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Delusions of Grandeur – Meaning, Signs, and Ways to Tackle the Problem

Delusions of Grandeur – Meaning, Signs, and Ways to Tackle the Problem

Updated on May 16, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Delusions of Grandeur - Meaning, Types, Signs, Treatment & More

Key Takeaways

  • Delusions of grandeur are incorrect beliefs and erroneous perceptions that make a person think big about themselves.
  • These are false ideas held by the person relating to who they are.
  • The person believes that he has some exceptional qualities or he is someone great with more power and wealth.
  • Delusions of grandeur are caused by some serious mental illnesses.
  • Treatment of this condition focuses on symptom management by curing the root cause.

We all have come across people in our lives that try to show off and exaggerate their greatness. They share extraordinary stories of their importance that feel unreal and absurd. 

Sometimes they appear boastful, yet insecure deep within. These are nothing but examples of delusions of grandeur.

People with these false beliefs and ideas think that they are not the ones that others think them to be. It means they are great human beings with some special power and abilities.

Simply put, these are faulty thoughts that make a person believe that they have exceptional qualities.

They can do what others cannot, or they possess grand and supernatural qualities that set them apart from others.

In most cases, delusions of grandeur suggest severe mental illnesses that require immediate attention and treatment. 

It shows psychotic symptoms that can be dangerous at times. The condition gives rise to extreme levels of self-consciousness and grandiose feelings.

In this article, we will analyze this thought distortion in detail.

Read On….

Delusions of grandeur – Meaning

Delusions of grandeur are false beliefs, distorted thoughts, and incorrect perceptions about the ‘self.’ The person suffers from the wrong idea that they are great, extraordinary in some way. They possess super qualities, exceptional powers, and brilliant talents that sound amazing but lack reality.

According to the APA dictionary of psychology, delusions of grandeur are defined as “the false attribution to the self of great ability, knowledge, importance, or worth, identity, prestige, power, accomplishment, or the like.”

Delusions of grandeur are faulty perceptions and thought distortions that make the person feel grand about themselves. 

They held some wrong ideas that they are a great person with exceptional talents and supernatural qualities. 

Some typical grandiose feelings of the person include having more power and wealth or suggesting something absurd such as being an alien coming from a different planet, etc.

Delusions of grandeur also bring weird feelings that sound impossible. The person starts believing that they are a different person and not the one who they think they are. 

These thought distortions refute and challenge reality with convictions. The power of false belief is strong and it makes the person trust them without a hint of doubt.

Delusions of grandeur are not mental health illnesses by themselves. But it always accompanies other severe psychiatric illnesses.

Sometimes, the person believes that they are supernatural creatures with some special abilities that can either create or destroy something.

People suffering from delusions of grandeur always have a high opinion about themselves. They think they’re extra special and can do anything and everything. 

A ‘high status’ feeling clouds their thoughts and keeps them in a hazy world of reality.

Delusions of grandeur are also known as expansive delusions. It is common in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and narcissistic personality disorder.

The grandiose delusions are often big, fantastical ideas related to religion and supernatural things.

The person holds a strong conviction that they are omnipotent and are not ordinary, mediocre beings.

Types of delusions of grandeur 

If you wish to know more about delusions of grandeur, you need to know the major types that these delusions can have.

1. Possession of special talent and quality

Some people with delusions of grandeur think that they have special qualities, talents, and accomplishments. These people suffer from a strong sense of superiority. 

Beliefs are centered on some false notions and ideas. The misconceptions make them think that they are powerful.

Having some special talents, and knowing certain things that others are not aware of or have never heard of.

For example beliefs of having a secret possession of wealth that belonged to King Alexander The great.

The thoughts are weird, and unrealistic, coupled with exaggerated feelings of superior complexity.

2. Famous person or celebrity

People with grandiose delusions often think that they are celebrity figures that everyone adores and respects. 

They actually hold a strong belief that they are famous persons who are talented, and grand in every aspect. For example, someone thinks that he is Elvis Presley.

This is religious grandiosity where a person believes that he/she is a religious leader or a spiritual person who has supernatural abilities to guide others. 

For example – someone thinks that he is the Pope or a head priest in a religious place.

When a person has this delusion, they may think they have the power to communicate with God or can understand God’s messages for mankind.

4. Secret connection with some special power

This delusion relates to false beliefs of having a secret connection to some special power. Someone may think that they have magical powers to heal diseases or misfortunes of others.

Sometimes they may think that they are on a secret mission of delivering important information to the world leaders or presidents of the country, etc.

