Inferiority Superiority Complex
Cause I feel like I'm the worst
So I always act like I'm the bestSometimes, it turns out a character who seems to think the world of themselves actually doesn't; their high-and-mighty attitude hides crippling insecurity. They're often eager, even desperate, to prove themselves, and they won't take it well if their attempt fails. Commonly they'll try to feel more secure by putting others down. If they go through a Break the Haughty situation, expect it to have shades of Break the Cutie, as this character is almost always a Jerkass Woobie. May be a trait of the Broken Ace or show up in deconstructions of the Alpha Bitch, Jerk Jock, Bratty Half-Pint, Smug Snake or Small Name, Big Ego. Compare Sad Clown, someone who masks their insecurities with humor rather than arrogance. Truth in Television. A subtrope to the sin of Pride. Compare Compensating for Something, Boisterous Weakling, and Sour Outside, Sad Inside.
—Marina & the Diamonds, "Oh No!"
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Louise of The Familiar of Zero is a Jerk Ass noble that believes she's superior to her Love Interest (who she refers to as a "dog"), but deep inside she has very low self esteem due to bullying and taunts about her breasts.
- Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion is practically the poster child for this trope. Outwardly she comes across like haughty, arrogant, prideful, and annoying. In reality that is a false person that she dons to cover up her debilitating lack of self-esteem and gut-wrenching fear of being replaced and/or abandoned, product of childhood trauma.
- Many other characters have mental problems, and some of them fit this trope to a T, notably Gendo. It is implied that his isolation has come about because he believed that no one but Yui could ever love him.
- Tetsuya Tsurugi from Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger, who was created twenty years before, was EXACTLY like Asuka, word for word. He was a Hot-Blooded Ace Pilot was so arrogant anyone questioned his skills had a trouble with him. Sometimes he seemed more concerned with showing off than with protecting humanity when he fought the enemy, and he could not stand someone showed him up. That same arrogance also made him bickering with Jun, and Tetsuya Would Hit a Girl even though Jun is both his Love Interest, his Battle Couple, and adoptive sister. However he had a massive complex of inferiority and lacked of a sense of self-worth. He was so arrogant because he was permanently afraid of someone replacing him and taking his reason to existing away, and his self-steem issues were so big he thought his adoptive sister would dump him for someone she barely knew.
- Sasuke Uchiha from Naruto. It's pretty clear that Sasuke's need to defeat Itachi was driven almost as much by his need to finally prove himself better than his brother as for revenge. Being born the Always Second Best to a genius older brother and the "Well Done, Son!" Guy of a distant father were bad enough. Then, said brother killed his entire family and told him to hate and grow strong to be worthy to face him. Then Itachi showed up again years later, looking for Sasuke's dead last teammate, and dismissed Sasuke's growth. It didn't help that Naruto was finally growing strong enough to challenge and maybe surpass Sasuke, the top student of their class. All this was a recipe for a tragic Face-Heel Turn. Made more ironic when you realize how Itachi played that complex, why he did so, and how it all went wrong.
- He also shows some behavior of this type towards Naruto himself, though much of this ties in to his issues with Itachi. To Sasuke's mind, if Naruto can advance faster than him/become his equal, then he isn't advancing fast enough himself, and has no chance of catching up with Itachi.
- Naruto has this trope too. In the beginning, his bratty, braggart attitude and dreams to be Hokage were driven by a need for acceptance and to prove his worth to a village that shuns him. His rivalry with Sasuke was fueled by his need to prove himself equal to the haughty top student who he wanted to befriend. The clash between their complexes was a major driving force in their two fights near the end of Part I.
- Madara Uchiha's complex towards the 1st Hokage is probably the most extreme example in the series. In a flashback, even mentioning his name was enough to tick Madara off. In fact, much of the conflict in the current story can ultimately be traced back to Madara's inability to accept being Always Second Best to him and his reaction to this.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, this is pretty much the reason the homunculi sadistically torment humans. This is most explicitly brought up in the case of Envy.
- To different extents, both Kaiba and Yami Yugi from Yu-Gi-Oh!. In the former's case, he was an orphan whose only pride was chess and forced the mogul of a big company to adopt him in a chess game. He subsequently takes over the company by force and is obsessed with being number 1. When Yami Yugi beats him in a duel, he becomes obsessed with revenge and coming out on top. In both lives he seems to have an inferiority complex regarding Yami, and will only acknowledge him as a rival. While consistently looking down on others, he has a chip on his shoulder in both lifetimes. The latter's case happens in the manga up until Duelist Kingdom—he is confident in his abilities in games to the point of pride and aggression getting the better of him. This seems to be because he doesn't know who he is, and assumes that he is merely some other form of Yugi intended to protect him. When he's confronted with the fear of actually having to face losing and not being able to protect Yugi's loved ones, he retreats further into his assumed gaming prowess, underestimating Mai to focus on Pegasus. He grows out of this by admitting his fear, acknowledging the possibility of losing and his pride effectively stops hampering when he learns he was human, not just a spirit creatd by the Puzzle.
- Tieria Erde from Gundam 00 starts out as a cold, high-and-mighty Jerk Ass, but when he makes the kind of mistake he calls his fellow Meisters out on, his disappointment in himself is such that he bursts into tears. And as soon as the supercomputer he's so faithful to ditches him altogether, it's revealed that he's too insecure to do anything on his own without it.
- In a way, Haruhi Suzumiya. When she was a little girl, she thought of herself as special until her parents took her to a sporting event and she saw a stadium full of people. She realized then just how many people were alive in the world, and how utterly unremarkable she really was. It's downplayed (in fact, no one may even know it but Kyon), but her forceful and loud personality and attempts to have adventures are a conscious effort to make herself unique. From the other side of things, she's the only one who doesn't know that she is truly is unique (and might possibly be God).
