Superiority Complex - Meaning, Effects and Example

Superiority Complex - Meaning, Effects and Example

I once had a boss, who was so arrogant and brimming with superiority that he just would not allow anyone to contradict him, say anything in opposition or even make suggestions. As far as he was concerned, whatever he said and thought was the ultimate and nobody could challenge it. He camouflaged his ignorance and shortcomings by simply not allowing anyone to speak.

What is Superiority Complex ?

Superiority complex applies to anyone who has an exaggerated sense of their own importance, a feeling that they are much above the rest of their peers. It may stem from arrogance or ideas of infallibility in their own abilities and powers. It may or may not be justified. For example, a student who consistently comes at the top of the class may after a time, might develop a feeling of superiority. By the same token, a stocks trader who has consistently been making the correct calls for a certain length of time, may feel superior to other traders.

Effects of a Superiority Complex

People with superiority complex become narcissistic after a while because they start to admire themselves (narcissism is about falling in love with your own image, because you think it is so good).

Being narcissistic and having feelings of superiority are common – we can hardly go through life hating ourselves or thinking that we are abject failures. I mean, if we thought that, then it is time to seek help. People with feelings of inferiority, or who may feel like total failures are more likely to seek help from experts as  compared to people who feel superior to everyone. The general consensus is – if you feel you are superior, then good for you. A superiority complex is infinitely preferable to an inferiority complex because the former spells success and the latter failure – and in the broader scheme of things, who wants to be a failure? A person with feelings of superiority is less likely to seek expert help to deal with it, because it is not seen as a problem.

As I said, narcissism exists in all of us to a certain degree. That’s what keeps us going. We know that there are certain areas where we excel, where we are better than the rest and we get a conscious feeling of superiority. It is necessary to feel superior at certain times, especially when there is something at stake such as acing an exam, winning a game because your mind then overcomes your doubts. Imposing your mental will over your physical self requires a certain degree of self-confidence that can border on superiority. When these feelings start to overwhelm you, when they start to take precedence to the extent that you look down on everyone else as incompetent – that is the time when this excessive admiration of yourself starts to become a problem.

Superiority Complex Example

Let us take another example. Everyone knows that Roger Federer is a good tennis player. Federer himself knows that he is a good tennis player, he knows that his tennis is way above a lot of other players and he is confident of beating many of them on a good day. However, if his superior feelings were to swamp him to the extent that he is unwilling to admit to improving his game, he is unwilling to admit that anyone can defeat him, then that would start his downfall. When you stop learning things, when you stop engaging with others because you think they are not fit to associate with you or you are too good (in terms of your aptitudes), then that is the zone where a superiority complex will work against you.  

Austrian philosopher and psychiatrist Alfred Adler expounded on an interesting theory in his School of Individual Psychology, where he said that a superiority complex was an outcome of an inferiority complex, because the person was masking feelings of inadequacy by adopting a superiority complex. They delude others and themselves into thinking and projecting a view that they are better than what they are. They have a need to exaggerate their attributes into something bigger and eventually they start to believe in their own delusions. Megalomaniacs fall into this category.

Those with a superiority feeling often tend to adopt an aggressive stance when interacting with others. For them, every engagement is a win-lose situation, with them on the winning side. When dealing with such people, it is essential to guide their thoughts towards a win-win situation. By adopting a low-key approach, where there are no winners or losers, it is possible to neutralise their aggressive posturing.

As we go through life, we are sure to meet people who have feelings of grandeur. We need to recognise that this is a disorder (which has its roots elsewhere), and accordingly orient ourselves to help them.

Janaki Krishnan (Author)

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