5. Social status and recognition

People who suffer from this delusion of grandeur think that they are more socially powerful than others.

They have a high social status and others are all below them in status and recognition.

6. Immortality and invincibility

Some patients may hold strong and firm beliefs that they are invincible and immortal. They cannot be harmed or death will never come to them. 

At times these weird thoughts become so strongly held in the minds of the patient that they believe that nothing can kill or harm them.

Thus, they behave in reckless behavior and put themselves in big danger.

Signs of delusion of grandeur

It is tough to spot delusions of grandeur if you see or hear the person for the first time.

They refer to their faulty beliefs with trust and conviction. They actually believe these thoughts as real.

People with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia suffer from a maximum number of delusions in the active phase of the illness. 

Sometimes delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution operate together and make the person feel miserable.

They hold on to these delusions very strongly. Thus, it is impossible to deny or negate what they are saying with such strong convictions.

Though delusions are false beliefs yet they are firm and strong for the sufferer. The person is rest assured that what they are thinking is correct.

The chief mental health symptoms or signs of delusion of grandeur are as follows:

  • Firm beliefs that are strong, and full of conviction.
  • Faulty thoughts that lack clarity and judgments.
  • The beliefs are false and faulty.
  • Irrational ideas that cloud thoughts.
  • The person is unwilling to see or hear evidence that contradicts their strongly held beliefs.
  • Anger and defensiveness occur if anyone tries to break the firmly held false beliefs.
  • The person remains engrossed in their beliefs. It takes away their mental energy and leaves them exhausted.
  • The beliefs lead to negative emotions such as anger, jealousy, and mood swings.
  • Hypervigilance tendencies can occur if the person suspects that someone is trying to harm them emotionally.
  • The person behaves in odd ways. They believe that what they believe is completely true.
  • They behave in impulsive ways that are ways to justify their strongly held ideas and beliefs.
  • Strong emotional attachment to the firm beliefs that are false, yet true for the patient.
  • They use only a little or selective information to create their false beliefs.
  • The patient doesn’t listen to others regarding their faulty beliefs.
  • At times, the content of the delusion is weird, absurd, and impossible.
  • Feelings of high self-esteem.

Understanding delusions of grandeur

Experiencing delusions of grandeur has an emotional purpose. It makes the insecure soul get back its lost self-esteem. Sometimes, it also defends the ego (broken ‘self’) from hurt and abuse. Thus, delusions of grandeur act as a defense mechanism in trying times.

In order to understand the psychological dynamics of delusions, it is important to know what purpose it serves in a person’s life.

Delusions of grandeur have a strong emotional component. It serves an emotional purpose.

Scientific pieces of research have proved that people who have suffered childhood trauma are more prone to experience this delusion. 

The reason is they are insecure and fearful from within.

Maybe the traumatic experiences and the negative emotions attached to them had undermined their self-esteem.

So, delusions give them a sense of false importance and grandiosity.

Sometimes, this inflated sense of self safeguards their ego from further hurts and pains. They have developed delusion as a defense mechanism to safeguard the ego from humiliation and insults.

The scars of childhood trauma are deep-seated. The false beliefs give them false hope of assurance that they’re worthy and important in some way.

There are many trauma survivors who instead of blaming themselves, prefer to develop delusions of grandeur. They try to create an alternative self-identity that is strong, powerful, and worthy.

When these people believe that they’re powerful or possess some unique talent, they feel secure. The delusional thoughts give them emotional validation and a sense of self-respect

In this way, the person tries to deny reality and starts having a firm belief that is false and unrealistic. This unrealistic belief about ‘self’ is a way to safeguard their broken self-esteem.

Research evidence has also found that people who show delusions of grandeur think that their false beliefs are important and meaningful to them. 

They hate to relate with those people who try to contradict these firmly held beliefs.

Sometimes, grandiose delusions act as adaptive mechanisms. It protects the ego from unpleasant situations and truths that the person wants to hide or protect themselves from. 

To explain simply, it acts as a defense mechanism and protects the ego from facing harsh truths.

What causes delusions of grandeur?

Delusions are firm beliefs that are faulty, irrational, and unrealistic.

The causes are not simply known because various complex processes operate within the person when they develop delusions.

Thus, it is difficult to understand the root causes of why delusions develop and how it safeguards the ego by defending it from trauma and unpleasant experiences.

Most people suffering from delusions of grandeur also suffer from a severe mental illness. Several neurological, psychological, and social factors are responsible for its causation.