- InuYasha: Sesshomaru's animosity towards Inuyasha was hiding a crippling fear that his late father viewed him as the less favored son. He successfully hid these fears from everyone, including himself, by insulting Inuyasha's Half-Human Hybrid heritage while touting his own Blue Blood lineage. Inevitably, it comes out into the open in the worst possible way leading Sesshoumaru to the conclusion that his father had been grooming Inuyasha to kill him. He eventually realizes that his father actually had faith in his ability to become a Big Brother Mentor and settles for being an Aloof Big Brother who turns up by accident whenever Inuyasha's group needs help.
- Ayaka Machida from Stellvia of the Universe has a psychological need to be The Ace and will go to criminal lengths to ensure that. In the entire show, she is pretty much the only character who would willingly hurt another, as she does to Yayoi and Shima (almost), who were both better than her in piloting. When she fails to eliminate Shima and the truth comes out, she is pretty much crushed. Ironically, she is redeemed by Yayoi herself, who loves her too much to not forgive her. This helps Ayaka to acknowledge that there are pilots better than her and to simply enjoy flying with them (particularly Yayoi) instead of competing.
- To an extent, Miura of Bakuman。. He often seems unshakably confident in his opinions about the direction Mashiro and Takagi should go, especially his belief that gag manga are more likely to maintain their rank than serious manga, but in his thoughts and around his fellow editors, he's less certain of himself, blaming himself for Detective Trap getting canceled and believing that he has to get a hit out to keep his job.
- The biggest example of the series is Aiko Iwase, who thinks she is better than anyone else and trashes manga in comparison to literature. When she meets her rival Takagi, who isn't a professional mangaka at the time, but he does not give a fuck about her already being an infamous author, she's quite shocked to learn that the Weekly Shonen Jump sells multiple times more than her books do, so she starts becoming a mangaka to surpass Takagi. At first, her manga becomes very popular, since her partner is the young genius Nizuma, but when the quality of her story goes down, she is stuck in a crisis, until fellow mangakas motivate her to continue her manga again; since this point, Iwase mellows out of her icy ego.
- Ken Ichijouji during his stint as the Digimon Kaiser/Emperor. While he claimed to be the "only perfect human being", and frequently called other people derogatory epithets like "maggots" and "insects", he was actually crippled by a sense of worthlessness and guilt. The "superiority" part falls away completely once he pulls his Heel-Face Turn.
- In Daily Lives of High School Boys, Girls-only Sanada East's Student Council President Ringo-chan only started to have an extremely large ego as she noticed how the boys-only Sanada North has a far more better run student council. She's only to avenge it by fist.
- Light from Death Note seems to be living his life under the assumption that he has to be perfect. Perfect student, perfect son...and then he kills two people by accident just to satisfy his curiosity and his boredom. That ruins everything. It makes him a murderer, evil. The only way to become "perfect" again is to become Justice, to become God. In his own words, "If Kira is caught, then Kira is evil. If he wins and rules the world, Kira is justice." He gets caught. As per the trope, at times he comes off as desperate to prove himself—especially in his interactions with L, where he seems to get overly-excited even when he gets simple answers right. And "feeling better about themselves by putting others down"...does the whole world count?
- Mello is a more typical example of the trope—though Light does count. Ranked second best at a school for genii, Mello is motivated by his raging inferiority complex which drives him to do whatever it takes to prove he's number one and beat Kira and Near. He grows up from being the slighted school bully into becoming a terrorist mafia lord.
- Iris from Pokémon used to taunt Ash about his battle skills and always calling him a kid. But one episode reveals WHY she keeps doing it: she couldn't battle well when her Excadrill starts ignoring her. When this is solved, Iris becomes more friendlier to Ash...though she STILL keeps calling him a kid from time to time!
- Prussia, America and England of Axis Powers Hetalia all have shades of this.
- A few characters from Revolutionary Girl Utena have distinct shades of this:
- Kyouichi Saionji is a massive jerkass who acts arrogant during duels and with regards to Anthy (whom he regularly batters) but is also hinted to have issues with self-loathing and has a huge inferiority complex with regards to his childhood frenemy Touga, which drives him to assert himself in horrible ways.
- Nanami Kiryuu is the Rich Alpha Bitch of Ohtori's middle school, but when her beloved big brother (the aforementioned Touga, who just about all her feelings of superiority hinge on) starts screwing her over later in the series, it turns out that she has very little in the way of intrinsic feelings of self-worth. The fact that she drowned Touga's kitten as a small child doesn't help, fuelling both her extreme clinginess towards her brother (partly out of penance) and her hatred of herself.
- Shutaro Mendo from Urusei Yatsura, though it's not so much his pride hiding insecurity as his pride being so central to his character that he tends to collapse when it's topped. Like when Rei showed up and was judged better looking, he immeditatly began ranting about how money was all that mattered, and how he keeps rolling into the fetal position every time Ryunuske reveals that she's getting more love letters than him.
- Usopp from One Piece alternates from bragging about his skills and being cowardly or being deeply insecure about his skills. He worries constantly about being left behind and that the Straw Hats don't want or need him. Fortunately, through events and building up his confidence, he realized that yes, the Straw Hats want him because they are True Companions and he becomes more courageous and self-confident.
- Takeshi's younger brother Gekkou from Mahou Sensou towards Takeshi. Gekkou's hatred of his brother is fueled by a belief that he's inferior to him thus his desire to take everything from Takeshi (Kurumi, Twilight, personal pride) to make himself feel better.
- Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z has this problem for most of the series. Although he boasts about being the strongest and the prince of his race, he's come across as having an inferiority complex given his constant need to prove himself and his inability to take trash talk. Not helped by Goku always being one step ahead of him, despite all the training he does and Goku being a low class warrior. His insecurities reached a head in the Buu Sage where Vegeta sold his morality and family for power just so he could finally beat Goku and regained his status of being the best. It wasn't until near the end of the series that he finally made peace with being second best and takes real pride in what he has.
