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Inferiority Superiority Complex

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"'Cause I feel like I'm the worst,
So I always act like I'm the best"
Marina Diamandis, "Oh No!"

Sometimes, 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. Often, the reason for their insecurity is because they have such a high opinion of themselves that they can't deal with any kind of perceived failure or rejection, bringing the whole thing into a large and angry circle.

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 and Beta Test Baddie or show up in deconstructions of the Alpha Bitch, Jerk Jock, Bratty Half-Pint, Smug Snake, Smug Super, Insufferable Genius, Arrogant Kungfu Guy, Small Name, Big Ego, or even A God Am I (i.e straight superiority complex). Compare Sad Clown, someone who masks their insecurities with humor rather than arrogance. Contrast with Heroic Self-Deprecation, where the person is in fact awesome but the person themselves doesn't believe that they are worth much. Might also overlap with Easily Embarrassed Youngster if they're under 18.


Truth in Television.

A subtrope to the sin of Pride.

Compare Beta Test Baddie, Big Ego, Hidden Depths, Boisterous Weakling, Compensating for Something, Somebody Doesn't Love Raymond, and Sour Outside, Sad Inside.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bakuman。:
    • Miura 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 cancelled 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.
  • In the beginning of Black Clover, Noelle is a haughty royal who believes that she's superior to commoners because she's been mocked all her life by her family for her Power Incontinence, giving her very low self-esteem as a result. By being accepted by the Black Bulls and gaining confidence as she develops her magic, she grows out of it, even telling a little peasant girl at the Star Festival that social status shouldn't matter.
  • In Brave10, Nanakuma is tsuntsun and extremely haughty, but it's because he's afraid everyone thinks he's the inferior twin and he's desperate to surpass his brother as a result.
  • 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.
  • 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 well-run student council.
  • Ruruka Ando in Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School was known as the "Ultimate Confectionist". Like some other Hope's Peak students, she began to believe that talent was all that matters in life and developed bitter anxiety towards people who wouldn't eat her sweets as she thought it was all she had to offer. This ends up poisoning her relationship with her best friend with tragic results once the new Deadly Game kicks off.
  • Death Note:
    • Light 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.
  • Digimon Adventure 02: 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.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Vegeta of 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 Saga where Vegeta sold his morality and family for power just so he could finally beat Goku and regain his status of being the best. It isn't until near the end of the series that he finally makes peace with being second best and takes real pride in what he has.
    • Krillin in the original series. He acts cocky, self-assured, and is a bit of a smartass, but it's all to hide his crippling low self-esteem. He was bullied mercilessly at his former temple for being weak and small, causing him to eventually run away. After becoming friends with Goku and gaining confidence in himself, he drops the superiority act. However, he becomes very aware of how weak he is compared to all the monsters in the universe, which causes his inferiority complex to return, except he now covers it with humor and self-deprecation.
    • In the video games, Big Bad Turles from The Tree of Might becomes this through his interactions with characters he never had the chance to meet in the movie, most notably the higher-class 'Elites' Nappa and Vegeta but also Goku, who he mocks for "all the clumsiness I'd expect of a low-class warrior" despite being a low-class Saiyan himself.
  • Louise of The Familiar of Zero is a Jerkass 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. Not to mention the pressures from both societal expectations and being a member from the most prominent family next to the royal Family of Tristain, and wanting to live up to the Legacy of her mother, the legendary Karin The Heavy Wind.
  • 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.
  • Gouda, the primary villain of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Second Gig is driven by such a complex. He has a horribly scarred face that he deliberately kept because he thought it made him look distinctive and notable, and all his crimes are ultimately about getting people to acknowledge his genius. He's pissed when Batou points out that he's a poser who needed a virus to artificially trigger a Stand Alone Complex instead of coming up with something cool enough that people would do so voluntarily like the Laughing Man incident.
  • Gundam:
    • Karozo Ronah, the Big Bad of Mobile Suit Gundam F91, has this as the rotten core of his villainy in spite of the supposedly high-minded ideals of Cosmo Babylonia he spouts. He's not a true Ronah, having married into the villainy, and when his wife Nadia abandoned him for another man he volunteered to become a Cyber-Newtype, throwing himself into the Cosmo Babylonia ideology to cover for his wounded insecurities (which come out anyway in his reunion with Nadia and battle with his daughter, Berah Ronah aka Cecily Fairchild).
    • Tieria Erde from Gundam 00 starts out as a cold, high-and-mighty Jerkass, 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, the title character of 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.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Terence T. D'Arby from Stardust Crusaders believes himself to be superior in every way to his older brother Daniel J. D'Arby. This makes Jotaro's statement that Daniel would have been able to figure out that Jotaro was cheating right away all the more humiliating.
    • Formaggio from Golden Wind has this, stemming from his teammates’ constant belittlement of him for having such a weak Stand ability.
    • JoJolion's Joshu Higashikata's Jerkass tendencies come from his jealousy over people he feels are more talented than him.
  • Takeshi's younger brother Gekkou from Magical Warfare 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.
  • In the anime/manga version of The Heroic Legend of Arslan, some characters suspect the reason why Silvermask is so quick to proclaim himself as "His Highness" or the rightful king of Pars and becomes infuriated when people don't acknowledge him as such is because he is jealous that Arslan can freely call himself "prince" and people easily flock to Arslan's banner instead of Silvermask's.
  • 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 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 a sense of self-worth. He was so arrogant because he was permanently afraid of someone replacing him and taking his reason for existing away, and his self-esteem issues were so big he thought his adoptive sister would dump him for someone she barely knew.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • This is all but shown explicitly to be behind most of Bakugo's bravado; he feels the need to prove himself superior to everyone so that no one will look down on him. In particular, he wants to prove himself superior to Midoriya (who attempted to save him from a villain at the start of the series and later defeated in him in a training exercise) and All Might (who did save him from the villain). In fact, a bonus chapter had Uraraka point-blank tell Bakugo this is why he is so antagonistic to his former friend. Despite belittling and insulting him, he always shows great fear in Midoriya's massive leaps in improvement because deep down, he knows that Midoriya is much worthier of being a better hero than he is.
    • Also Aoyama, who is always standing out in his way, is shown to "just want to be equal as everyone" later in the manga, being told there that "Your standards must be off if you don't know you are equal as us" in a moment of awesomeness.
    • It's implied that Endeavor's need to surpass All Might, and the horrific treatment of his family that happened as a result, are rooted in his low opinion of anyone who's not the best, himself included. Furthermore, he's hampered by the physical limitations of his Hellfire Quirk; he risks overheating if used extensively, which is why he tries to finish fights quickly in single shots lest he burns himself out. This is why he banks on Shoto to become his successor since Shoto's Ice and Fire balance each other and thus are not prone to the weaknesses that hamper him or that possibly crippled his oldest son and original successor, Touya, whose weaker constitution toward heat made his problem toward his own fire Quirk worse than his father, as implied to be discovered in a training accident. He has a mental breakdown when he becomes the top-ranked hero on a technicality due to All Might's retirement because he believes he is unworthy of the recognition and responsibilities. It takes a personal talk with All Might to finally understanding what it really means to be the Symbol of Peace and try and fix what and who he damaged over the years.
  • Alan in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! acts all arrogant and condescending, but it's only because he's jealous of his more talented brother. When he finds something he can do better than him, he mellows out and turns out to be a really nice guy.
  • 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, but even then, Itachi and Sasuke were quite close, with Sasuke thinking the world of his older brother while Itachi being protective of Sasuke. 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 Naruto, which is what set off Sasuke (both because of this and because well, Itachi was going to target his precious people once more). Sasuke utterly lost and underwent another dose of mental trauma that unstabilized him. 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 into 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. This flaw of his was lampshaded verbatim by Kakashi in an episode.
    • Naruto as well, albeit in a different way. In the beginning, his bratty, braggart attitude, and dreams to be Hokage were driven by a need to be acknowledged by the village and not be viewed as a monster, but as Naruto Uzumaki. His initial rivalry with Sasuke was fueled by his need to prove himself equal to the haughty top student that deep down felt the same sort of pain and loneliness as him (and wanted to befriend him.) Unlike Sasuke though, Naruto would shed his complex as he got people that cared about him and vice versa (which makes for an interesting counterpart to Sasuke, whose process became worse over time, albeit that was Itachi's doing.) In fact, by the time of Shippuden, he's actually prone to Heroic Self-Deprecation, which increases as he grows stronger (sadly as a result of him reflecting on his failures to save the people he cares about.)
    • Neji seemed to have this to an extent as well. Behind his Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy attitude he belied a huge complex over being a member of the Hyuga's Branch Family, a fate he deeply resented and desperately wanted to escape, even if he would never admit it out loud. Instead, he took out his own insecurities on those he perceived as weaker than him (his teammate Lee and his cousin Hinata) to feel better about himself, and he would react with anger if somebody exposed those insecurities to him, as it happened in both his fights with Hinata and Naruto. Thankfully he dropped this mindset after Naruto defeated him.
    • 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.
    • The entire history of shinobi was orchestrated using this. Black Zetsu used Indra's jealousy and frustrations with Asura to start a centuries-long conflict that would end with Naruto and Sasuke.
  • Asuka Langley Soryu from Neon Genesis Evangelion is practically the poster child for this trope. Outwardly she comes across haughty, arrogant, prideful, and annoying. In reality that is a false persona that she dons to cover up her debilitating lack of self-esteem and gut-wrenching fear of being replaced and/or abandoned, a product of childhood trauma. She's a textbook case of real-life Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
  • One Piece
    • Usopp 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.
    • The flashbacks in the Fish-Man Island arc reveal Arlong has one of these as part of his Hidden Depths, which only becomes obvious in hindsight. It turns out the reason why Arlong was in the East Blue is because he once got his ass kicked by Borsalino (the future Admiral Kizaru) after trying to avenge the death of Fisher Tiger, teaching him a brutal lesson about how far away he was from the real top-tier fighters of the world. This, in combination of getting his ass kicked again, this time by his "brother" Jimbei, convinced Arlong he had no shot at measuring up to the real monsters of the Grand Line, causing him to run off to the East Blue to find any personal success as a pirate. Thus, all his boasting during the East Blue saga about his superiority and the superiority of Fish-men is really just him trying to prop up his fragile ego after those two crushing defeats.
  • Sae from Peach Girl has a high and mighty opinion of herself and literally gets a big head over things working out in her favor. She often spreads gossip around to make people distrust Momo, which is done as a result of her own jealousy and insecurity and to bring herself up.
  • Pokémon: The Series:
    • Iris 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 much friendlier to Ash... though she still calls him a kid from time to time.
    • Ash himself was like this in the Kanto arc. He had his bratty and asshole moments due to his own insecurities about the mistakes he made as a rookie trainer. It didn’t help that people would always put him down for it. He grows out of this once he improves as a trainer.
    • In the Sun & Moon series, this also applies to Guzma, the leader of Team Skull, who often rants about how he is 'undefeated' when in reality most of his 'non-defeats' were just because he was in one-on-one battles that triggered his Golisopod's Emergency Exit and he claimed that he didn't see the point in continuing the fight.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sword Art Online: Sugou Nobuyuki fancies himself a big and powerful man, even declaring himself a god, but he's ultimately nothing but a poor imitation of Akihiko Kayaba and he knows it. When the latter's Virtual Ghost intervenes and grants Kirito Game Master powers to turn the tables in his favor, Sugou whines and throws a temper tantrum over the fact that even with Kayaba dead, he's still Always Second Best. Kirito even lampshades it; while both of them were defeated by Kayaba and forced to work for him, Kirito defied Kayaba while Sugou wants to be him.
  • Kamina, of all people, from Gurren Lagann shows a lot of bravado and pulls one crazy stunt after the next, from going up against a Humongous Mecha armed with nothing but a katana to hijacking an enemy mech while in the middle of a fight against said mech, combining two mechs by literally stabbing one of them down into the other from the top and finally stealing another even bigger mech in the middle of a battle. And yet, he reveals in Episode 7 that he is actually just as scared as everyone else, if not more so, but acts tough solely for Simon's sake, and that Simon was the one who actually kept him alive all along, and that he doesn't think he can actually do anything without Simon.
  • 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 immediately 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.
  • To different extents, both Kaiba and Dark 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 Dark 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 Yugi, 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 loss 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 once human, not just a spirit created by the Puzzle.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • Originally, this was the whole point of Paperinik (Donald's superhero/antihero alter ego): in the first 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.
  • The DCU:
    • Batman:
      • 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. His gimmick is that his plans are interspersed with riddles and puzzles that, if solved, allow his schemes to become unraveled. This is obviously counterproductive, but for the Riddler, proving that he's smarter than the authorities (and Batman) is a compulsion so powerful that he literally can't resist it. According to most of his backstories, this is a compulsion he developed in childhood due to being abused into having some major self-esteem issues.
      • This tends to be the case with every Batman villain except for the Joker and Ra's al Ghul (who really do think they're as great as they say they are, and often can back it up too). Prominent examples include the Penguin, the Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and even Poison Ivy (despite her talk of the plants, recall she became this after her professor used her and her lifetime of being pushed around by everyone). At their worst, these villains often go so far as to murder — or attempt to murder — their real or supposed former tormentors, partly out of spite and partly because, deep down, they feel that the world really must be made safe for people "of their kind". Worse yet, this attitude sometimes is extended to all of Gotham City.
    • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Priscilla Rich needed to feel superior to everyone else because deep down, she hated herself. Wonder Woman upstaging her at a party was what prompted her to develop her Split Personality and become the supervillain Cheetah.
  • A huge factor in the Plutonian's Face–Heel Turn in Irredeemable was that despite the vast majority of people being grateful to him, he was so emotionally needy that he had to be universally beloved, and the one-in-a-billion Ungrateful Townsfolk who didn't lavish him with praise and affection drove him nuts. It didn't help matters that thanks to his Super Senses he could hear every single one of them. One flashback shows an entire stadium cheering his name after he saves them from a giant robot, but he is hyper-focused on the couple of people whispering that they don't trust him, they think he's a showoff, et cetera.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • 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.
    • Fantastic Four: 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 (despite his insistence to the contrary) and that he's just bitter that Reed spotted the flaw that he missed (and also that he was too stubborn to listen to Reed's advice).
    • The Mighty Thor:
      • Thor's adopted brother Loki is sometimes a haughty sorcerer who thinks that Asgard and Mjolnir rightfully belong to him... and sometimes he's The Unfavorite brother who can never be an adequate Jotunn or Æsir.
      • Thor himself has shades of a complex, both prior to being sent to Earth to learn humility, and in moments when he sways into Jerkass territory with loud reminders that he is the God of Thunder. All of this comes from his relationship with his father, who was emotionally distant at best and Cannot Spit It Out. During the God-Butcher Saga, Old King Thor outright told young Thor that he'd never get what he wanted most. Young Thor objected, assuming that he meant Mjolnir. As it turned out, what he really meant was that Odin would never tell him he was proud of him. Then, he actually did, grabbing all three Thors (present, past, and King) in The Glomp at the end of War of the Realms and telling them that he's proud of them. Their identical expressions of utter bafflement are both hilarious and depressing.
    • Runaways:
      • Xavin loves to boast about how they have the most training and military experience of anyone on the team and is happy to lord their Super-Skrull abilities over their teammates, but beneath all the bravado, Xavin is insecure about their abilities (by Super-Skrull standards, they are considered a Master of None), is ashamed of their failure to end the war with Majesdane, and fears that Karolina is only putting up with them out of pity. Part of this comes from their upbringing as the little we hear of their upbringing sums up the fertile breeding group for psychological issues:
        Xavin: My father killed a family of screaming Majesdanians in front of me when I was five. I cried, so I was left with the corpses for three days.
      • When written by Kathryn Immonen, Nico's Control Freak tendencies are all a mask for someone who fears that none of her teammates respect or even like her.
    • 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 over in her introduction in Secret Wars (1984). However, she still remains troubled within and what forms the bedrock of her maniacal vendetta against She-Hulk is because She-Hulk always seems to be one step ahead of her; this reminds Titania of being Skeeter, and she hates feeling weak. She actually won her first bout against She-Hulk before she tried picking on none other than Spider-Man. He proceeded to utterly crush her without breaking a sweat, all while giving her a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, noting that she's still a "wimpette" underneath her new bullying exterior before she's flung out the window. The defeat actually made her terrified by Spidey for years.
    • Spider-Man: Doctor Octopus certainly fits the trope. The Superior Spider-Man series constantly compared him with Peter Parker, often in an Evil Counterpart sort of way. But in the end, Otto himself finally admitted the greatest difference between them: while Parker is humble and filled with self-doubt because he knows for a fact he's stronger and thus holds more responsibility, Octavius was simply attempting to overcome his inner inferiority complex. Once he realized this, our self-proclaimed Superior Successor took a Heroic Sacrifice, but not before giving the hero a You Are Better Than You Think You Are speech.
    • Uncanny X-Men: Fat Bastard villain the Blob likes to throw his weight around to compensate for a lifetime of being mocked for his porcine mutation. When forced to confront his worst fears by psychic hero Mirage of the New Mutants, he saw a crowd of kids, a ringmaster, and the mutants Wolverine and Exodus all laughing at him.
  • Rodimus shows certain signs of this in The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, but Getaway goes past "signs" and into "fireworks displays and alarm bells". Psycho Psychologist Froid mentions that watching Getaway's inferiority complex spiraling out of control is a rare treat for him.

