Erotomania is a delusional disorder. It is very, very rare, but it has made its way into some of our favourite TV shows, series, and movies. The main character in Netflix’s Series You is an excellent example of how the disorder manifests.

Some stars have experienced the obsession by a fan that goes beyond fantasising and instead into real action. When Jodie Foster’s fan tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan, he thought he’d impress her. Read the article here.

Stars are at an increased risk of having someone become obsessed with them, arguably because their life is somewhat on display for the world to see.

But, thanks to social media, our lives are easily traced and somewhat on display for the world to see. In other words, having an admirer can be possible for all of us. And no, most of the obsessions do not end in danger.

What is Erotomania? How do people experience Erotomania? And what distinguished Erotomania from Stalking?

Let’s explore a rare delusion and its portrayal in our culture.

Netflix You and the fascinating Character Joe

Netflix “You” and Erotomania

If you have watched the series “You”, you likely noticed the obsessive dedication the protagonist, Joe, has with the women he preys on. Joe interprets every little action, the items they are wearing, or the moves they do, as some inside knowledge or exchange between him and the woman of his interest. Despite the objective reality that these women do not even know him. He obsessively researches their social media, finds out about their interests and stalks them, invading their privacy by staring into their windows. At the same time, they feel safe in the privacy of their homes.

Joe’s behaviour resembles what psychologists call Erotomania, or De Clerambault syndrome, which revolves around delusional beliefs of love and romance.

It’s a complex and rare psychological condition that needs to be demystified and deserves understanding. Media representations sometimes perpetuate misconceptions, so it is essential to separate fact from fiction.

Erotomania is rare and is estimated to affect about 0.2% of the population. However, it is more often found within forensic settings.

Three stages are identified within the erotomaniac phase: Hope, Fixation and Grudge. The last stage is frequently triggered when the delusions are shattered, i.e., when the desired person marries or directly refuses any advances. Within this phase, stalking, harassing, and even assault may be directed towards the person of desire or their family, friends, spouse, and partner.

People with Erotomania may fly under the radar because, besides their obsession and delusional beliefs, they may be high functioning, thriving and living an everyday social life, have a successful career and can be well respected within their communities.

What causes people to fall for delusional beliefs of love and romance?

Some experts suggest that biological factors, such as structural brain abnormalities and dysfunctional neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, play a role.

Others believe the cause is more closely linked to shame and low self-esteem.

In other words, as with mental illnesses, there is no simple answer, and various factors are in play.

Some experts propose that social media may further foster delusional beliefs.

Because of the simplicity of tracking or observing another individual, genuine privacy is scarce.

This is quite alarming, particularly in terms of online and real-life safety.

Erotomania Explained in under 5 Minutes

Erotomania in the Real World

One notable real-world example that gained significant media attention was the case of Robert John Bardo’s obsession with actress Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989. After seeing her on television, Bardo developed an intense fixation on Schaeffer, and he began sending her numerous letters expressing his love for her.

Tragically, his obsession escalated into a violent act when he tracked down Schaeffer’s address and fatally shot her at her doorstep.

Other examples of Erotomania are captured in the Lyrics of Eminem, the assassination attempt on Reagan, threats to Justin Bieber, and many more.

How is Erotomania Different from Stalking?

A person who stalks may suffer from Erotomania, but that is not always the case. While a Stalker may have various motives for their stalking behaviour, a person in an erotomaniac episode is driven by the obsession of love and romance for another person. Or by feelings of grudge when they realise that their feelings are, in fact, not reciprocated.

Erotomania: Symptoms and Characteristics

Individuals with De Clérambault Syndrome develop intense delusions centred around romantic idealisation. They firmly believe that someone, often of higher social or celebrity status, is deeply in love with them despite little to no evidence supporting their belief. These delusions can persist for years and resist rational explanations or evidence to the contrary.

Media Portrayal

Stories involving unrequited love and romantic obsessions have long fascinated the media. While some portrayals may accurately depict the complexities of De Clérambault Syndrome, others may sensationalise or misrepresent it for dramatic effect.

Despite our fascination with this fascinating delusional disorder, we must approach these portrayals cautiously and recognise that they do not always reflect the reality of individuals living with it. We must treat our fellow humans with the dignity and respect they deserve and not make an attraction out of them or their suffering.

Can People with Erotomania be treated?

Treatment typically involves a combination of medication, such as antipsychotics, and therapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Erotomania can devastate a person’s life, leading to neglect of responsibilities, stalking behaviours, legal issues, and strained relationships.

Patients with Déclerambault syndrome may be diagnosed with paranoid disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, or other forms of paranoid disorder. It is often accompanied by marked delusions of persecution, grandeur, jealousy, self-depreciation, ideas of reference (illusions), and agitated or bizarre behaviour. Comorbidity with mood disorders is also frequently observed.

How Long does the delusion last?

As portrayed in Netflix You, the delusion can last from a few weeks and quick obsessions up to years before being replaced by a similar delusion about another person.

Fixed Forms are less common and can persist for several years.

If you want to read more…

If you want to Read more about Erotomania, find these Articles by ScienceDirect.

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