- Chang Ho from The Breaker, at first, appears to just be a random bully who really doesn't have a reason to harass the protagonist Shi Woon, going so far as to nearly make Shi Woon Driven to Suicide. However, near the end of The Breaker, and early in the sequel, The Breaker New Waves, the reason becomes clear. Chang Ho is an abject failure in everything. Beating up Shi Woon, and getting away with it was the only thing he was good at. Once Shi Woon is strong and skilled enough to defend himself Chang Ho completely loses it, and becomes downright desperate to beat Shi Woon, and anyone close to him. He goes after Sae He, trying to gang rape her. When that fails, thanks to Shi Woon's reckless Big Damn Heroes, and he ultimately gets his ass handed to him, he joins "Soldiers Under Command" and happily swallows their lies about him being "the True disciple" of 9AD, along with a bunch of experimental drugs, like the Illwundon, and was actually willing to die, rather than admit that Shi Woon is actually a better fighter, never mind a better person in every way. It doesn't excuse his behavior by any means, but it does explain it to some extent.
- Titania, of She-Hulk's Rogues Gallery. The short and scrawny Mary MacPherran was the butt of the wealthy, popular crowd's cruel jokes and was nicknamed "Skeeter" (as in "mosquito") for her troubles. Resenting her lot in life, she dreamed of gaining superpowers to enact revenge upon her tormentors and be admired. After lying about being Spider-Woman backfired, Mary got her wish by hastily agreeing to be experimented on by Doctor Doom, becoming a tall, buff, mighty, and brutish Smug Super. Spider-Man was the first to beat Titania (in Secret Wars), but she's maniacally obsessed with her second loss (to Shulkie) because She-Hulk always seems to be one step ahead of her; this reminds Titania of being Skeeter, and she hates feeling weak (this also tends to lead to a lot of Foe Yay between the two, but that's a story for another time).
- Loki. Sometimes he's a haughty sorcerer who thinks Asgard and Mjolnir rightfully belong to him...and sometimes he's The Unfavorite brother of The Mighty Thor who can never be an adequate Jotunn or Æsir.
- This has been suggested about Doctor Doom. Mark Waid wondered if his need to be a ruler who's feared and revered is just trying to forget that as a boy he was penniless and miserable. And that his bitterness and hatred toward Reed Richards comes from the fact that he knows, deep down, that the machine that exploded and burned his face really was due to his own miscalculation and he's just bitter Reed spotted the flaw that he missed (and also that he was too stubborn to listen to his advice).
- The Riddler. Insufferable Genius extraordinaire, yet so deeply willing to prove his smarts to the world. It bites him in the ass pretty much every single time.
- It's noted that Striker from Avengers Academy tries really hard to look like he's not trying at all. His overbearing, glory seeking mother is part of the problem.
- Originally, the whole point of Paperinik (Donald Duck's superhero/antihero alter ego): in that story, and generally most Italian stories of the time, he was being constantly put down by Scrooge and Gladstone, so when he stumbled on the journal and equipment of Fantomius, the Gentleman Thief, he used it to steal the money-filled bed Scrooge was sleeping on and humiliate Gladstone. While he started becoming a more heroic character even in the earliest stories, the trait never fully disappeared, leading to such things as feigning an Easy Amnesia and literally steal away half the city just to track down a crime boss that he couldn't find (early in the story he was so furious at his inability to find them that he was about to beat up an already captured minion when the police stopped him).
- This seems to be a recurring theme in Paperinik's stories: Paperinika, Paperinik's Distaff Counterpart, was born of Daisy being unable to take being put down for being female when she's just as smart if not more than Donald. At the same time, Italian authors (at least the ones who remember she exists) depict her rivalry with Paperinik as being caused by him being the only one she cannot consistently one-up and Paperinik feeling the same toward her.
- A Crown Of Stars: Asuka uses a façade of arrogance to hide a bunch of deep-seated insecurities, neuroses and fears, an unhealthy deal of self-loathing and an utter lack of self-esteem. Although she constantly calls herself the Great Asuka Langley Sohryu in reality she thinks she is worthless and horrible.
- Advice And Trust: In the first chapter Shinji realizes Asuka's pride is nothing but a front and she is a lonely, hurt child, just like him.
- Evangelion 303: Initially, Asuka comes across like a very arrogant Ace Pilot than even refused calling someone her "peer." But in reality, her self-confidence is very fragile, and when everything begins to fall apart, she is prone to collapse and seeing herself like a failure.
- HERZ: All of Asuka’s bluster, bravado and arrogance were a mask to hide her feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Shinji is one of the few people can see what is underneath, and he often has to reassure her he does not think she is ugly and he would never leave her.
- In the Danny Phantom fanfiction Harmless, Jazz believes that this might be the reason for the Box Ghost's behavior.
- Once More with Feeling: Shinji did not care -too much- for Asuka's gloating because he knew that piloting Eva was all she thought she had. He knew that her pride was the only thing holding her together and he did not want to see her to fall apart again.
- The One I Love Is: Shinji used to envy Asuka's boastful arrogance and confidence... and then he saw her berating herself several times and losing her will to live after her Mind Rape and he realized her confidence was false and she was a very insecure, vulnerable person.
- The Second Try: During their wedding Shinji explains that he fell for Asuka, among other reasons, because he realized her arrogance was a façade to hide a vulnerable, terrified and lonely girl whom he wanted to help and protect.
- Thousand Shinji: Shinji was a Psyker. When he met Asuka he sensed right away that she exuded pride, confidence, passion and rage but inwardly she was full of sadness, fright and pain. Later he told her that he knew she had tried to become stronger but he could tell she was more vulnerable and fragile than she looked.
