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What is Megalomania?

By R. Kayne
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Megalomania is an unrealistic belief in one's superiority, grandiose abilities, and even omnipotence. It is characterized by a need for total power and control over others, and is marked by a lack of empathy for anything that is perceived as not feeding the self.

Although megalomania is a term often ascribed to anyone who is power-hungry, the clinical definition is that of a mental illness associated with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Narcissism is most simply defined as self-love. Though it is considered healthy to care about your own well-being and have a healthy self-esteem, when someone loves himself to the exclusion of all else and others become objectified to be used only to serve the self, this is no longer considered healthy or normal.

There are different psychological theories about how and why NPD develops, most of which relate to the integration of different aspects of ego and self as a child, and the nature of the parental roles in that process. Regardless of theory, NPD is characterized by extremely low self-esteem, which is compensated for by delusions of grandeur and megalomania, a narcissistic neuroses. With the propensity to act only on behalf of one's self, the unbridled need to feed one's ego, and the objectification of others to serve the power-hungry needs of megalomania, it is easy to see how this can be a recipe for disaster, especially when wrapped in a charismatic personality.

One of the most well known examples of megalomania in modern history was Adolf Hitler. A street waif, Hitler wasn't content rising through the ranks to become the military leader of Germany. His megalomania drove him to aspire to conquer the entire world. Being born into a "superior race" also wasn't enough for the mentally ill Hitler. Instead, he wanted to wipe out all other races. This need to destroy everything outside of what he perceived as an extension of himself is a classic though horrifically illustrated example of megalomania. Paradoxically, a person who exhibits such tremendous ego and self-confidence in reality has such low self-esteem and such a fragile ego that he cannot abide any expression other than his own, for fear of annihilation of the self. Therefore everything that is not under his control is perceived as a threat.

While genocide is an extreme example, serial killers may also suffer from megalomania. They objectify, then sacrifice their victims to exercise total control with a complete lack of empathy for the suffering of others.

The principles or characteristics of NPD and megalomania can also be expressed in lesser degrees or in a different fashion by those we might consider more mainstream than genocidal maniacs and serial killers. Among dictators, fundamentalists, and politicians we find those who view themselves as morally superior with the willingness to sacrifice, kill, or risk the safety of others considered inferior in order to assert their own agendas. Though there are legitimate circumstances in which leaders must exercise civil or military force, or religious zealots can profess solemn beliefs, the line between religiosity and fanaticism, between duty and megalomania, can be a gray one. This is how the term has become part of our culture's vernacular.

Megalomania is also sometimes associated with bipolar disorder; a depressive illness that is characterized by mood swings from extreme lows to extreme highs. During the latter cycle, people often suffer delusions of grandeur and feelings of infinite capability. They talk about unrealistic plans and goals as if these plans and goals are within their grasp.

Schizophrenia, a mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations and extreme paranoia, is also often found alongside megalomania.

NPD, megalomania, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can all be treated with medications. If you or someone you know is experiencing manic moods, unrealistic delusions or antisocial behavior, professional treatment is necessary. Unlike a virus or cold, these disorders will not improve without treatment.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon999318 — On Dec 05, 2017

Donald Trump fits all the symptoms of megalomania. He is so full of himself, that he is dangerous and should not be in power as US President. Everything he does is about him being great. He could care less about the American people or the needs of anyone who is not the 1% big money people. Those of you who voted him in will find that the tax cuts, etc. will affect you too!! Remember, Trump thinks that God resigned and picked "the Donald" to take His place. There are people in mental hospitals for having similar delusions. Diana K.

By anon998090 — On Apr 08, 2017

Great article! Just one thing I noticed. You said, " Being born into a "superior race" also wasn't enough for the mentally ill Hitler." Hitler was born a Jew. The same people he went after to destroy because he said the blond hair blue eyed Germans were the superior race. Which is crazy to me. But great article. Thanks!

By anon993881 — On Dec 24, 2015

Look up "This is Water" by David Foster Wallace. It is a wonderful exploration of these issues by someone who dealt with them, and lost unfortunately. Best Commencement speech ever.

By anon942509 — On Mar 27, 2014

@Post 17 and others who seem to be struggling with this and are looking for ways to combat it. I have two things to say.

First, for many, if you feel you need to control everything to the point that you are obsessed with it, it isn't because you are so smart or amazing -- it is because someone in charge of you during your formative years (usually a parent) would beat you down (physically, emotionally and/ or mentally) if you ever made a mistake, so you were trained to never make a mistake or else be punished. That is an impossible way to live. Recognize that.