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: Sabra's haughtiness turns out to be a product of trying to live up to her Totem mother.
  • The Child of Love: In chapter 2 Misato tells Shinji about Asuka's past and her mother issues, and how her so-called arrogance is a mask to hide how fragile she is.
  • In A Charmed Life, Light builds himself up as "God of the New World" because deep inside he feels incredibly insecure.
  • Children of an Elder God: Although she did not flaunt her skills as aggressively as in canon Asuka still tried to come across as a prideful, bombastic girl to hide her deep-seated insecurities. However, her mask cracks during the War and after a while, she stops wearing it.
  • Common Sense: Misty, big time. She didn't take her defeat at the Cerulean Gym against Ash very well, refuses to acknowledge that he's grown stronger than her in a short time, and begins to dismiss his victories as flukes or cheating, even after she starts to try and copy his tactics to use against him. It takes up until Chapter 25 to realize that she hates him for no real reason than her own wounded pride, and from then on she decides to try and be nicer to him.
  • 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.
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfiction Harmless, Jazz believes that this might be the reason for the Box Ghost's behavior.
  • Doing It Right This Time: After returning to the past Shinji and Rei know Asuka's pride is a façade and she has no self-esteem (and Shinji realizes he was unintentionally poking her in her insecurities and neuroses the whole time). So they actively try to make her feeling valued and reassure her that she is a damned good pilot.
  • 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.
  • Equestria Girls: Friendship Souls: Gilda is a powerful Arrancar who loves to talk the talk and walk the walk, but it's clear she deeply resents Adagio's rapid rise in power in such a short period of time when she's had to struggle and claw her way up to her current level of strength the hard way over centuries. When she's made the Tenth Espada, these insecurities come out even more as she's scared of screwing up and being viewed as a liability, which makes her prone to taking big unnecessary risks (such as attacking Sunset at her apartment using outdated info on her strength, or attacking the weakened Smooze while Fluttershy and Timber are in the vicinity) to secure her standing. It turns out it all stems from her mistreatment in Guto's horde as a child and her desire to become strong enough that she never gets under his thumb again.
  • 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 as a failure.
  • Ghosts of Evangelion: Asuka used to be boastful, but in reality, she thought everybody -especially Shinji- showed her up and beat her.
  • 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 who 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.
  • Higher Learning: As her canon self, Asuka acted like an arrogant girl so that nobody noticed how insecure she was. However, she gradually stopped trying so hard to stand out When she started dating Shinji.
  • Last Child of Krypton: When Shinji met Asuka she acted like an aggressive, boastful Attention Whore, but Shinji realized she was just trying to hide her insecurity and fear. Later Shinji saw first-hand how fragile and vulnerable she was inwardly when he fought to save her from Leliel's Mind Rape attack.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Genocide: After having a heart-to-heart talk with Asuka and several conversations with Misato, Shinji realized that Asuka may look arrogant and boisterous, but she regards herself as someone worthless. Her pride is nothing but a mask to cover her non-existent self-esteem.
  • 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 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 Pokémon Squad: RM looks like a pompous Insufferable Genius who thinks highly of himself, but he's also insecure about the fact that he can't find a date to save his life and as he admits in "Nobody Cares About the Bears":
    RM: I'm not arrogant, I have self-loathing issues.
  • 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.
  • Sleeper Hit AU: Bakugou's utter hatred of Midoriya stems from the fear that if somebody who's Quirkless can challenge or even surpass him, then that proves that he isn't all that special. The realization that Midoriya wasn't broken by his expulsion from U.A. and, in fact, became the Quirkless Pro Hero Sleeper Hit utterly infuriates him, since it seems to confirm his worst fears.
  • Superwomen of Eva 2: Lone Heir of Krypton: As she told Shinji during a heart-to-heart talk in chapter 19, Asuka strove to be the best and boast about it because she was a lonely kid who thought no one would care about her unless she was the best.
  • Thieves Can Be Heroes!: Bakugou suffers from this, and uses his brash arrogant attitude to cover it up; part of the reason he was so ruthless towards Izuku is that he honestly believed the other boy looked down on him when the truth was the exact opposite. His Shadow self is the personification of this, forcing him to admit to all the insecurities and self-doubts he hides, then spelling out that nobody, and least of all Midoriya, ever looked down or pitied him; even then, it takes Izuku and Makoto both admitting how much they admired Bakugou growing up for it to finally get through to him - and unlocking his Persona in the process.
  • In Through the Looking Glass (My Next Life as a Villainess), the Katarina Claes from Fortune Lover is arrogant, vain, and demeaning to those she view beneath her, such as her step-brother Keith or the commoner student Maria. However, for all her talent and etiquette as a noblewoman, she was never able to win the heart of her fiance Geord, a very painful sore spot for her. It became worse when she learned of another Katarina who while lacking the restraint and behavior of a proper lady is able to win the affection and love of those around her, including Geord's counterpart Gerald.

    Film — Animation 
  • 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."
  • Prince Hans in Frozen. His brothers treating him terribly and his father ignoring him have caused him to develop issues of feeling less than them, but despite this, he is desperately looking for approval from the father who neglects him and regards him as a "weakling" for not fighting back. By the time he's a young adult, Hans has already given up fighting back as it just makes their physical abuse worse. But by doing this, this only accelerated his father's emotional abuse even more by saying Hans should "learn a thing or two" from his brothers. It's highly implied that his more villainous actions are him emulating his father, desperately hiding his self-hatred.
  • Kung Fu Panda:
    • Tai Lung was raised to believe he would be made the Dragon Warrior (his given name's literal meaning in Mandarin is "great dragon" ), and became arrogant, prideful, and convinced of his own heroism and perfection...until he was denied the scroll by Master Oogway, after which he went on a rampage through the Valley of Peace. By his own admission that all he ever did was done to make Shifu proud, it's 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. 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!"
    • Lord Shen in Kung Fu Panda 2. Born sickly to a proud, noble family, he thought that his parents never loved him, and goes as far as genocide in an attempt to prove that he's worth of their love and happiness in general. They disown him and force him to leave, making him even more sure of his convictions.
  • 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.
  • Maui in Moana. He likes to constantly brag about all the great deeds he's done because he's desperately looking for approval and friendship due to knowing that his human parents didn't want him and threw him into the sea as an infant to drown. This is actually his fundamental motivation for even doing all his great deeds in the first place; to receive love and admiration from humans.
  • Sunset Shimmer in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. She's smugly confident in her own abilities and status at Canterlot High when Twilight first runs into her. Throughout the movie, she insists she's the superior pupil, that the crown really belongs to her and she aims to prove it. The switch is flipped when Twilight refuses to hand over the crown under the threat of Sunset destroying the portal back to Equestria and her friends call her a true princess who earned her crown. Sunset, who up to this point managed to keep her cool even in the face of defeat, proceeds to lunge at Twilight in rage to take the crown by force. By the time she's beaten, she's reduced to sobbing after being turned back from being a demon. Even in the later movies, it's shown that, while much better about it and willing to admit to her failures, she doesn't take things that question her abilities too well.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars. Despite knowing he's The Chosen One and the most powerful Jedi in the universe, he's very insecure about not being the best Jedi he can be and constantly thinks he can do better. His wife Padmé outright tells him that he "expects too much of [himself]". He generally covers this up with arrogance or avoiding responsibility for his actions, though sometimes his insecurities show through such as when he melts down over being denied his promotion to Master on a technicality.
  • Loki edges into 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 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.
  • The movie The Sapphires is the story of an Aboriginal girl group that goes to Vietnam to entertain the troops. The darkest of them, who has spent years being bullied because of her complexion, almost relentlessly bullies the lightest-skinned one because of her skin tone. Among her crueler comments include suggesting that her sole interest in a black GI is to make herself blacker.
  • In Mom and Dad Save the World, Emperor Tod “The Destroyer” Spengo is basically built entirely around this trope.
  • In A Wrinkle in Time (2018), Veronica's relentless bullying of Meg is her way of covering up her own massive self-loathing.