- In A Charmed Life, Light builds himself up as "God of the New World" because deep inside he feels incredibly insecure.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Lemony Narrator is extremely arrogant and often talks down to the reader, but in a later chapter reveals her deep seated issues of self-worth, and her longing to prove that she's somebody.
- Kung Fu Panda: Tai Lung was raised to believe he would be made the Dragon Warrior (his given name's meaning in Mandarinnote makes it clear Shifu believed this as soon as he discovered what a Child Prodigy he was, and the director's commentary stated Shifu believed he would be the Dragon Warrior—Stage Mom, much?). He became arrogant, prideful, and convinced of his own heroism and perfection...but since "all I ever did, I did to make you proud!" it seems obvious that Tai Lung believed he needed the validation of the scroll to make himself have any worth, let alone to earn Shifu's love and pride. (The Reality Subtext of how orphans were treated in ancient China, and how important it was to know one's ancestry, should be kept in mind here.) This is made clearest of all when Po explains the meaning of the Dragon Scroll to him—not only is he unable to accept that the only real power comes from within (because he thinks he has no worth and thus needs outward validation), but when he first stares into the scroll to see only his reflection, he declares, "It's nothing!"
- Megamind. A hammy villain who prides himself on presentation, but only became that way because he couldn't fit in at school. The mini sequel has him first trying to be a hero Metroman's way instead of his own.
- Joaquin from The Book of Life, heavily implied by his reaction whenever someone messes with his Medal of Eternal Life. Confirmed from a statement in The Art of the Book of Life: "Joaquin is obsessed with his mustache, which is a mask that hides his insecurities."
- Loki edges in to this towards the end of Thor and has fully embraced it by The Avengers. The discovery that he's actually a Frost Giant drives him to prove he's a son worthy of Odin...by committing genocide against the other Frost Giants. He spends The Avengers demanding that everyone on Earth bow before him, but looks completely shocked when people actually do.
Tom Hiddleston: The villains of human history, you know, all the people in the history of time who've tried to subjugate people, to get everyone else to bow down and kneel at their feet; if you do any kind of amateur psychology on these guys, or not even amateur, you know, books and books and books that have been written on the fact that at rock bottom, they hate themselves. They don't have any self-worth, they don't have any self-approval, so the only way they can get power or status is to get everybody else to physically be beneath them.
- In Judy Blume's Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, Sheila Tubman has an inferiority complex about her various fears and the fact that she cannot do certain things (such as swimming and working a yo-yo) that other kids her age can do. It causes her to act boastful, which makes even her friends feel uncomfortable around her—and she even acts mean to her neighbor and classmate, Peter Hatcher (the protagonist of Judy Blume's other Fudge books).
- Hermione's know-it-all attitude in the Harry Potter books. In J. K. Rowling's own words, "underneath Hermione's swottiness there is a lot of insecurity and a great fear of failure". Hermione's fear of failure is so great that her boggart when she was a student was Professor McGonagall telling her she failed all of her classes.
- According to Rowling herself, the person she based Gilderoy Lockhart on may have had this (she's not sure because she "never dug that deep"), so it's possible it could be an explanation for Lockhart's behavior as well. For his part, Kenneth Branagh (who played Lockhart) rejects this theory: "I wish I could tell you that it's because he's very insecure. In fact, he's not. He's just a narcissist."
- Pick any younger-generation Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. Blame it on growing up with that father—it might just be that the only thing worse for you than being the kid who was born a disappointment was being one of the kids who was born full of enormous potential that he will never see you as living up to no matter what you do.
- What the Lannister kids can do, Theon Greyjoy can do, too — and for much the same Daddy Issues-based reason. But, he's also much, much smugger and with rather less reason for the superiority bit: the Greyjoy name doesn't hold as much weight.
- But, if you want the most inferiority-driven superiority for the least amount of ability and oodles of posturing Small Name, Big Ego to go with...pick a Frey. Almost any Frey will do.
- Ramsay Bolton will always hate having been merely born a Snow. Killing his half-brother was probably one way to try proving to Daddy how Bolton he could be. As well as overdoing it a bit with the family hobbies.
- Discussed in the first book of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. Two characters are discussing Wienis, the Prince Regent of a planet that's troubling the fledgling Foundation. One voices the opinion that Wienis' warmongering and bombastics could be an inferiority complex in disguise, as that often happens among younger members of royalty.
- Jane Rizzoli of the Rizzoli & Isles books apparently suffers from this. In the first two books in particular, it's implied that a lot of her tough and abrasive behavior stems from insecurity after years of being The Unfavorite in her family (thanks to being the only daughter), on the workforce, where she's the only female detective—even though the very reason she even became a cop was because she felt it was someway that she would finally earn respect. She's also insecure over her plain and average looks, resulting in her striving to excel at everything else in order to compensate.
- Sherlock Holmes has this in spades; and the second season is pretty much all Break the Haughty where he's concerned. While the other characters don't see him as a Jerkass Woobie in-universe (he's more a case of Intelligence Equals Isolation), he can be seen as this from the audience's perspective.
- The Twilight Zone episode "A Piano in the House". A cruel, arrogant bully buys a player piano that causes listeners to reveal their true personalities. When it works on him, he admits that he's actually frightened, immature, and jealous of the people around him.
- Jay from The Inbetweeners.
- Detective Charlie Crews thinks this about the universe.
Charlie: It was the universe that makes fun of us all.
Reese: Why exactly would the universe make fun of us all?
Charlie Maybe it's insecure.
- A variation: As noted in a DVD commentary, Buffy has a superiority complex in that she's the Slayer and believes herself better than those she protects (pretty much everyone), but this makes her feel bad so she has an inferiority complex about having the superiority complex. This was also pointed out in-universe by a vampire psychology student who opted to put Buffy on the couch while she was trying to kill him. It actually worked for a while.
