Grandiosity refers to an unrealistic sense of superiority—a sustained view of oneself as better than others that causes the narcissist to view others with disdain or as inferior—as well as to a sense of uniqueness: the belief that few others have anything in common with oneself and that one can only be understood by a few or very special people. It also occurs in reactive attachment disorder.
Pathological grandiosity has been associated with one of the two subtypes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. (Gabbard, 1989) Characteristics of the narcissist-grandiose subtype (as opposed to the narcissist-vulnerable subtype) include:
- Being labeled the “oblivious narcissists”
- Observed lack of insight into the impact they have on others
- More likely to regulate self-esteem through overt self-enhancement
- Denial of weaknesses
- Intimidating demands of entitlement
- Consistent anger in unmet expectations
- Devaluation of people that threaten self-esteem
- Diminished awareness of the dissonance between their expectations and reality, along with the impact this has on relationships
- Overt presentation of grandiose fantasies
- Conflict within the environment is generally experienced as external to these individuals and not a measure of their own unrealistic expectations
The differences between grandiose and vulnerable narcissist subtypes have been studied (Dickinson & Pincus, 2003):
- This overall finding confirms past theory and research that suggests that these [grandiose subtype] individuals lack knowledge of the impact they have upon others, and thus, have an unrealistic view of themselves in relation to others (Gabbard, 1989, 1998; Kernberg, 1975; Kohut, 1971, 1977). Indeed, this very lack of insight into their impact upon others is what incited Gabbard (1989) to enlist the label “oblivious narcissists” to describe their social presentation and distinguish them from their vulnerable counterparts. Grandiose narcissistic individuals expect another’s immediate and undivided attention, and are oblivious to the effect their direct demands of entitlement have on others. And, by virtue of their ability to maintain the grandiose self through self-enhancement, grandiose narcissistic individuals are less susceptible than their vulnerable peers to the chronic emotional consequences of threats to entitled expectations (e.g., distress, lowered self-esteem, interpersonal fearfulness).
The grandiosity section of the Diagnostic Interview for Narcissism (DIN) (Second edition) is as follows:
They may also begin unrealistically ambitious undertakings, before being cut down, or cutting themselves back down, to size.
A distinction is made between individuals exhibiting grandiosity, which includes a degree of insight into their unrealistic thoughts (they are aware that their behavior is considered unusual), in contrast to those experiencing grandiose delusions, who lack this capability for reality-testing. Some individuals may transition between these two states, with grandiose ideas initially developing as "daydreams" that the patient recognises as untrue, but which can subsequently turn into full delusions that the patient becomes convinced reflect reality.
Psychoanalysis and the grandiose self
Heinz Kohut saw the grandiose self as a normal part of the developmental process, only pathological when the grand and humble parts of the self became decisively divided. Kohut's recommendations for dealing with the patient with a disordered grandiose self were to tolerate and so re-integrate the grandiosity with the realistic self.
- Elsa F. Ronningstam (2005). Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-803396-7.
- Malia C. King. "Reactive Attachment Disorder: A Review" (PDF). Journal of Special Education. 1–4.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) American Psychiatric Association (2000)
- Gabbard, G. O. (1989). "Narcissists divided into two sub types: vulnerable and grandiose". Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic (53): 527–532.
- Dickinson, Kelly A.; Pincus, Aaron L. (2003). "Interpersonal Analysis of Grandiose and Vulnerable Narcissism". Journal of Personality Disorders (17(3)): 188–207.
- Gunderson J, Ronningstam E, Bodkin A The diagnostic interview for narcissistic patients Archives of General Psychiatry, 47, 676-680 (1990)
- Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (Penguin 1972) p. 421
- Goffman, p. 413 & n
- Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (London 1994) p. 168-9
- Harpur, T. J., Hare, R. D., & Hakstian, A. R. (1989). "Two-factor conceptualization of psychopathy: Construct validity and assessment implications". Psychological Assessment. 1 (1): 6–17. doi:10.1037/1040-35188.8.131.52.
- Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis (London 1946) p. 444 and p. 421
- Otto F. Kernberg, Borderline Conditions and Pathological Narcissism (London 1990) p. 265
- Josephine Klein, Our Need for Others (London 1994) p. 222
- Allen M. Siegal, Heinz Kohut and the psychology of the Self (1996) p. 95