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1857 lithograph by Armand Gautier, showing personifications of dementia, megalomania, acute mania, melancholia, idiocy, hallucination, erotomania and paralysis in the gardens of the Hospice de la Salpêtrière.

Megalomania is a psychopathological condition characterized by fantasies of power, relevance, omnipotence, and by inflated self-esteem. Historically it was used as a name for narcissistic personality disorder prior to the latter's first use by Heinz Kohut in 1968, and is used today as a non-clinical equivalent.[1][2] It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)[3] or the International Statistical Classification of Diseases (ICD).


The word megalomania is derived from the Greek μεγαλο- megalo- "large, great", and μανία mania "madness, frenzy". Its first attested use in English occurred in 1890, as a translation of the French mégalomanie.

Early Freudianism

Sigmund Freud commented of the adult neurotic's sense of omnipotence that “this belief is a frank acknowledgement of a relic of the old megalomania of infancy”.[4] He similarly 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”.[5]

Edmund Bergler also considered megalomania to be normal in the child,[6] and for it to be reactivated in later life in gambling.[7] Otto Fenichel states that, for those who react in later life to narcissistic hurt with denial, a similar regression to the megalomania of childhood is taking place.[8]

Object relations

Whereas 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 revaluing megalomania as a defence mechanism that offered potential access for therapy.[9] Such an approach built on Heinz Kohut's view of narcissistic megalomania as an aspect of normal development, by contrast with Kernberg's consideration of such grandiosity as a pathological development distortion.[10]


As well as a symptom of pathology, a degree of megalomania is a way of defending against loss in everyday life—a manic defense against the experience of separation and loss.[11] When linked to a position of power, whether military, political, or control-freak bureaucratical,[12] it is likely to lead to miscalculation as a by-product of the subject's conceit.[13]


Because the megalomaniac tends not to be particularly interested in examining or changing the self,[14] talking cures may be less effective than medication in their treatment.[15] The transference in a talking cure may also be compromised by the patient's enhancement of any megalomaniac tendencies within the analyst him/herself.[16]

See also


  1. Megalomiacs abound in politics/medicine/finance Business Day 2011/01/07
  2. Kohut H The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders: Outline of a Systematic Approach, 1968
  3. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual published by the American Psychiatric Association
  4. Sigmund Freud, Case Histories II (PFL 9) p. 113
  5. Freud, p. 203
  6. Edmund Bergler, "The Psychology of Gambling", in J. Halliday/P. Fuller eds., The Psychology of Gambling (London 1974) p. 176 and p. 182
  7. Robert M. Lindner, "The Psychodynamics of Gambling", in Halliday/Fuller eds., p. 220.
  8. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 420
  9. Judith M. Hughes, From Obstacle to Ally (2004) p. 175
  10. Judith M. Hughes, From Obstacle to Ally (2004) p. 149
  11. "Bonnet". Retrieved 2011-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Hani Montan, Thorny Opinion (2008) p. 15
  13. Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 206-7
  14. I. B. Weiner/W. E. Craighead, The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology: Vol III (2010) p. 977
  15. "The megalomaniac differs from the... at BrainyQuote". 1970-02-02. Retrieved 2011-12-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. J. Bensman/R. Lilienfeld, Craft and Consciousness (1991) p. 159

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 0-940931-78-8 [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