A superiority complex is a defense mechanism that develops over time to help a person cope with feelings of inferiority.[1][2] The term was coined by Alfred Adler (1870–1937) in the early 1900s, as part of his school of individual psychology.

Individuals with a superiority complex typically come across as supercilious, haughty, and disdainful toward others. They may treat others in an imperious, overbearing, and even aggressive manner.[3][4]

In everyday usage, the term is often used to refer to an overly high opinion of oneself.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was the first to use the term superiority complex. He claimed that a superiority complex essentially came from the need to overcome underlying feelings of inferiority: an inferiority complex.[5] Throughout his works Adler intertwines the occurrence of an inferiority complex and a superiority complex as cause and effect.[6] Among his writings touching on the topic were Understanding Human Nature (1927),[7] and Superiority and Social Interest: A Collection of Later Writings, a collection of twenty-one papers written by Adler and published posthumously in 1964.[8]

Adler distinguished a normal striving to achieve from superiority complexes,[9] the latter being attempts in order to overcompensate a feeling of inferiority.[5] He states that those with an inferiority complex develop a superiority complex to overcome the difficulties presented by the former, primarily by inflating their sense of self-importance in some way.[9] Dreams of heroism, and a false assumption of success,[10] revealed for Adler the reactive nature of such strivings.[6]

While Adler considered what he refers to in his writing as striving for superiority was a universal of human nature,[5] he thought sound-minded individuals do not strive for personal superiority over others, rather for personal ambition and success through work. By contrast, those with an actual superiority complex were riddled with conceited fantasies, and with dreams of immutable supremacy.[11]

Other interpretations

(Visitor Note) Ada Kahn's descriptive interpretations of individuals based on observations and reasoning sound more accurate. Hoorens interpretation sounds like more from a stance (perspective) of an inferiority complex - judgement rather than descriptive.

Cultural examples

See also


  1. ^ Adler, Alfred (1917). The Neurotic Constitution: Outlines of a Comparative Individualistic Psychology and Psychotherapy. Translated by Bernard Glueck and John E. Lind. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co. p. xvii. ... so the traits of character, especially the neurotic ones, serve as a psychic means and form of expression for the purpose of entering into an account with life, for the purpose of assuming an attitude, of gaining a fixed point in the vicissitudes of life, for the purpose of reaching that security-giving goal, the feeling of superiority.
  2. ^ "superiority complex". American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  3. ^ Adler 1917, p. 327 "Usually one sees deviations and circuitous paths in following which the sadistic trait seems wholly or in part lost. In this way the neurotic succeeds in gaining superiority over the weak, or he operates on this new line so skillfully as to manage to set up an aggression which enables him to dominate and torture others.".
  4. ^ "superiority complex". Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions and Nursing. Retrieved 5 October 2020. ...a constellation of behaviors–eg, aggressiveness, assertiveness, self-aggrandization, etc, which may represent overcompensation for a deep-rooted sense of inadequacy.
  5. ^ a b c Adler, Alfred (30 December 1964). The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler: a Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings (1st ed.). New York: Basic Books. ISBN 9780061311543. OCLC 5692434.
  6. ^ a b Mosak, Harold; Maniacci, Michael (2013). Primer of Adlerian Psychology: The Analytic - Behavioural - Cognitive Psychology of Alfred Adler. Milton Park: Taylor & Francis Group. p. 83. doi:10.4324/9780203768518. ISBN 9780203768518.
  7. ^ Adler, Alfred (1927). "Understanding human nature". Translated by Walter Biran Wolfe. New York: Greenberg, Publisher, Inc. Retrieved 28 February 2023 – via Internet Archive (archive.org).
  8. ^ Toal, Robert A. (February 1966). "Review of Alfred Adler—Superiority and social interest: A collection of later writings [abstract]". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 3 (1): 43–44. doi:10.1037/h0087963. eISSN 1939-1536. ISSN 0033-3204. Retrieved 7 November 2019 – via PsycNET (psycnet.apa.org).
  9. ^ a b Scharf, Richard S. (2011). Theories of Psychotherapy and Counselling: Concepts and Cases. Boston: Cengage Learning. p. 130. ISBN 9780357671047.
  10. ^ Adler, Alfred (2002). Stein, Henry T. (ed.). Collected Clinical Works of Alfred Adler. Translated by Cees Koen and Gerald Liebenau. Bellingham, Washington: Alfred Adler Institute. p. 78.
  11. ^ Gregory, Richard, ed. (1987). The Oxford Companion to the Mind (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 368, 6. ISBN 9780198661245 – via Internet Archive (archive.org).
  12. ^ Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-IV (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. 1994. ISBN 0890420610. OCLC 29953039.
  13. ^ Kahn, Ada P. (2000). Facing fears : the sourcebook for phobias, fears, and anxieties. Doctor, Ronald M. (Ronald Manual). New York: Checkmark Books. ISBN 0816039925. OCLC 42603180.
  14. ^ a b Hoorens, Vera (December 1995). "Self-Favoring Biases, Self-Presentation, and the Self-Other Asymmetry in Social Comparison". Journal of Personality. 63 (4): 793–817. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1995.tb00317.x. ISSN 0022-3506.
  15. ^ Richardson, J. (1992). A Life of Picasso, Vol. I: The Early Years, 1881-1906. London: Pimlico. pp. 48–49. ISBN 9780394531922.
  16. ^ Quoted in Richardson, J. (1996). A Life of Picasso, Vol. II: The Cubist Rebel: 1907-1916. London: Pimlico. p. 189. ISBN 9780375711503.
  17. ^ Graf, Max (1947). From Beethoven to Shostakovich: The psychology of the composing process. New York: Philosophical Library.
  18. ^ Quoted in Solomon, Maynard (1988). Beethoven Essays. Harvard University Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780674063778.