A superiority complex involves an exaggerated opinion of one’s own accomplishments and abilities.

The superiority complex is a part of Alfred Adler’s individual psychology theory. This theory is based on the idea that people seek a feeling of belonging and completeness throughout their lives. They consciously try to create their own lifestyles and reach their highest potential and goals in order to overcome feelings of inferiority.

Adler’s theory opposed other views, which stated that human beings operate on an unconscious level and are driven by irrational instincts.

This article further explains what a superiority complex is. It also compares a superiority complex to an inferiority complex and lists the signs that someone may be experiencing a superiority complex. Finally, it discusses some causes of a superiority complex and how to manage it.

A note about superiority complex

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR) does not list superiority complex as a diagnosable condition. However, these thoughts and behaviors can still have a real impact.

Mental health professionals can use observed behaviors and one-to-one assessments to determine whether a person is experiencing a superiority complex. They can also compare behaviors and symptoms with those of other mental health conditions to rule them out or give a proper diagnosis.

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A superiority complex means that a person has an exaggerated opinion of their abilities and accomplishments. They may behave in ways that suggest they believe they are better than other people.

However, a person with a superiority complex may actually be trying to mask, hide, or overcompensate for feelings of inferiority.

When Adler first began exploring individual psychology, he believed that a superiority complex may begin in childhood. He theorized that a person’s upbringing could lay the groundwork for feelings of inferiority. This could cause them to feel the need to overcompensate when they reached school age, thus creating a superiority complex.

While a person with a superiority complex may appear to have a boastful attitude, they are simply trying to cover up their feelings of inferiority.

While a superiority complex involves exaggerated beliefs about one’s abilities or achievements, an inferiority complex is the opposite.

A person with an inferiority complex may feel insecure and believe they are inadequate. These beliefs may be based on actual or imagined deficiencies.

An inferiority complex may contribute to behaviors ranging from withdrawal due to timidness to excessive competition and aggression due to overcompensation.

Adler believed an inferiority complex could lead to the development of a superiority complex based on a person’s defense mechanism not to appear inferior. He suggested that this may occur because whenever inferiority is present, the need for superiority then arises.

Learn more about inferiority complex.

Signs a person may have a superiority complex include:

  • boastful claims that they cannot support
  • an overly high opinion of themselves
  • vanity or extra attention to their appearance
  • high valuations of their self-worth
  • an unwillingness to listen to others
  • a self-image of authority or supremacy
  • mood swings, which may worsen as a result of contradictions from others
  • overcompensation

It is important to remember that mental health professionals are the only people who can get to the bottom of these behaviors and link them to underlying feelings of inferiority or low self-esteem. Additionally, only professionals can determine whether the behaviors have connections with other mental health conditions.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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A person’s upbringing may contribute to a superiority complex. The behaviors that occur with a superiority complex can also be signs of other mental health conditions. However, the exact cause is unknown.


Adler suggested that a person’s upbringing could lead to feelings of inferiority and, ultimately, to a superiority complex.

He believed that abuse and neglect, inadequate family guidance, and “pampering” of a child could all lead to feelings of inferiority. He also suggested that a person may experience inferiority if they have disabilities that cause their organs or other body parts not to function properly.

Adler stated that when a child who experiences inferiority due to “pampering” reaches school, they may have difficulty adjusting to the world outside of their family and household. They may hold a deep belief that others should take care of them. This may lead them to have a sense of entitlement and develop a superiority complex.

Mental health conditions

The behaviors that occur with a superiority complex can also be symptoms of mental health conditions. The condition that is most similar to a superiority complex is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

According to the DSM-5-TR, the symptoms of NPD include:

  • a grandiose sense of self-importance
  • a belief that a person is special and that only others who are also special can understand them
  • a sense of entitlement, such as unreasonable expectations of treatment
  • arrogant and haughty behavior

While NPD has other criteria, these symptoms overlap with the signs of a superiority complex.

However, there are also differences between a superiority complex and NPD. One major difference is the way the person interacts with others. A person with a superiority complex will tend to be less concerned about what others think about them. As a result, they may be dismissive.

On the other hand, some people with NPD need a constant stream of admiration and attention, and they may act in manipulative and even harmful ways to obtain that.

Learn more about NPD.

Because a superiority complex is not a diagnosable condition, there is no set treatment for it. However, psychotherapy can help a person identify feelings of inferiority that may have led to a superiority complex. Therapy can also help a person react to these feelings and to pressure in a healthier way.

A person who is in a relationship with someone with a superiority complex should encourage them to speak with a mental health professional. They should also approach conversations with the person in an empathetic and calm manner. This can help the person with a superiority complex to be more willing to listen.

Learn more about psychotherapy.

A superiority complex involves exaggerated beliefs about one’s own achievements or abilities. A person may show this by being boastful, vain, or unwilling to listen to others. A superiority complex is often a defense mechanism to mask or hide a person’s true feelings of inferiority.

A superiority complex is not a diagnosable condition. However, speaking with a mental health professional may help a person identify feelings of inferiority and learn healthy ways of dealing with them.