Megalomania is a psycho-pathological condition characterized by delusion
A delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence. Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological...

al fantasies of power, relevance, or omnipotence
Omnipotence is unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of whichever faith is being addressed...

. 'Megalomania is characterized by an inflated sense of self-esteem
Self-esteem is a term in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs and emotions such as triumph, despair, pride and shame: some would distinguish how 'the self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, the...

 and overestimation by persons of their powers and beliefs'. Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder in which the individual is described as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, prestige and vanity...

 prior to the latter's first use by Heinz Kohut
Heinz Kohut
Heinz Kohut was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst best known for his development of Self psychology, an influential school of thought within psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory which helped transform the modern practice of analytic and dynamic treatment approaches.-Early life:Kohut was born...

 in 1968, and is used these days as a non-clinical equivalent. It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is published by the American Psychiatric Association and provides a common language and standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders...

 (DSM) or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).


The word megalomania is derived from the Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 words "μεγαλο": megalo-, meaning large, and "μανία": mania
Mania, the presence of which is a criterion for certain psychiatric diagnoses, is a state of abnormally elevated or irritable mood, arousal, and/ or energy levels. In a sense, it is the opposite of depression...

, meaning madness, frenzy. The first attested use of the word "megalomania" in English is in 1890 as a translation of the French word "mégalomanie".

Proposed distinction from narcissism: Bertrand Russell

A quotation by Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these things...

 gives his interpretation of megalomania:
"The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist
Narcissism is a term with a wide range of meanings, depending on whether it is used to describe a central concept of psychoanalytic theory, a mental illness, a social or cultural problem, or simply a personality trait...

 by the fact that he wishes to be powerful rather than charming, and seeks to be feared rather than loved. To this type belong many lunatics and most of the great men of history."

Early Freudianism

Russell's near-contemporary, Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud , born Sigismund Schlomo Freud , was an Austrian neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis...

, freely used the same term in a comparable way. Referring with respect to an adult neurotic to 'the omnipotence which he ascribed to his thoughts and feelings', Freud reckoned that 'this belief is a frank acknowledgement of a relic of the old megalomania of infancy'. Similarly Freud concluded that 'we can detect an element of megalomania in most other forms of paranoic
Paranoia [] is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself...

 disorder. We are justified in assuming that this megalomania is essentially of an infantile nature and that, as development proceeds, it is sacrificed to social considerations'.

Edmund Bergler
Edmund Bergler
Edmund Bergler was an American psychoanalyst.-Biography:Bergler, an Austrian Jew, fled the Nazis in 1937-38 and lived in New York City. He wrote 25 psychology books along with 273 articles that were published in leading professional journals...

, one of his early followers, considered that 'as Freud and Ferenczi have shown, the child lives in a sort of megalomania for a long period; he knows only one yardstick, and that is his own over-inflated ego....Megalomania, it must be understood, is normal in the very young child'. Bergler was of the opinion that in later life 'the activity of gambling
Gambling is the wagering of money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and/or material goods...

 in itself unconsciously activates the megalomania and grandiosity
Grandiosity is chiefly associated with narcissistic personality disorder, but also commonly features in manic or hypomanic episodes of bipolar disorder....

 of childhood, reverting to the "fiction of omnipotence".

Otto Fenichel
Otto Fenichel
Otto Fenichel was a psychoanalyst of the so-called "second generation".Otto Fenichel started studying medicine in 1915 in Vienna. Already as a very young man, when still in school, he was attracted by the circle of psychoanalysts around Freud...

 states that, for those who react in later life to narcissistic hurt with denial
Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.The subject may use:* simple denial: deny the reality of the...

, ' a regression
Regression could refer to:* Regression , a defensive reaction to some unaccepted impulses* Regression analysis, a statistical technique for estimating the relationships among variables...

 to narcissism is also a regression to the primary narcissistic omnipotence which makes its reappearance in the form of megalomania'.

Object relations

Where Freud saw megalomania as an obstacle to psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

, in the second half of the 20th century object relations theory
Object relations theory
Object relations theory is a psychodynamic theory within psychoanalytic psychology. The theory describes the process of developing a mind as one grows in relation to others in the environment....

, both in the States and among British Kleinians
Melanie Klein
Melanie Reizes Klein was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst who devised novel therapeutic techniques for children that had an impact on child psychology and contemporary psychoanalysis...

, set about 'rethinking megalomania... intent on transforming an obstacle... into a complex organization that linked object relations and defence mechanisms' in such a way as to offer new 'prospects for therapy'.