  • The Tiffany Aching subseries of Discworld has Annagramma Hawkin as its resident Alpha Bitch. She is described, among other things, as "vain as a canary in a room full of mirrors", having a "huge lack of interest in anyone other than herself", and treating everyone "as if they were slightly deaf and a bit stupid". Despite her efforts, sometimes her façade falls and the clever, capable, but absolutely terrified girl beneath it can be seen, and after Tiffany forces the truth about her impoverished heritage out, she slowly becomes a better person.
    "Inside there was this worried, frantic little face watching the world like a bunny watching a fox, and screaming at it in the hope that it would go away and not hurt her."
  • Felix Harrowgate from Doctrine of Labyrinths, having been abused as a child in pretty much every way possible, is a very damaged and unstable person who veers chaotically between self-worship and self-loathing. He can be a shameless Attention Whore and really is extraordinarily vain when it comes to his looks, intellect, and magical prowess, but he's also practically addicted to self-sabotage and doesn't really believe he deserves to be happy or loved. Throughout the series he repeatedly does awful things to the people he cares about, is too proud to apologize but inwardly berates himself for being a "monster", then seeks out some kind of horrible karmic punishment to cope with the guilt, usually while trying to maintain his arrogant and uncaring facade. What a mess.
  • In Fatherland, a nation-wide example of this trope presents itself. Xavier March goes on a bus tour of the "Nazis-won" 1964 Berlin with his son. When pointing out the grandiose landmarks all around them, the tour-guide constantly boasts about how everything is bigger and better than comparable monuments in other cities. Far from being impressed, however, March merely identifies this as a symptom of how deep-down insecure and inferior Nazi Germany as a culture and people actually feels:
    Higher, bigger, longer, wider, more expensive... even in victory, Germany has a parvenu's inferiority complex. Nothing stands on its own. Everything has to be compared with what the foreigners have...
  • In the Irvine Welsh novel Filth, Bruce is a boastful, misanthropic bigot who appears to look down on everyone around him. Turns out, he's severely self-hating, traumatised, and mentally unwell.
  • Gods Of Jade And Shadow: Martín the secondary antagonist likes being a scion of the wealthiest and most powerful family in his home village; avoids situations, like school, where he'd have to apply his mediocre abilities; and abused Casiopea for years out of fear and resentment that their grandfather respects her more than him. He has a crushing Jerkass Realization when he's forced to confront the fact that she's in no way his inferior.
  • In The Great Gatsby, Tom for all his bluster is painfully aware that he has nothing to offer Daisy but his money. The only time he appears truly worried about something is when it seems that Daisy might leave him for Gatsby.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione's know-it-all attitude. 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.
    • Hermione's insecurity being masked by her know-it-all attitude makes her a fascinating comparison to her close friend and later husband, Ron Weasley, who is pretty open with his insecurity due to being the youngest son (his brothers have already done a lot and his younger sister was the girl his mother always wanted) while being in the shadow of his best friend and thus tends to get a big head whenever he accomplishes something.
    • 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." Once more of his backstory is revealed, it turns out to be a downplayed example. Lockhart does have a genuinely over-inflated opinion of himself, but he's also aware of his ineptitude and has spent most of his career using the skills he does have to disguise his shortcomings and turn himself into a celebrity. He could actually have been a talented wizard had he put in the effort, but his ego is so big that he refuses to acknowledge this.
  • Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy:
    • "The Mayors": Prince Regent Wienis of Anacreon has been troubling the fledgling Foundation. Mayor Hardin voices the opinion that Wienis' warmongering and bombastics are signs of an inferiority complex, as that often happens among younger members of royalty.
    "Probably an over-compensated inferiority complex. Younger sons of royalty get that way, you know."Salvor Hardin
    "We didn't foresee that you were not merely a mutant, but a sterile mutant and the added psychic distortion due to your inferiority complex passed us by. We allowed only for a megalomania - not for an intensely psychopathic paranoia as well."First Speaker
  • 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).
  • An interpretation of Zeus's behavior in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. He quarrels with Poseidon over who their mother Rhea likes better, is paranoid Poseidon is constantly plotting against him, demands respect when no one respects him, closes off of Olympus due to wounded pride, and tries to blame others for his mistakes. His massive ego and demand people respect and obey him comes across as at least partially trying to cover up his own mistakes and knowledge he is a failure that no one likes, especially when one compares his treatment of others, and how others, in turn, react to him, with his fellow Kings Ra and Odin in their own series having a lot fewer people in those series who snark or debase their kings (at least when Ra isn't senile, then many of the Egyptians Gods will snark at him.)
  • The titular hero of the Prince Roger series embodies this trope at the start. His parents separated before his birth under...tricky circumstances, and his mother was aloof during his childhood because he looks (and behaves) too much like his father. But as Roger knows nothing about this he takes it as a purely personal rejection, and it doesn't help that the whole empire compares him unfavorably to his ridiculously accomplished half-siblings. He grows up into a stroppy, arrogant playboy largely to piss his mother off, but also to cover up how generally lousy he feels about himself. It's no coincidence that he only starts to outgrow his Spoiled Brat tendencies once others start viewing him as worthy and useful and he gains some actual self-esteem.
  • Jane Rizzoli of the Rizzoli & Isles books 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 that she felt it was some way that she would finally earn respect, and in life in general because of her plain and average looks, resulting in her striving to excel at everything else in order to compensate.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Pick any younger-generation Lannister. Blame it on growing up with Tywin Lannister as the head of the clan — it might just be that the only thing worse for you than being one of the kids who was judged to be a disappointment from very young (say, Tyrion and Lancel) is 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 (Cersei, Jaime and to some extent Joffrey). And, then there's poor Joy Hill's situation; she gets shunted to the side of almost everything because she's his brother's acknowledged bastard... and acknowledging low-tier by-blows is simply beneath Lannisters — and, despite being kin, you're not a Lannister, Miss Hill. Until using her as a backhanded marriage trinket comes along as a possibility, that is: yay, suddenly remembered when nobody else in the extended family wants in on that marriage (or when that whole thing just got misinterpreted)! How to mess 'em up, House Lannister.
    • 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 fewer grounds for the superiority bit: the Greyjoy name doesn't hold as much weight.
    • This attitude seems to be pretty widespread among the Ironborn; only a few major characters, like Asha Greyjoy and Rodrik Harlaw, see the contradiction between being "born conquerors," superior by birth to the green-landers, etc. etc., and getting their teeth kicked in so often by the mainland kingdoms.
    • 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.
  • Starflight from Wings of Fire thinks of himself as being inherently superior due to being a NightWing (dragons that can tell the future and read minds), but he doesn't have any powers yet. Internally, however, he berates himself for not being as brave or daring as his friends and thinks that he's a failure. He wants to believe that the NightWings are good and noble and awe-inspiring, but just like Clay and Glory, he's let down by what they really are.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer & Angel:
    • Buffy herself: 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.
    • Wesley. On Buffy, he was pompous and high and mighty when he was more like an inefficient nuisance by everyone else. Then came Angel and after going through a series of horrible situations, it's revealed he never thought he was good enough as a watcher or to his father.
    • Spike. He acts cocky and arrogant to the bone, but all the superior remarks of his are for convincing himself as much as convincing everyone else. This is particularly apparent in his dynamic with Buffy and his centuries-feud with Angel.
    • Faith. She scorns Buffy's moral, 'weight-of-the-world' approach to being a slayer all through Buffy Season 3 and even claimed to her they were better than everyone else, then in S4 undergoes a redemption arc and even begs Angel to kill her in a display of overwhelming self-loathing.
    • Angel is the inverse of this. He has genuine insecurity and self-hatred, all of which he's very open about, but at the same time sometimes acts superior through his actions. It's only with Spike that Angel is a traditional example of this trope: his rivalry with Spike in S5 all but confirmed he felt a certain degree of entitlement in being the vampire with a soul and a champion, the Shanshu prophecy, and having Buffy... until Spike came along. Fueling his insecurities and doubts all the more.
  • Community:
    • 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...
  • Doctor Who:
    • 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.
    • There's a repeated conceit throughout much of the show that the Doctor's lack of belief in formal education and endorsement of instinctual methods of flying the TARDIS is really because he got terrible grades as a student and failed his TARDIS driving exams. See "Terror of the Autons", where the Third Doctor gets snotty when reminded the Master got better grades on his exams than he did, or "The Time of Angels" when the Eleventh Doctor gets very self-righteous when River points out that he doesn't know what a lot of his TARDIS buttons actually do.
    • 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, suggesting this may be its motive. 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. In "The Face of Evil", the Fourth Doctor goes in the space of a single conversation from complaining a statue of him with a doorway behind it isn't very good because 'the nose could be a touch more aquiline', but as soon as Leela suggests the nose might be how they get in (not even directly remarking about its size), the Doctor gives an offended and self-conscious reaction.
    • 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:
      '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.
    • Donna Noble seems to have a bad case of this, likely caused by her emotionally abusive mother. She's loud, sassy and snarky, but quietly rejects any attempt by the Doctor to tell her she's important or special. In "Journey's End", the Metacrisis Doctor finally realizes this is not just humility on her part.
      Donna: I keep telling you, I'm not [special].
      Metacrisis Doctor: No, but you are-! (he pauses) Oh... You really don't believe that, do you? I can see, Donna. What you're thinking. All that attitude, all that lip, 'cause all this time... You think you're not worth it.
      Donna: (half-heartedly) Stop it.
      Metacrisis Doctor: Shouting at the world 'cause no-one's listening. Well, why should they?
      Donna: (quietly) Doctor. Stop it.
    • 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.
    • According to a documentary, actors are instructed to play the Daleks like this, the idea being that subconsciously the Dalek race as a whole are extremely troubled by their existence as deformed, irradiated mutants locked inside unfeeling metal cages from birth to death. Thus, they (over)compensate by deciding they must be better simply by virtue of them being Daleks. The best example of this would be the Daleks from "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways", who adopt an erstatz religious fundamentalism to mask the self-loathing they feel due to being engineered from "impure" human DNA.
      • The Doctor delivered an observation on this issue in the New Series Adventures novel Prisoner of the Daleks; confronting Dalek X- the Dalek Inquistor General, the most dangerous Dalek currently active, now trapped on a dead world with just enough power to keep it alive- the Doctor pointed out the Daleks couldn't accept every other race in the unvierse was better than them, pointing out that nobody in existence would willingly become a Dalek.
  • Lord Genis, the Big Bad of Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger claims to be the greatest and most powerful being in the universe and destroys planets for his own amusement and as proof of his superiority. He secretly is ashamed of his origin, that he is composed of countless weak creatures merged into one. Anybody exposing his secret or showing pity to him is his Berserk Button.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • Game of Thrones: Theon's arrogance has a lot to do with coping with being constantly reminded of his glorified prisoner status.
  • 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.
  • Tahani in The Good Place was a rich & famous Statuesque Stunner who constantly had to make sure everyone in the room knew it, which annoyed Eleanor to no end. However it's revealed that her haughty streak was the result of a crippling inferiority complex from her parents arbitrarily making her The Unfavorite, and the reason she ended up in Hell in the first place is because all her charitable works were done in the name of self-aggrandizement rather than altruism.
  • Frank Pembleton from Homicide: Life on the Street has a fairly arrogant attitude, but it's occasionally shown that underneath the surface he is plagued by self-doubt and self-loathing.
  • 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.
  • How I Met Your Mother: Barney Stinson occasionally betrays the vulnerabilities and insecurities which hide beneath his self-assured, charismatic demeanor.
  • The InBESTigators: In "The Case of the Peculiar Pop Quiz," Ava repeatedly goes out of her way to claim that Kelly wanted to hire both Maudie and Ezra as tutors because she knew Ezra would see it when he edited the video.
  • Jay from The Inbetweeners.
  • Kamen Rider:
  • The live-action of The King's Avatar highlighted this more in certain characters.
    • While Sun Xiang is a great player, much of his boosting after he joins Excellent Era is due to the fact he knows that he cannot live up to the hype of being Ye Xiu's successor.
    • Wei Chen likes to brag and claim he would lead the team to victory to cover for the fact that his Glory skills have deteriorated due to his age.
    • Qiu Fei likes to present himself as very knowledgeable and skilled in Glory but in reality, he is terrified of being seen as a loser as his family sees him as.
  • Hank Kingsley from The Larry Sanders Show tends to act the very picture of the bombastically egotistic Hollywood celebrity, but deep down clearly knows that he's not that talented nor smart, that his fame and success rests solely on being the sidekick to a more talented and successful person, and that his career is built on a very shaky and unstable foundation that could be taken away any second. Consequently, he's clearly also full of bitterness, self-loathing, and insecurity.
  • Life: 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.
  • Lost has several examples. There's Sawyer, a cocky, abrasive playboy who actually hates himself for becoming like the man who killed his parents, Charlie, who looks more dejected every time someone doesn't recognize a Drive-Shaft song, Shannon, whose seemingly large ego is frequently cut down by her brother telling her she's worthless, and finally Ben, whose aloofness and presumed arrogance are due to his feelings of inadequacy caused by his abusive father and the deep need he feels to impress Jacob.
  • 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.
  • Tom from Parks and Recreation is superficially self-confident to the point of arrogance, but it’s clear that his carefully crafted persona as a “baller” masks deep insecurities, likely stemming from his childhood as a social outcast. For all his entrepreneurial ventures, Conspicuous Consumption, meticulously-groomed appearance, and constant put-downs of anyone he considers uncool, he lives in terror of being left behind by the zeitgeist and turning out to be nothing more than an insignificant man working an unfulfilling government job in a nowhere small town, to the point that he suffers a borderline existential crisis when he learns that teenagers do not recognise or enjoy his favourite music. This aspect of his character disappears in later seasons when he manages to achieve success as a businessman and genuinely does become a Man of Wealth and Taste.
    • The perfect demonstration of this is when Jerry retires and the department begins looking for who will be the next office Butt-Monkey and quickly settle on Tom over Andy. Although Andy is a clumsy, slovenly idiot who regularly humiliates himself; he also lacks any sense of shame and is genuinely and sincerely comfortable in his own skin, meaning that people laugh with him rather than at him whenever he screws up. Meanwhile, Tom’s dignity is so fragile and artificial that simply saying the phrase “file piles” is sufficient to turn him into a laughing stock.
  • Arthur Shelby of Peaky Blinders is a swaggering loudmouth prone to violence and boasting, and comes off as genuinely arrogant and intimidating, especially during confrontations with his rivals. But behind the bravado, he's a horrendously broken human being who struggles with insecurity and self-hate. He regularly engages in massively self-destructive behavior and has attempted suicide more than once.
  • In Red Dwarf, Arnold Rimmer is always publicly aggrandising himself: of course he'd pass the officer's exam if Lister hadn't stopped him studying, of course he'd be a great military leader if he had that opportunitynote , and so on. However, in "Terrorform", the most powerful force in his mind is self-loathing, and in "Inquisitor" he admits he's nothing "but from where I started, nothing is up". Essentially he tries desperately to believe he's the sort of son his parents wanted but knows he isn't and doesn't know how to be anything else.
    • The alternate novel continuity had the observation that Rimmer is actually good at art and graphic design, and his main problem with trying to succeed in the space corps is that he genuinely isn't cut out for it but his family is so fixated on that career path that he's never let himself consider another option.
  • In Sherlock, 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 like this from the audience's perspective.
  • 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.
  • Kendall Roy from Succession practically oozes insecurity, desperation, and self-loathing despite playing at being a confident, ruthless businessman.
  • Dean Winchester from Supernatural is a pretty good example of this. He's arrogant, judgmental, self-righteous, and is capable of being very brutal to compensate for his insecurities and overwhelming lack of self-worth.
  • 30 Rock:
    • Jenna 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.
    • Tracey apparently has a similar problem. Look at his reaction to the same news.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) 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.
  • 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.

