What is Grandiosity?

In this blog, we’ll take a deep dive into the topic of grandiosity – what it is, how to identify it, and how it can be harmful.

While self-love and positive self-belief are essential for our well-being, some individuals take it to the extreme and become obsessed with power and control. This can lead to harmful behaviors that hurt others.

Through this blog, we’ll explore the complex and often troubling world of grandiosity, and how it can affect individuals and relationships.

Let’s dive in to better understand grandiosity and how to deal with it.

Grandiosity and its Characteristics

Grandiosity refers to a value system where a person believes that they’re above everyone else. But is that enough for a person to be classified as grandiose? Not necessarily.

There are other signs to look out for, such as constantly belittling others in an attempt to appear superior. And let’s be real—if you don’t like someone, it’s probably because you sense their grandiosity.

You can identify grandiosity if you can observe the following characteristics:-

Unrealistic Sense of Superiority

When someone is observed to value themselves above everyone else consistently, that’s a marker for strong grandiose thoughts. This can also be classified as a superiority complex, which is a primary trait of grandiosity.

Superiority complex is a delusional disorder that is used as a cover for low self-esteem, i.e. the underlying sense of inferiority. What a surprise!

Criticism Can Take a Hike

Grandiosity is a learned behavior that leads a person to base their entire self-esteem on external accomplishments, and anything that threatens it will be met with vicious attacks in return.

Grandiose thinking can be observed in a person when they’re constantly belittling people around them that threaten their sense of self.

They like to deny their weaknesses while also exaggerating their abilities, which may come across as high self-esteem but is quite the opposite as we discussed.

Constantly Angry

Anger is a natural biological response to unfairness, so anger in and of itself is not an alarming trait. It’s only when the occurrences start to become frequent and disproportionate to the situation that you start to see grandiosity.

People with grandiosity often get angry when their expectations aren’t met in any life situation, whether at work or with their partner.

At work, you can see them take on quite a burden of performance which fuels their need to compete to be on top. A little inconvenience is all it takes to get them fuming.

Grandiosity vs Narcissism

Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be distinguished by a recurring pattern of exaggerated feelings of self-importance. They have an excessive need for admiration, an unwillingness or at least a diminished ability to empathize with others’ feelings, and interpersonally exploitative behavior.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is divided into 2 pathological personality traits, i.e. Grandiose Narcissism and Vulnerable narcissism, which means grandiosity is classified under narcissism.

Grandiosity is considered a subtype of Narcissism or Narcissistic personality disorder. Hence, Grandiosity is not different from Narcissism but it’s actually considered an expression of it.

Grandiose Narcissism vs Vulnerable Narcissism

Grandiose and vulnerable narcissism are 2 sides of the same coin. Both of these constructs have a lot in common.

Similarities – You can see both types of people being angry, uncooperative, manipulative, cold, antagonistic, and hostile. Using the 5-factor personality model, it’s observed that both vulnerable and grandiose narcissists are low in agreeableness. They both value competition over cooperation.

Differences – The difference is observed when looking closely at the other traits of the 5-factor model:-

  • Extraversion – Grandiose narcissists have high levels of extraversion as opposed to Vulnerable narcissists have low levels of it.
  • Neuroticism – Vulnerable narcissists are low in neuroticism as opposed to Grandiose narcissists who are high.
  • Agreeableness – Even though they both have low agreeableness when we look at the facets of agreeableness, grandiose narcissists have lower levels of modesty, and vulnerable narcissists have low trust.

Grandiose narcissism is more closely related to personality disorders like Antisocial Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder, whereas vulnerable narcissism is associated with personality disorders Borderline Personality Disorder and Avoidant Personality Disorder.

Grandiosity vs Grandiose Delusions

Having delusions about one’s own accomplishments and self-importance is a fairly common personality trait of grandiosity, but grandiose thinking alone isn’t sufficient to predict a delusional disorder.

People with delusions of grandeur believe that they’re superior to others. but they back it up with claims that aren’t rooted in reality.

Here are a few examples of 3 situations in the context of marriage to understand the distinction between grandiosity and delusions of grandeur:-

  • Neither Grandiosity Nor Grandiose Delusions – If a partner feels that they’ve contributed a lot to the family and that they deserve efforts in return, that may not necessarily be a grandiose delusional disorder as the partner could just be feeling overburdened with responsibilities.
  • Grandiosity – If a partner micromanages every move of their significant other, gets angry at the slightest inconvenience, and constantly pushes them down while not caring for their well-being, that’s grandiosity.
  • Grandiose Delusions – If a partner genuinely believes that they’re a God that was sent to this planet to be served by their now significant other, then they have strong delusions of grandeur.

Grandiose delusion can be identified with 3 main characteristics:

  • Conviction Without Evidence – These people believe something to be true even when the people around them know it to be untrue.
  • Unwillingness to Listen – People having grandiose delusions will not listen to any other viewpoints about their beliefs even when the evidence challenges the misconception.
  • Impossible/Implausible Claims – They try to convince people of something that isn’t rooted in reality. For example, claiming they’re a movie star when they clearly aren’t.

Causes of Delusions of Grandeur

While the research isn’t clear as to why grandiose delusions occur, peer-reviewed studies indicate that they could be a symptom of another mental health condition, including bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia.

Here are some common causes of delusions of grandeur:-

  • Background of mental disorders in their family.
  • Occurrence of a brain change, possibly because of brain tumors.
  • Stress.
  • Loneliness, lack of social connections.