Heinz Kohut
Heinz Kohut
Heinz Kohut was an Austrian-born American psychoanalyst best known for his development of Self psychology, an influential school of thought within psychodynamic/psychoanalytic theory which helped transform the modern practice of analytic and dynamic treatment approaches.-Early life:Kohut was born...

 regarded 'the narcissistic patient's "megalomania" part of normal development. By contrast, Kernberg viewed the "grandiose self" as pathological, as an instance of development gone awry', as did Herbert Rosenfeld
Herbert Rosenfeld
Herbert Alexander Rosenfeld was a British psychoanalyst, who was born in Germany in 1910 and died in London in 1986.'British analysts have been deeply influenced by the work and teachings of Rosenfeld who increasingly focused upon the analyst's contribution to what was happening in the analysis -...

 and John Steiner
John Steiner
John Steiner is an English actor. Tall, thin and gaunt, Steiner attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and worked for a few years at the BBC. Steiner featured in a lead role in a television production of Design for Living by Noel Coward. Later he found further work primarily in films...

. Thus 'when it came to megalomania - Freud's term - or the grandiose self - Kohut and Kernberg's term - or the omnipotent self - Rosenfeld's term - there was disagreement....Developmental arrest or pathological formation?'


Arguably, however, 'in addition to its pathological forms, megalomania is a mental behavior that can be used by any individual as a way of coping with distress linked to frustration, abandonment, loss, or disappearance of the object' in everyday life. In this sense, we may see 'megalomania as an extreme form of manic
Manić is a suburban settlement of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It is located in the municipality of Barajevo.Manić developed on the eastern slopes of the Kosmaj mountain...

 defense...against the anxiety resulting from separation from the object'.

In the social world, 'megalomania...can be a characteristic of power-drunk or control-freak
Control freak
In psychology-related slang, control freak is a derogatory term for a person who attempts to dictate how everything around them is done — "a control freak. Scared to let us have differences"...

 dictators, some executives, some politicians and some army generals'. All such figures may be said to have 'a "Big Ego". A baby's ego, in fact, insufficiently shrunk....So they're much more likely to miscalculate. To offend people'.


Unfortunately, 'a person with megalomania may not be interested in self-reflection or personal change', so the talking cures may be less effective than medication.

An additional complication with analysis is comprised by the transference: 'if the analyst has any tendencies toward megalomania or authoritarianism, the response of the patient to the analyst will strengthen them'.

Nevertheless, the megalomaniac might do well to 'remember, shrink is short for head-shrinker, isn't it?....And as our swollen heads get people we grow'.

Alexander the Great

During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion
Hephaestion , son of Amyntor, was a Macedonian nobleman and a general in the army of Alexander the Great...

, Alexander the Great began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia
Paranoia [] is a thought process believed to be heavily influenced by anxiety or fear, often to the point of irrationality and delusion. Paranoid thinking typically includes persecutory beliefs, or beliefs of conspiracy concerning a perceived threat towards oneself...

. His extraordinary achievements, coupled with his own ineffable sense of destiny
Destiny or fate refers to a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual...

 and the flattery
Flattery is the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject....

 of his companions, may have combined to produce this effect.

Literary examples

'Megalomania is central to Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn was aRussian and Soviet novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his often-suppressed writings, he helped to raise global awareness of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly in The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of...

's satirical portrait of Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

. The dictator firmly believes in his superior powers of perception and insight and...stands above all humanity' in his own eyes.

See also

Further reading

  • Lewis, Michael J. Ego, vanity & megalomania. (Frank Lloyd Wright
    Frank Lloyd Wright
    Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures and completed 500 works. Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture...

     & Lewis Mumford
    Lewis Mumford
    Lewis Mumford was an American historian, philosopher of technology, and influential literary critic. Particularly noted for his study of cities and urban architecture, he had a broad career as a writer...

    : Thirty Years of Correspondence)
    An article from: New Criterion (2002)
  • Robbins, John. Ecclesiastical Megalomania: The Economic and Political Thought of the Roman Catholic Church ISBN 0940931788 (1999)
  • Roberts, John Megalomania: Managers and Mergers (1987)
  • Rose, Larken How to Be a Successful Tyrant : The Megalomaniac Manifesto (2005)
  • Rosenfeid, Israel Freud's Megalomania: A Novel (2001)
  • Scull, Andrew Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine
    Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine
    Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine is a 2005 book by the distinguished psychiatric sociologist Andrew Scull which discusses the work of controversial psychiatrist Henry Cotton at Trenton State Hospital in New Jersey in the 1920s...

  • Sleigh A Hitler: a study in megalomania Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal 1966 Jun;11(3):218-9.
  • Tretiack, Philippe Megalomania: Too Much is Never Enough (2008)

External links

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