Compensatory narcissism is a form of mental illness characterized by narcissistic traits, such as disdain for others and an unjustified feeling of superiority, that mask underlying feelings of inferiority. Narcissists in general tend to see themselves as superior to others and demonstrate disdain for others while trying to elevate themselves in order to assert that superiority. "Classical" narcissists may not do this because of an underlying insecurity or feeling of inferiority, but those with compensatory narcissism act as they do in order to compensate for such feelings. In many cases, in spite of practicing behaviors that alienate others, compensatory narcissists desperately seek the praise and approval of their peers and can become quite upset if they fail to get it.
Individuals with compensatory narcissism tend to display many traits beyond feelings of superiority and disdain for other people. In many cases, such people also have only a limited capacity for empathy and have little concern for or interest in the effects of their actions on other people. Someone suffering from this condition is likely to be highly focused on his own social position as well, and often responds with anger or unreasonable depression to any criticism or insult.
Compensatory narcissists often cycle from phases of depression or emptiness to great excitement and energy based on the approval of others and on other personal factors. This type of narcissist often seeks to win the approval of others by exaggerating his achievements, boasting, and even lying about actions and accomplishments as well as by downplaying the achievements and value of other people.
Underachievement is another common trait of those with this condition. The compensatory narcissist often wants immediate gratification and praise and is, accordingly, unwilling to invest a great deal of time into any given endeavor. As such, he is likely to do generally lackluster work in his career, academics, or other endeavors.
It is important to remember the underlying cause for the behaviors and traits associated with compensatory narcissism is a feeling of inferiority. The behaviors that seem to emphasize the narcissist's own superiority while downplaying the value of others are all artificially employed to compensate for deep-rooted insecurities. These insecurities and feelings of inferiority are often rooted in the way that one was raised as a child. Parents who are abusive or who have unrealistic expectations for their children can contribute to the development of compensatory narcissism. In many cases, an individual with this condition is not even fully aware of the underlying inferiority, and the narcissistic behavior acts as a defense mechanism against feeling inferior.