  • The song "Oh No!" by Marina Diamandis includes the line "I feel like I'm the worst, so I always act like I'm the best."
  • Almost any country song containing the phrase "city boy" (which is to say, quite a few of them) will fall under this trope. Some of them are still decent songs if you're into that genre.

  • Taako of The Adventure Zone: Balance shows many signs of self-loathing despite his Awesome Ego. He carries an immense amount of guilt over the disaster at Glamour Springs and his comments early on describing himself as an "idiot" could be seen as Self-Deprecation. Finally, when he reveals his undisguised appearance to Kravitz he immediately expects to be rejected.

    Professional Wrestling 

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Benedict acts cold and arrogant to hide that, due to his father's abusive treatment, he thinks he has no worth as a person.
    • David feels threatened by the amount of power that the others wield, and so tries to overcompensate by becoming as powerful as he possibly can.

  • Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire. He's a swaggering, brutish, ill-tempered braggart, all of which is meant to hide his resentment at his outsider status, both as an immigrant and a member of the American working class. Blanche, his aristocratic Southern Belle sister-in-law, gets the brunt of it.
  • In Company, Larry states that Joanne is "wildly conceited" with "no self-esteem".
  • In the NYTW and London productions of Hadestown, and to a lesser extent Edmonton, Orpheus projected an air of confidence and self-assuredness that was at least partly a facade; he only felt truly confident when around Eurydice, and privately felt lonely despite having crowds around him.

