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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, Sub-Par Supremacist, Insufferable Genius, Arrogant Kung-Fu 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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    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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 constantly put down by Scrooge and Gladstone, so when he stumbled on the journal and equipment of Fantomius, the Gentleman Thief, he used it to steal the money-filled bed Scrooge was sleeping on and humiliate Gladstone. While he started becoming a more heroic character even in the earliest stories, the trait never fully disappeared, leading to such things as feigning an Easy Amnesia and literally steal away half the city just to track down a crime boss that he couldn't find (early in the story he was so furious at his inability to find them that he was about to beat up an already captured minion when the police stopped him).
    • This seems to be a recurring theme in Paperinik's stories: Paperinika, Paperinik's Distaff Counterpart, was born of Daisy being unable to take being put down for being female when she's just as smart if not more than Donald. At the same time, Italian authors (at least the ones who remember she exists) depict her rivalry with Paperinik as being caused by him being the only one she cannot consistently one-up and Paperinik feeling the same toward her.
  • A 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 a 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.
    • X-Men: Some writers (such as Grant Morrison and Kieron Gillen) depict Emma Frost as this; riddled with self-loathing but utterly unwilling to let anyone see any sign of weakness, so she covers it up with her ice queen façade and lashes out at the world with vicious sarcasm... which just fuels her own self-loathing further.
  • 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.

    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 from the first Kung Fu Panda 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 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 worthy 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.
  • In Turning Red, Ming normally portrays herself as a Proper Lady certain that she has her daughter, and her daughter's red panda, firmly under control, even bragging about it to her relatives. Her true personality is seen when she is interacting with her mother over the phone which shows her crippling insecurity. Her facade is broken when Mei stands up to her.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Mom and Dad Save the World, Emperor Tod “The Destroyer” Spengo is basically built entirely around this trope.
  • 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 Slaughterhouse Rulez, "House God" Clegg (basically a prefect) relies on his position to put down those he sees as beneath him, but when faced with a genuine threat in the form of the monsters that live under the school, he basically suffers a breakdown and ends up getting his arms torn off by the monsters.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • This is implied to be partially the reason for The Masquerade as a whole. Wizards (especially the British ones) act like The Fair Folk and treat muggles with Condescending Compassion at best, looking at them like children or zoo animals. However, despite the past witch hunts being laughable failures, it's still suggested at times that despite their lack of magical powers, Muggles as a whole are actually more of a threat to the wizarding world than vice-versa because of Muggles' sheer numbers and technological advancements wizards don't even attempt to understand. Dumbledore was the Big Good, and even he was put off enough by them to try subjugating them when he was younger. Just look at how the Dursleys treated Harry, and imagine that on a planetary scale.
  • 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
    • "The Mule": The Mule is a mutant with powerful psychic abilities... but they also come with a hefty dose of physical inferiority, leading to an aggressive personality angry at the society which used to scorn him as a child and capable of repaying it. This leads to him becoming a Galactic Conquerer and Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds.
    • "Search by the Mule": The First Speaker of the Second Foundation calls it their second mistake with respect to the Mule. They had easily deduced his Psychic Powers when he conquered Kalgan but neglected to realize his ugliness and inability to procreate made him resent the rest of the galaxy. After he realized what he could do with Emotion Control powers, he began conquering worlds so he could prove that he was better than everyone who ever picked on him. Even after taking control of both the Empire and the First Foundation, he keeps his palace empty of servants, so that nobody can see him and laugh at his appearance.
      "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 the Last Herald-Mage Trilogy, future Herald-Mage Vanyel starts off as The Unfavorite of his father (who sees him as an Inadequate Inheritor) and the cosseted darling of his mother (who is florid, romantic, and craves attention). This leaves him with a fragile ego and deep insecurities which he masks with arrogance. After a particularly excessive moment, another character wisely observes that Van holds his nose so high because everyone else is trying to push it into the dirt.
  • Mother of Learning: Taiven is apparently loud, proud, confident and driven. When Zorian begins to surpass her, though, the cracks start to show, until she has a breakdown, sobbing into his shoulder about how after all her hard work she feels like she's not really achieved anything, and him being better than her at everything despite being younger is the icing on the cake.
  • 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 that Poseidon is constantly plotting against him, demands respect when no one respects him, closes off Olympus due to wounded pride, and tries to blame others for his mistakes. His massive ego and demanding people respect and obey him come 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 to prove to Daddy how Bolton he could be. As well as overdoing it a bit with the family hobbies.
  • The deal with Bradley Chalkers of There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. Bradley begins as the blueprint Barbaric Bully, responding to a kid's first interaction with him with "Give me a dollar or I'll spit on you.". Few see his struggles: he's a Kiddie Kid with learning disabilities that have held him back a grade, classified as a failure by everyone but his mother. Figuring that if he's a failure, it won't sting as much if he hates the people who branded him one, he gains confidence and a sense of superiority by becoming their worst expectations: an aggressive, lying, friendless wretch who will break anything given to him. The story is about Bradley's relationship with his new school counselor, Carla, who helps Bradley break out of his cage of self-image and flourish as a person.
    He understood it when the other kids were mean to him. It didn't bother him. He simply hated them. As long as he hated them, it didn't matter what they thought of him.
  • 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.