Second, your way out is compassion. Instead of thinking others are idiots, lesser than you, etc., learn to have compassion for them and care for them. Step by step. Day by day. Forgive them. (And eventually you will learn that what I am really saying is have forgiveness and compassion for yourself). Believe these two things, as they have the power to heal you.

By anon335688 — On May 22, 2013

I assume that delusions of grandeur and megalomania differs in that those with delusions haven't succeeded. The rest who have sacrificed family life, their own health and freedom in exchange for maniacal, driven stubbornness in changing society and have succeeded are megalomaniacs. So there is only mentioned Hitler as an example, because he killed Jews?

Well, this is so wrong in many levels, as at that time society actually thought like that for last 2,000 years and Hitler was influenced by society and changed it accordingly to their wishes. Germans, for the last 1000-plus years had the same views on many subdued nations and many of them they eradicated and assimilated. And only Hitler in your opinion was a megalomaniac?

There is a question about the USA: is it a megalomaniac or delusional country? I mean, they are changing other countries by invading them. Then these countries in the course of changing, naturally select (as defined by Darwin) megalomaniacal fighters (who want to create an Islam dominated world, or communists etc.) who fight back and create societies, that are reverse of what the USA intended.

I might write more, that then according to definition, Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha all were megalomaniacs. It is probably that it is not always the worst condition, but all the grand ideas can be implemented in life (or by followers) if there is a strong enough will. The only moral problem there is how these ideas were implemented and how these ideas in the long run would affect others. Other than that, we all are megalomaniacs and mentally ill - some are just hiding it too well.

By anon328313 — On Apr 02, 2013

I'm sure my son has this. How do you get them help?

By anon323193 — On Mar 04, 2013

It seems incredibly sad to me that nearly all of the comments made here are from people who consider themselves to be megalomaniacs. I am not one of them. I lead a simple life, but understand how the pressure of society can convince someone with low self esteem that they need to excel above all others. Regrettably, this comes at a price.

This person is not at peace. Their mind will be constantly busy and at war, not only with those who surround them, but also in constant conflict with itself.

In order to free yourself from this, you need to take time to look at why you feel like you do. Unfortunately, it is much easier to convince oneself that others are to blame for your problems than to take a look at yourself and deal with them. This feeds the false self and reinforces the false belief of superiority. Understanding this is the first step to success.

Many individuals are too scared to look at their problems, fearful of uprooting nasty experiences from the past, but little do they realize that this attachment is affecting both their present and their future. Good luck to all of you who feel like this. I wish you all the best for the future.

By anon320484 — On Feb 18, 2013

I am a warehouse worker yet I have in limited wealth and go around giving large sums of money to poor people in order to change the world. Some people tell me to stop this, but I can't.

By anon285501 — On Aug 16, 2012

I have been reading about schizophrenia and other symptoms for a couple of days and learned just about everything there is to know. Megalomania, delusions of grandeur, etc. are all the symptoms. I am like freaking out right now because I feel like it describes me to a point.

I have an I.Q. of 128 and soon going to college to get a degree in criminology. I have a really weird train of thought. I have thought of stuff that would blow most of your minds away. I have horrible, messed-up dreams. I have had dreams where I am floating above the Earth and see a big distant light in space. I get this once in a while, and I will hear a voice to tell me to do something. I also believe I am very intelligent in the matter of abstract thinking. I feel like humanity is stupid because nothing makes sense and all life is pointless at this time because we don't know our purpose.

I believe that the universe has never expanded nor shrunk in the past. I believe it has just existed. It has always been there, an infinite space. Once I heard a voice say to me, "Go, go! Apply for that job. You will be employed." (At the time I was like praying to God to get a job because of the economic issues at the time). Five days later, I got the interview after applying for twenty other jobs, and I got hired the next day after the appointment.

I wanted to get out of the place where I lived because it was a bad neighborhood and was hoping to escape. Well, my mother wanted for me to walk down the road to get a pack of cigarettes. That little voice said to me "Don't Go! Something bad will happen! If you do, be cautious." I told my mom I didn't want to go, that something bad would happen. Well, my whole family went. We were walking down the road and we were halfway there when a car swerved at us and three men got out and jumped me, and gave me a bad concussion. Then they came back to shoot us (Luckily, the cops showed up at the right time). Then we moved to Georgia where I got that job.

I can think of other instances where that little voice told me to do something or something was going to happen, and every one of them came true! I believe mainly it was God who was talking to me. I have my own views upon religion, that I feel make the most sense that I've come to through hours and hours of research. I am a bookworm, indeed.