    Video Games 
  • This is the Fatal Flaw of Lotte Carmine from BlazBlue. 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 bad and even refused to support him in 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.
  • 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.
  • Deltarune: Kris's know-it-all classmate Berdly is revealed to have this problem in Chapter 2. He prides himself on being one of the smartest kids in class, but it's revealed it stems from beating Noelle in a spelling bee as a kid, when he only won due to the final word "December" being her Trauma Button, and he let the praise go to his head. In reality, he's reliant on Noelle's help to maintain his good grades.
  • Dominus Ghaul in Destiny 2 is a mighty Cabal warlord who's brave and intelligent, but also has a rather fragile ego and is constantly seeking validation for his actions. He tries to conquer the City and gain the Traveler's powers because he's jealous; angry that the Guardians were granted the Traveler's blessing and not him, because surely someone as strong as him deserves it more. It's noted he could easily just steal the Traveler's light, but he won't because he's convinced doing so would be equal to admitting failure and he won't accept that. He needs the Traveler to acknowledge him as worthy on its own and starts cracking when it becomes increasingly obvious that he can't impress it.
  • Disgaea:
    • Laharl 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 Jerkass to most people isn't exactly earning him any brownie points, either. This is driven farther in Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness 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 at put-downs are less effective than Laharl's but he still hides his insecurities underneath the Dark Hero mask he constantly dons.
  • Ensemble Stars!:
    • Tori is extremely demanding and loves to gloat about how much better he is than the 'slaves' around him. However, he is highly aware that he is the youngest and least experienced member of fine and is very worried deep down that he might be holding them back. Part of his Character Development involves him deliberately choosing to become less childish and selfish so he can stand on his own even after the third years graduate without making them worry.
    • Arashi appears very confident, often boasting about her great fashion sense and beauty. But deep down she's dealing with some pretty major gender issues, and while she pretends it doesn't bother her when others call her things like 'okama' (a slur aimed at queer men and trans women), she really does worry that she'll never be able to become the beautiful woman she wants to be. Her boasting is an attempt to put up a shield and to convince herself that she's okay with things as they are.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VII is full of these. To the extent that it could be considered one of the main themes of the game:
      • Cloud insists on showing off as much as possible, striking poses, and being flamboyantly snarky towards others. This is later revealed to be a false persona that stemmed from a complex caused by his feelings of worthlessness, exacerbated by Jenova cells and trauma. At one point, he states that as a child he dealt with his isolation and feelings of worthlessness by convincing himself that it was because everyone other than him was stupid.
      • A similar case can be made for Cloud's enemy, Sephiroth. When he learned he was the product of sick science and some sort of alien monster "lady", he... didn't take it well. To say the least. When his pride was shattered by the revelation, he went mad trying to prove himself more than a lab monster and ended up falling into delusions of grandeur, ripping through many Moral Event Horizons like wet paper in his wake. Upon realising he isn't a real human, Cloud quotes him as saying that he'd always known he was strange and different when compared to other people, "but... not like this...". A week later, he's declaring himself the 'rightful heir to this Planet' and planning to become a God. His arrogance even allows him to re-emerge five years after his apparent death falling into a reservoir of Mako energy, without having experienced the ego-death that is suffered by most people heavily exposed to Mako energy.
      • Red XIII acts haughty, intelligent, and ancient, with little time for the inexplicable behaviour of humans. To Red's embarrassment and Cloud's surprise, it later turns out that he's the equivalent of a fifteen-year-old boy and he still lives with his grandfather, and he was showing off due to feelings of inadequacy.
      • Aerith's reckless behaviour and manic levels of confidence about her Zany Schemes are in contrast to how awkwardly she talks about her powers when Tifa asks her about them. It's clear she has only a confused grasp of her abilities, doesn't know what her mother's Materia is for (calling one of the two most powerful magical items in the world 'good for absolutely nothing' and wearing it as a hair accessory), and is scared of how different she is. The Expanded Universe has it that she was mostly isolated growing up due to her surveillance by the Turks and because her abilities led people to consider her creepy. By the end of the first Disc, she has so much control over her powers that she can translate the words of spirits, interfere with Cloud's dreams to speak to him while he's unconscious, find the lost City of the Ancients, and cast her mother's spell.
      • Barret at first comes off as an aggressive blowhard who loves being in charge and is very arrogant and uncompromising about his anti-Shinra political views. He later admits that this is all an attempt to deal with his feelings of worthlessness after his initially pro-Shinra views led to his town being destroyed. When the displaced and destitute residents corner him and shout abuse at him, Barret just nods and takes it.
      • Zigzagged by Yuffie, who at one point gives a big speech about how her country has been stripped of pride after its colonisation, and she only stole from the party because she thought that if she did, she could prove herself... and immediately reverts to her usual Awesome Ego personality after using this to lure the party leader into trapping the other members in a big cage, gloating at them for being stupid enough to fall for it. However, most fans do think Yuffie's speech was about her real reasoning, even if she was using it to manipulate the others. Many of her in-party scenes show her tough-girl attitude falling apart when faced with genuinely threatening and disturbing things, like confronting the shooter in the Battle Square, saying goodbye to Aerith, or working up the courage to kiss a boy.
    • Final Fantasy VII Remake, as a Remake, has Barret directly call Cloud out on his cockiness coming from "a huge inferiority complex".
    • Final Fantasy IX has Kuja. In a race of artificial people called "Genomes", he was the only one with an actual soul due to some sort of fluke. He was always insisting due to this that he was different from his nigh-mindless peers, loudly trying to enforce his individuality. But then ANOTHER Genome was created with a soul (on purpose this time) and was scheduled to be Kuja's replacement. Kuja reacted... badly. He kidnapped the child and dropped him into the world Kuja was to help destroy, all out of a desire to prove himself superior.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Serra from Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade 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.
    • Takumi from Fire Emblem Fates haughtily declares that he intends to be the one to bring the Avatar down for their betrayal in the Conquest route and is often abrasive toward people who haven't earned his trust, but it quickly becomes clear that he doesn't have much faith in himself. He also has a tendency to project his negative thoughts about himself on others. His supports with his older siblings and even his own son drive the point home the best. Takumi's self-esteem is actually frighteningly low, and his possession by Anankos on the Conquest route just makes his issues worse.
  • Roxanne Wolf from Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach. While she just seems narcissistic at first, there are several hints that it's merely a facade. When you spy on her in the vents, she starts out complimenting herself in front of the mirror, but then breaks down crying a short time later. One of her voice lines has her nervously reassure herself that she will find Gregory first, because she's "the best".
  • In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, it is not outright stated but heavily implied that the protagonist, Rean Schwarzer, loathes himself, which is what causes him to go out of his way to help practically everyone who asks, no matter how mundane or outrageous their requests may be, and even some who never ask for help. In the first game, people just assume he's just a good kid who wants to do well, but by the third and fourth game, he actually hates himself for who he is and what he has done up to that point.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Zelda was initially very cold and dismissive towards Link but as later revealed, acted in this manner due to not being able to awaken her ancestral power. Seeing Link as the chosen hero, easily wielding the Master Sword, was a reminder of their own failures. Revali also acts in a similar manner towards Link by constantly spouting off on how much better he is than him and brushes off Link's chosen one status as merely "being lucky". It's all a front to hide his feelings of looking worthless after spending most of his life being his village's highly praised warrior and getting one-upped by a boy that happened to be special.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Miranda from Mass Effect 2 was genetically designed to be perfect, and she envies Shepard for having built their career with nothing more than skill, hard work, and courage.
    • The Big Bad of the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3 implies this during their Villainous Breakdown, that their real motivation to Kill and Replace Shepard stems from an inferiority complex at being considered nothing more than a clone of the real Commander Shepard.
  • Time Man from Mega Man Powered Up acts this way to compensate for the fact that he was activated in an unfinished state.
  • 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. The Last Days of FOXHOUND has The Sorrow exploit it into convincing him to learn a lesson about brains vs brawn.
    Big Boss: You play him like a damn Stradivarius.
    The Sorrow: Ha! More like a fifty-cent kazoo. A kazoo with a big red button labelled "inferiority complex".
  • Persona:
    • Persona 3 has this in the Magician Arcana in Junpei Iori. He tends to act cocky and confrontational, mainly with The Hero. However, we learn that he has low self-esteem and a cruddy home life with an absent alcoholic father. As such, he initially saw SEES as a way to escape his home life and be a somebody in his life. However, he does carrying the insecurity of being not good at anything besides fighting ... which he then gets outclassed by the Protagonist. Character Development does have him grow out of this as he grows close to them and becoming The Lancer and Best Friend of the main character over time. His issues are toned down a bit in Portable should you play as the female character, instead becoming more of an older brother sort of figure, though still also your closest friend (outside of Aigis).
    • Token Evil Teammate Akechi in Persona 5 was a Sad Clown with a Friendless Background, who despite having many talents including being a powerful Persona user, despised Joker for being able to catch up to and eventually surpass him through The Power of Friendship while he had nobody.
    • Persona 5 Strikers: Ango Natsume's pride was devastatingly wounded when he found out that not only was the writing competition he won fixed, but his editor saw him only as a talentless money fountain. He propped himself up with EMMA, but still felt inadequate. It's best represented by how after he is defeated, his outfit is revealed to be a cardboard cutout he stands behind in his underwear.