- Rachel from Glee, despite always protesting that she is the best singer in the club. The biggest example comes to mind at the start of season 2, where an eager singer, who was just as if not more talented than Rachel, wanted to join the Glee Club. Rachel responded by sending her to a crack house.
- Gregory House has said a few times that he doesn't deserve to live or be happy and that the only thing he has going for him is his mind.
- Jenna on 30 Rock. She acts the Small Name, Big Ego, but it's made clear that she's really afraid of becoming a White-Dwarf Starlet. This is Played for Laughs as she acts insanely paranoid about anyone upstaging her.
Liz: Jack is hiring a new cast member.
Jenna: IF IT IS A BLONDE WOMAN, I WILL KILL MYSELF!
Tracey: IF IT'S A BLONDE WOMAN, I WILL KILL MYSELF!
- Tracey apparently has a similar problem. Look at his reaction to the same news.
- The Wire has Jimmy McNulty, an arrogant, Too Clever by Half detective who believes deep down that his profession is the only thing that keeps him from being worthless.
- Doctor Who:
'Inferiority complex?' The Doctor fixed her with a probing stare. 'What could I possibly have to feel inferior about? Me? K9, have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?''Affirmative, master,' replied K9. 'You have frequently made statements with greater nonsensical content.''And when I want your opinion I'll ask for it.' The Doctor glared at the robot dog.
- The loud, proud Boisterous Bruiser Donna Noble of Doctor Who seems to have a touch of this: she's been described by the Doctor as "shouting at the world 'cause no one's listening."
- The Tenth Doctor himself had a bad case of this. Both during Nine and Eleven's runs, and quite a few scenes during Ten's run, have shown the massive guilt and self-loathing he feels about the destruction of the Time Lords, not all of it unwarranted, which seems at odds with his general demeanor of being cocky and almost arrogant, a trait that was exaggerated more and more later in his run, culminating in the Time Lord Victorious speech in "The Waters of Mars". This seems like the best explanation.
- This comes to dominate the First Doctor's character towards the very end of his run. He starts out as unironically arrogant and in love with his own genius, and mellows out a bit. But as more of his assumptions about the way he does things are proven wrong and his favorite companions (Ian and Barbara) make him return them to their own time, his arrogance becomes a cover for his deep-seated uncertainty (not even knowing how to fly his TARDIS, and even if he could, he could never go back to his home planet) and loneliness. This is Played for Drama in "The Massacre", and even Played for Laughs in "The Time Meddler", where his demeanour towards the Monk becomes noticeably more haughty as soon as he realizes that the Monk has a much nicer TARDIS than he does.
- In the Fourth Doctor book Festival of Death, Romana accuses the Doctor of having this problem at the root of his constant self-aggrandizing academic underachievement and conviction that School Is For Losers:
- Few incarnations react with anything other than horror and misery upon seeing their new face for the first time, but soon begin to brag about how handsome it is. For example, the Third Doctor sees himself in the mirror at the start of "Spearhead from Space", is mortified, but soon declares it's not all bad and spends the rest of his run acting convinced he's gorgeous. The nicest things the Fourth Doctor can say about his face at first is that he "has to take the rough with the smooth" and "at least the nose is an improvement", but (in the "Power of the Daleks" reconstruction featuring him as narrator) goes out of his way to point out how much more good-looking and how much more "character" his current face has compared to any of his other ones, in a way that comes off as slightly insecure.
- Shintaro Gotou of Kamen Rider OOO began as this in relation to the eponymous Rider, Eiji Hino, who he saw as an irresponsible fool. After getting thoroughly humbled and re-training himself as a sidekick to Kamen Rider Birth, he becomes a person more genuinely worthy of being called a hero and eventually takes over as Birth.
- The following series, Kamen Rider Fourze, has two such cases. Kengo Utahoshi refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Kamen Rider Club or accept the friendship of hero Gentaro, until Kengo is nearly killed while stranded on the moon, where he reveals how scared and unhappy he really is. Shun Daimonji mercilessly bullies students whom he views as lower-class than himself, until it's discovered that he is under crippling pressure from his father and Just Wants to Have Friends. Both characters become much nicer after this.
- Barney Stinson occasionally betrays the vulnerabilities and insecurities which hide beneath his self-assured, charismatic demeanor.
- Frasier Crane, despite being openly arrogant, vain, self-absorbed, and in possession of an absurdly inflated opinion of himself, is cripplingly insecure and needy, with much of his self-aggrandizing behavior rooted in his desperation to be liked and admired, and his extreme bossiness towards his little brother Niles and best friend Roz, whose opinions he constantly runs roughshod over and whose lives he is always trying to interfere with, is heavily hinted to be rooted in paranoia that they'll stop hanging around him if they stop needing him.
- Ken Jeong has stated that Chang abuses his authority and generally acts like a jerk because of insecurity.
- Often, when Britta's obnoxious Soapbox Sadie façade is broken down, she reveals her vulnerable side, admitting she actually hates herself, even going as far as to compare herself unfavorably to cancer at one point. A lot of the things she does are to gain respect from others, especially the study group. During the first season's paintball episode, she admitted that the reason she tries so hard to be a good person is that deep down she doesn't believe she is one.
- Jeff, like Britta, has a fragile ego and is implied to have deep-seated self-esteem issues as well. One episode involved an intimate revelation about having to wear a Pocahontas costume for Halloween as a kid and getting "what a pretty girl" comments all night.
Jeff: The worst part was that after the third house, I stopped correcting them. I was just glad they thought I was pretty...
