Megalomania and illusions of grandeur: playing at being God

word megalomania it comes from the union of two Greek words: megas, which means “big”, and mania, which means “obsession”. Thus, megalomania is the obsession of the great, at least if we pay attention to its etymology.

Megalomaniacs: what traits characterize them?

Now, who doesn’t know someone who, after thinking so much, thinks he’s going to eat the world? It is quite common to find, from time to time, a people who are particularly proud of themselves, with a clearly optimistic view of their own abilities and that they seem to believe capable of anything.

Critically, it can also happen that someone (or perhaps ourselves) refers to these people as “megalomaniac” or “megalomaniac”, especially if the person we are talking about has the power to influence the population. life of others, or because it is very popular. or because he is assigned a high position.

In these cases, are we talking about megalomaniacs?

Clarify the concept of megalomania

What exactly is megalomania? Is it a word used only to describe cases of mental disorder, or can it be used to refer to the presumptuous or pretentious people we meet in our day to day life?

Either way, the right choice is the second, and the fact that we use the word megalomania to describe all kinds of people is proof of that. In general, megalomania is understood as a tendency to overestimate one’s own abilities and the importance of the role it plays in the lives of others. So, a person who tends to be quite proud (perhaps too proud) of their abilities and decision-making power could be labeled with the term megalomaniac or megalomaniac, i.e. using the word something lightly.

However, if we try to understand megalomania from the field of psychology, we will have to use this word in rather better limited cases.

The origins: to megalomania in psychoanalysis

Freud was already responsible for speaking of megalomania as a personality trait linked to neuroticism, which he himself was responsible for treating in the well-to-do patients who came to his consultation.

Beyond Freud’s psychoanalysis, other followers of the psychodynamic current have come to define megalomania as a defense mechanism achieved because reality is not contrary to the unconscious drives which, theoretically, would lead us to behave. trying to meet all of our needs immediately, as if we had unlimited power. Since we obviously don’t have any omnipotence that would like to have this subconscious part of our psyche, these psychodynamics would say, we are distorting reality so that it looks like we have: hence megalomania, which would help us avoid continued frustration.

However, the dominant clinical psychology today takes a path that has nothing to do with the psychodynamic current founded with Freud, and the notion of megalomania has also changed.

Symptoms and signs of this disorder

The term megalomania appears in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and is included in the description of narcissistic personality disorder, but does not have its own section and therefore cannot be considered a mental disorder, but in any case part of the symptomatology.

Thus, megalomania may play a role in a diagnostic picture, although mental health professionals currently prefer to use more specific terminology when talking about narcissistic personality disorder.

Specifically, to find out if megalomania is part of a disorder, special attention is paid to whether or not the person has delusional ideas.

Megalomania and delusions

Delusional ideas are those based on clearly inadequate logicThis only makes sense to the person who holds those beliefs, when one is unable to learn from experiencing the futility of these ideas, and when acting on those ideas is problematic or inappropriate.

So, for megalomania to be part of a clinical picture, it must be presented in this type of thinking that distorts reality by passing the bill on to the person in question and / or their environment. Megalomania is equated with illusions of grandeur.

A person who has been diagnosed, among other things, by his tendencies to megalomania you will tend to believe that you have more power than someone else in your situation, And the fact that maintaining those beliefs will cause him to seriously fail will not change his mind. The delusional ideation will stay there even after losing fights against several people at once, for example, or after being rejected by many people for presenting themselves in a very presumptuous manner.

Also, since megalomania is linked to Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you are likely to tend to worry about the image it portrays.

All this, of course, if by megalomania is meant what is included in the DSM-V.

How are megalomaniacs?

There are several types of people who exhibit a pattern of behavior clearly associated with megalomania, but they obviously have some common characteristics.

  • They behave as if they have virtually unlimited power, Which can lead them to serious problems for obvious reasons.
  • They take advantage of this supposed omnipotence, In the sense that they like to test their abilities.
  • They don’t learn from their mistakes and the experience does not lead them to correct the behaviors associated with delusions of grandeur.
  • They seem to constantly watch to give an idealized image of themselves.
  • They pay close attention to how others react to what they do or say, although if others reject them for their behaviors, people with an extreme degree of megalomania will tend to think that the problem is with others.

Megalomania is a chiaroscuro concept

Megalomania is a somewhat ambiguous concept … like almost every concept you work with in psychology. Megalomania, by itself, can apply to many cases, more extreme or more frequent, and you don’t have to have a mental disorder to be worthy of the name. However, in DSM-V uses the concept of megalomania to denote extreme cases in which delusions of grandeur occur which isolate the individual and make him have a very distorted view of things.

Often, in the clinical and forensic context, those in charge of diagnosing people need to know how to recognize cases where the tendency to megalomania is part of the symptoms of a mental disorder … which is not. easy. In other words, they must distinguish between what is commonly referred to as “throwing” and pathological megalomania.

How do they do? Well, part of the secret is years of experience, of course. If it was possible to diagnose cases of disorders expressed by megalomania, there would be no need for professionals to deal with them. On the other hand, diagnostic manuals include a series of criteria that serve to more or less objectively quantify the degree to which megalomania approaches delusions of grandeur and narcissistic personality disorder.

A final reflection

From the point of view of psychology, using the popular definition of the concept of “megalomania” poses an obvious danger: on the one hand, trivialize with a series of symptoms that appear in clinical pictures and that deteriorate the quality of life of people that they experience it, and on the other hand, construct a false social alarm around a non-existent epidemic. There are people who just have much higher than average self-esteem and optimism, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Bibliographical references:

  • Fox, Toby. (2015). Megalovania: Undertale’s most megalomaniacal character song.
  • Rose, Larken. (2005). How to be a successful tyrant: the megalomaniac manifesto.
  • Rosenfeid, Israel. (2001) Freud’s Megalomania: A Novel.

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