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Tag Archives: Stalker

Erotomania: Its Origins In Childhood Trauma

de_clerambaults_syndrome

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).

erotomania

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).

de_clerambaults_syndrome

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.

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.

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.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Infant Attachment Problems with Caregiver and the Later Development of BPD.

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Humans, as primates, are deeply social animals. The need to form attachments with others, and, most crucially, with the primary caregiver, has evolved as a survival mechanism, as attachments help to protect us from the danger others may pose and thus reduce our fear of being harmed, or, especially in the case of our more distant ancestors, killed.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the infant responds to separation from, or an inability to rely upon, the primary caregiver with intense fear. One of the best known psychologists to point this out was Bowlby.

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A healthy attachment between the infant and the primary caregiver is also of fundamental importance as it allows the infant to develop the ability to regulate (control) his/her emotional state.

SECURE AND INSECURE ATTACHMENT :

Bowlby (mentioned above) also pointed out that attachment between the infant and the primary caregiver may be secure or insecure. Let’s look at each of these in turn :

SECURE : This refers to a healthy relationship between the primary caregiver and the infant in which the former is appropriately responsive towards the latter and protects him/her from trauma.

INSECURE : This refers to an unhealthy relationship between the primary caregiver and the infant in which the former does not protect the latter from trauma and responds to the infant in ways which are highly unpredictable and unreliable when he/she (ie the infant) is in a state of distress. This can lead the infant to ‘freeze’ (ie enter a trance-like state), in the same way that adults suffering from borderline personality disorder may ‘dissociate’ at times of stress (click here to read my article on dissociation).

Commonly, insecure attachment involves the primary caregiver either abusing or neglecting the infant, or otherwise frightening or distressing the infant.

Often, too, the primary caregiver has a double harmful and damaging effect upon the infant : not only does the caregiver actively induce feelings of distress and trauma in the infant, but, on top of this, lacks the ability to calm and soothe the infant due to a lack of empathy. Such dysfunctional interaction results in the infant being unable to develop the requisite skills to control and regulate his/her own emotions later on in life (this is sometimes referred to as an inability to self-soothe (meaning, once stressed, the individual finds it extremely difficult to calm down again).

PSYCHOBIOLOGY :

The infant’s psychobiological response to feeling threatened by their primary caregiver can include 3 stages (Perry) :

1) FIGHT OR FLIGHT : the fight/flight response in humans evolved to improve the chances  of survival when such survival is threatened. However, such a response is clearly not available under normal circumstances to the infant. Therefore, whilst at a basic level the response is triggered, the infant is unable to act on it. Also, this initial stage of response by the infant to feeling threatened is sometimes accompanied by the infant ceasing to make vocalizations ; in effect, Broca’s area (the region of the brain responsible for vocalizations) shuts down.

2) If the threat continues, the next stage that the infant experiences has been termed “FEAR WITHOUT SOLUTION’.

This stage presents the infant with a dilemma :

a) On the one hand, it is vital that the infant maintains an attachment with the caregiver, as this is necessary to his/her continued survival.

HOWEVER :

b) On the other hand, the infant fears the caregiver.

IT IS THOUGHT THAT THE ABOVE DILEMMA IS SOLVED BY THE INFANT EMPLOYING A DEFENSE STRATEGY KNOWN AS DISSOCIATION ; THIS INVOLVES :

One part of the infant’s psyche IDEALIZING the primary caregiver (enabling the interaction between the infant and caregiver to continue (as is necessary for the infant’s survival, AND :

Another part of the infant’s psyche (which is sometimes called the ‘self-other’ in the relevant literature) DOES EXPERIENCE THE TERROR INDUCED BY THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER BUT DISSOCIATES FROM THIS TERROR (meaning that the infant cuts the off from consciousness).

FRAGMENTATION :

The above process does, however, carry a heavy cost. It leads to a FRAGMENTED SENSE OF SELF which is a major feature of adult BPD (click here to read my article on the kinds of identity problems suffered by adults with BPD).

IMPLICATIONS :

Research also suggests that  the above process leads to the infant growing up into an adult who experiences a sense of deep guilt about their behavioural problems connected to their early traumatic experiences, erroneously blame themselves for these problems and develop a profound misperception of themselves as being a‘bad’ person (click here to read my article on this).

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

By the individual believing him/herself to be to blame for the dysfunctional relationsip he/she is able to MAINTAIN THE ILLUSION OF CONTROL (ie they form the illusory belief tha only they could improve their behaviourt they will be able to attain the love, support, affection and care from their primary caregiver which they so tragically missed out on during their childhood.

The above is therefore, essentially a defense mechanism protecting the individual from having to face up to the painful realization that the idealized caregiver that they needed to invent as a helpless and terrified infant does not, in reality, exist.

SELF-SABOTAGE :

Frequently, too, the above process leads to the adult who experienced the early life trauma becoming highly SELF-SABOTAGING. Why is this?

Essentially, it is believed such self-sabotaging behaviour (involving sabotaging one’s own achievements and progress in life) in order that the self-sabotaging individual does not become independent and self-reliant allowing him/her to continue the elusive search for the ideal parent/caregiver he/she never had (although this operates on an unconscious level).

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The above chart suggests how we may approach relationships as adults as a  function of the trust and self-esteem we developed as a result of the quality of our early life attachments.

borderline personality disorder

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).