I am not violent or anything, I like to take care of old people and listen to their old war stories, etc. I visualize these anthropomorphic animals in my dreams and sometimes see them in the corners of my eyes. There is a husky, a fox and a wolf. I am of Cherokee descent. So maybe it's because I have a connection with nature? They speak to me in my dreams in weird tongues that I don't understand. I know that if you dwell on something for the next thirty minutes before falling asleep, you will dream about whatever you thought of. But they really don't cross my mind. I picture them in my mind as in if they are real sometimes. But I never think of them as a natural thought process.

I have a really weird mind. I have thought of inventions and other things that already existed ten years ago and I never knew they did. I see humanity falling to pieces in the next few decades. I feel like 2012 has some secret government agenda. Obama is already talking about a new world order. Very creepy, huh? So most of it is coming true.

I have read things about the Illuminati hiding things in media, like the backward masking in songs, hidden stuff in games and movie content. Even at the London Olympics, everything has the all-seeing eye and has references pointing to the Illuminati.

I don't have a focusing problem or any problem doing menial tasks. (As you can see I wrote this long note. With almost perfect grammar. I think?) My mind makes connections I never heard of and they just come to me naturally, usually in a dream. Then I research it and find out it's true. I don't think I know everything because I don't! No one does! They figured out that a lot of what we knew always changes or they find one piece of critical evidence that throws off the balance to the answers.

I also know one thing for sure: the government is watching! Once on Facebook I wrote. "I am going to kill an officer with a teacup" (Chronicles of Riddick). The next day the cops showed up at my door. I know they weren't paying attention to me because I don't have a extensive criminal record. I could tell you all the other things but it will take too long. This passage would overload the whole government's motherboard. Maybe that's not a bad thing?

I also read that signs of schizophrenia can really come out if you are stressed. And I am at my wit's end now.

By anon251177 — On Feb 28, 2012

I think I was engaged to post 26.

By anon250211 — On Feb 25, 2012

I am a megalomaniac. But unlike the people described above, I am so utterly convinced of my own greatness that I feel no need to degrade others.

Everything in this world has its place after all, from the worm who enriches the soil to nascent gods such as myself. Anyone who feels a need to persecute lesser beings is not a true megalomaniac.

By anon174600 — On May 10, 2011

Interesting. Just about everyone I have ever worked for in an office setting can be described as being a narcissist or megalomaniac. I thought they were just downright evil, in a lot of cases. Amazing what they can get away with as everyone seems to turn a blind to these people.

Amazing too, how some of them are turning up dead in the workplace, done in by people far more disturbed than they are. Really. This nation needs Prozac in its water supply.

By anon140302 — On Jan 07, 2011

I just ended a friendship with a megalomaniac. I think acquired the illness during her pregnancy.

She thinks she has so much to teach everybody and that she knows more than everyone else about everything. She thinks she is basically a doctor, psychologist, dietitian, dermatologist, all in one!

According to her, everybody is immature and pathetic.

She said to me once: you have to accept that there are people who know more about you. God!

And also she loves pointing out people's mistakes, but she never recognizes when she is wrong, but she will be very angry at you if you contradict her or disagree with her about something; she'll say that you always want to be right.

I'm so glad I opened my eyes after four years. She was always finding the way to humiliate me at any cost!

By anon129510 — On Nov 23, 2010

I live with a megalomaniac. 100 percent real deal. she thinks that she is far superior to all. she will do whatever she can to manipulate and control those around her. it is my mission to see that she doesn't. I must protect my friends and family from this very dangerous person. if you can help me out please do. Burlington VT.

By anon117426 — On Oct 10, 2010

Wow. It seems like, according to all these definitions, everyone is ill! Are Napoleon Hill and Andrew Carnegie promoting mental disorders on a grand scale? Is there a conspiracy here? Am I a schizophrenic for having that thought?

Where do you draw the line between delusions of grandeur and setting big goals? Is there anything really out of one's grasp? There is nothing wrong with dreaming big; there is nothing wrong with having a great idea. Formulating a realistic plan may a little more difficult, however there is no medication for that.

By anon113135 — On Sep 23, 2010

I almost feel like I have some of these symptoms, but not so severe that I want to kill. I just feel like I'm so much smarter than everyone and if I make a mistake like not knowing my surroundings, I feel terrible like I failed.

Like this morning, my mom made a joke in the car about someone breaking into the house: I almost had an internal "freak out" until she told me that it was just me because I had eaten some brownies. But I felt terrible because I felt that i didn't know my surroundings.

