When Delusion Wears The Mask of Love In 'You': What Is Erotomania?

Erotomania isn't classified as a mental health disorder, rather, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition.

Mind It
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Released earlier in February, the new season of Netflix's 'You' has once again got fans talking about protagonist Joe Goldberg's condition – erotomania.

Goldberg, a character played by actor Penn Badgley, is a bookstore manager who has a delusional obsession with a new woman each season.

So intense is his obsession that he doesn't even shy away from murdering anyone who comes in his way.

In a viral story on in 2020, renowned psychologists had diagnosed him with erotomania.

What exactly is erotomania? How do you know if you have it? Here's all you need to know.

What is Erotomania?

Erotomania is a form of delusional disorder in which an individual believes that another person, usually of higher social status, is in love with them.

Clinical psychologist Vasundhara Choudhary tells FIT that erotomania is a form of "delusion that is held with a very strong sense of belief."

"A person with erotomania believes that they have a deep connection and involvement, mostly romantic, with someone famous or of a higher social status compared to them."
Vasundhra Choudhary, Clinical Psychologist to FIT

This false belief can be extremely irrational considering there are chances that the latter usually does not even know about the existence of the former. 

It's usually self-contained, and need not be dangerous. But the person can cause harm to others (or themselves) in extreme cases - like that in Goldberg's character.

An Illness or a Symptom?

"Erotomania isn't specifically categorised as a disorder or illness, rather, it may be a symptom of an underlying psychiatric illness like schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, or Alzheimer's," Choudhary tells FIT.

According to research, it is a rare condition, and its lifetime ubiquity is 0.2 percent. But, Choudhary says, this could also be because clinical practitioners may often miss signs of it in their patients.

What Are the Symptoms?

Dr Umang Kochar, Psychiatrist, New Delhi, says, "a person with erotomania will continuously want to speak about the person they have been obsessing over."

It is considered normal to experience bouts of obsession and develop para-social relations, particularly with celebrities now and then, without it necessarily being erotomania.

Erotomania specifically is marked by "consistent efforts to meet the other party while hoping to be together eventually," says Dr Kochar.

Some of the symptoms can look like:

  • Imagining the lover to be sending non-verbal hints, social media content, encrypted messages, etc.

  • Consistently trying to reach out or contact through different modes

  • stalking

  • Irrational jealousy based on delusions

  • Harassing the other person in public


The Role of Social Media

A study published in 2013, titled, The role of social media networks in psychotic disorders: a case report suggests social media may play a role in "enmeshing technology into the delusional systems of those predisposed to psychosis."

The nature of social media is such that users often struggle with drawing boundaries, and are flippant with the amount of personal information they put out in the virtual universe.

This can encourage delusional behaviour, but also open oneself up to potential stalkers.

Can It Be Treated?

As mentioned, erotomania is usually an underlying sign of an already existing mental health condition. So, the treatment would have to target the root cause.

Therapy can help one recognise the signs, and control impulsive behaviour.

"One of the forms of treatments used for erotomania can be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy(CBT), apart from psycho-education and medicinal options, which may be required."
Vasundhra Choudhary, clinical psychologist

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Topics:  Netflix   Mental Health 

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