Megalomania and delusions of grandeur: playing at being God
The word megalomania it comes from the union of two Greek words: megas, which means "big", and mania whose meaning is "obsession". Thus, megalomania is the obsession with the big, at least if we pay attention to its etymology.
Megalomaniac people: what features characterize them?
Now, who does not know someone who, thinking so much, believes that the world is going to eat? It is quite common to find, from time to time, people especially proud of themselves, with a clearly optimistic vision about their own abilities and who seem to think they are capable of everything.
By way of criticism, it can also happen that someone (or perhaps ourselves) labels these people with the adjective "megalomaniac" or "megalomaniac," especially if the person you are talking about has some power to influence the life of a person. the others, either because he is very popular or because he is assigned a high position.
In these cases are we talking about megalomaniac people?
Clarifying the concept of the megalomaniac
What exactly is megalomania? Is it a word used only to describe cases of mental disorder, or can this word be used to designate the presumptuous or vain people we meet in our day to day?
In a sense, the correct 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 terms, Megalomania is understood as a tendency to overestimate one's abilities and the importance of the role played in the lives of others. Thus, a person who is usually quite proud (perhaps, too proud) about their abilities and their power of decision could be labeled with the megalomaniac or megalomaniac term, yes, 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.
Origins: a megalomania in psychoanalysis
Freud was already in charge of talking about megalomania as a personality trait linked to neuroticism, something that he himself was in charge of dealing with patients of the well-bred class who came to his office.
Beyond the psychoanalysis of Freud, other followers of the psychodynamic current have come to define megalomania as a defense mechanism carried out so that reality does not contradict the unconscious impulses that, theoretically, would lead us to behave trying to satisfy all our needs immediately, as if we had unlimited power. As, obviously, we do not have omnipotence that would like to have that subconscious part of our psyche, said these psychodynamics, distort reality to make it look like we do: and hence the megalomania, which would help us avoid suffering a continuous frustration .
However, the dominant clinical psychology is currently going down 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 the Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but does not have its own section and therefore can not be considered in itself a mental disorder, but in any case part of the symptomatology.
Thus, megalomania can play a role in a diagnostic picture, although mental health professionals now prefer to use more precise terminology to talk about the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Specifically, to know if megalomania is part of a disorder, special attention is paid to whether the person presents delusional ideas or does not present them.
Megalomania and delirious ideas
Delirious ideas are those that are based on a clearly inadequate logic , which only makes sense to the person who holds these beliefs, when one is unable to learn through experience the futility of these ideas, and when acting according to these ideas is problematic or inappropriate.
Therefore, for megalomania to be part of a clinical picture, it must be presented in this type of thoughts that distort reality by passing the bill on to the person in question and / or their environment. Megalomania is equated with delusions of grandeur.
A person who has been diagnosed among other things for his tendencies to megalomania will tend to believe that he has more power than a person would have in his situation , and the fact that the fact of maintaining these beliefs leads him to fail seriously harming him will not change his mind. Delusional ideation will remain there even after having lost fights against several people at once, for example, or after having been rejected by many people having been presented in a very presumptuous way.
Also, since megalomania is related to the narcissistic personality disorder, it will most likely tend to worry about the image it gives.
All this, of course, if we understand by megalomania what is included in the DSM-V.
How are the megalomaniacs?
People who have a pattern of behavior clearly associated with megalomania can be of many types, but evidently have some common characteristics.
- They behave as if they had practically unlimited power , which can lead them to get into serious problems for obvious reasons.
- They take advantage of this supposed omnipotence , in the sense that they like to test their abilities.
- They do not learn from their mistakes and experience does not make them correct the behaviors associated with delusions of grandeur.
- They seem to be constantly pretending to give an idealized image of themselves.
- They pay attention to the way in which others react to what they do or say, although if others reject them for their behavior, people with an extreme degree of megalomania will tend to think that the problem belongs to others.
Megalomania is a concept with chiaroscuro
Megalomania is a somewhat ambiguous concept ... like almost all the concepts with which one works in psychology. Megalomania, in itself, can be applied to many cases, more extreme or more frequent, and it is not necessary to have a mental disorder to be worthy of the appellation. However, in DSM-V uses the concept of megalomania to designate extreme cases in which delusions of grandeur occur that isolate the individual and make him hold a very distorted vision of things.
Many times, in the clinical and forensic context, people in charge of diagnosing people have to know how to recognize cases in which the tendency to megalomania is part of the symptoms of a mental disorder ... which is not easy. That is, they have to distinguish between what is popularly known as "boldness" and pathological megalomania.
How do they do that? Well, part of the secret is in the years of experience, of course. If it were possible to diagnose cases of disorders that are expressed through megalomania, there would be no need for professionals to take care of it. On the other hand, the diagnostic manuals include a series of criteria that serve to quantify in a more or less objective way the degree to which megalomania approaches the delusions of grandeur and the narcissistic personality disorder.
A final reflection
From the perspective of psychology, using the popular definition of the concept "megalomania" entails an obvious danger: on the one hand, trivialize with a series of symptoms that occur in clinical pictures and worsen the quality of life of people who experience it, and on the other, build a false social alarm around a nonexistent epidemic. There are people who simply have a higher self-esteem and optimism than the average, and there is nothing wrong with that.