It’s natural to take pride in your talents, believe in yourself, or want to feel special. Self-confidence and self-esteem are indeed healthy traits to develop.
Grandiosity, however, takes these traits to the extreme.
A grandiose self-image might lead you to:
- believe unique traits and talents set you above everyone else
- consider yourself unstoppable, untouchable, or destined for great and important things
- have persistent feelings of superiority
Over time, grandiosity can affect your relationships and harm your well-being overall.
As with any other personality trait or quality, grandiosity can manifest as a spectrum of behaviors and thoughts, or it may show up in specific situations only.
But since grandiosity can also be a symptom of certain mental health conditions, support from a therapist can make a big difference in some instances.
Grandiosity refers to a sense of specialness and self-importance that might lead you to:
- boast about real or exaggerated accomplishments
- consider yourself more talented or intelligent than others
- dismiss or try to one-up the achievements of others
- believe you don’t need anyone else to succeed
- believe you’re above rules or ordinary limits
- fail to recognize that your actions could harm others
- lash out in anger when someone criticizes you or points out a flaw in your plans
Grandiosity often resembles self-centered or arrogant behavior, so people often don’t recognize it as a mental health symptom.
You may not even be aware of some of your grandiose thoughts or behaviors.
Here’s an example:
While on vacation, you overhear your tour guide telling another group about a challenging climb nearby.
“Only the best, most experienced hikers attempt it,” they say. “Many come back before they reach the top. It’s very difficult and dangerous.”
You have almost no hiking experience, but you decide you’ll try the climb anyway. You’re in great shape and, well, you’re good at everything. There’s no reason you can’t make it, too.
In some cases, extreme grandiosity can take the form of delusions or fixed beliefs unsupported by facts and reality.
Delusions in this instance go beyond excessive self-importance. You don’t just consider yourself special. You firmly believe you’re a historical figure or famous person, have supernatural abilities, or some other unique power.
Grandiosity isn’t considered a mental health condition on its own, but it might show up as a symptom of one.
Bipolar disorder involves episodes of mania, hypomania, or depression.
Grandiosity in bipolar disorder shows up along with other symptoms of mania, such as:
- an expansive or euphoric mood
- talkativeness, pressured speech, and racing thoughts
- increased activity, such as writing, creating art, or starting new projects
- impulsive behavior
During an episode of mania, your loved ones might notice patterns of grandiose thinking that don’t match your usual behavior.
You might, for example, tell everyone you know about your upcoming hit single and the record label that’s about to sign you, even though you’ve recorded only 30 seconds of the track on your computer.
Grandiosity can also happen on a smaller scale.
Maybe you run through your savings buying expensive gifts for loved ones because you feel convinced you’re about to get a promotion and significant raise.
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes grandiosity as a key feature of narcissistic personality.
Unlike grandiosity that may occur during episodes of mania in bipolar disorder, grandiosity in narcissism may persist over time.
Personality disorders involve fixed patterns of behavior, so symptoms generally remain constant for a long time and across situations.
Grandiosity in narcissistic personality often ties into other key signs of the condition, such as difficulty empathizing with others and a constant need for praise and admiration.
Grandiosity in NPD might show up as:
- feeling entitled to special treatment because you expect others to recognize your unique gifts
- describing your achievements and abilities in great detail to earn attention and recognition
- looking down on others because you consider them inferior or unimportant
Here’s an example:
Your professor has a no-extensions policy, announced at the beginning of the course and emphasized with each assignment. You’ve ignored your most recent paper, leaving it until the last minute because you had better things to do.
“It’s such a simple assignment, anyway,” you told yourself. “A joke for someone of my intelligence. I’ll get it done in one night, no problem.”
On the last night before the due date, you take a look at the assignment and decide you feel too tired to bother. “I’ll just get an extension,” you say confidently. “Maybe they won’t extend deadlines for anyone else, but I’m different. They’ll give me one, for sure.”
Your professor does not, in fact, grant you an extension, leaving you utterly astonished and furious.
Borderline personality disorder is characterized by difficulty regulating emotions, an unstable sense of self, and a strong desire to avoid abandonment.