  • The Rival (A.K.A. "Silver") in Pokémon Gold and Silver and Crystal is an extremely arrogant, highly abrasive boy who acts like he's stronger and better than everyone else, berating the player and calling them "weakling" constantly throughout the game even right after losing, calling everyone else weak, rudely brushing off advice and help from others, viewing Team Rocket or any bunch of people as little more than a bunch of cowards compensating for their lack of strength and possessing a burning hatred for everyone and everything he sees as weak, even scoffing at you for trying to cure a sick Ampharos. In the original generation 2 games, he goes as far as to say he wants to wipe out the weak. However, in the remakes it's revealed that it's to compensate for his deep-seated fear of his own weakness, stemming from his father Giovanni's loss to Red three years prior that prompted the temporary disbanding of Team Rocket and his abandoning of a very young Silver. He gets better by the end, however.
  • In the Wii remake of Punch-Out!!, Super Macho Man is an egocentric showoff who plays to the crowd and treats his opponents like dirt. Surely losing to Little Mac once isn't going to put a dent in that massive ego, right? Fight him again in Title Defense and he's changed for the worse - he throws a tantrum when the crowd boos him, yelling "Why don't you love me?" (The crowd always booed him before and he ignored it.) He doesn't even flash his trademark smile as he taunts anymore - instead, he flexes so hard it looks painful as he grimaces at Mac. If he wins this bout, he has an epiphany and decides that Celebrity Is Overrated... but then it goes to his head and he reverts to his old ways. If the man wasn't an atomic-level Jerkass, you'd almost feel sorry for him.
  • Radiant Arc: At the start of the game, it's clear that Derek is jealous that Lexie is giving Linky so much attention, which is why he bullies Linky and looks down on the latter for being weaker. In the present, he's easily defeated by a Minotaur while Linky succeeds by awakening his powers as the Radiant Arc, causing Derek to lose faith in himself now that Linky surpassed him. This causes him to join the Morians both to prove himself stronger than Linky and because he's projecting his fear of his weakness on the rest of humanity, believing they're too weak to oppose the demons.
  • Rise of the Third Power: Noraskov survived the Great War, but at the top of Peren Desh, he claims that failing to bring his country to victory was one of his greatest failures. This, combined with his shame over his peasant background, implies that he cultivates a strongman image to compensate for his own inferiority complex.
  • In the first 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.)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • This is Metal Sonic's motivation. 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 Eggman and tries to devastate the planet in a desperate attempt to prove that he's the more powerful warrior.
    • Infinite takes this even further in Sonic Forces. The self-proclaimed "Ultimate Mercenary", he belittles everyone he meets, including Sonic and Shadow; he even gloats a bit toward his boss, Dr. Eggman. But for all his arrogance, Sonic doesn't take him any more seriously than he does his other enemies, and even Dr. Eggman gets sick of him. Why? Before the events of the game, Infinite was just a two-bit sellsword. His effortless defeat at Shadow's hands prompted a Freak Out and motivated him to fusing himself with the Phantom Ruby, becoming a weapon of mass destruction and shredding his original name.
    • Blaze the Cat. Acts rather aloof and a bit above it all, and prefers being independent and doing everything by herself (at least initially). Despite this, she's socially awkward and insecure, it's stated in official sources that she's self-conscious about her figure, and she becomes very defensive and snappy when Silver claims that he could have taken the robots out without her in Sonic Colors, immediately claiming that she could have taken them out without him as well. This could also be seen in her debut game, in which she was so disgusted by the notion of letting Sonic aid her that she fought him when he refused to back out of the fight with the Eggmen, which allowed the latter to escape their grasp and in turn nearly led to the destruction of two dimensions.
  • Alex from Stardew Valley reveals this in his route; he was abused by his father as a child, possibly witnessed his mother's death, and came to believe he was worthless. Grandma Evelyn's well-meant concerns about his academic shortcomings are furthering his insecurity, so he covers up with rudeness and bragging about his athleticism and future as a sports star.
  • Darth Thanaton in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Big Bad of the Sith Inquisitor storyline. Like the Player Character he was a former slave who became Sith after it was discovered he was Force-sensitive, but his low upbringing combined with his Insufferable Genius demeanor caused him to not be taken seriously by his peers. Even after ascending to the Dark Council most of the other members seem to quietly disdain him, and his stubborn adherence to Sith tradition at the cost of alienating everyone around him is a thinly-veiled overcompensation to validate himself.
  • Papyrus from Undertale has this in spades. His Establishing Character Moment is him nagging his brother Sans to stop slacking around, slipping into a boast on how perfect he is, and ultimately wishes to be showered with the respect he deserves. When you have to fight him, the way he talks heavily implies he just wants people to like him. That, of course, isn't to say he doesn't already have what he wants, and he doesn't seem to notice when someone actually hates him, to the point of giving words of encouragement to a Knife Nut immediately after being decapitated by said Knife Nut. That one he does notice - if you choose not to decapitate him, he actually tells you "to be honest, I was a little afraid" of coming out to meet you. He just sincerely believed you could do better.
  • In Until Dawn, during the therapy sessions with Dr. Hill, if Emily is chosen as the player's least favourite person, Dr. Hill would suggest that she may have a fear of failure and her abrasiveness is a cover for her insecurities. This is seen later on if both she and Matt survive and have high relationship stats, Emily will ask the police about Matt and is noticeably concerned if Matt still considers her a good, devoted girlfriend.
  • It's currently just background information since Yandere Simulator isn't finished yet, but final rival Megami Saiko's little brother Kencho has this bad. The only reason he was born was to be a Spare to the Throne in case Megami dies or abandons her responsibilities (like her aunt did before her), and he knows it. Because of this, he feels that his entire self-worth is tied to her, and he only has purpose if he can outdo her. Unfortunately for him, she's a Parody Sue who always outdoes him in everything, so he has a massive inferiority complex tied to her. The 'superiority' part comes from his relationship with other people- he loves flaunting his wealth and generally rubbing his status into the faces of people he considers his inferiors in a desperate attempt to feel better than someone.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Franziska von Karma tries to hide this about herself. 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 shows that she actually hides a lot of insecurity, and feels a constant pressure to live up to her family legacy of being nothing but absolutely perfect in everything she does. This has pushed her to become a full-fledged criminal prosecutor at the age of thirteen.
    • Yumihiko Ichiyanagi (or Sebastian Debeste, as named in the unofficial English dub) from Ace Attorney Investigations 2 also has similar issues to Franziska. He 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.
  • Chaos;Child: The protagonist, Takuru, is shown to look down on people and considers himself a "right-sider", placing everyone he knows as inherently underneath him as a way of justifying his faults.
  • Miu Iruma from Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony tends to act like an Insufferable Genius, bragging about her good looks and talent while talking down to her classmates. This is an attempt to cover up that she is actually a timid girl with self-esteem issues, and it is not very hard to break her haughty exterior anyway. She also very clearly wants people to like her because of her beauty and genius, and she quickly shrinks back to her meek self when her attempts fall flat. For example, in her first Free Time Event with Shuichi:
    Miu: [after showing Shuichi her inventions] Hah-hahahaha! Whaddaya think!? Bow before my formidable talent!
    Shuichi: *sigh*...I don't know what to say. This is all very odd.
    Miu: Wh-What...? D-Don't...look at me like that... With those...cold eyes... I just...wanted to show this stuff to you...
  • Fate/stay night:
    • This is the entire reason why Matou Shinji is a jerk to everyone. In Heaven's Feel it's shown how as a child, he learned that he came from a family of magi but was incapable of doing magecraft, and eventually found out that his adopted sister, Sakura, had replaced him as heir to the family's craft. Thereafter, his grandfather Zouken manipulates him by making him feel worthless. This is why he jumps into the Holy Grail War, as he sees it as a chance to prove himself. He breaks down as any chance of being considered noteworthy is destroyed in Heaven's Feel when Rider reveals that her real Master is Sakura, not Shinji.
    • Fate/Apocrypha: Mordred will often go on rants about how much better she is than her father, King Arthur, with no prompting whatsoever. It is eventually revealed that her wish to become king is not due to a desire to surpass Arthur, but simply to ease Arthur's burden of leadership. Unfortunately, due to being a pre-teen with an artificially aged body, Mordred is super immature and chose the worst way to express this desire.
  • 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.
  • Monster Girl Quest: Despite being the high-and-haughty lord of the monsters, Alice hides seriously crippling insecurity of her abilities as any kind of leader due to her interference preventing peace between humans and monsters. When she was two. Luka calls her out on this in Act II because it goes against her natural personality.
  • Both Zen and Jumin from Mystic Messenger show shades of this. Long-Haired Pretty Boy Zen is constantly gushing about how he's the world's most handsome man and an amazing actor, but flashbacks in his route show that as a child he was both objectified by almost everyone, from teachers to strangers, and ruthlessly insulted and belittled him, constantly telling him that he was ugly and incompetent, and his mother even once tried to forcibly shave all his hair off. Word of God is that he talks himself up constantly because he's never really had someone consistently in his corner and he secretly hides a lot of insecurity, and Jumin muses that maybe people who are vain are only that way because they've never known the privilege of being able to love someone else safely. Jumin, on the other hand, is less mouthy about his accomplishments, but he does take pride in being an excellent businessman CEO-in-line of a massive business conglomerate, as well as being handsome, intelligent, and level-headed, but he turns out to be extremely lonely, hence why he dotes on his cat Elizabeth the Third, and tells you in his route that he feels like a mutant who's unable to relate to or be close with almost anyone, which can be attributed to growing up with parents who treated him as a project instead of a child, as well as the heavily implied sexual grooming that one of his stepmothers tried to exact on him as a kid.