I feel that I have to be better because I'm the man of the house. I know some of this is the hypersensitivity that runs in the family. But I feel terrible if I don't know something that happened. And I'm constantly mad at everyone at school because they don't pay attention to their surroundings. I feel like everyone who isn't like me is an idiot and I'm always mad at them for not thinking like me.

I always think and process things, but everyone else in the class will look at something for about 45 seconds and automatically say, "I don't understand this!". I get so mad at them for not thinking more about it because they're all lazy idiots. I love being confident like this, but I don't like being mad at the world because I think the people are so stupid.

The most severe thing I've ever done is almost punch someone because of it, but I only fight out of self-defense. I can't think of much more, but I just feel kind of weird. I don't want to hate the world.

By anon108433 — On Sep 02, 2010

Thank you for the article, it is amazing! I have been married to a megalomaniac for 20 years. Last night for the first time a psychologist named it as it is. In your article I see my husband written about all over the place. Scary since he does not accept the fact that he needs medication.

By anon88697 — On Jun 06, 2010

We have a friend who we feel is mentally ill. She seriously thinks she is in charge of many things that she isn't and thinks everyone asks her for advice when they don't.

She is constantly worrying about terrible things happening, but feels that God will protect her. This is much more serious than it sounds on the surface. How do we get her help?

By anon82517 — On May 06, 2010

I think this article was great. I do agree with many of these disorders being hereditary though. I was married to a man who has many of these disorders but refused to believe it was a problem.

Hereditary issues are no ones fault, but still must be treated if the said person wants to live the most healthy and positive life possible. He is now my ex husband, still unmedicated, and totally miserable. I feel sorry for him on a daily basis, but he refuses to change or get help.

By anon64394 — On Feb 07, 2010

It's much more a genetic trait than a sign of a bad childhood. A desire to get to the top and eliminate the competition is very evolutionarily useful, and just like psychopathy, is a beneficial natural trait not a disorder.

Being happy and satisfied is very backward behavior. It should be called useless personality disorder. ;)

By anon36665 — On Jul 14, 2009

I think the general nature and structure of your article reeks of the megalomanical behavior of the writer. There are a number of generalities expressed that could quite easily be attributed to a person's brilliance, intellect etc... and I agree with #10.

By anon36181 — On Jul 10, 2009

*Please* make it a point not to 'generalize' - this is one of the first lessons in good reporting! Although a lot of your observations are substantial - linking bipolar disorder; fundamentalists; public servants or politicians and narcissists is not. There are no all or nothing sweeping associations can be made on this. There are good bipolar people; good fundamentalists and politicians. Please try not to make 'everyone' seem - who are these people - generalized. Thank you.

By anon29679 — On Apr 06, 2009

The people running this world are afraid someone else is going to take over.

By anon16004 — On Jul 27, 2008

I found this article to be very informative. Thank you for taking the time to post it.

By anon15204 — On Jul 04, 2008

joycejinks -- How does a person with megalomania treat their wives and children?, I think my newly married son has this.

By anon14421 — On Jun 16, 2008

Is a personality disorder most often associated with a major mental illness or do they exist on their own?

By anon4823 — On Nov 02, 2007

What are the treatments for megalomania? After reading the symptoms, I'm sure my mother has had this her entire life. She's 88 years old now, and worse than ever. But she's exhibited these behaviors since her 20's. Yet she held a job. But she has no friends. Now I see why. Is it too late for medication?

By joycejinks — On Aug 22, 2007

How do person with megalomania treat their wifes and children?

By shirleylao — On Apr 25, 2007

Frankly speaking, I believe most of the leaders in business or political entities are affected with megalomania to a certain extent. If these leaders are not extremely over-confident and aggressive, they may not have the drive to influence the others and motivate the others to follow them (blindly sometimes).

By anon132464 — On Nov 30, -0001

I, my father, and my two younger brothers were mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually abused by my mother. The oldest son was not, as he was her "chosen one."

She was very charismatic and did not show her cruel nature to anyone but the four of us. Everyone else was her idolizing followers. Since I was the first born and not the son she had ordered and, worst of all, figured her out at the age of two and refused to let her rule over me as a young mother at 23, she always hated me. Her crowning achievement on her death bed this past year, was to convince all her followers, including my three children, that I was trying to kill her by making upsetting calls to her because of her severe emphysema (she still continued to chain smoke) and that I was an evil person hiding behind a kind persona.

I had stopped speaking to her in fall of 2006 when she bragged to me of turning my older daughter against me. But it wasn't soon enough to avoid this disaster. Now my entire life has been squashed like you squash a beetle under your foot.

If you have someone like this in your life, slam the door on them and triple lock it. Make yourself and all those you care about safe.

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