This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Laws Of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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Do you know someone who has visions of grandeur? Or maybe you find yourself struggling with this false idea of yourself?
There are two types of visions of grandeur. In general, people tend to be grandiose, meaning they think they’re special or that they deserve success.
Read more about visions of grandeur and why people are grandiose.
People With Visions of Grandeur
In the previous law, we learned about narcissists who have malformed self-images. In this law, we’ll look at people who have inflated ones.
Grandiosity is our natural tendency to inflate our self-image and assume that we’re more skilled than we actually are. It increases as we age—the more we experience successes, however small, the more people confirm our grandiose self-opinion.
There are two types of grandiosity:
- Fantastical. This grandiosity is divorced from reality—we think that everything that goes right is due to our superior skills, and anytime something goes wrong, it’s someone else’s fault. We focus more on our dreams and wishes than on actually getting anything done. Fantastically grandiose people see themselves as gods.
- Practical. This grandiosity acknowledges that our success comes from our work and our skills.
First, we’ll study the development of grandiosity and why people have visions of grandeur. Then, we’ll use this law to manage toxic types and to control our own nature.
Study the Law: The Development of Modern Grandiosity
Grandiosity develops in early childhood. As we realized that we were separate beings from our mothers, we also realized that we were dependent and powerless. In response to this realization, we fantasized about being great and powerful—for example, by imagining we had superhero powers like flying or seeing through walls.
As we grew up, most of us experienced a second realization—that we’re small and powerless in other ways besides depending on our parents. We have limited skills, we’re one of the billions of people on the planet, and there’s a lot we can’t control. These realizations also make us fantasize about having power and feel grandiose.
Most people alternate between these two states, feeling small and feeling grand. However, children who don’t experience the second realization—for example, their parents spoil them so they never have to come to terms with the fact that they’re powerless—spend more time thinking about power, and this makes them more susceptible to grandiosity and visions of grandeur.
Expression of Grandiosity
Grandiosity can be expressed in many ways, though there are fewer outlets today than they were in the past. In older times, people met their need for grandiosity with religion—gods and spirits allowed us to be part of something bigger and grander than ourselves—or by following a leader with a strong cause—if a leader did something great, their followers shared in the success.
Now that fewer people believe in something and there are fewer great leaders, we have to express our grandiosity in some other way. Many of us turn to worshipping ourselves, most commonly by trying to get social status through doing something prestigious or helping people. This works to some extent for talented people—they will have success and get the admiration they crave—but they’ll eventually get involved with projects that are beyond their abilities.
Additionally, people try to cope with their need for grandiosity and visions of grandeur by doing the following:
- Compensating with drugs, a superior attitude, alcohol, and so on.
- Faking humility. Some people try to hide their grandiosity by being visibly humble. For example, they might talk about how they don’t want status. However, this is still grandiosity, because it gets them attention.
- Playing the victim. These people get themselves into situations where they’re suffering, and the more they suffer, the more superior they feel—they’ve suffered so much already they shouldn’t have to help anyone else.
- Worshiping a leader with a cause. Followers can feel superior to people who don’t believe in the cause.
- Idealizing people they love.
People who don’t have an outlet for their grandiosity are often manic, alternating between being excited by their next project and being depressed when they realize they won’t be able to complete it.
Grandiosity in Modern Times
While there are fewer outlets for visions of grandeur today than there were in the past, people have more grandiose tendencies than ever because:
- We live in a time when children are more spoiled. Spoiled children are less likely to realize they aren’t all-powerful, which makes them more susceptible to grandiosity.
- Fewer people respect authority or expertise. If people don’t have a sense that others are superior to them, they think their own ideas are just as legitimate.
- Technology has made it easy for anyone to quickly access information. This makes some people think that it doesn’t take time and study to be an expert—they can get to the same level via the Internet. People also tend to believe their skills are more transferable. For example, they think if they’re good at business, they might also be good at theme park design.
- Social media makes it possible to create an idealized image of ourselves and believe that many people are interested in us.
- There’s no longer any survival association with grandiosity. Fantastical grandiosity would have gotten our ancestors killed—people who couldn’t realistically assess their skills would try things that would kill them—but the modern world isn’t dangerous in the same way.
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- Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
- How you behave differently when you're in a group
- Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life