Dr. Elinor Greenberg, an author, psychologist, and lecturer who specializes in treating personality disorders, explains that grandiose thinking is not a common symptom of BPD.
“Grandiosity is more common with NPD, particularly exhibitionist NPD,” Greenberg says.
Yet borderline personality might sometimes involve a level of idealization that resembles grandiosity.
If a parent or past partner devalued you by saying you’d never amount to anything, this voice might continue to echo in your internal self-talk.
To drown it out, you might begin to plan, in great detail, everything you’ll do to prove them wrong:
- establish a successful business
- land your dream job
- marry someone wealthy and successful
- own a house at a young age
These goals tend to go unrealized, Greenberg says, because you may never actually begin working to accomplish them.
Though narcissistic traits can occur with borderline personality disorder, NDP cannot co-occur with BPD. Research from 2018 suggests vulnerable narcissism may be more common with BPD than grandiose (exhibitionist) narcissism.
Vulnerable (covert) narcissism can still include patterns of grandiose thinking. Yet these thoughts and plans usually remain internalized fantasies, so others may not always notice signs of grandiosity.
Reactive attachment disorder involves emotional withdrawal and difficulty bonding with caregivers, usually because of abuse, neglect, and lack of affection early in childhood.
Children with untreated RAD generally avoid seeking comfort and forming bonds with others.
To date, there’s not a lot of research exploring grandiosity in RAD.
Older research suggests children with this condition might show grandiose behavior through:
- little concern for potential consequences of their behavior
- a lack of remorse when their behavior hurts others
- manipulating people in authority to get around rules
- believing their behavior is more positive than it actually is
- only caring about their own needs and feelings
A delusion of grandeur might involve a belief of:
- being someone important or famous, such as a celebrity or historical figure
- having special powers, such as incredible strength, flight, or the ability to walk on water
- having a special mission to protect others
- completing a significant achievement, such as an art masterpiece
- having a special relationship with a religious deity or political leader or a destiny to become a leader
Delusions may have little to do with actual talents. For example, someone who has never spent any time on art could still believe they’re a famous artist.
Although grandiose delusional disorder may not involve other mental health symptoms, it can still affect personal relationships and daily life.
Delusions can also become unsafe when someone takes risks because they feel protected by their abilities.
For example, someone who believes they have incredible strength might jump in front of a car, attempting to leave the scene of a hit-and-run.
There’s nothing uncommon about dreaming big, recognizing your talents, or feeling special.
It’s also fairly natural to have some passing feelings of superiority after accomplishing something out of the ordinary.
Grandiosity can be problematic when it:
- becomes a consistent pattern of behavior or thought
- prevents you from considering more realistic perspectives
- negatively affects your relationships
- develops along with other mental health symptoms
- creates the potential for physical harm or other unwanted consequences
Support from a mental health professional can make a difference when grandiose thinking causes distress and problems in your life.
Treatment for grandiosity as a symptom of mental health conditions generally depends on its underlying causes:
- Getting treatment for bipolar disorder may help prevent episodes of mania and all related symptoms, including grandiosity.
- Treatment for personality disorders often involves learning new self-perceptions and relating to others, which can help counter grandiose thinking.
- Early treatment for RAD may help children form healthy bonds and develop greater empathy and consideration for others.
A delusional condition can make it extremely difficult to consider alternative perspectives.
People with grandiose delusional disorder often don’t seek help unless the delusion negatively affects their safety or relationships.
Therapy can provide a safe, non-judgmental space to:
- identify possible harmful outcomes of the delusion
- explore productive ways to respond to it
- consider evidence for or against the delusion
- explore other explanations
Grandiosity as a personality characteristic could show up in some circumstances but is usually not persistent.
Grandiosity as a symptom is most commonly associated with bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality, but other factors can also play a part.
No matter what lies behind feelings of superiority and invincibility, support from a compassionate therapist can help you:
- explore possible causes and related mental health symptoms
- consider and incorporate more realistic beliefs
- recognize ways grandiosity affects you and others in your life
To find support near you, consider these resources: