7 Symptoms & Signs Of A Superiority Complex In Someone You Know

Photo: DisobeyArt / Shutterstock
woman wearing vintage sunglasses red background

We live in a world filled with constant competition, and it's common to become caught up in the need to constantly be comparing ourselves to others and striving to be the best.

While many people are able to recognize their own abilities and not allow the achievements of others to define them, some struggle with constant competition within themselves. What happens if you feel a perpetual need to assert your excellence? Or, if a battle rages on between your true identity and how you appear in comparison to others?

If you feel the need to put others down or criticize them in order to feel more assured in yourself, this could be one of the signs of a superiority complex.

What is a superiority complex?

A superiority complex is a psychological defense mechanism. The term was created by Alfred Adler to describe an exaggerated sense of self-importance and self-worth over others, hiding real feelings of mediocrity.

Those with a superiority complex believe they are better than others in terms of abilities or intelligence, and have disdain for individuals they perceive as inferior.

Developing this in a minor form at some point in life is somewhat inevitable. We all do it from time to time in order to cope with certain situations. But there are people who might be suffering chronically and have no idea about it.

RELATED: 16 Signs You Love Someone With A Serious Personality Disorder

What causes a superiority complex?

Paradoxically, superiority complexes are bred from deep-rooted insecurities. According to experts, superiority complexes and inferiority complexes are just two different manifestations of the same self-esteem issues.

Another manifestation of self-esteem issues is an inferiority complex, which is an overstated feeling of weakness. It often hides true motives, such as aspirations for power.

Some get confused because many people with superiority complexes are dealing with a sense of inferiority within themselves.

What do you call someone with a superiority complex?

Some terms used to describe people with feelings of superiority are "grandiose" and "narcissistic," or could be considered a person with a god complex.

Though there is more attached to these terms, they convey a similar concept, which is "an attitude of superiority which conceals actual feelings of inferiority and failure."

Is a superiority complex a bad thing?

While we all use this coping mechanism every once in a while, and confidence and high self-esteem are a healthy part of life, a constant superiority complex can be a bad thing.

Having a superiority complex can lead to a lack of empathy towards others as well, an inflated ego, and even feelings of loneliness. But that doesn't make you a bad person.

"In and of itself, a superiority complex is not a bad thing. But when it becomes a way of thinking, emoting, and behaving that is about control, power, and entitlement, it certainly can be," life coach Ann Papayoti explains. "The endless overcompensations and exaggerations create irritation, conflict, and distance in relationships, further isolating the person struggling with the complex."

Superiority complexes create a variety of behavioral issues and can make it very difficult for people suffering from it to fully connect with others. Without the proper help, you could end up feeling isolated.

RELATED: 9 Symptoms & Signs Of A Savior Complex In Someone You Know

Common Signs of a Superiority Complex

If you notice these patterns in yourself or someone you know, they may have a superiority complex

1. They are never wrong.

They make sure to prove that others are wrong, not themselves. But why do they feel this way? Simply put, they aren't truly happy with who they are as a person, and rather than deal with those feelings, they instead choose to, essentially, "highlight" a perfect version of themselves.

People suffering from this complex cannot let go of the image of themselves they're trying to create for others. But owning their negative personality traits means coming to terms with their imperfection.

Unfortunately, when someone has a superiority complex, admitting to mistakes would just ruin this false version of themselves that they rely on.

2. They have an unfiltered sense of entitlement.

People with superiority complexes think everyone is beneath them and believe they deserve everything they want. They struggle to recognize that everyone deserves equal levels of respect, and think they can treat people however they want in order to achieve their goals.

Some link this to how these people were raised as children. Often, their upbringing compensated for a lack of nurturing and affection by spoiling them with material gifts. This means they lack morals and standards or don’t understand the value of earning.

3. They are extremely controlling.

People with a superiority complex often pursue leadership at work or in groups so they have a justification for asserting their dominance. In positions of power, they act in ways that make others fear them rather than respect them, according to mental health expert Adina Mahalli.

Losing their leadership status can cause great devastation to these individuals. If they’ve lost control, they feel like they’ve lost their superiority. Their self-importance is dependent on their ability to be in control.

RELATED: 14 Signs You Have A Major Entitlement Problem

4. They constantly compare themselves to others.

Because their sense of self-worth is based on other people, someone with a superiority complex cannot resist the urge to compare themselves to those around them. They feel defeated by the accomplishments of others because, to them, this means they're not enough or are lacking in some way.

Outwardly, they will put down the achievements of others to distract from their own lack of self-worth making them feel good. They don’t see that there is enough success to go around, and that being happy for others is as good for yourself as it is for them.

5. Their mood swings quickly and frequently.

Those with a superiority complex suffer from a constant battle between an internal inferiority and the need to appear dominant externally. So, it’s no wonder that these feelings can collide to cause drastic jumps in their mood.

They don’t often recognize this self-esteem issue within themselves. They also don't understand their emotions and, therefore, can’t control them. This can have unfortunate effects on mental health as they struggle to connect with their true identity.

6. Everything is always about them.

When someone has a superiority complex, it’s easy to view them as being self-centered. They think in terms of “I” and “me,” rarely reflecting on how their actions impact others.

They often devalue the accomplishments of others by praising themselves. They may be inclined to interrupt and brag about themselves. This stems from their anxiety about not being liked or highly regarded.

7. They lack empathy.

People with a superiority complex usually struggle with compassion for others. They're absorbed in their own insecurities and are too busy crafting their self-perception to try to understand others.

Their lack of empathy makes them appear cold and calculating, or as if they're too preoccupied with their own self-interests.

What To Do To Overcome A Superiority Complex

Despite all the negatives, having a superiority complex doesn't make you a horrible person. It's simply part of complicated emotional pain and feelings of inadequacy.

Unfortunately, there isn't a standard treatment for superiority complexes because it isn't considered to be an official diagnosis.

But, for some, therapy can help overcome these feelings and restore a sense of self-love. "With guidance, they can address the underlying issues, remove the mask, and learn healthier ways to cope with hidden feelings of inadequacy and mediocrity," Papayoti says.

RELATED: How To Know If An Undiagnosed Personality Disorder Is Ruining Your Relationship

Alice Kelly is YourTango’s Deputy News and Entertainment Editor. Based in Brooklyn, New York, her work covers all things social justice, pop culture, and human interest.