8 Signs Someone Has A Superiority Complex

It’s another way of saying “entitlement.”

by Kristine Fellizar
Originally Published: 
What's the meaning of superiority complex? It's essentially entitlement.
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You may not realize it, but how you see yourself can affect the way you treat other people. For instance, when someone is content with themselves and where they are in life, it's easier to be genuinely happy for others and their success. But if they're someone who's not where they'd like to be and they need to devalue other people in order to feel better about themselves, that may be a sign of a superiority complex.

"A superiority complex is really a defense mechanism to what's really going on with the person," licensed professional counselor, Nickia Lowery, tells Bustle. "When a person acts superior to another, they really feel that the other is a perceived threat. In some way they believe others will find out that they really are 'inadequate' and therefore behave in ways that make them feel like they are 'better' than the rest."

According to Lowery, this trait can start developing between the ages of five and 12. "At this stage of development a child is seeking acceptance and validation," Lowery says. "If this isn't navigated successfully, the person will then develop a sense of inferiority."

In other words, what they really have is an inferiority complex. Instead of choosing to fade into the background, people with superiority complexes may need to overcompensate for what they lack. Many times, they'll do this by engaging in behaviors that are hurtful to other people. "Emotionally and mentally healthy people do not engage in activities that hurt others, period," Lowery says. "So someone who acts in this manner is really in pain emotionally."

Here are some things that can mean someone may have a superiority complex, according to experts.


They Constantly Seeking Validation

When someone has a superiority complex, their sense of self-worth will come from external sources. They only feel good enough or worthy enough if others see them that way. As As Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University, tells Bustle, “They exaggerate their accomplishments and opinions because they cannot convince themselves that they are worthy and have accomplished enough in their lives.” Unfortunately, one validating comment won't be able to sustain them for long. So they're never really happy with themselves for too long.


It's Hard For Them To Own Up To Their Mistakes

People who act as if they’re superior to others have trouble, or flat out refuse, to take responsibility for their poor behavior. According to Hafeez, they tend to believe that they’re always right, and are unwilling to consider any opposing opinions from others. They may even throw a fit when someone contradicts them. When you're not at peace with who you truly are, the tendency is to hide behind a "perfect" version of yourself that you think others will like. And owning up to your mistakes means recognizing that you're not perfect.


They Compare Themselves To Others A Lot

It’s human nature to compare ourselves with other people. But people with a superiority complex do it constantly because their sense of self-worth is based off how they perceive others are doing. According to Hafeez, “These individuals show condescending traits but often act this way to hide their true feelings of insecurity and inferiority.”

When others make them feel as if they’re lacking in some way, they’re more likely to put up on a front and act as if they’re above everyone else.


They're Prone To Mood Swings

When someone has a superiority complex, you can’t always anticipate how they’ll act. To one person, they may be totally fine and easy to get along with, and to another, they may display poor behavior. According to psychotherapist Kimberly Perlin, LCSW-C, “A superiority complex is often used to describe someone that engages in a constant game of one-up-manship. Their interactions revolve around trying to prove to others that they are superior.” Because of this, they may be prone to mood swings. If they come across someone they feel threatened by, they might go from feeling entirely inferior to convincing themselves that they're superior. Because of that, you can't always anticipate how they're going to behave.


They Have A Tendency To Make Things All About Them

When someone has a superiority complex, they can sometimes come off as self-centered. According to Lowery, some might challenge the beliefs and ideas of others in a way that communicates they have all the "right" answers. They may even devalue the accomplishments of others by one-upping them with their own accomplishments. For example, if a co-worker did a great job during a presentation, the person with the superiority complex might say something along the lines of, "That was good, but I noticed people were more engaged during mine."


They Have A Sense Of Entitlement

"A superiority complex can be another way of saying 'entitlement,'" Dr. Cali Estes, Ph.D, founder of The Addictions Academy, tells Bustle. "This type of individual believes that others are beneath them." Many times, this type of thinking stems from being given everything as a child. According to Dr. Estes, they learned early on that they can treat any individual the way they want, and get what they want.


They Like Things To Be Under Their Control

If you're around someone who has a superiority complex and you don't act the way they expect, they might get mean. That's because they like being right, and they like the feeling of being in control. When someone doesn’t act in a way they want, they may become aggravated. According to Perlin, they may get into conflicts with co-workers over small slights, and there’s a good chance that they’re not an effective team player. People with superiority complexes also tend to shoot for leadership positions at work as it helps to validate them.


They Get Offended If They Don’t Get Positive Feedback

As you can guess, people with a superiority complex don’t take too well to criticism. In fact, they don’t want to hear anything but positive feedback. According to Perlin, they may even feel criticized if you’re giving them neutral feedback. “Often individuals with a superiority complex did not get validation from their parents as having value as a person, rather they were only given attention when were better than others or the best,” Perlin says. They’re now unconsciously re-enacting their dynamic with their parents as an adult.

Having a superiority complex doesn't always make someone a bad person. Like Lowery says, it's usually a result of emotional pain. For some, therapy can help them work through their feelings of inferiority so they don't have to act out in ways that hurt themselves and others. It's possible to overcome these feelings. They just need to be willing to self-reflect and make positive internal changes.


Nickia Lowery, licensed professional counselor

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University

Dr. Cali Estes, Ph.D, founder of The Addictions Academy

Kimberly Perlin, a licensed clinical social worker

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