Delusional thoughts are caused by some of these factors:

  • Past trauma and major life changes might have threatened the ego.
  • Diseases related to nerves and brain functioning such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Brain chemical imbalances cause faulty transmission of messages across brain cells.
  • Social isolation, humiliation, or immigration from one country to another, leads to loss of self-identity or identity crisis.
  • Genetic factors lead to mood disorders and faulty thought processes.
  • Severe forms of mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, and narcissistic personality disorder.
  • The side effects of substance abuse.
  • Problems with higher-order thinking, problem solving, memory, or other cognitive functioning.
  • The tendency of paranoia.
  • Too much concern about irrational and perceived threats such as post-traumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety.
  • Low self-esteem as a result of childhood trauma. The ego was always burdened with fear and insecurity.

Other mental health illnesses that cause delusions of grandeur

There are a number of psychiatric illnesses that cause delusions of grandeur. Some of the major ones are as follows.

1. Bipolar disorder and delusions of grandeur

This disorder manifests in episodes of mania (euphoria) and depression. Delusions of grandeur are seen in the manic state of the illness. 

The person shows an inflated sense of self. They feel self-important much more than they actually are.

Scientific studies on delusional themes of bipolar patients have shown that about 20% of themes relate to delusions of grandeur. This means that grandiose delusions are common in this illness.

During a manic episode, the patient shows increased energy, a happy mood, and an elevated sense of self. 

Their feelings of grandiose stem from innate insecurity and fear. Their vulnerable ‘self’ tries to hold on to something that can make them feel less threatened.

Excessive energy may not allow these patients to sleep in peace for many nights, thus increasing the chances of delusional thinking.

Later on, these delusions reduce and subside in the depression episode of the illness.

2. Schizophrenia

Another illness that causes delusions of grandeur is schizophrenia. 

The Research reports suggest that about half of the mental patients (about 50% of the total sample size) diagnosed with schizophrenia in mental hospitals suffer from delusions of grandeur. 

Another symptom of this illness is hallucination and delusions of persecution. 

In schizophrenics, there is no change in the mood while the person displays an inflated sense of self. Thus, they display blunted affect and poor emotional display. 

On the flip side, they think that they have special qualities and they can transform the world into a better place.

Sometimes weird and irrational thinking increases because of hallucinations.

They hear voices telling them that they are super important, have special powers, have psychic and spiritual abilities to communicate with God, etc.

3. Delusional disorder

These disorders do not cause episodes of mania and depression. Neither do they show signs of schizophrenia, yet delusions of grandeur are common. 

Delusional disorder is a mental health condition that causes an altered state of reality. It means the person is confused about what is real and what is imagined.

The person suffers from faulty beliefs (delusion) that are completely unreal and just figments of one’s imagination.

Feelings of grandiose come from false beliefs that the person has some superpower or great talent. 

They think that they have made a great invention and have more power and knowledge than others. These thoughts are completely unrealistic yet held firmly by the patient.

4. Narcissistic personality disorder

People suffering from NPD (Narcissistic personality disorders) suffer from feelings of grandiose and inflated self-image. They have unrealistic conceptions about their greatness. 

Feelings of entitlement are present, though deep within they are fearful and vulnerable.

Narcissists have typical grandiose feelings that make them think and feel superior and super-talented than others.

But the delusions of grandeur that these people have are different from mania and schizophrenia. 

The Narcissist’s beliefs are not as firm as those of schizophrenics. Moreover, these people become too emotional, angry, or show-off if their beliefs are challenged.

But for psychotics such as schizophrenia patients, their firm beliefs do not lead to change in mood.

They still show fault and blunted affect if anyone tries to challenge their faulty beliefs and distorted perceptions.

Several neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, and dementia can cause delusions of grandeur. 

The patients show high energy levels and altered mood states. Neurological health conditions can also lead to momentary delusions.

Sometimes, they may also feel disoriented and confused about who they are.

The delusions are false themes that revolve around weird ideas about mixing details of their life with someone else and coming up with a new story. 

If someone is under extreme stress, they may suffer from delusions of grandeur. Here, delusions serve as a defense and shield against future stress. 

The person may behave in odd ways, saying a thing like God is trying to communicate with them, or they have some supernatural powers to heal the wounds and agonies of others.

Though these delusional themes are absolutely unreal and meaningless, the patients hold on to these false beliefs tightly.

Self grandiose – meaning

It refers to an exaggerated sense of self that typically occurs in narcissistic personality disorder. The person suffers from a superiority complex and thinks highly about them.

These people also hold a persistent opinion that they are better than others in many ways. Sometimes, this behavior also leads to criticizing and belittling others.

