Megalomania is a psycho-pathological condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power, relevance, and/or omnipotence. 'Megalomania is characterized by an inflated sense of self-esteem and overestimation by persons of their powers and beliefs'.[1] Historically it was used as an old name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter's first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used these days as a non-clinical equivalent.[2][3] It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)[4] or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).



The word megalomania is derived from the Greek words "μεγαλο": megalo-, meaning large, and "μανία": mania, 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 gives his interpretation of megalomania: "The megalomaniac differs from the narcissist 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."[5]

Early Freudianism

Russell's near-contemporary, Sigmund Freud, 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'.[6] Similarly Freud concluded that 'we can detect an element of megalomania in most other forms of paranoic 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'.[7]

Edmund Bergler, 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'.[8] Bergler was of the opinion that in later life 'the activity of gambling in itself unconsciously activates the megalomania and grandiosity of childhood, reverting to the "fiction of omnipotence".[9]

Otto Fenichel states that, for those who react in later life to narcissistic hurt with denial, ' a regression to narcissism is also a regression to the primary narcissistic omnipotence which makes its reappearance in the form of megalomania'.[10]

Object relations

Where Freud saw megalomania as an obstacle to psychoanalysis, in the second half of the 20th century object relations theory, both in the States and among British Kleinians, 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'.[11]

Heinz Kohut 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',[12] as did Herbert Rosenfeld and John Steiner. 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?'[13]


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'[14] in everyday life. In this sense, we may see 'megalomania as an extreme form of manic defense...against the anxiety resulting from separation from the object'.[15]

In the social world, 'megalomania...can be a characteristic of power-drunk or control-freak dictators, some executives, some politicians and some army generals'.[16] 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'.[17]


Unfortunately, 'a person with megalomania may not be interested in self-reflection or personal change',[18] 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'.[19]

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'.[20]

Alexander the Great

During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion, Alexander the Great began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia.[21] His extraordinary achievements, coupled with his own ineffable sense of destiny and the flattery of his companions, may have combined to produce this effect.[22]

Literary examples

'Megalomania is central to Solzhenitsyn's satirical portrait of Joseph Stalin. The dictator firmly believes in his superior powers of perception and insight and...stands above all humanity'[23] in his own eyes.

See also


  1. ^ I. B. Weiner/W. E. Craighead, The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology: Vol III (2010) p. 977
  2. ^ Megalomiacs abound in politics/medicine/finance Business Day 2011/01/07
  3. ^ Kohut H The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders: Outline of a Systematic Approach, 1968
  4. ^ The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association
  5. ^
  6. ^ Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 113
  7. ^ Freud, p. 203
  8. ^ Edmund Bergler, "The Psychology of Gambling", in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 176 and p. 182
  9. ^ Robert M. Lindner, "The Psychodynamics of Gambling", in Halliday/Fuller eds., p. 220.
  10. ^ Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neorosis (London 1946) p. 420
  11. ^ Judith M. Hughes, From Obstacle to Ally (2004) p. 175
  12. ^ Hughes, p. 149
  13. ^ Hughes, p. 182
  14. ^ Marc Bonnet, "Megalomania"
  15. ^ Bonnet
  16. ^ Hani Montan, Thorny Opinion (2008) p. 15
  17. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 206-7
  18. ^ Weiner/Craighead, p. 977
  19. ^ J. Bensman/R. Lilienfeld, Craft and Consciousness (1991) p. 159
  20. ^ Skinner/Cleese, p. 63
  21. ^ Green, Peter Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age, pp. 23–24.
  22. ^ Green, Peter Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age, pp20–21
  23. ^ Karen L. Ryan, Stalin in Russian Satire (2009) p. 31

Further reading

  • Lewis, Michael J. Ego, vanity & megalomania. (Frank Lloyd Wright & Lewis Mumford: 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 [1] (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 (2007)
  • 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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  • Megalomanía — es un estado psicopatológico caracterizado por los delirios de grandeza, poder, riqueza u omnipotencia. A menudo el término se asocia a una obsesión compulsiva por tener el control. La palabra deriva de dos raíces griegas, manía (obsesión) y… …   Wikipedia Español

  • megalomanía — f. psiquiat. Trastorno mental caracterizado por una autoestima orgullosa y exagerada en todos los ámbitos, acompañado de delirios de grandeza. Medical Dictionary. 2011. megalomanía …   Diccionario médico

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  • megalomanía — sustantivo femenino 1. (no contable) Área: psiquiatría Trastorno por el cual el individuo cree poseer grandes riquezas o una elevada posición social. 2. (no contable) Excesivo deseo de grandeza que se manifiesta en el gusto por lo colosal: La… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Megalomania — Meg a*lo*ma ni*a, n. [NL., fr. megalo + mania.] (Pathol.) A form of mental alienation in which the patient has grandiose delusions. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • megalomania — /megaloma nia/ s.f. [comp. di megalo e mania ]. 1. (med.) [tendenza patologica ad assumere comportamenti, atteggiamenti e sim., spropositatamente grandiosi] ▶◀ mania di grandezza. 2. (estens.) [esagerata tendenza a contegni grandiosi,… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • megalomania — (n.) delusions of greatness, 1866, from Fr. mégalomanie; see MEGALO (Cf. megalo ) + MANIA (Cf. mania) madness …   Etymology dictionary

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  • megalomanía — (Del gr. μεγαλο , de μέγας, grande, y μανία, locura). f. Manía o delirio de grandezas …   Diccionario de la lengua española