- Prince Arthur from Merlin can often fall into this category. His Jerkass behavior near the start of the series is quickly put down to his Freudian Excuse of having a very demanding and emotionally-distant father, and it's clear in his insecurity with Guinevere, Merlin, Morgana, and Lancelot that he doesn't consider himself worthy of their affection or friendship, even as he takes them all for granted.
- Smallville's Lionel Luthor is a grandiose Magnificent Bastard and Corrupt Corporate Executive who is still running away from his past as an abused child. Lex Luthor is his son, and bases his need to be a hero in his own feelings of worthlessness.
- ER's Kerry Weaver frequently found subtle and not-so-subtle ways of putting her coworkers down, turning everything into some kind of competition, and eventually trampled on numerous people in order to advance her career, all to compensate for whatever insecurity she felt about having been abandoned at birth and being disabled. Additionally, it's heavily implied that Doug's womanizing behavior was a form of compensation for feeling unlovable (due to his father abandoning him).
- The song "Oh No!" by Marina and the Diamonds includes the line "I feel like I'm the worst, so I always act like I'm the best."
- Liquid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. He grew up believing that he was genetically inferior to his "brother" Solid Snake, and this insecurity partly inspired Liquid's world domination plot. It turns out it was the other way around, and it was Liquid who was the superior one, and Solid had the inferior genes, and it was all made up by the Patriots.
- George from Deadly Premonition is obsessed with gaining power, physical or otherwise, due to being raised by an abusive mom and his belief that the strong will naturally overcome the weak. His insecurities lead him to become the new Raincoat Killer.
- Laharl of the Disgaea series suffers from this. He acts all high and mighty for being the Overlord, but deep down is really somewhat lonely, especially once you learn of his backstory. However, the fact that he acts like a complete Jerk Ass to most people isn't exactly earning him any brownie points, either. This is driven farther in Disgaea D2 in which the Krichevskoy group constantly compares Laharl to his old man and say what Krichevskoy would do in a situation like this. Escalates to the point where in chapter 8 Laharl makes it very clear that he's going to be better than his dad and demands they trust him when the trio get themselves in a bad situation.
- Axel from Disgaea 2 also suffers the same complex. He acts like he's popular and that everyone loves him yet he knows that his career is in shambles and he's pretty much the laughing stock of the universe. His efforts of put downs are less effective that Laharl but he still hides his insecurities underneath the Dark Hero mask he constantly dons.
- This is the Fatal Flaw of Lotte Carmine. As a researcher, he harbored some ambition that he'd surpass his superior Kokonoe in scientific breakthrough, but for some reason, Kokonoe dismissed him that badly and even refused to support him in a particular research about seithr. Not knowing to give up and even dismissing the support of his partner Litchi, he went on through the research and ended up as Arakune. And even as Arakune, what remains of him was his hatred for Kokonoe's superiority and his desire to become supreme scientist.
- Miranda from Mass Effect 2 was genetically designed to be perfect, and she envies Shepard for having built his/her career with nothing more than skill, hard work and courage.
- Fire Emblem:
- Serra from Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken acts like a haughty Rich Bitch, but inside is a scared little girl afraid of being alone and ignored.
- Severa from Fire Emblem Awakening takes this on pretty hard. She has spent her entire life being compared to her "perfect" mother and even opts to not follow the same career path as her just so she doesn't get compared further.
- Silver in the remakes of Pokémon Gold and Silver acts like he's stronger and better than everyone else, but it's only to compensate for the failure of his father Giovanni and his fear of his own weaknesses.
- Time Man from Mega Man Powered Up acts this way to compensate for the fact that he was activated in an unfinished state.
- In the Shovel Knight expansion, Plague of Shadows, Plague Knight is very proud of his intelligence and skill with explosives and arcane arts, but he's constantly belittled by every other character in the game for his lack of physical strength and reliance on "trickery." He blows off their insults with his own retorts, but it becomes clear as you progress that he really does feel ashamed of not being stronger. So much so that the entire purpose of his quest to create the ultimate potion is merely to become strong enough to woo his Love Interest Mona. (Who, of course, loves him already.)
- This is Metal Sonic's motivation in Sonic the Hedgehog. He was built for the sole purpose of defeating Sonic, but no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't beat him. This slowly developed into a drive to prove himself superior to Sonic, one that began to drive Metal insane. By the time of Sonic Heroes, his inferiority complex caused him to become so unstable that he betrays Robotnik and tries to devastate the planet in a desperate attempt to prove that he's the more powerful warrior.
- Ace Attorney:
- Franziska von Karma has shades (if not more) of this trope. She constantly proclaims her perfection, as well as her confidence in defeating "fools" like Phoenix and Edgeworth (so far, she has been unsuccessful.) However, the epilogue of Justice For All hints that Franziska actually hides a lot of insecurity, and feels overshadowed by her father and adoptive brother. This has pushed her to become a full-fledged criminal prosecutor at the age of thirteen.
- Yumihiko Ichiyanagi from Ace Attorney Investigations 2 also has similar issues to Franziska. He's thinks he's number one and insults everyone else who is obviously smarter than him. Even characters like Gumshoe and Larry call him out on his stupidity. Yumihiko is incredibly slow to pick up what is going on around him and tends to jump in at the point where everyone is past that. He obviously wants to please his father, but after that goes to hell for him at the end of the fourth chapter, he has longest and hardest Logic Chess in the game lamenting about how much of a failure he is and the Logic Chess is about helping him get back on his feet instead of breaking the opponent down. For Edgeworth, that is incredibly hard to do given how Yumihiko has been acting for most of the game.
- Haruka from Little Busters! acts like an energetic Manic Pixie Dream Girl who's always showing off and joking that people should praise her, but deep down she's very insecure, and for very good reason. Growing up constantly compared to your 'better' twin, being beaten every time you fail compared to her, and told that you're a terrible person because your father beat up your mother does that to a kid. It's made clear later on when Haruka's praise me comments are given an Ironic Echo—she suddenly challenges Riki to a thumb fight and when she wins demands just one thing: that he praise her. That she's so genuinely overjoyed when he does such a simple thing really drives home her Woobie status.
