God Complex: What It Means and Why People Have Them

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A god complex is a personality pattern in which an individual believes they have great power or influence and are superior to others. It often includes delusions of grandeur, narcissism, and exaggerated feelings of self-importance.

Someone like this may feel entitled to special treatment, act as though rules don't apply to them, and generally disregard the needs of others. They can also become intensely jealous and controlling.

The idea of a god complex was first described in a psychological context by Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist and founder of individual psychology. In the early 20th century, Adler wrote about people with an inflated sense of their own importance that was rooted in feelings of inferiority. He believed that such individuals sought to compensate for real or imagined deficiencies by trying to appear superior to others.

What Gives Someone a God Complex?

People with a god complex can be triggered by many different factors, including low self-esteem, feelings of powerlessness, or unresolved childhood issues. They may also have an overly protective or enabling parent who fostered these feelings by constantly praising them and making them feel special.

GinaMarie Guarino, a licensed mental health counselor, suggests that "a child may be at risk of developing a god complex if they were overly praised or not held accountable for their behavior. If a child was shielded from consequences or otherwise not held accountable when behaving poorly, they may have not developed proper consequential thinking or respect for rules and boundaries.”

Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, licensed clinical social worker and executive clinical director at Gallus Detox Center, explains that “a god complex may also be caused by experiences of success or admiration, which boost a person’s ego and make them believe that they are superior to others." Other causes, notes Carleton, include “narcissistic personality disorder, lack of emotional intelligence or even a mental illness such as bipolar disorder.”

When a Person Has a God Complex

When someone has a god complex, their behavior can be destructive and damaging to those around them. They may be overly critical of others or attempt to control situations through manipulation or force.

Because they feel superior, they may not recognize the impact of their actions on other people, leading to problems in relationships. Additionally, they might have difficulty accepting mistakes or criticism and will often place blame on others instead of taking responsibility for themselves.

It is important to remember that everyone has moments when they feel more powerful than usual—this does not necessarily mean that a god complex is present. However, if you or someone you know is exhibiting persistent signs of a god complex, it is important to seek help.

Signs of a God Complex

Guarino suggests "behaviors and attitudes that come off as arrogant or inflexible and intolerant of other people’s points of view can be signs of a god complex. They may lack empathy, disregard the boundaries of others, and struggle with relating to others or being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others."

A person with a god complex may display a variety of signs and symptoms. When left unchecked, this type of behavior can lead to serious issues in relationships, work, and personal life.

Here are some common signs that someone may have a god complex:

It is important to note that having a god complex does not necessarily mean someone has a mental disorder. It can simply be an indication that something in their life or environment is causing them to feel the need to achieve power or control.

God Complex vs. Superiority Complex

Although they are often used interchangeably, the term “god complex” and "superiority complex" have different meanings. A person with a superiority complex may feel superior to others and display arrogant or condescending behavior, but they are not necessarily narcissists.

On the other hand, those with a god complex often have narcissistic traits, such as an inability to empathize and an excessive need for power and control.

Jason Shiers, a certified advanced transformative coach and transactional analysis psychotherapist, explains that “a god complex is distinguished from a superiority complex by a more intense and delusory sense of self-importance and invincibility. While someone with a superiority complex may believe they are superior to others in some ways, they are not necessarily convinced of their own god-like talents or entitled to preferential treatment.”

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is having a god complex good?

    No, having a god complex is not advantageous. It can lead to destructive and damaging behaviors, such as manipulation and the inability to take responsibility for mistakes. Additionally, it can cause issues in relationships and lead to feelings of isolation.

  • Is a god complex a mental illness?

    Although a god complex is not an officially recognized mental illness, it can share symptoms with other psychological disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

  • Can someone outgrow a god complex?

    Yes, it is possible for someone to outgrow a god complex over time as they gain insight into their behavior and learn how to manage their emotions. With the right treatment plan and support system, it is possible to build healthier relationships and create positive change in one’s life.

A Word From Verywell Mind

A god complex can be a destructive force in any relationship. Left unchecked, it can lead to manipulation, power struggles, and an inability to empathize with others or take responsibility for mistakes. If you or someone you know exhibits signs of a god complex, it is important to seek professional help in order to create healthier relationships.

3 Sources
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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."