Grandiose delusions (GD) – also known as delusions of grandeur or expansive delusions – are a subtype of delusion that occur in patients suffering from a wide range of psychiatric diseases, including two-thirds of patients in manic state of bipolar disorder, half of those with schizophrenia, patients with the grandiose subtype of delusional disorder, and a substantial portion of those with substance abuse disorders.
GDs are characterised by fantastical beliefs that one is famous, omnipotent, wealthy, or otherwise very powerful. The delusions are generally fantastic and typically have a religious, science fictional, or supernatural theme. There is a relative lack of research into GD, in contrast to persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations. About 10% of healthy people experience grandiose thoughts but do not meet full criteria for a diagnosis of GD.
Signs and Symptoms
According to the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for delusional disorders, grandiose-type symptoms include exaggerated beliefs of:
- Exceptional relationship to a deity or famous person.
For example, a patient who has fictitious beliefs about his or her power or authority may believe himself or herself to be a ruling monarch who deserves to be treated like royalty. There are substantial differences in the degree of grandiosity linked with grandiose delusions in different patients. Some patients believe they are God, the Queen of the United Kingdom, a president’s son, a famous rock star, and some other examples. Others are not as expansive and think they are skilled athletes or great inventors.
Expansive delusions may be maintained by auditory hallucinations, which advise the patient that they are significant, or confabulations, when, for example, the patient gives a thorough description of their coronation or marriage to the king. Grandiose and expansive delusions may also be part of fantastic hallucinosis in which all forms of hallucinations occur.
Grandiose delusions frequently serve a very positive function by sustaining or increasing their self-esteem. As a result, it is essential to consider the consequences of removing the grandiose delusion on self-esteem when trying to modify the grandiose delusion in therapy. In many instances of grandiosity, it is suitable to go for a fractional rather than a total modification, which permits those elements of the delusion that are central for self-esteem to be preserved. For example, a person who believes they are a senior secret service agent gains a great sense of self-esteem and purpose from this belief, thus until this sense of self-esteem can be provided from elsewhere, it is best not to attempt modification.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder distinguished by a loss of contact with reality and the occurrence of psychotic behaviours, including hallucinations and delusions (unreal beliefs which endure even when there is contrary evidence). Delusions may include the false and constant idea that the person is being followed or poisoned, or that the person’s thoughts are being broadcast for others to listen to. Delusions in schizophrenia often develop as a response to the individual attempting to explain their hallucinations. Patients who experience recurrent auditory hallucinations can develop the delusion that other people are scheming against them and are dishonest when they say they do not hear the voices that the delusional person believes that he or she hears.
Specifically, grandiose delusions are frequently found in paranoid schizophrenia, in which a person has an extremely exaggerated sense of his or her significance, personality, knowledge, or authority. For example, the person may declare to own a major corporation and kindly offer to write a hospital staff member a check for $5 million if only help them escape from the hospital. Other common grandiose delusions in schizophrenia include religious delusions such as the belief that one is Jesus Christ.
Refer to Bipolar Disorder.
Bipolar I disorder can lead to severe affective dysregulation, or mood states that sway from exceedingly low (depression) to exceptionally high (mania). In hypomania or mania, some bipolar patients can suffer grandiose delusions. In its most severe manifestation, days without sleep, auditory and other hallucinations, or uncontrollable racing thoughts can reinforce these delusions. In mania, this illness affects emotions and can also lead to impulsivity and disorganised thinking, which can be harnessed to increase their sense of grandiosity. Protecting this delusion can also lead to extreme irritability, paranoia, and fear. Sometimes their anxiety can be so over-blown that they believe others are jealous of them and, thus, undermine their “extraordinary abilities,” persecuting them or even scheming to seize what they already have.
The vast majority of bipolar patients rarely experience delusions. Typically, when experiencing or displaying a stage of heightened excitability called mania, they can experience joy, rage, and other intense emotions that can cycle out of control, along with thoughts or beliefs that are grandiose. Some of these grandiose thoughts can be expressed as strong beliefs that the patient is very rich or famous or has super-human abilities, or can even lead to severe suicidal ideations. In the most severe form, in what was formerly labelled as megalomania, the bipolar patient may hear voices that support these grandiose beliefs. In their delusions, they can believe that they are, for example, a king, a creative genius, or can even exterminate the world’s poverty because of their extreme generosity.
There are two alternative causes for developing grandiose delusions:
- Delusion-as-defence: Defence of the mind against lower self-esteem and depression.
- Emotion-consistent: Result of exaggerated emotions.
Grandiose delusions may be related to lesions of the frontal lobe. Temporal lobe lesions have been mainly reported in patients with delusions of persecution and of guilt, while frontal and frontotemporal involvement have been described in patients with grandiose delusions, Cotard’s syndrome, and delusional misidentification syndrome.
Patients with a wide range of mental disorders which disturb brain function experience different kinds of delusions, including grandiose delusions. Grandiose delusions usually occur in patients with syndromes associated with secondary mania, such as Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Wilson’s disease. Secondary mania has also been caused by substances such as L-DOPA and isoniazid which modify the monoaminergic neurotransmitter function. Vitamin B12 deficiency, uraemia, hyperthyroidism as well as the carcinoid syndrome have been found to cause secondary mania, and thus grandiose delusions.
In diagnosing delusions, the MacArthur-Maudsley Assessment of Delusions Schedule is used to assess the patient
In patients suffering from schizophrenia, grandiose and religious delusions are found to be the least susceptible to cognitive behavioural interventions. Cognitive behavioural intervention is a form of psychological therapy, initially used for depression, but currently used for a variety of different mental disorders, in hope of providing relief from distress and disability. During therapy, grandiose delusions were linked to patients’ underlying beliefs by using inference chaining. Some examples of interventions performed to improve the patient’s state were focus on specific themes, clarification of patient’s neologisms, and thought linkage. During thought linkage, the patient is asked repeatedly by the therapist to explain their jumps in thought from one subject to a completely different one.
Patients suffering from mental disorders that experience grandiose delusions have been found to have a lower risk of having suicidal thoughts and attempts.
In researching over 1000 individuals of a vast range of backgrounds, Stompe and colleagues (2006) found that grandiosity remains as the second most common delusion after persecutory delusions. A variation in the occurrence of grandiosity delusions in schizophrenic patients across cultures has also been observed. In research done by Appelbaum et al. it has been found that GDs appeared more commonly in patients with bipolar disorder (59%) than in patients with schizophrenia (49%), followed by presence in substance misuse disorder patients (30%) and depressed patients (21%).
A relationship has been claimed between the age of onset of bipolar disorder and the occurrence of GDs. According to Carlson et al. (2000), grandiose delusions appeared in 74% of the patients who were 21 or younger at the time of the onset, while they occurred only in 40% of individuals 30 years or older at the time of the onset.
Research suggests that the severity of the delusions of grandeur is directly related to a higher self-esteem in individuals and inversely related to any individual’s severity of depression and negative self-evaluations. Lucas et al. (1962) found that there is no significant gender difference in the establishment of grandiose delusion. However, there is a claim that ‘the particular content of Grandiose delusions’ may be variable across both genders. Also, it has been noted that the presence of GDs in people with at least grammar or high school education was greater than lesser educated persons. Similarly, the presence of grandiose delusions in individuals who are the eldest is greater than in individuals who are the youngest of their siblings.