There are different kinds of maniacs. Egomaniacs love themselves, pyromaniacs love fire, but perhaps the most interesting are those obsessed with love itself. Erotomania is the extraordinary condition where the fantasy of being in love can drive people to extremes. But what’s it like to be really crazy in love?
Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour
Andrew is our first stop on the descent into erotomania. He is a 38 year old married man with 2 children. He must remain anonymous as the woman he’s desperately in love with is not his wife. Andrew thinks about this woman every day, as he has done for the last 15 years, and keeps a diary of his thoughts about her. This is no ex-lover, this is not even a friend, but someone he saw once in a university lecture hall in 1986.
Madly in Love
Andrew confesses: “She was talking to the tutor, suddenly, the way she moved her head, the way the light caught her hair, I thought this is an amazing person. This person, I was fixated on, is not the only person I’ve loved, she’s the only person I’ve ever been in love with. If you’re in love, you’re completely taken over by that person and you can’t get them out of your head.”
Dr Helen Fisher
Anthropologist, Dr Helen Fisher was intrigued. “I wanted to know why it was that you feel that rush, that focus, that obsessive thinking, and that craving for another human being”. She took brain scans of 18 people who claimed to be ‘madly in love’.
She discovered that love activates our brain’s reward system. Love triggers intense euphoria, compelling us to want to take risks. Just like a drug, love is highly addictive and we start craving attention from our lover. But, if that love is not returned then the craving turns into obsession.
She comments: “Romantic love can last for a very long time if there is a barrier to the relationship. This is because the reward system in the brain, this dopamine system, just tries harder. It’s called frustration attraction”.
Andrew was looking for answers. Why had he become obsessed with this stranger, was there a problem with his personality? Dr Marios Adamou, a psychiatrist at The University of Kent agreed to assess his case. He finds: “It’s not so much about the woman, it’s about the way his brain works. It generates these ideas, that are unwanted by him and intrusive. His symptoms are symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. These are types of experience that are difficult to stop without proper psychological treatments, maybe even pharmacological treatments”.
After nearly twenty years, Andrew is finally making and attempt to end his obsession. He realises his is an unrequited love.
But imagine being so obsessed with someone that you believe that they love you back!
An erotomaniac believes that a total stranger is in love with them and, in return, creates an entire relationship in their mind.
To understand the power of this delusion our next step on the descent into erotomania is Mary. As a recovered erotomaniac, she offers a unique insight into this condition.
Mary found work in a new city. She noticed an attractive senior manager who worked in another department. Mary began to daydream about her new colleague, but her idle fantasy soon grew into a fixation. For erotomaniacs, an innocent brush of the arm at the photocopy machine, or the way someone arranges their desk, can be misinterpreted as a sign of interest.
Kerry Daynes, a forensic psychologist observes: ” The person who has erotomania is essentially ill. They’ve got a delusional disorder. They are going to believe, absolutely, that the person wants to be with them. They send you messages, you are special, you are the only one who understands those messages. It’s something that is very private, very intimate, almost sexy between the two of you”.
Mary was so convinced that the relationship was real she told her colleagues. Her colleagues reacted angrily. Mary’s perfect relationship evaporated. She was labelled as a stalker and forced to quit her job. But what had triggered her erotomania episode?
Mary explains “I lost my father, to cancer, when I was a teenager. I was told, when I was diagnosed, that I had not recovered from the loss”. Kerry Daynes confirms “The pain of that bereavement is so much that they don’t want to risk that pain again. So, they attach themselves to somebody they can never have, somebody who is lost to them, totally unattainable”.
The male equivalent of Mary is Edward. Rather than fantasise over the perfect relationship he created an elaborate rescue fantasy. Edward descended into erotomania following the breakdown of his marriage. He was running a catering college in Sidney when he began to fantasise about the young women around him. “My divorce process started on the 11th of November 1990 and that is when I became vulnerable to these delusions of the erotomania variety. I was working in an environment with students of 18 to 24 years of age and 70% of the student population were female”.
Edward began to focus on one student in particular. “After that student had left my class, I heard from another teacher that she was in a psychiatric hospital in Sidney as a patient. That’s when the rescue plan switched on and the erotomania episode started”
Unlike Mary, Edward became self-aware during his delusion and managed to control his erotomania before it took him deeper.
To understand the chaos erotomania can cause, one needs only to look at the devastation in the lives of their victims.
Psychiatrist, Dr Doreen Orion, became the victim of one of her patients. Although only treating her for two weeks, Doreen has been paying for it for over 15 years.
Unfortunately for Doreen, it was her husband, also a psychiatrist, who unknowingly set them up. “One night I was on call to the hospital. As was typical, I got more admissions than I could really deal with the next day, so I asked Doreen if she would be willing to see a couple of these patients for me. One of them was the woman who would become her stalker”.
Doreen’s ex-patient was a middle-aged woman called Fran. Fran was in the throes of erotomania and began bombarding Doreen with love letters.
Just as in a normal relationship, as time passes the erotomaniac requires greater intimacy. Doreen discovered that Fran had moved to a house just one mile away and started hand-delivering her love letters. Doreen took out a series of restraining orders, but Fran violated nearly all of them.
Eventually, Fran’s erotomanic delusion became so intense that she believed Doreen was the one pursuing her. Despite police intervention, nothing could deter Fran from her pursuit of Doreen.
Tim Justice, Doreen’s husband recalls: “I was very afraid for my wife’s safety, and more, I was very afraid for my wife’s well-being. This was taking such a toll on her and I wasn’t sure that she was ever going to feel better”.
In desperation, Doreen and her husband have moved, 500 miles away. But, they can never be sure that Fran won’t find them again.
Erotomania – Wikipedia Page
The Psychology of Stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspectives – J. Meloy