  • In El Goonish Shive, Nanase gets consistently weird about how Ashley doesn't seem very impressed by her or her powers. As she's The Ace when it comes to combat ability, magic, and even physical attractiveness (going by Tedd's analysis at least), in addition to being a Nice Guy, being ignored probably isn't something she's used to. Becomes a bit of a vicious loop, as her efforts to impress give Ashley the impression Nanase is flirting with her, causing her to awkwardly change the subject or move on, further reinforcing Nanase's insecurity.
  • 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. Though one could make the case that the self-hatred is actually the facade, that Vriska just wants to come off as humble so people will like and respect her more, and that she really does think the world of herself.
    • Dave does his best to act like the coolest 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 them 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.
  • 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.
  • In Weak Hero, when Bryce starts badmouthing his newfound friend Stephen- insulting his intelligence and try-hard attitude- Gray quickly pegs that he's lashing out due to his long-standing inferiority complex.
  • Widdershins: Will Sharpe projects an image of suave, cheerful self-confidence to hide the fact that he's struggling as a student, is the Black Sheep of his family, and has no friends. Once this is exposed to people who genuinely care about helping him out of a tight spot, he starts to build up real self-confidence.
  • One What's New? with Phil and Dixie strip suggests that all supervillains are like this. And that, as a hero, the worst thing you can do is defeat them, because they'll think that proves you saw them as a threat, and just follow you around seeking more validation.

    Web Original 
  • DSBT InsaniT: Dave's such a bully because it's his way of taking out all the anger he has on the world. He hates just about everything, and being a brute empowers him and makes him think he can take on anything, but he knows he will never be strong enough to handle everything life throws at him, which just fuels his hate.
  • 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".
  • Eduardo from Eddsworld is this, always having to be better than everyone, especially Edd, in order to make up for constant harassment as a child that was caused by Edd.
  • Blitzo in Helluva Boss is a Sad Clown who shows subtle signs throughout Season 1 that despite his projected confidence, he is secretly desperate to prove himself as somebody capable and worth something, with his boasts being acts of denial that he lashes out with at anybody who gets too close to the issue. "Truth Seekers" reveals that before I.M.P., he tried to go solo but the result didn't work out, leading to self-doubt about his worth since he needs to rely on others. This causes him to push away anyone close to him until they have enough, end up hating him and leaving, which makes him crave love and companionship but gets hampered by his confidence issues, making him fear that his employees and boyfriend Stolas will leave him too and he'll die alone.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Twins (2022): Lake seems to hit a nerve when he states that the only reason why Lucas is so hellbent on getting him in trouble and acting like he's better than him is just to make himself feel better.
  • 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.
  • Wrestling Isn't Wrestling posits this as a driving motivation for Triple H. Hunter Hearst Helmsley grew up being told that he was naturally great at everything due to his wealth and breeding, but when he decided to become a professional wrestler, he quickly found that he was massively outmatched by the top guys. The only way he could achieve any level of success was by aligning himself with Shawn Michaels and accepting that he would be Always Second Best, which was a massive blow to his ego. When Michaels was forced to retire, Triple H set out to prove he was the best wrestler in the world (specifically better than Shawn) and win the audience's adoration, but no matter how hard he tried there was Always Someone Better standing in his way, making him turn to any means necessary to win. When he finally did manage to claw his way to the top, there was always somebody else younger, tougher, or more popular coming up from behind that he had to cut down to protect his self-esteem.

