We have all seen a person like this. When he walks into a room, he expects just his presence alone to make everyone stop what they are doing. He expects to be the center of attention. The life of the party. The ultimate authority. This is someone who truly has a god complex.
So, what exactly is a god complex? A concise definition is that a god complex is the demeanor, words, and attitude someone possesses that they are so superior to everyone else that nobody else can be as smart, talented, or strong as they are. And if anybody dares to question their authority or greatness, they will be put in their place immediately. The arrogance is off the charts.
But there is more to this than a concise definition. Let’s take a look at the many different aspects of a god complex, as well as how it affects the person displaying those qualities and everyone who has to live, work, and function with them.
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What is a God Complex?
Now that we have looked at the simple definition of the term god complex, let’s take a look at it in more detail.
According to Wikipedia, the first time the term was believed to be used was in 1923 by Ernest Jones in his Essays in Applied Psycho-Analysis. In 1924, Fritz Wittels used the similar term, Jehovah complex, to describe Sigmund Freud. And a man by the name of H.E. Barnes used the term in reference to George Washington and Andrew Jackson.
Someone who has a god complex must always be seen as right. They think that they have all the answers and know all the facts. If someone questions their “rightness,” they will humiliate and denigrate that person so swiftly and completely that they will never dare speak out against him again. This is because just the act of being questioned makes the person with the god complex feel as thought they are not good enough. They have to be seen as perfect.
They believe that their experience is the only real one. It doesn’t matter what anyone else has experienced. Nobody can question their reality. They will do anything they can to make sure their world is not challenged in any way.
A person with a god complex may get very angry when they don’t get what they want. The expect the world to do their bidding at the drop of a hat. If that doesn’t happen, then they feel their superiority has been challenged. They cannot allow people to see them as less than they think they are.
Someone with a god complex will never be able to admit they are wrong. To do so would be to admit they are less than perfect. And it would be absolutely unbearable for anyone to perceive them in this way. They have to be seen as the greatest of all time, the GOAT!
They actually think that they are on the earth to do some amazing work. They are meant to be the savior, the cure for all that is wrong, sent to make the world a better place. And honestly, while we should all aspire to do these things in our tiny little spheres of influence, thinking that we are superior to everyone else will not help to bring greatness to our world. Humility, love, and a genuine desire to encourage and help others will, though!
This all sounds a bit like narcissistic personality disorder, doesn’t it? Hold that thought. We will get to that a little bit later. In the meantime, expect to keep seeing several similarities between a god complex and narcissism.
What Gives Someone a God Complex?
There is not much research out there about the cause of a god complex. But there are some seeming indications as to why it happens.
Some people believe that a person forms a god complex because they are so beaten down in the earlier years of their life that they overcorrect in their teenage or adult years. They decide that nobody is going to tell them what’s what. And then they put on a public persona that doesn’t allow anybody to break through to the insecurities that linger from how they were treated in their younger years.
Another view of what gives someone a god complex is that someone has been treated from early childhood as though they are right about everything and the best at everything they do. They internalize this treatment as they grow up. Then, when they are older and someone tries to explain to them that they aren’t right or the best at something, they can’t believe it or accept it. They actually believe they are the most superior of anyone else.
Unfortunately, instead of endearing people to them, these thought patterns and behaviors only end up isolating them from most people who can’t stand associating with them unless they absolutely have to.
What are Signs of a God Complex?
People with a god complex display a variety of signs to tip you off as to what is going on. Again, you will see some striking similarities to signs of narcissism. But just go with me here for a little bit. I will show you some differences later in the article.
People With a God Complex See Themselves as Superior
People with a god complex see each other as superior because they legitimately think they ARE superior. They may listen to your ideas or thoughts briefly. But then they will tell you what they think. And they will make sure that you know what they think is the only thing that really counts.
They believe that their experiences, perceptions, and gained knowledge are all spot on. There is no room for error. And they won’t let you suggest that there could be. They are the end-all-be-all.
