A delusion is a false belief held by a person. It contradicts reality or what is commonly considered true. The strength of a delusion is based on how much the person believes it.
Specifically, a delusion of grandeur is a person’s belief that they are someone other than who they are, such as a supernatural figure or a celebrity. A delusion of grandeur may also be a belief that they have special abilities, possessions, or powers.
Delusions are generally the result of a mental health disorder. However, not all people with delusions meet the full diagnostic criteria for any mental health disorder.
Many types of mental health disorders classified as psychotic disorders can lead to delusions. These include:
Psychotic disorders can change a person’s sense of reality. They may be unable to tell what is real and what is not.
Types of delusions of grandeur
Any delusion has four main characteristics:
- The person having the belief believes it to be true, even when the existing norm and other people know it to be untrue.
- The person having the delusion will not listen to any other viewpoints about the belief and will not consider change when evidence challenges the delusion.
- The content of the delusion is impossible or implausible.
- The delusion impacts the person’s daily life.
Delusions of grandeur can take many forms, such as beliefs of:
Having a special ability, object, or talent
The person with the delusion may believe that they have a secret talent, object, or ability that no one else has or even knows about. For example, they may believe they possess a secret record from Elvis Presley that no one else knows about.
Being a famous person
A person with a delusion of grandeur may actually believe that they are a famous person and that the real famous person is an imposter or decoy.
Having a secret connection
This delusion involves believing in a special and sometimes secret connection or relationship with someone or something important. For example, a person with this delusion of grandeur may believe they are a spy or that they alone are responsible for relaying messages to the president or other world leaders.
A person with a religious-themed delusion of grandeur may believe that they are a religious leader.
How to spot them
Delusions of grandeur can be difficult to identify because the person having them believes the delusion to be true. Also, delusions can be hard to distinguish from what is called an “overvalued idea,” or a belief a person has that isn’t totally accurate, but isn’t exactly a delusion, either. One study used the example of gambling — if a person is a regular gambler, they probably believe they have an ability that allows them to win. But this is generally not considered a delusion of grandeur.
The key marker of delusions of grandeur is that they are not tied to a person’s experience. So, a person who regularly gambles and believes he is close to winning, even if he’s not, isn’t necessarily delusional. This is because the belief is tied to the action.
A delusion, on the other hand, is usually not related to anything happening in life at the moment. A delusion of grandeur would be more like a belief you can fly or that you are secretly the star of a reality TV show.
A delusion of grandeur is easier to spot if it occurs with other mental health symptoms. Delusions of grandeur are more common with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. If a person has a history of bipolar disorder and has had delusional thoughts in the past, delusions are more likely to happen again.
In some cases, delusions can also be brought on or intensified by the use of substances such as alcohol or marijuana.
Also keep watch for the effects the belief has on the person’s life. If the false belief is so great that it has changed how the person lives life or performs daily activities, it could be a delusion.
What are your options?
If you have any concerns about your thoughts or if you think a loved one may be having delusional thoughts of grandeur, you should see a doctor. A psychiatrist is the preferred expert, but a general practitioner can help with a referral. Research shows cognitive behavioral therapy can help treat delusions of grandeur, but the outcome depends on the underlying mental health disorder.
If you have any thoughts about harming yourself or others, call 911 immediately. And if you witness someone having a delusion and are concerned they might harm themselves or others, call emergency services. A mental health emergency is just as real as any other kind of emergency.
You can also call the hotline from National Alliance on Mental Illness, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST at 1-800-950-NAMI. You can also text “NAMI" to 741741 anytime for help for you or a friend.
If you think you’ve had delusions of grandeur, know that you are not alone. Many people face mental health challenges, and resources are available to help you manage your health. You can seek help anonymously online, speak to your doctor, or confide in a trusted friend who can help arrange for you to see a specialist. All of these options can get you started on bettering your mental health.