Megalomania is commonly understood as a mental behavior characterized by an excessive desire for power and glory and by illusory feelings of omnipotence. The latter can be expressed in the psychopathological form of delusions of grandeur.
Megalomania can be understood as exacerbated narcissism in relation to the ideal ego. In his account of the Schreber case in "Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)" (1911c )—a case that presented its share of delusions of grandeur—Sigmund Freud envisaged narcissism as a stage in psychosexual development situated between autoeroticism and object relations. Narcissism can certainly be placed not just within a linear perspective, but also as a structural point in the psyche, with megalomania at its zenith. Indeed, if we postulate a primal intersection formed by the interaction between primary narcissism and primal masochism, conceptualized as the earliest fusion of the life and death instincts, we are led to envision a sort of primal, archaic damming-up that is self-constituted (and therefore without an object) in the psyche. Megalomania could then be considered as an expression of reactualization and regression to this primal position, which is characterized by an image of an ego ideal that is all-powerful and self-sufficient, having no object-directed needs or desires in order to survive. This type of mental functioning would also involve a systematic denial of otherness and an infantile theory of sexuality involving self-procreation.
These structural elements, present in every psyche, and especially in every formation of the ego, are expressed in the various modes of psychic representation—pictographic, fantasmatic, and ideational. Omnipotence and denial of the other's reality are the organizing framework.
The "ideal ego" is posited as being the intrapsychic formation that engenders megalomania. Different from the "ego ideal," it is the psychic agency that inherits infantile primary narcissism; it maintains the possibility of recourse to an ideal of omnipotence and, by that very fact, to an attitude that negates the existence of the object and otherness. As the guardian of imaginary omnipotence, in the realm of identifications the megalomaniacal ideal ego opposes taking into account the separating and symbol-generating elements of gender and generational differences. It is the organizer of defense mechanisms such as the denial of reality, and accordingly, the disavowal of castration.
To be sure, in paranoid and melancholic types of psychopathological organizations one can find the effects of the megalomaniac's colorful frames of reference. In paranoia, persecution is the mechanism that continually justifies the omnipotence of the ego, which is attacked only to better demonstrate the megalomania's validity. Finally, the ultimate persecutor is only a jealous god on the verge of being supplanted by the new god that is the ego. In melancholia, megalomania is also linked to the process of narcissistic identification with the object. This confusion of identities makes mourning and separation impossible. Megalomania as an extreme form of manic defense can be one outcome of the process of melancholia. If we recall that another possible outcome is suicide, megalomania can be considered an attempt to deny death and a defense against the anxiety resulting from separation from the object.
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. The megalomaniacal fantasy is then a desperate attempt to repair an ego that has been damaged by object-loss experienced as an amputation or mutilation, which are the prototypes of castration. Getting beyond this psychic position marked by omnipotence requires the presence of another person in the role of "word-bearer" (Aulagnier, 1975/2001), someone who can endow object-loss and the attendant feelings of anxiety with a representation and a meaning. Thus there is a need for the exercise of a word-bearing function, generally allotted to the mother, which will be recreated in the context of analysis.
The calling into question of infantile megalomania involves the psychic work of de-idealizing the omnipotent ideal ego of the infans period and a reorganization of the psyche to take into account the desire of the other in his or her difference. This redefinition of the ideal requires appropriation of an ego ideal that is external to the subject and which preexists him or her in the symbolic realm that governs exchanges in accordance with the taboos against incest and murder. As a form of disavowal, megalomania is thus a tendency to remain unconsciously within a realm of barbarous images in which desires for murder and incest can be satisfied and prohibitions against them transgressed. Megalomania reflects a transgression of the fundamental taboos as a way of avoiding sublimation, which is a socialization of the instinctual.
See also: Borderline states; Infans; Narcissism; Narcissistic elation; Paranoia; Rationalization; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a.
Aulagnier, Piera. (2001). The violence of interpretation: From pictogram to statement. East Sussex/Philadelphia: Brunner-Routledge. (Original work published 1975)
Freud, Sigmund. (1911c ). Psycho-analytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides). SE, 12: 1-82.
——. (1914c). On narcissism: An introduction. SE, 14: 67-102.
——. (1916-1917g ). Mourning and melancholia. SE, 14: 237-258.
——. (1923). The ego and the id. SE, 19: 1-66.
meg·a·lo·ma·ni·a / ˌmegəlōˈmānēə/ • n. obsession with the exercise of power, esp. in the domination of others. ∎ delusion about one's own power or importance (typically as a symptom of manic or paranoid disorder).DERIVATIVES: meg·a·lo·man·ic / -ˈmanik/ adj.