People With a God Complex are Extremely Arrogant
People with a God Complex are incredibly arrogant. It actually comes across in many different ways. You can see it in their swagger as they enter a room. You can hear it in their tone of voice as they exaggerate how great they are compared to how insignificant you are. You can see it in the piercing of their eyes at you while you humbly try to explain your perspective.
You will also see the god complex in the way they hold their head. They are above everyone and literally look down their nose at the “little people” surrounding them. While not all the time, when they need to, they will puff out their chest in demonstration of how wonderful they are. I never quite understood that one. It looks quite silly to me.
Side note: while the majority of people with a god complex tend to be men, there are plenty of women that also suffer from this affliction. Feel free to change the pronouns as they fit your case. You may find yourself needing both male and female pronouns!
People With a God Complex Have Little to no Empathy
People with a god complex can’t see anybody else’s situation for what it really is. All they see is how they fit into everyone else’s world. It doesn’t matter how much others must sacrifice for them. It is worth it. But it doesn’t go both ways.
In their defense, I think that most of the time they don’t show empathy, it isn’t because of contempt for the other person as much as it is that they are too preoccupied with themselves to be able to see anyone else. That isn’t much of a defense, though, because it doesn’t make them much of a better person. It just makes them less malicious.
People With a God Complex Think You are Lucky to Know Them
Someone with a god complex will think that anyone who associates with them is downright lucky. Maybe if you hang out with them long enough, a little bit of them will rub off on you. Gaston from the movie Beauty and the Beast comes to mind as I write this.
This is such an unfortunate position for someone to be in because they miss out on so much. They are so busy looking at their own world exclusively that they miss the whole world around them. Which in the end actually makes them much less superior.
People With a God Complex Feel Entitled
People with a god complex feel like you owe them. You owe them your time and your resources. And most of all, you owe them your undivided attention whenever they want it.
On the flip side, you will get none of that from them. Because they don’t know that you exist, at least not as an independent person with ideas and knowledge and value. You exist only to bolster them up to where they want to be. And they will be confused if you aren’t happy about it. They think they are so wonderful that you should be bending over backwards to uplift them.
People With a God Complex Cannot Stand Criticism
If you criticize a person with a god complex, even if it is out of kindness and you were absolutely correct in doing so, they will be very upset. You cannot criticize them about anything. To do so is to make them less than perfect. And the shame of being seen as less than perfect is intolerable to them.
This is one of the biggest problems when trying to heal someone in this situation. Counseling does not go well and healing is slow if not nonexistent because they can’t take even good constructive criticism. They can’t bear to think of themselves needing to work on things or for others to be better at something than they are.
People With a God Complex Bring Down Everyone Around Them
People with a god complex will tear down those around them for the sake of making themselves look better. Often, they will do it in a consdescending but concerned tone at the same time. It isn’t so much because they are truly concerned about you. It is so they can sound concerned. Of course, it’s more about how they look to others than about how they actually are.
Over time, everyone around them feels like a failure after spending time around them. Nobody really wants to be around them. So they end up isolated and alone.
The problem is that the person with the god complex doesn’t see it for what it is. He feels like people don’t want to be around him because he is too perfect or good for them. And then he thinks that is just their problem. He just needs to go find some “better people.”
People With a God Complex Need to be in Control
He needs to call all the shots. And he needs to know that you realize he is the one in control.
At first, it can come across as protection and concern. Yep, there is is again. That seeming concern for something that isn’t really concern as much as it is control and manipulation. Setting good boundaries will help you to be strong enough to remain autonomous in spite of their overreaching control. Not sure how to set and maintain boundaries in a healthy way? The book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend will be a lifesaver for you! Click on the title above or picture below for more information.
In addition to demanding control, he is also incredibly hungry for power. Many times, the person with a god complex will find work or ministry that is service oriented but gives them a good deal of trust, authority, and control over others. Because of the nature of the service relationship, people will let their guard down and be much more trusting than they normally would. And the person with the god complex will take full advantage of that.
