Grandiosity

The next manic symptom is a sense of inflated self-esteem, known as grandiosity. The symptom of grandiosity is one of the most significant ways to distinguish the manic portion of bipolar disorder from any of the previously explored mental-health issues. The child experiencing inflated self-esteem may display a sense of omnipotence—that is, an attempt to exercise power and control over authority figures including mom, dad, teachers, doctors, or caregivers. Your child may “hire” or “fire” you, threaten to withhold your salary, or physically push or pull you and others to specific areas of a given environment. (“You sit here!” or “You stand right there and don't move or else!”) This can also manifest as bullying at school and on the playground. One young boy caught up in grandiosity insisted, “God's not the boss, I am!”

Another indication of grandiosity may be that some children assume the persona of a childhood “celebrity” such as a popular television, movie, or cartoon character, or even the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. The child may attempt to “absorb” an authority figure's identity or name, insisting that he is the authentic individual and anyone else is an imposter. Other children, believing they have superhuman superhero powers, may climb on top of furniture, windowsills, and countertops, out onto rooftops, or run into the street. The child may then physically hurl herself into space believing that she can fly, or that she is invincible and will remain unharmed. Your child may also manifest grandiosity by damaging property, like trashing his bedroom or attempting to lift or throw heavy objects, such as a television or pieces of furniture that you know would ordinarily never be a consideration for him.

In an extreme show of grandiosity, your child may even smear or throw feces, or urinate in places other than the bathroom—even if he is toilet trained. His thinking may reflect a mindset of, “I'm moving too fast to bother with a toilet,” or “I'll pee where I please; toilets are for other people.”

Teens may demonstrate grandiosity by identifying more closely with a teen idol or rock star. They may talk, dress, and act like that person; fabricate stories about being in love with that person; or otherwise talk about enjoying a personal or intimate relationship with that celebrity. For example, your teen daughter may claim that she is adopted and is actually the legitimate blood sister of Britney Spears, or your teen son may suggest that he has entered into a secret blood pact with rocker Marilyn Manson. In one extreme example, an adolescent girl was adamant that she was carrying Brad Pitt's love child, despite no indication that she was ever pregnant. Another teen girl demonstrated a side of grandiosity by repeatedly accused her father of sexually molesting her, which caused people in authority to scramble to investigate every accusation. Every time, the accusations were unfounded; there was absolutely no evidence to prove her stories, which quickly became transparent. Other teens may believe that they can influence other people, animals, and objects with mind-control (think Stephen King's story, Carrie), or they may contend that everyone around them is jealous because they are the center of the universe. Still others may develop the sudden paranoia that they are the epicenter of an elaborate sabotage or murder plot, or that space aliens keep trying to break their concentration. Be certain not to confuse grandiosity with the air of superiority that might result from your tween or teen's growing sophistication or exclusive clique of friends. Remember, grandiosity, like all symptoms of mania, must be a dramatic difference in what is typical for your child.

Fact

A sixteen-year-old young man, with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, clearly demonstrated the manic symptom of grandiosity when discussing his feelings with his counselor. He told the man that he intended to poison and stab his family, marry the counselor, and then kill him, too, in order to take on his identity. It may have been clinically tempting to label this as psychotic, but when the young man's experience was considered using the bipolar framework, it fit with his other symptoms.

Finally, and most seriously, the child experiencing the omnipotence of grandiosity may physically attack and harm people very dear to him—oftentimes people he would otherwise never dream of hurting (including those in authority, such as parents, siblings and extended family). This may include spontaneous punching, pulling hair, biting, scratching, head butting, pinching, or—in extreme situations—using or threatening to use weapons like guns, knives, or other sharp instruments. Often, the child (usually a teen) with grandiosity feels it is within his purview to control whether someone lives or dies. Once the manic high of grandiosity has blown over, it is typical for kids to be very remorseful for their actions during the times they were not in control. They may express deep regret, sob bitterly, want to be held, or plead for forgiveness.

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