Erotomania is also sometimes known as de Clerambault’s Syndrome and refers to a psychotic delusion held by the person suffering from it that someone else is deeply in love with them. This ‘someone else’ usually has an elevated social status such as a pop star, film star or other successful prominent public figure and will usually be completely unobtainable. Usually, too, the sufferer does not know the person they believe to be in love with them but admires him/her from afar (perhaps keeping a scrapbook dedicated to the object of desire).
The delusion includes the false belief that the admired person is sending the sufferer covert, subtle messages. The so-called messages (which the admired person is not actually sending – they exist only in the sufferer’s imagination) the sufferer believes, are intended to convey the admired person’s love for him/her and desire to have a relationship with him/her (both males and females can suffer from erotomania).
The erotomaniac wrongly perceives these ‘messages’ are being sent in various ways which can include the admired one’s facial expressions, posture, body language, looks and glances (even if these are from behind a TV screen). The sufferer of the condition may also believe that the admired one is sending these supposed ‘messages’ telepathically.
Psychologists call such misperceptions delusions of reference (the erotomania believes the admired one’s glances, body language etc are being directed at him/her whereas, in reality, this is not the case).
The delusion is usually elaborate and the sufferer may convince him/herself that the reason the admired one is sending the ‘ messages’ subtly/convertly is because s/he (the admired one, too, can be male or female) is desperately trying to keep the ‘incipient love-affair’ (as the sufferer of the condition perceives it) a secret from the media and public.
Above: Front cover of Ian McEwan’s utterly compelling novel about a de Clerambault’s syndrome sufferer, ambiguously entitled : Enduring Love.
Because the erotomaniac believes the admired one is encouraging him/her to communicate, the sufferer of the condition will frequently bombard the high status individual with letters, phone calls (if the erotomaniac has managed to obtain the relevant phone number – and s/he is likely to go to extraordinary lengths to do just this) and unsolicited gifts.
The sufferer of the condition may, too, start to stalk the admired one, perhaps standing outside his/her house, gazing through windows or going so far as to repeatedly knock at the victim’s door and try to gain entrance. In some cases, the police may become involved as the erotomaniac frequently becomes intensely obsessive about forming a relationship (or, as the sufferer perceives the case to be, taking the ‘relationship’ with the admired person to ‘the next level’) and may pursue him/her with a disturbingly tenacious zeal.
Above : The great British writer, Ian McEwan, author of Enduring Love.
It cannot be stressed too much the sufferer’s belief that the admired person is deeply in love with him/her is patently false and delusional. However, if a third party tries to gently explain to the erotomaniac that s/he is, as it were, barking up the wrong tree, s/he will often become upset, hostile, angry and highly defensive.
So the erotomaniac’s belief is resolutely and unquestioningly held – indeed, the belief becomes central to his/her raison d’etre. All evidence against the belief being true is discounted by him/her. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the individual who suffers from erotomania is that s/he completely lacks insight into his/her delusional state.
It has been estimated that about 15 people out of every 100,000 suffer from erotomania; however, this figure is likely to be an underestimate as those who suffer from the condition tend to avoid becoming involved with psychiatric services.
Erotomania can exist as a primary condition (ie exist on its own in the absence of any other psychiatric condition) or it may be secondary to coditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
A major factor that may contribute to its development is thought to be a childhood which involved being rejected, abandoned or feeling unloved. However, because the condition is, comparatively speaking, so rarely seen within the world of psychiatry and psychology more research is needed.
Interestingly, it has also been found by researchers that some people who have suffered damage to their brain’s right hemisphere spontaneously develop the condition.
Some sufferers of the condition respond to psychiatric medication and it is also thought that cognitive behavioural therapy can play a useful role in some cases.
The superb writer, Ian McEwan, has written an utterly compelling novel in which the central character is suffering from de Clerambault’s syndrome in the ambiguously entitled Enduring Love (front cover pictured above).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).