- In Homestuck, this is a big part of why Karkat acts like an angry jerk. He constantly tries to act like the ideal, aggressive troll leader to make up for his perceived genetic inferiority. Internalized racism (hemospectrumism?) is a hell of a thing.
- Another example is Vriska. She's always bragging melodramatically, trying to hog the spotlight, and being a Smug Snake, but once she stops bragging, it rapidly turns into railing against herself for not living up to what she thinks she should be according to the example set by her ancestor.
- Dave does his best to act like the most cool, badass Deadpan Snarker possible because he feels inferior to his Bro.
- Maxwell of Housepets! is a Deadpan Snarker cat who often tries to assert his own coolness to anyone who might pay attention, particularly Grape (whom he later hooks up with). However, his ego gains more depth when we see that he's constantly on pins and needles to get people to even be impressed with him, especially Grape, and later that he just wants to live up to be the person he believes that Grape deserves to be with.
Max: How can a god even claim to know what pain is?! To know what it's like not to lose, but to sink to the bottom?! How can a god know what it feels like when it's not circumstances or interference or even all the bad luck, but because you're not good enough for the one you love. Because you're not good enough for anyone.
- Arguably the case of Galatea in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!. While she has a massive conceit about her intellect, she's also a raving paranoid who was starved for affection from birth, and has a very difficult time believing anyone can really love her.
- Vaarsuvius of The Order of the Stick fame, so very much. It gets even worse when a string of (partially perceived) failures combined with PTSD drives him/her nearly mad for months.
- Subverted in Ozy and Millie, when an arc centering on Jerk Jock Jeremy's ceaseless bullying of Ozzy, brings up the "bullies are really just insecure and have low self-esteem" stereotype. The arc closes with a look into Jeremy's head, where we see that he's actually an egomaniac with a vastly inflated sense of self-worth.
- The King of All Cosmos shows signs of this in Katamari. One arc has him start seriously questioning his ability to lead after he can't solve Ace's problem with a katamari, leading up to a Heroic BSOD.
- Princess Amaltea in Sword Princess Amaltea has been all her life under the shadow of her big sister Dorotea and thinks her mother considers her a failure. She acts as a Royal Brat around everyone (even a fellow royal) because she's afraid being a princess is all she has.
- Tom from Echo Chamber treats Zack like crap because he was overshadowed by his little brother, and now he "needs to feel better than someone".
- The Nostalgia Critic admitted in the crossover with CR that he acts like a Bad Boss because he's really insecure and is scared of people going into his territory because they'd do it better than him.
- The Nostalgia Chick counts too. She abuses the hell out of Nella to boost her damaged self-esteem and to make herself feel better.
- Ask That Guy with the Glasses is a narcissist whose ego is "always drowning and always thirsty".
- Another Doug character, Donnie Dupre from Demo Reel, tries his best to be happy all the time but cracks keep showing through where we see that his movie-making enthusiasm is actually pretty fragile.
- Solange of the Whateley Universe. She's rich, she's beautiful, she has superpowers... But she grew up a fat, ugly, picked-on kid, and so now she abuses the people around her to make her feel better about herself.
- In Noob Judge Dead turns out to have this plus a father who's a "Well Done, Dad" Guy. What do the father's attempts at gaining approval consist of ? Being better than his son at things in which he's interested. Yes, it's as much of a recipe for a bitter relationship as one can imagine.
- Malware, the mutated villainous Galvanic Mechamorph in Ben 10: Omniverse fits this. Despite all of his talk about being the perfect being, he feels that he's Azmuth's failure, even though Azmuth denies it, and even tries to destroy all normal Mechamorphs and become a living planet.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Princess Azula. She initially comes across as arrogant, manipulative, and extremely brilliant. She constantly belittles her older brother and treats her friends like the help. Season three slowly reveals her extreme Mommy Issues, her tendency to put down those she secretly envies (she outright admits this to Ty Lee), and her utter dependence on her father's "love". By the season finale, her friends have left her and her father has made it clear that he's only using her. It doesn't end well.
- Zuko also behaves very arrogantly early on, though his arrogance dissipates as he starts to go through his prolonged Heel-Face Turn. He's rude to his uncle, berates his crew, and frequently loses his temper over small things. It becomes clear later that this attitude is merely Zuko trying to behave as the son his father wants, and a defensive result of the pressures and frustrations this desire causes. Zuko is actually a sensitive and compassionate kid, but who sees himself as inferior due to these perceived "weaknesses", especially next to his prodigious, ruthless sister Azula. Furthemore, his compassion and sensitivity was what got him in trouble in the first place (after speaking against a general for planning to new recruits as basically cannon fodder. He ends up fighting his dad and getting his telltale scar). After joining the Avatar's group, he comes to realise these are his strengths, not his weaknesses.
- Their father Ozai himself may be a near identical case. He was The Unfavourite to his Evil Overlord and emotionally distant father Azulon (who possibly was an abusive father with him) compared to his older brother, the talented and powerful "Dragon of the West" General Iroh. Its less clear than with Azula what Ozai felt about this relationship, but its not difficult to see the similarities in their cases, their personalities, and their temperaments. He is so bitter about not receiving as much respect as his brother that he demands perfection from his own children and punishes perceived weakness or insubordination in his eldest son with extraordinary brutality; when he promotes himself from Fire Lord to Phoenix King and plans to exterminate the Earth Kingdom he essentially acts like a Psychopathic Manchild revelling in childish fantasies of power and greatness, but he was so obsessed with the two mostly because of his insecurities.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Rainbow Dash, a skilled, super-speedy pegasus who knows she's talented and isn't afraid to let everybody else know it. However, she's also a Lazy Bum who enjoys shirking work and hates dealing with strict rules, something which led to her either dropping out of or outright failing Flight School. Perhaps because of this, she's extremely sensitive about losing, to the point where the thought of screwing up in something as big as the Best Young Flyer Competition leaves her practically paralyzed from fear. She also hates being alone, having thrived on others' attention for so long.
