Egomania is difficult to define these days. That’s because the term mania has come to have a specific medical meaning. And in most cases, clinical mania has its roots in brain chemistry gone awry. And that can happen for a variety of reasons. The use of certain substances can precipitate a manic episode. But brain chemistry can get out of balance for other reasons, too, including for reasons that are virtually unidentifiable.
Egomania can be a manifestation of a manic episode. That is, when someone is manic, they can show several signs of ego inflation. It’s all part of a mood disorder over which a person generally has no control. Ego inflation doesn’t have to be the result of mental illness, however. It can also be a manifestation of character disturbance.
As I point out in my landmark book Character Disturbance, egomania is part and parcel of certain types of narcissism. And it’s more than a strong, confident sense of self. It’s ego on steroids!
The Nature of Ego
The way the world works, we need ego to operate within it. And as egoic creatures we primarily seek to:
- Separate ourselves (i.e. develop a unique, defined identity)
- Elevate ourselves (i.e. develop an image to be proud of)
- Justify ourselves (i.e. validate our preferred ways of seeing and doing things)
Having little to no ego or ego strength is pretty unhealthy. In fact, having a fluid, unstable, or conflicted sense (the heart of the disorder we call borderline personality) is a pretty undesirable thing. And in addition to borderline personalities, there are other personality types with a poor self-images who often struggle with impaired or deflated egos. So you need ego. But you can have too much ego, too. And in our times, ego-inflation is a big problem, and sadly, for all too many.
Ego on Steroids
Egomania has to do with ego inflation that is non-compensatory. That is, it reflects a grandiosity that is both genuine and inherently toxic. It’s not a compensation for underlying insecurity, as is the case with the “vulnerable” type of narcissism. (See: Vulnerable Narcissists and Relationships.) And it’s more than healthy self-esteem or solid sense of self. Rather, it’s an exaggerated sense of oneself and one’s worth. In short, it’s ego run amuck – on steroids.
Grandiose narcissists engage in a lot of what I call “egomaniacal thinking.” They always have to be right. And they justify everything they do, even the outrageous. Somehow, they see themselves as above everyone else and above the rules everyone else plays by. Pathologically egocentric, they act in a haughty and entitled manner, lacking both empathy and regard for those they wantonly injure or exploit.
Is there any cure for egomania? That depends. The temporary symptom-reliever is generally a healthy dose of humble pie. That is, when circumstances necessarily call into question the egomaniac’s inflated view of their power and success, grandiosity might diminish under the weight of a broken heart. But for most grandiose (narcissistic) characters, this doesn’t last. Sometimes it takes repeated humbling, which is as difficult to predict as it is to ensure. The other way it can happen is through an opening of the heart. But this is, perhaps, and even less likely event. Still, because of the hope this holds, I’ll have something more to say about it in a future article.
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7 thoughts on “A Strong Solid Ego Is Not Egomania”
Dear Dr. Simon,
I am hoping you can provide some clarity regarding your post regarding ego. How does one assess a healthy, sufficient ego? What are some examples of a fluid, unstable or conflicted ego? What are some examples of a healthy ego?
I’m also wondering in what sense you are deriving the term ego. I understand the term ego from the Freudian phycological aspect. To confirm my understanding,
Freud believes there are three elements to the personality. The ID, the Ego, and the Superego. If I understand the concept correctly:
The ID is demand. It’s our primitive desires and urges, the ID wants what we want and wants it right now.
The Superego is our idealistic, moralistic ideals. The Superego requires perfection and idealism, the ways things are supposed to be and can lead us to be rigid, judgmental, condescending.
The Ego is reality. It regulates the urges of the ID and the Superego. The Ego delays gratification, brings into play societal rules, expectations and civility all while meeting the Id’s demand in an acceptable way, in an acceptable timeframe. The Ego would also lower expectations in relation to the Superego, accepting that one makes mistakes, cannot realistically achieve perfection and accepts the faults in others.
So my confusion, if I’m understanding the concept of Ego accurately, in discussing egomaniacal behavior, is the egoism inherent to character disturbance and let’s say narcissism for example, wouldn’t the behaviors be derived from an unchecked Id and Superego with Ego playing little to no role at all? Wouldn’t that be an accurate depiction of the inner process of a narcissistic individual or a character disturbed individual?
Within this construct, wouldn’t an individual who has been in, or who ‘stays’ or has ‘stayed’ within a relationship with a character disturbed person often have a very well developed Ego, delaying their own gratification for the needs of another while accepting another person’s character flaws in a non judgemental way?
It seems to me, based on my own experience that the character disturbed fluctuates radically between immediate fulfillment of demand and moral superiority. As I experienced the awareness of the pattern, I’m aware I often used sub or unconscious defense mechanisms to alleviate the anxiety I experienced from his behaviors. (I may be using intellectualism even now.)
As difficult as I have found living, leaving and eventually divorcing the man I married and the individual who has caused me so much pain and distress, of facing the reality of the malicious intent of the person I thought was basically a good but somewhat flawed person, I have found dealing with others, from friends, family and most particularly phycologists, to be the most destructive to my sense of self, my self esteem.
I have been labeled as ‘poor self esteem,’ ‘poor self worth,’ ‘low ego,’ ‘low narcissism,’ a dependent personality, addicted to my husband, and/or co dependent, all of which is to describe what I did wrong in marrying, working on my marriage with him, and then enduring a difficult struggle to get out of my marriage with him. I’ve been told I’m over consciencious, take on too much responsibility or was gullible. I’ve also been told, from psychologists, mind you, that I stayed within an abusive relationship not because of ‘my excuse’ that I found his behaviors confusing and out of context, but because I didn’t value myself, I like being mistreated and felt that I deserved mistreatment, that I had an addiction to him. I’ve also been told in couple counseling that if I could ‘just see’ how much pain he was in I could easily make a few changes so we could have a happy marriage and so my capacity for compassion and empathy was apparently questioned as well.
