What is a delusion? It’s a belief not based in reality. Now, all of us sometimes believe some things that are unrealistic. But that doesn’t make us delusional. And grandiose narcissists often believe things about themselves that seem a real stretch. (See, also: When Narcissistic Grandiosity Crosses the Line.) But that doesn’t make them truly delusional either. You see, at some level, most of us know when we’re fooling ourselves. But holding a belief that clashes with reality with conviction is quite another matter. Firmly believing something to be real and true that is objectively and verifiably false is delusional. And because of the way they see themselves generally, some narcissists can easily succumb to bouts of delusional grandiosity.
A Tale of Delusional Grandiosity
What follows is a fictional tale. But it’s one based in reality. In fact, it’s based in multiple factual stories. In our character disordered times, some tales are all too familiar. So what I’m about to present is really a composite of sorts, with many details altered. So, there’s no way you could identify a particular person. I’ve told the story before, in various versions. And it might describe any number of folks you’ve encountered. It’s a tale of delusional grandiosity.
James, A “Special” Guy
James” was always a “special” guy. Just ask him. He knew he was smarter than average. And he would be the first to tell you he had a “knack” for inventiveness. James always disliked the idea working for anyone. He hated being bound by constrictions of any kind. The entrepreneurial life suited him best.
James had many failed ventures in his history. But he also had one remarkable success. That success made him a small fortune. Unfortunately, it also reinforced many troubling beliefs he had about himself. James ascribed little credit for the success to his then venture partner’s acumen. And he simply didn’t believe in anything like “luck” (e.g., good timing, serendipity, etc.) He and his brilliance did it all. Besides, he had the proof in his bank account. The world had spoken. He was clearly special.
The Slippery Slope
James just knew he was “on a roll” after his venture did so well. So, he wasted little time investing all the profits in a new and bigger one. When his partner balked, he simply parted company. And when things didn’t go like they had before, he just knew they were only temporary setbacks. So, he had no compunctions about taking out a second mortgage, cleaning out the family savings (without his spouse’s knowledge) and borrowing to the hilt. He had no compunctions about all the cocaine he was using either. After all, he was at his best when he was “up.” Some people can’t use. But he, of course, was special.
James’s wife got scared really scared when he started talking about starting his own church. It would be a way for him to channel to others the special connection to the ultimate power in the universe that he recently discovered he had. He’d come to believe he was the very incarnation of a divine master. He would reveal this to the world. And he would teach all his adoring followers how to be special, too.
James’s fall was inevitable and predictable. Sadly, it was also predictable that he would take many down with him. Some blamed James’s fall on the drugs. Others blamed his latent Bipolar Disorder. But even on medication and off cocaine, James had trouble reckoning with the bigger culprit – the grandiosity in his character. It was that flaw in his character that predisposed his problems in the first place. And because it had gone unchecked and unchallenged for so long, truly delusional grandiosity was always a possible end result.
These days we have all kinds of ways to explain people’s dysfunction. And while I know I’m in the minority asserting this, in my experience rare is the case where character is not a principal culprit. True, there are some times when a perfectly healthy person’s biochemistry suddenly and for no apparent reason goes kaflooey. And there are cases where unpredictable tragedy traumatizes and temporarily impairs even the most well-adjusted person. More often, however, a person’s character not only predisposes the problems they experience in life but also exacerbates those problems when they occur.
James’s grandiosity was a problem long before he became delusional. He was always treading on a very slippery slope, heading for disaster. But you couldn’t tell him that. Well, you could tell him, but he simply couldn’t or wouldn’t hear it. And the grandiosity in his character was still a matter to reckon with even after medication had brought him some measure of rationality. You see, you can’t treat character with a pill. And providing only biochemical solutions for folks only further “enables” whatever character dysfunction plagues them. In our times, the need to address character-related influences on peoples’ problems could not be greater. But sadly, too many professionals neglect this, and/or lack the training and skills to properly address it. (For more on this, read Character Disturbance.)
Character Matters and other Updates
We’re still looking for a new venue for Character Matters. Podcasts of all the shows are still readily available. And it’s possible we’ll not necessarily go with a new broadcast network. We’ll find a forum for giving folks access to timely material and an opportunity to call in to share or ask questions. More updates will follow.
I’ll be presenting a workshop in the Dallas, Texas area next week. The workshop will again also be live-streamed. And I’ll be talking to attendees about the relationship between character and various clinical syndromes.
I’ll be taking some time off for a hands-on reconstruction effort in Puerto Rico the last week of July and first week of August. So, it’s possible no new articles will be posted during that time. I’ll update the readers on this as we get closer to the end of July.