- The Great and Powerful Trixie may be one as well. It would explain her compulsive boasting and how she STILL puts down Twilight after being outdone by her.
- Twilight Sparkle can be rather condescending and arrogant about her intelligence over the others at times, even after her character arc in the series premiere. However, it's revealed later on that she has imposed very high standards on herself and is absolutely terrified of disappointing her peers or friends (especially Princess Celestia). She once had a complete psychotic breakdown when she was out of schedule for even one single task.
- While not egotistical in general, Applejack can get very prideful and stubborn concerning her work, if only because she hates being incapable of committing to a task. She is also famed for her reliability in Ponyville and hates letting anyone down in the slightest (even if they are far more understanding about it). She almost worked herself to death, blowing off offers of help, after she promised to harvest all her orchard's apples by herself.
- In a way, this was also Princess Luna's Start of Darkness (so to speak). When she and Celestia first took the thrones, they saw each other as equals—harmonious, evenly splitting the day and night. However, while ponies frolicked during the day, they either slept through or outright feared the night, and by association seemed to love Celestia and—at best—be ambivalent towards Luna. This lack of any significant compassion from her subjects went on so long and got so serious that Luna felt the only way to get any actual love, adoration, or just plain respect was to take on the persona of Nightmare Moon and rule Equestria ENTIRELY as well as bring about The Night That Never Ends (which would have caused the extinction of all life in Equestria; it's not clear whether Nightmare Moon was simply unaware of this consequence or purposefully intended to take revenge on her former subjects by killing them all, and possibly herself with them), all because she felt she couldn't measure up to her sister in the ponies' eyes.
- Zigzaged with Ickis of Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. While his insecurity is very obvious, he swings into high-and-mighty mode whenever given the chance. A flashback episode revealed that he acted incredibly smug on his first day of school but was publicly humiliated when he couldn't mimic his father's tactics on command. By the time the series starts, he's already had his biggest Break the Haughty moment and can't cover up his lack of inner confidence, much as he'd like to.
- Eddy from Ed, Edd n Eddy is revealed to have this at the end of The Movie. There were hints given throughout the series that he might not feel as awesome as he claims himself to be, however; and it turns out that his Jerkass tendencies and high opinion of himself were a mere façade to cover up a nasty Inferiority Complex. You can thank his brother for that.
- This was indicated to be the case for Zapp Brannigan from Futurama in his first appearance, but in later appearances he really does seem to think that highly of himself. One possible explanation supported by the episode is that it was an act to get Leela into bed.
- Peggy Hill from King of the Hill suffers from this. She's smug, self-satisfied, and convinced she's the smartest woman in the world when she's really a Know-Nothing Know-It-All. But that's all to cover up the fact that as a little girl in Montana, she grew up with an overly-critical mother who threw out all of her opinions and told her she was outright useless at their ranch. When she moved away she convinced herself she was brilliant since it was the only way to forget her mother's abuse. She still has plenty of moments when it's revealed she's not as clever as she thinks she is (or is just reminded of her abnormally large feet), and falls into a depression because of it.
- Later seasons of Family Guy tend to play Brian into this trope. He has a very pretentious and condescending attitude at times. However he has insecurities about being neglected and ignored (Lois even pointed out he needs to be on the arguing side of every hot topic just so he can get attention), not to mention is often bullied and treated as sub-human for being a dog.
- In season one of Young Justice, Artemis always acts cocky and confident, but it's slowly revealed that she is deeply unsure of her own abilities, especially in comparisons to her sister (an assassin) and the other heroes, many of whom have super-powers.
- The titular character of Bojack Horseman, a fact that he's aware of (if in denial over).
Kelsey: Can we have one conversation that isn't about you? I don't understand why you need me to like you so much.Bojack: I don't need you to like me! It would be fun if you liked me, because then I could prove to myself that my parents were wrong to never support me, because I'd now earned the admiration of a surrogate-authority figure, thus proving that I have intrinsic worth, but it's not like it's a big deal or anything. Jeez.
- Many people believe bullies have this trait, but usually, that big ego is not so fake and most bullies actually have high self-esteem, not low.
- On the other hand, people who admit to being bullies as kids also have poorer mental health on average.
- At least one form of Narcissistic personality disorder is believed to result from a subconscious lack of self-worth, whereas others are just pure self-centredness or flat-out delusions of grandeur. That said, it's not always clear if the chronic insecurity is actually the cause of their gigantic ego, or merely a symptom, with the truth probably varying from one person to the next.
- In his essay, "Why Nerds Are Unpopular," technologist Paul Graham made the following observation:
Another reason kids persecute nerds is to make themselves feel better. When you tread water, you lift yourself up by pushing water down. Likewise, in any social hierarchy, people unsure of their own position will try to emphasize it by maltreating those they think rank below. I've read that this is why poor whites in the United States are the group most hostile to blacks."
- This appears to have been a problem for John Lennon. His arrogant attitude covered up the fact that he hated his own singing, and in one interview he went on record as saying there wasn't a single Beatles song he wouldn't re-record.
- To some extent, people with body dysmorphic disorder. It is a mental condition where the person is excessively concerned with their body image, feeling they are always too fat, skinny or just unattractive, and obsessed with fixing this. This in turn can lead to anorexia, excessive exercising or repeated plastic surgery. So if you think all body builders are full of themselves when flexing in front of a mirror, think again.