There are more signs of someone who has a god complex. But this should give you a good head start and should help you to be able to pick up other signs of a god complex in your own relationships.
How Common is a God Complex?
A god complex is not very common, although I am sure everybody knows someone who operates in this way. The rate is thought to be about the same as with narcissism (yep, yet another connection!), at somewhere between 2 and 5% of the population.
But as I mentioned earlier, there are some places that the concentration of people with a god complex will be higher. Industries that tend to have a higher concentration of peoople with a god complex problem are military, the clergy, psychological, medical, political, celebrity, and education areas. But even though the concentration may be higher, know that there are plenty of really good people in all of those industries. You just need to make sure you find the good ones!
Is a God Complex a Mental Illness?
Yes, having a god complex is a mental illness, but you will not find having a god complex in the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), which is the diagnostic tool of the American Psychiatric Association.
The idea here is that there doesn’t need to be a separate diagnosis for this mental illness. That is because there are personality disorders that are in the manual that will cover the diagnosis and treatment for someone struggling with a god complex. Even though it is not specifically named, the identification and treatments would be very similar to many cluster B personality disorders.
Is a God Complex Narcissism?
Struggling with a god complex looks very much like narcissism in many ways. I have to admit that because I had a narcissistic mother and then a narcissistic husband for over 30 years, it was hard for me to distinguish between the two because they look so much alike. The signs are very similar. And having a god complex exists on a spectrum just like narcissistic personality disorder. But they are not the same. There are actuallly a few differences.
First, someone who struggles with a god complex will be more likely to be convinced that they are mere mortals and not perfect. Trying to convince a narcissist that they are not what they are trying to convince you of is an exercise in futility.
Second, because it seems to be easier to speak truth into someone with a god complex, they will respond somewhat easier to treatment. That doesn’t mean it will be easy though!
What is the Difference Between a God Complex and a Superiority Complex?
While a god complex and a superiority complex can be perceived as the same, they are actually quite different in degree. Someone who suffers from a god complex wants to think they are are all-powerful, all-knowing and all-everything. On the other hand, someone who suffers from a superiority complex usually claims to be all-knowing and all-powerful in a certain area of expertise, or maybe a couple of them.
A superiority complex is also not considered an aspect of mental illness like a god complex or narcissistic personality disorder. So, it will be much easier to work through in a series of counseling sessions.
Is There a Treatment for a God Complex?
The treatment for a god complex is the same as for other Cluster B personality disorders. Although there is no cure, there are ways to help a person who suffers from any of these things to deal with it. Talk therapy is the number one method.
They can be counseled regarding the cause of the god complex, the thinking process and how to change their thinking, and more healthy ways of relating to others. The length of treatment will depend on the severity of the god complex, which like other psychological issues, generally exists on a spectrum.
How to Respond to Someone who has a God Complex
The worse thing you can do is feed into the ego of someone who suffers with a god complex. It is important to not overly praise them. But it is also important to to psychologically destroy them either. Use kind but firm words and actions in the hopes that healing will come swiftly.
Setting good boundaries is paramount to you not getting caught up in their issues. but setting boundaries can also help them to learn healthy ways to relate to other people.
Show them empathy in ways that keep you safe emotionally. This could have the same healing effect that setting boundaries could.
Finally, taking responsibility for your issues is good for you but can also be healing for them. A combination of talk therapy and setting examples of good behavior can be really good in helping the person caught up in a god complex.
This is just about everything you need to know about someone who is dealing with a god complex. The good news is that it isn’t narcissistic personality disorder. And it isn’t an official mental illness in the DSM-5. The bad news is that it can occur in conjunction with the Cluster B personality disorders as well as other psychological problems. The best thing to do is see a counselor and be willing to do the hard work of healing, no matter where on the spectrum you fall.
Have you had any experience with somebody who had a god complex? Have you ever struggled yourself? How did treatment go? What did it look like? Feel free to comment below, or if you don’t feel safe commenting in a public forum, feel free to contact me here.
Blessings and hugs,