or some particular field, they exude confidence when referring to that particular task. In the case of the superiority complex, the person has a false sense of such talent, actually believes it to be true, and flaunts something he doesn’t own.

So how do you recognize a person who is suffering from such a complex?


When this false self-concept manifests itself, there are certain markers in the person’s behavior that indicate if he is suffering from what is called the Superiority Complex Personality Disorder.

✦ Symptoms

When a person develops symptoms, he tends to over exaggerate the cause in order to feel more important. For example, if he has a slight bruise, he tends to magnify the pain to gain attention, sympathy, and care.

✦ Excuses

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The person always puts the blame on other people or external factors for his/her shortcomings by spinning out excuses that justify their failure, or in other cases, becomes apathetic towards it by deeming it to be unimportant.

✦ Aggression

People with the complex have a need to be seen the same way as they perceive themselves, and this is often done in an aggressive manner, which sometimes verges on rude, to hurtful, and finally violent. They tend to be accusatory, projective, or depreciative.

✦ Distancing

One of the reasons this complex becomes so deep-seated is that the person avoids, pushes away, or represses the underlying problem of low self-esteem, and chooses instead to form an image―one that fits the image they want to portray.

✦ Anxiety

People with this disorder are often anxious or create a sense of anxiety in order to avoid dealing with the subject. And because they constantly have to battle the imbalance between their true identity and projected image, it eventually turns into full-blown anxiety.

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✦ Denial

They live in denial of the battles in their mind and narrow their world of possibilities in order to avoid dealing with touchy subjects or situations.

✦ Excessive Self-control

They have extreme control over their behavior and emotions in order to mistakenly avoid showing their true-self to others.

✦ Arbitrary Rightness

The “I’m always right, and you are wrong” attitude becomes second nature to them. They are not open to other’s opinions and blatantly disregard them if they are not in line with the former’s opinion.

✦ Elusiveness and Pretense of Confusion

When their faults or lack of skill or knowledge is called out, they tend to become more ambiguous and feign confusion in order to avoid embarrassment.

✦ Rationalization

The biggest nail in their coffin is that they try to rationalize their actions. If faced with failure, they convince themselves that the goal never really was important, or they convince themselves that the outcome has a lot of positives, thus continuing with this false charade.

✦ Mood Swings

People with the disorder are constantly juggling with their contradictory personae and tend to have extreme mood swings.

Now that you know how to identify a person with the complex, how do you deal with them? We suggest some methods.


When dealing with a person suffering from such complex, we need to approach the matter cautiously but firmly. Here are some tactics you could try:

✦ Therapy may be suggested, and the person must convey what they are currently dealing with (known as immediacy) to their therapist.

✦ They must be encouraged to convey what they really feel without aggression.

✦ Paradoxical intention is a method in which you respond or act in the same manner as the person in order to open their eyes to how they are really projecting themselves.

✦ Respond directly by negating their statements; it is harsh but sometimes an in-your-face reality check is necessary to get them off their high horses.

✦ Ignore their statements or pretend to be unaffected. This way, instead of encouraging their behavior, you negate it and force them to reevaluate their actions.

✦ Direct eye contacts and slow but measured acknowledgment of their actions lets them know that you can see through their facade.

✦ Use the person’s first name emphatically when you address them, so that they know that they are being held accountable for their words and behavior.

✦ Confront their concept rather than their personality to negate their actions.

✦ Be direct and assertive when you deal with them, while at the same time, be patient in understanding that this behavior has been molded over a long time and cannot be altered or improved at the drop of a hat.

These are just some options and methods that you can try to deal with it. You must remember that the reactions change from person to person and your attitude towards them.

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