There is a difference between feelings of self-grandiose and delusions of grandeur. Self-grandiose refers to thinking highly about oneself. 

If you suffer from this problem, you may think that you’re more skillful, or have more talents than many others around you.

His feeling allows you to humiliate others openly just to justify yourself as authentic and all-powerful.

But, delusions of grandeur are firm, faulty, and erroneous beliefs about oneself.

In most instances, it accompanies a serious mental disorder. The irrational beliefs are hard to break and at times impossible to confront. 

The person refuses to do anything to let go of these false beliefs and as such, treatment options can fail completely.

Grandiose behavior in Narcissists

A narcissist with feelings of grandiosity is hard to spot. They are high-functioning people, who always appear hopeful and euphoric. They display signs of an inflated and boastful self.

These people undermine and humiliate others without guilt and shame. There are some typical signs of grandiose behavior in narcissists. Let’s know them.

  • An unrealistic high opinion about self.
  • Believes that they are talented, special, and can never be understood by commoners.
  • Grandiose Narcissists are flashy.
  • They appear socially attractive and successful.
  • Gets busy showing off expensive cars and houses.
  • Boastful and show off by nature.
  • Speaks highly about their success stories.
  • Arrogant, aggressive, and intolerant 
  • Gets irritated if others contradict their false claims
  • Always ask for special privileges.
  • They stick to their false opinions even if there is evidence against their false claims.

Signs of delusions of grandeur in bipolar disorders

Delusions of grandeur are known for their persistence and firmness. 

It is not easy to treat the underlying factors leading to such faulty beliefs. A proper diagnosis or treatment is needed to treat the root cause of this condition.

The signs of delusions of grandeur look like this – 

  • Exaggeration of self-achievements.
  • Constantly talks about oneself.
  • Criticizes and humiliates others without a reason.
  • Talks about incredible qualities that are unique to them.
  • Selfish nature.
  • Lack of empathy.
  • The sense of ‘self’ is pompous and arrogant.
  • Treats others in miserably bad ways.
  • Hurts others without guilt.
  • Unrealistic beliefs that are absurd apparently made up of stories and imaginative ideas.
  • Persecutory delusions

Treatment for delusions of grandeur

Treating delusions mainly targets the root cause that is creating faulty beliefs. Most often, the doctor or therapist treats the underlying medical condition.

It is difficult to treat delusions of grandeur because it is hard to pin down. The patients firmly hold on to their beliefs and never react to the evidence that denies their sayings.

The combination of psychotherapy and medication is used to manage symptoms and treat the condition. The therapist does a detailed mental status examination of the patient. 

Then, the symptoms are treated with antipsychotic drugs and Cognitive behavior therapy.

Sometimes, relaxation exercises and mood stabilizers are used to manage symptoms of mania and euphoria. 

Supportive therapy is also used to help patients cope with their delusional thinking. It involves seeking support from family members and friends. 

Adequate support of loved ones is vital for long-term recovery and stopping recurring symptoms of delusions and hallucinations.

Support for people with delusions of grandeur

If you know someone suffering from delusional disorders, you should always support them.

Help them seek medical advice. Sometimes, patients do not have adequate access to quality treatment options.

In such a situation, you should help them in every possible way. Sometimes, patients experiencing delusions of grandeur may need in-patient care. 

They may pose a threat to themselves and others. If you know someone like them, extend your support to get adequate hospital care.

Delusions can be managed if diagnosis and treatment happen on time. Any delay can unnecessarily lead to many other problems.

It is advisable to treat the delusion so that the person can live a healthy life in mainstream society. 

Another thing that needs to be noted is, never challenge the person’s false beliefs because it won’t help. Rather the patient may oppose treatment in every way.

People who experience delusions are unaware that they are mentally ill and unwell. 

Thus, they resist treatment by saying that they are fine and don’t need any mental health care. This is the worst part of the illness. 

But with adequate care and support, patients with delusional thinking can manage the negative consequences of the condition to a large extent.

The video link shared below shows the concept of delusions of grandeur. Do check out the link.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’

Delusions of grandeur clouds thoughts and perceptions. The person develops irrational beliefs that are far from reality, yet it is firmly held and feels true for the sufferer.

The person feeling powerful and worthy is unrealistic. Their pompous ‘self’ is deeply insecure and not self-assured. Thus, they show off and become excessively self-conscious.

The delusions serve the purpose of safeguarding the ‘self’ from hurts and abuse. But in the long run, the condition worsens and takes full control of the person’s behavior.

The delusions can affect intimate relationships, workplace habits, social decision-making, and the daily life of the person.

Thus, it should be treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

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