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What are Delusions of Grandeur?

By Y. Chen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The phrase “delusions of grandeur” is often used in casual conversation to describe a person who imagines him or herself to be more important or more powerful than he or she really is, but it is more accurately used to describe a very real and potentially very serious mental health imbalance. Medically speaking, delusions of grandeur are manifestations of a psychopathological condition in which a person has fantasies of power, wealth, and omnipotence that can hinder social engagement and impair sound decision-making. People who suffer from this condition — which is sometimes also called “megalomania” — often also have an inflated sense of self-esteem, and may hold an obsession with grandiose or extravagant things or actions. Even when they are presented with evidence contradicting their delusions, they will still typically cling to their erroneous beliefs. Treatment is often possible through therapy and the use of certain anti-psychotic drugs, and with the proper care people who suffer from this imbalance are often able to lead functional and happy lives.

Characteristics of the Condition

When a person has clinically recognized delusions of grandeur, he will often believe that he has extraordinary powers or may believe himself to be famous. He will typically assume that people around him know who he is, and may also believe that they are admiring him. One of the hallmarks of this condition is a sense of innate superiority, be it through physical abilities, wealth, or personal connections. Some of the most extreme forms of the disorder cause people to believe that they are famous historical figures. The mentally ill person who truly thinks that he is Napoleon may be one of the most common media references made to this delusion.

Patients who firmly possess such unrealistic beliefs may eventually harm themselves physically, mentally, or emotionally. A person who thinks he has special powers, for example, might jump off a building because he genuinely believes he can fly. Isolation from family and friends is also quite common.

Primary Causes

It’s usually somewhat rare for these sorts of delusions to happen all on their own, which is to say, not as a symptom of some other, usually larger mental health imbalance. A number of different psychological conditions and disorders can include these sorts of delusions, though they attach perhaps most frequently to narcissistic personality disorder. Narcissistic personality disorder is a condition in which a person is extremely preoccupied with himself and has inflated feelings of self-importance.

Megalomania is also sometimes found in patients with varying degrees of dementia and psychotic or depressive disorders, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In some cases, delusions of fame and fortune are accompanied by other more negative feelings, including those of persecution, in which the patient thinks others are out to get him. Issues with control may also surface, in which the patient believes an outside force is controlling his thoughts or actions.

Some drugs, especially phencyclidine (PCP) and amphetamines, may also contribute to or exacerbate episodes. This is especially dangerous because users who are high may believe they have powers that will enable them to perform dangerous feats that a normal human being could not, such as flying off a tall building or stopping an oncoming train with one hand.

Treatment Options

Treating this condition can be somewhat difficult since so much depends on the root cause or larger mental health condition at play. The first thing that any care provider will typically do is come up with a diagnosis for the underlying condition, and begin treatment for that. It’s often the case that the delusions will fade over time once things begin to rebalance. Talk therapy is used in many cases, although people with this condition often feel they do not need the help. When the megalomania is caused by chronic drug use, delusions and other psychological effects usually disappear over time once the chemicals and the effects of addiction wear off.

Problems of Public Perception

The term "delusions of grandeur" is often used non-technically and incorrectly, as are the names of many serious mental health conditions like “anti-social.” It is sometimes used to describe people who are disliked dictators of countries, prominent businessmen, or celebrities; these sorts of people are often seen to be selfish and egotistical. Misusing the term in this way can be dangerous, though, since it could mask or even underplay situations in which actual delusions present a very real psychopathological threat to a person's health.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997025 — On Nov 07, 2016

This post has described my close friend 100 percent! He claims to be an expert on everything! He has done everything and has experienced everything. No matter what you have done, he has done it also--and better. He works as a delivery guy, but has recently told me that the singer John Legend called one night and wants him to help produce his latest album.

He has told me about several famous people that he used to hang out with or have help produced an album. Even when I call him out on things that couldn't have possibly happened, he sticks to his story. When I provide proof and evidence that something couldn't possibly have happened, he either changes the story or says that he didn't say that. He never says he was wrong or he made the story up. I noticed that his condition is getting worse, and I do have a fear that he's going to get physically hurt or wind up in jail.

By anon987124 — On Jan 30, 2015

Well, I think something positive is going on if you feel powerful and in control of your own life. you are making the choices to live in whatever world you chose to and not allowing anyone else to push their reality on you. You are doing no harm to anyone and if enough of us believe we can change the world, maybe we can.

By anon300813 — On Oct 31, 2012

Learned helplessness can cause dissociation from prolonged stress. Overcoming that may require targeting stress by using a method of hypnosis to remove and calm the person from the stress-causing agent, like meditation (non eastern).

Refer to the EMDR, EFT often used for Post traumatic stress.

By anon300574 — On Oct 30, 2012

The root of the problems can be dissociation from prolonged stress, being ungrateful and detached to the things they have and take for granted. Of course, some of the wealthy have friends with poor upbringing.

When a person perceives themselves as unique and a force that cannot be overcome, only to later test and identify like-minded, if not more skilled individuals in the competitive area, they either accept and continue improving, or accept the futility of their ambitions, and stick to whatever they are comfortable with (if there are any more paths please enlighten me).

The poor fantasize of the luxuries they cannot have. Doing this creates an illusory hope and depletes their ability to work their way up from their disposition in their reality. It can also inhibit learning and healthy neural activity.