Grandiosity in Bipolar Disorder

It is believed that grandiosity is present in roughly 8-65% of the general population, but bipolar disorder is particularly interesting because studies suggest that 57% of youth having bipolar disorder experience grandiosity.

Grandiosity overwhelmingly reflects itself in mental health conditions like bipolar disorder among other mental health symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition where a person experiences extreme mood swings. They experience extreme emotional polarities. At times, they feel on top of the world and highly self-important, other times they’re extremely depressed.

Manic or Hypomanic Episodes in Bipolar Disorder

A manic episode or mania is a period during which a person experiences a persistently elevated, expansive mood state that can last for more than a week. It’s not a mental illness but a mood state that can become severe enough to cause a person to experience delusions of grandeur.

A Hypomanic episode or Hypomania is a milder form of mania that lasts for about 4 – 7 days. The mood states are relatively milder but since it lasts for a short duration, it’s also less likely to cause delusions of grandeur.

A manic or hypomanic episode is what people experience when they’re going through the highs of bipolar disorder. They feel the following moods for days:-

  • Euphoria – They’re extremely happy throughout the day. Feeling a high throughout most of the day.
  • Excitement – They have high energy so they want to do several things as the racing thoughts increase activity in their brain.
  • Distractability – They can’t focus on things for long periods as they’re distracted by everything.
  • Sleeplessness – They don’t feel the need to sleep as they have high energy levels throughout the day.
  • Lost Appetite – They don’t feel hungry and can go on without food for long periods.
  • Impulsive – Since their mind is racing, they take on too many activities at once.
  • Reckless – They take high risks without thinking of the repercussions, and engage in activities like gambling, driving recklessly, etc.

Grandiosity in Reactive Attachment Disorder

When a child in its infancy experiences emotional neglect consistently, where their basic needs for comfort and affection aren’t met, they fail to establish loving, caring, stable attachments with their caregivers.

That child grows up with the same inabilities that then reflect in their relationships with others, extreme levels of which can be classified as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Let’s look at a few symptoms of RAD outlined by DSM-5:-

  • Emotionally Withdrawn – When offered any form of comfort or emotional support, they don’t respond. They rarely seek comfort and do not respond when receiving it.
  • Irritated/Depressed – At least 2 of the following 3 criteria must be met for diagnosing RAD – the child is rarely happy, rarely interact socially or emotionally, and/or experience unknown irritability or sadness.
  • Background of Insufficient Care – As children, these people must’ve experienced emotional neglect from their parents, a repeated changeover of caregivers, or were discouraged from ever expressing themselves.

Grandiosity in Couples

The interesting thing about grandiosity is that it seems like a natural order of things to someone who undergoes it. The only person affected is the one on the receiving end of this is their codependent partner.

Initially, the codependents are on board because they feel protected, and are experiencing getting a sense of safety by being with their grandiose counterpart who is portraying extreme self-confidence and competence.

There are signs that you can watch out for that may help you identify them before these mental disorders escalate to something like physical harm:-

Their Partner’s Unhappiness is a Leverage

Grandiosity thrives on the codependent’s feelings of worthlessness, which they then use to elevate their own importance. The consistent subjugation of the codependent partner needs to be addressed as early as possible.

Their Partner Takes the Fall Every Time

If the codependent partner is not on board with the narcissist, they are about to be blamed for every little inconvenience. Instead of it being about the partner’s grandiosity, the argument becomes about what’s wrong with THEM for objecting. 

Distorted Judgment

Grandiosity suppresses a person’s ability to see their impact on their partner. Whether they’re drinking, cheating, or being rude, it will always be the fault of their partner. Accountability is their kryptonite.

Solution for Grandiosity

Grandiosity accompanies several symptoms that point to the underlying conditions. Whether it turns out to be bipolar disorder, any of the delusional disorders, or substance use disorders, the treatment will vary.

For instance, you can find Grandiosity in almost all the above-listed disorders if you find the following symptoms:-

  • An exaggerated sense of accomplishment, captivated by their own greatness.
  • Racing thoughts, increased activity.
  • Bashing other people’s achievements.
  • Completely oblivious to the negative consequences of their actions.
  • Thinking that they’re completely infallible.
  • False belief about their own importance.

However, if you find other symptoms like euphoric mood, talkativeness, and reduced need for sleep, that’s a marker for Grandiosity in bipolar disorder.

Similarly, suppose someone believes that they’re a famous person like they’re some religious leader or one of the world leaders who’s going to save the world, and have thoughts about themselves that are not rooted in reality. In that case, they’re showing symptoms of delusions of grandeur.

Research suggests that the patient can have several mental health conditions at once. For example, a grandiose individual can have bipolar disorder and reactive attachment disorder, which means that one way to treat grandiosity is by using theoretical integration.

Even though conventional therapy focuses on the cognitive and affective perspectives, which are highly important, they overlook the most fundamental perspective of Relationality.

In Relational Life Therapy, I teach therapists how to connect with their clients, which sounds fairly simple but relationality needs to be introduced because the fundamental problem of the client is disconnection.

While working with couples, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter whether you can make pathological classifications like delusions of grandeur or bipolar disorder, you can conclude that the fundamental problem is disconnection, or individualism, which is the opposite of a “relationship”.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can deal with grandiosity in relationships, check out my RLT Training program where I teach therapists how to deal with couples having a grandiosity-shutdown dynamic.

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