  • 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."

  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Franziska von Karma tries to hide this about herself. She constantly proclaims her superiority to "fools" like Phoenix and Edgeworth (so far, she has failed to win against either of them). However, the epilogue of Justice For All shows that she feels constant pressure to live up to her family legacy of 'perfection.' This has left her feeling inadequate despite becoming a fully-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 said father reveals that he's the one who arranged all of Yumihiko's achievements, the young prosecutor suffers a massive breakdown, resulting in the longest and hardest Logic Chess sequence in the game. Instead of exposing the target's secret, Edgeworth has to use this Logic Chess sequence like a counseling session, helping Yumihiko get back on his feet. Edgeworth finds this exceptionally difficult 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.
    • The two most recent directors of the Chaldea Security Organization in Fate/Grand Order are this:
      • Olga Marie Animusphere's attempts at maintaining the picture of an unflappable magus and no-nonsense director of Chaldea all cover up the crippling insecurities she has as both a victim of Parental Neglect and knowing she can't actually be a Master to fight for the cause of humanity on the front lines. Ironically, as admitted by Daybit Sem Void, one of the biggest geniuses in Chaldea and who has no reason or desire to sugarcoat his opinions, if she could just overcome those insecurities naturally she could become every bit the leader Chaldea needs and then some.
      • Goredolf Musik spends a lot of time self-aggrandizing, saying how he'll lead Chaldea to fame and fortune, but his rant near the end of the prologue shows that underneath it all, he feels he's something of a failure who's hated by everyone else and he saw Chaldea as his final shot to be successful in life. He does get over this as you go throught hte Lostbelts, as shown by the fact that he didn't feel the need to give a commanding sendoff to the protagonists during the start of Lostbelt 4.
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • 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 end up Dying Alone.
  • Manga Soprano: In stories featuring a female main character who has to face a female antagonist who bullies her, she will usually explain that the FMC was more liked by everyone than she is, even when the stories imply it's the antagonist's fault that they're not liked.
  • 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.
  • Magnus the Red is depicted as this is If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device. He's painfully aware of all his flaws and mistakes but masks that with arrogance and flaunting his knowledge and power. This is actually justified: as a Daemon Prince, Magnus is shaped by his self-image; if he ever dwells on his shortcomings too much, he will actually start to physically and mentally diminish in proportion to his self-loathing. When Cegorach forces him to perform standup comedy to gain access to the Black Library (It Makes Sense in Context), he finds that the only thing that gets a laugh is Self-Deprecation and starts so bitterly listing all his personal failures, beginning with being born. It actually starts killing him, which shouldn;t even be possible.

  • 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 
  • 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.
  • 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 he 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 by 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 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 that 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 has Daffy. 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.
  • Mao Mao of Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart has this in spades. He goes to great lengths to be a hero and look cool while doing it, but he really just wants to prove himself in the eyes of his family and the people around him; this was most evident in the episode "Not Impressed" where he stalks a Sweetie Pie who was unimpressed with his heroism.
  • 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. In Season 6 we learn why he's frequently referred to as the "smartest mammal"; some of the dinosaurs survived and became ultraterrestrials colonizing the universe. Upon meeting them Rick initially enjoys having what he views as intellectual equals around, but upon discovering they're even smarter than he is, he does an immediate 180 and becomes hellbent on humiliating them.
  • 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.
    • Bart Simpson's brashness and delinquent behavior do little to hide the fact that he's insecure about his academic and social struggles and perceived intelligence as compared to Lisa.
      Bart: Okay, okay, why we dancin' around the obvious? I know it, you know it — I am dumb, okay? Dumb as a post! Think I'm happy about it?
  • 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 bullies in real life actually have high self-esteem and they pick on others not because they're trying to feel better about themselves by tearing others down, but because they genuinely enjoy abusing those that they see as beneath them. 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 as they mature are significantly more likely to become 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 result 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.


Video Example(s):



When Mao Mao discovers that a Sweetypie named Ol' Blue is unimpressed with his heroism, he becomes desperate to change his mind.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / InferioritySuperiorityComplex

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