Personally, my self esteem and ego (referring to my reality) has been ripped apart to the core. As I am assessing and rebuilding my sense of self, my sense of reality, taking into account the reality of the world in which we live, I’ve found that Freud’s description of the the three parts of the personality, the anxiety derived and the unconscious defense mechanisms used to relieve the anxiety the best description of my experience.
In truth, I don’t think anything is wrong with me, I don’t think I did anything wrong at all. I don’t think any of those descriptions are an accurate assessment of my personality, my character. I think through no fault of my own, I found myself in a marital relationship with a person who was not as he appeared, a person by his own admission “worked hard” at not letting me see who he really was because, “you wouldn’t stay and would leave me.” A person angry with my “constantly questioning, independent nature.” I believe my struggles to understand, accept and deal with the reality of my situation was only partially within my conscious control. I believe that’s why when I look back on a now remembered event, I have an OMG, how did I not see that!!! It’s so obvious!! Duh!! moment.
Thank you in advance for any wisdom you may be willing to impart.
Rebuilding oneself is no easy feat and there is little help to be had and a whole lot of harm in my experience. I understand how and why I was a target then and being targeted the first time will increase my chances of being targeted again. That part was fairly straightforward. How I missed, failed to grasp and hold onto the reality of my situation resulting in a long term relationship with a person of such poor character, that part I find, is more confusing and complex because I did see signs and would quickly lose the knowledge, the context of those signs. I would forget about those signs and not be able to grasp the thread that would have unraveled his deceptions.
To be in relationship with people in general and an intimate relationship in particular, I have to be able to trust myself to look straight onto reality and deal with reality in a fully conscious way, if that is even possible. Is that actually possible?
I realize this is quite long and thank you for your time and response.
Charlie, your understanding of the fundamentals is pretty good. And when it comes to ego, because we need it to operate in the “reality” that is the world and its ways, the ultimate task is to get the balance right. And from an even larger perspective, the task is also to put ego in the service of something bigger than just our petty needs. Ego truly in the service of life is neither frail nor puffed up. It simply recognizes its proper function and willingly embraces it. You might like to read some of the other articles on narcissism and the various types and expressions of it, as well as some of the articles on the perils of an underdeveloped sense of self and self-worth.
Dr. George Simon,
I agree, a healthy strong ego is good. These Egopaths do not have that, they have a massive yet fragile ego.
You should really look into my work on YouTube I did with Tyr Ravensohn.
Mask of Perfection Know Thy Enemy
Don’t worry if you don’t want to comment on it, I just figured this info would be of interest to you.
Happy to visit your work. But be very careful, please with the assumptions of massive but “fragile” and “mask” of perfection. True for a small, small, minority of narcissists, but not true for the majority in our character impaired times. Most massive egos today are not compensatory. And for folks to think otherwise disadvantages them in relationships all too often still.
Thanks, Dr. Simon, for the response. I’ve been following your work and blog for quite some time and have and have reread your books as well.
I become quite distressed when I read articles regarding self esteem, self worth, self value. I generally see those articles as assigning blame and wrongness to me and re-experience the emotional trauma of my marriage.
As a person of poor character, he was very good at twisting my complaints, my observations into ‘my unreasonable behavior’ which caused his ‘reasonable’ response. Mind games, gas lighting were his management tools and he was quite good at them. I was never a doormat or meekly accepting. Those types of articles, counseling, the advice and opinion of others makes me think/feel like a doormat. I think I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance regarding the opinions of others and my own so I’m struggling in that regard.
I believe I have a fairly good grasp on his personality issues. So at this point, I’m adding myself and attempting an honest assessment of who I am, what I need to rebuild, what I need to cast aside.
I do have a higher power and believe God instilled a good moral compass within me and a good, sufficient conscience. I think my over responsibility, over consciousness is a result of dealing with narcissistic rage from both my parents and my spouse so that I’m trying to cast aside.
I also believed the institution of marriage was a power higher than myself. I had explained to my ex-husband that I saw our marriage as three separate yet conjoined entities, me, him and us, and the needs of all three needed to be met and balanced. The pattern I noticed was that he would put in just enough work into the marriage, consider that a check mark off the to do list and then move his agenda forward vigorously. His explanation was he ‘filled up the bank and was now taking a withdrawal.’ Quite frankly I’m still out of my depth with a rejoinder to that bit of logic. Lol
Thanks again for your response, your work, and future wisdom.
Hi Dr. Simon! For a long time I’ve wondered about narcissistic behavior due to mania/hypomania , vs. just NPD.
We have both in our family, in the same people. With some, the narcissism comes only with the keyed up state, while in others it’s unrelenting no matter what the mood.
Have you seen this in your practice?
Ever since my earliest days in training and doing grand rounds in psychiatric teaching institutions there have been debates much like the chicken and the egg question of what comes first: an inflated ego that eventually gets so out of control that brain chemistry goes awry and someone becomes manic vs. a predisposition toward mood elation that affects personality development and leads a person to become narcissistic. Turns out the debate is really a false one, given how complicated and complex and variable the issues can be. Each case is different. And it takes astute assessment to get it right. Sadly, just like in almost every area of life, there are experts with the seasoning to get the assessment right and those that miss the mark. And as you probably know, getting it right can make all the difference in helping someone cope.