Some good advice would be to consciously find a way to wean off the delusional dependency, and understand that their coping mechanisms do not change their reality, and if untreated can change their reality, posing harm to themselves and others who were able to process their reality normally and were disciplined not to rely on delusions to replace social connections with a dependency on rational mindset.

Socializing more, finding more group-related activities, and to diversify the group selections when one group is unavailable. The trick to this is not worrying about rejection and continually trying to stay connected and induce learning humbly.

Trial and error, not to isolate, but to broaden the possibilities, connections and such attempts to see the bigger picture might just be rewarded earnestly. Social ostracism does not exist in all sectors in society, so keep looking.

By anon281039 — On Jul 21, 2012

@anon129011: I can't believe your post. It describes exactly the way my best mate has been thinking. He is a noble and honest person, and I often find it hard (almost wrong) to dismiss his views about humanity and the world.

However, although the world is full of problems, it should not be his or your burden to carry. I fear that if he continues on this path, it will only cause him harm. maybe you could talk to my mate. Perhaps this would help.

By anon262079 — On Apr 18, 2012

I made up a new life in my head where I am uber rich and my family is full of famous people, unlike my real family, who are poor and from small towns. I have been doing this since childhood. They're lmost like imaginary friends. I pretend that the characters from my favorite TV shows are actually my friends or family.

No one knows this, but I talk out loud to the people sitting on my couch (who are not really there) or while I am alone. Occasionally, when life stinks, I will space out and live my dream world. My boyfriend just thinks I don't pay attention when someone talks to me.

I have always wondered why I do this, and of course, it can't be normal! Does anybody have a clue what's wrong with me?

By anon224142 — On Oct 22, 2011

To anon129011: I feel what you are going through. I am going through it as well. The hardest thing for me to do right now, is see that my thinking is wrong. I am trying to catch myself and hopefully realize that my perception of life is out of whack.

I spent four years trying to hide and cover it up, but now more than ever I am starting to realize again that it is just screwing my life up. I was really dead set on the fact that I could somehow change the end of the world. I started to think that I was meant for greatness. Maybe I am, but I am definitely not able to stop the inevitable.

Humanity is harsh. It is ugly. Once anyone gets a glimpse of the reality of humanity, it will make them sick to their stomach. It would make any normal person strive for a peaceful world. There were a lot of times that I felt like I was the antichrist instead of some savior. It is emotional torture.

I think the best thing for me to do now is to quit hiding from it and get help. I'm really not sure how you live with it. I have faith that if you do find a way to live with it with therapy and medication, then it will eventually end. Good luck! You are not alone and I'm glad I am not either.

By anon221118 — On Oct 10, 2011

@post 6: Knowing that you are unbalanced is a good thing. You know you're not Jesus. Next, you seem to be depressed. You are feeling the pain associated with severe depression. The best way to fix this is to maybe do some volunteering for an organization that will help you feel like you are trying to make some changes in this crazy world.

Don't blame yourself for the world's problems. Fix what you can and leave it at that. Do your part as best you can and don't overwhelm yourself. Be happy.

By anon152746 — On Feb 15, 2011

dear 129011: I have had this happen to me exactly the same. Same feeling and confusion. Any idea what is causing it?

By anon129011 — On Nov 21, 2010

I've been feeling like I'm the only person in the world who can change it or save it from destroying itself and feel hopeless at times because i feel like i can't do anything about it.

At times i feel like I'm the alpha being of the planet and feel like there's no one like me and no one will amount to anything i do. When i feel this way, i don't feel sorry for myself. In fact, it's the opposite. i feel sorry for everyone because they suffer and are dying because we as people as a whole are n justly killing each other and dominating each other.

and i feel like I'm the person who can stop it, only if i could be heard, if someone with power heard what i had to say they would help. i feel hopeless and at times feel like that my life is what is creating pain and hate and anger and suffering in this world and feel like if i kill myself all the pain and suffering will end -- as i commonly call it "being Jesus," since he died for our sins, while i feel like I'm supposed to die to stop the world's suffering.

i don't know what to do anymore. i feel lonely and lost and feel like no one understands where I'm coming from. i know I'm not mentally unhealthy, but i know I'm not fully stable either.

If someone could please help me on a personal level please, if someone can come to me with advice instead of seeking it, it is better.

By anon85767 — On May 21, 2010

Would a person who brags about graduating college and volunteering to do a speech for the class graduation ceremony, and it is a lie, be considered as having delusions of grandeur?

By anon85110 — On May 18, 2010

To anon84408: The only conclusion I can reach based on the info you provided is that you're way too simplistic. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings.

How old is your nephew? What the hell does his drunk father have anything to do with this?

And just to make sure I understand your question, you are seeking help from others regarding his completely accurate statement that one could become rich if he so desires?

Hmmm? Maybe you're right, just tell him that he can be whoever he wants by not wanting to!

By anon84408 — On May 15, 2010

my nephew, whose father was an alcoholic, believes that you can be rich if you want to. How can I tell him that is too simplistic without hurting his feelings.

By anon52403 — On Nov 13, 2009

the leading theoretical conclusion that imagination alone can't be the cause of delusions of grandeur because of the variable false belief that can't be explained by imagination is wrong.

imagination as a state of mind lacking rational thought causes self deception and the false belief. once the patient understands that their imagination must be controlled by their rational thought process and gains a better understanding that imagination can make you believe something is real when it's not, the delusions of grandeur will end.

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