    Western Animation 
  • Zigzagged 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.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Princess Azula initially comes across as extremely arrogant, manipulative, and 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. Furthermore, his compassion and sensitivity were what got him in trouble in the first place (after speaking against a general for planning to use new recruits as 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 Un-Favourite 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. It's less clear than with Azula what Ozai felt about this relationship, but it's 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.
  • Ben 10:
    • Ben's Evil Counterpart Kevin 11- he is arrogant and acts like he's the best, yet cannot abide anyone making fun of him or calling him a freak. To a lesser extent, Gwen's Evil Counterpart Charmcaster has this problem too.
    • Subverted with Kevin 11,000, a grown-up Kevin from an alternate future, who has settled on a plain old superiority complex and is even more cold-blooded as a result.
      Kevin: You think I have something to prove? I already know I'm the best. I'm doing this because I like it!
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Chancellor Esteban from Elena of Avalor. At the beginning of the show, he's a Jerkass who has little to no faith in Elena's leadership capabilities and even tries to screw with her during negotiations with other kingdoms to show that he's the "true power behind Avalor", something that was true during his tenure under Shuriki in the pilot movie. As the show goes on, he undergoes Character Development and we learn that he has always felt he was Always Second Best to his more talented royal cousins and his best friend, to the point that he felt that his family didn't love him, and so he betrayed them to Shuriki by helping her take over Avalor. He came to regret 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 Futurama, both Bender and Zapp Brannigan need practically nothing to dent their confident facades.
  • Jem:
    • Pizzazz is a loud Attention Whore and a Spoiled Brat who loves to boast about her and her band's worth and loathes when anyone tries to outshine her. She is really trying to make up for her mostly loveless childhood. Her mother left her dad at an early age and her dad subsequently neglected her, only giving her attention through spoiling her with presents. Pizzazz uses her fan's adoration as a substitute for the affection she didn't have growing up. The comic book reboot and The Misfits spinoff comic go more into depth on her insecurities.
    • Riot at first he seems like a narcissist through and through, however it turns out that it's mostly a facade. He also has a troubled past, being a Military Brat with a Fantasy-Forbidding Father who hates male musicians and disowned him when he joined a band. Riot has deep insecurities revolving around his family.
  • Kaeloo:
    • Kaeloo claims to think of herself as cute-looking and talented, but the moment she sees a prettier girl or someone who is more talented than her, she becomes jealous of them because she actually has rather low self-esteem.
    • It's heavily implied, if not outright stated, that the reason Mr. Cat constantly brags about his intelligence, strength, and other talents is because he has no self-esteem, so he inflates his ego to make himself feel better.
  • 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.
  • The Looney Tunes Show have Daffy in this trope. Tina accurately guessed that he's an "insecure little weirdo who lies about everything and probably cries himself to sleep". Daffy wasn't offended, in fact; he was impressed that she could see through him so easily.
    Daffy: Wow. You're good.
  • 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.
  • Ready Jet Go!: Mitchell suffers from one. It's very obvious that he has an inflated image of himself, and sometimes acts like he's better than Jet and the gang in the contest-focused episodes. However, his attitude and abrasiveness are a psychological coverup for his insecurity and self-esteem issues. He's socially awkward/shy and tries to act tough to hide it. "Try and Try Again" has him try to impress the other kids with his kick scooter, but gets nervous when they actually come to see it.
  • In Rick and Morty, it's shown that Insufferable Genius Rick has this to the point that he feels so threatened by the idea of someone being smarter than him that he created a metaphysical wall spanning the entire infinite multiverse, blocking out any Alternate Universe with someone smarter than him from their section of the multiverse to turn reality itself into a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond situation for him for the sake of his own ego.
  • Glimmer in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is specifically called out as having "crippling self-doubt mixed with overwhelming hubris". True enough, Glimmer feels a strong need to prove herself, while also believing herself to be always right. This becomes an issue when she becomes queen, as she still feels the need to prove how right she is while also having the authority to ignore any objections.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer Simpson occasionally drifts into this trope, with a side order of Sour Grapes. ("Why won't those idiots let me into their crappy club for jerks?!")
    • Lisa Simpson’s Fatal Flaw is that she defines herself by being smarter than others and due to flanderization, this aspect of her has only gotten worse throughout the years. Lisa has done things such as willingly staying a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond, to completely alienating her fellow students (by being a Soapbox Sadie to those who don’t share her interests and an Insufferable Genius to those that do). At her worse, Lisa will flat out sabotage someone she considers her better out of jealousy. While she will usually feel sorry for her actions it’s only after she gets what she wants.
  • Ludo from Star vs. the Forces of Evil does most of what he does because he craves the love and attention that he never managed to get from his family as a child, who treated him with less respect than even the heroes.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Amethyst is a carefree braggart who in one episode tries to cheer up Steven by telling him "You can't let anyone else make you feel like garbage!" Later episodes demonstrate that Amethyst has a number of insecurities of her own, stemming first from having been created in a Gem "Kindergarten" on Earth that sucked the life out of the ground for miles around to create new Gems, and later from being much smaller than a typical Quartz-class Gem.
    • Pearl has it worse. Yes, she's Condescendingly Compassionate and disdains organic life, but she herself harbors extreme self-esteem issues, stemming from her past where she was made to be a glorified handmaid. She was a Clingy Jealous Girl to Rose Quartz because Rose treated her like she was important, and she ends up causing severe problems in Cry for Help because she desired to feel Garnet's self-confidence and did so by exploiting the threat of Peridot in order to trick Garnet into fusing again. When Garnet found out, she was Not Happy.
    • The Crystal Gems don't have a monopoly on unhealthy compensation for self-esteem issues. Peridot may feel superior to the Crystal Gems because she fits into Homeworld's system whereas Amethyst's defective, Pearls are low-caste, and Garnet's very existence is illegal, but she's also an Era 2 gem with no natural powers (or at least, none that she knew of) while the Crystal Gems are all Era 1 gems. Peridot feels that her worth is defined by the technology she uses, which is why she freaked out over the loss of her limb enhancers and when Amethyst tried to throw away her tablet.
    • And then there's Jasper, who's arrogant because she's the Ultimate Quartz, but also insecure because she was made on Earth and born fighting a war that was half over before she was even made. And she keeps getting beaten by fusions. This fundamental self-hatred drives her to a Redemption Rejection and ends with her corrupted.
    • By the Steven Universe: Future episode "Prickly Pair", Steven has a tangled mess of a desire to be needed along with a resentment of feeling like he needs help. He has somewhat condescending perceptions of the Gems' flaws but also still wants them to be impressed by his new hobby. When they're rightfully disturbed by the fact that he named his plants after people he knows to pretend they'll never leave him, he takes it as a sign that his gardening is unimpressive instead of concern for his wellbeing.
  • Thomas & Friends: Gordon always wants to prove himself, feeling his importance is threatened if any other engine rivals or surpasses him. He's visibly distraught when he bursts his safety valve in "Henry to the Rescue" and Sir Topham Hatt is ashamed of him.
    • James has it far worse than Gordon. James will lose his cool if he's not the center of attention from the passengers. On the other hand, he is often shown taking his mistakes or fall-outs with others rather badly. He actually cries after causing the bootlace incident.
  • Wander over Yonder: Part of the reason Lord Hater is evil is to cover up for his insecurities by being an intimidating tyrant. It's implied this is one of the reasons Wander tries so hard to be his friend, as he is the only one who sees right through his facade.
  • 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 comparison to her sister (an assassin) and the other heroes, many of whom have super-powers.

    Real Life 
  • Fictional media often portrays bullies as having low self-esteem, with their big egos being a facade to cover up their insecurities. While this is sometimes true, studies show that most real-life bullies actually have high self-esteem and genuinely do believe they are better than their targets, making them more of a Small Name, Big Ego than this trope. Still, people who admit to having been bullies as kids have poorer mental health on average. Additionally, bullies who fail to shed their abusive behaviour are significantly more likely to become sadists, sociopaths, or psychopaths, placing them as being equally more likely to engage in criminal acts or acts of violence in the future.
  • In contrast, the victims of bullies can exhibit this trope played straight, as a result of sustained psychological and physical trauma; one coping strategy victims may employ is inflating their ego in an attempt to look as if they haven't suffered as much as they really have, only for this noble attempt at deflection to be destroyed the moment their abusers return to harm them again. This, tragically, is how some victims of bullying become bullies themselves.
  • 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 bodybuilders are full of themselves when flexing in front of a mirror, think again.
  • Adlerian "individual psychology" is the Trope Namer. Alfred Adler's idea of psychological health was the ability to actualize an ideal self. A superiority complex is what happens when perceived failures to live up to this ideal results in an unhealthy overcompensation as a coping mechanism. A healthier approach (according to Adler) is either a more appropriate self-ideal or working to improve the weak spots.