She Loves Me: A Case Of Erotomania

She Loves Me: A Case Of Erotomania
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George*, a 35-year-old man with schizoaffective disorder, had been stalking his psychologist for six months before he consulted me. A patient of mine, whom he met in a support group for mood disorders, recommended me. He had made the psychologist's life so miserable that she'd decided to leave her budding practice and New York City. She'd returned to her home in the South.

George* was neatly dressed, of average build and height, his dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. His blue eyes gazed keenly at me, as he told me that he'd been hospitalized many times. I thought that was a typical history for a person with schizoaffective disorder. (DSMV criteria for this disorder: A person who has an uninterrupted period of illness during which there is a major mood episode, either depression or mania, with criteria of schizophrenia. The person has delusions or hallucinations for two weeks or more when not depressed or manic. These disturbances are not attributable to the effects of a substance or other medical condition.)

I asked him what happened with Dr. X, the psychologist. He looked happy as he said: "She loves me."

I was surprised to hear a reversal of what I thought had actually happened. I doubted that she loved him. Usually, in erotomania, also known as de Clerambault syndrome, the patient imagines that a person of higher status loves him/her. George firmly believed that Dr. X adored him and was waiting for him to ask her to marry him. As a result of this delusion, he had waited for her every day outside the clinic where he was a patient. Somehow he had found her home address and sent her flowers, chocolates, DVDs, and other gifts. One day, when she was at a bar with her boyfriend, George walked in, sat down not far from them, and stared. Needless to say, Dr. X was terrified of George, and when she saw him in the clinic, she asked him to stop stalking her. He couldn't believe what he was hearing and said: "But I thought you loved me!" "Love you?" she said. "You are my patient and I deeply respect and honor you, but I wouldn't call that love." During their session that afternoon, Dr. X, who was a young therapist just starting her practice, made the mistake of touching George with her foot as they sat across from each other. George interpreted this as further proof of Dr. X's love.

As he sat in my office, he explained to me that Dr. X touching him with her foot had been a declaration of her love. I tried to convince him that it was probably an accident. He didn't believe me because he had a delusion, which is a fixed, firm belief that no one can change, even in the face of scientific evidence. After several sessions with George, I decided to try something new to convince him that what I was saying was true. I had obtained Dr. X's telephone number when she called from her new residence, explaining George's erotomania. I proposed to him that we call her and ask her if she indeed did love him. He said fine. He would prove that she loved him. I put on speaker phone and dialed Dr. X's number. When she picked up, I introduced myself and said George was present in the office with me. After some preliminary dialogue, I said that George believed that she loved him, and asked her if this was true. She said, "Definitely not." She had a boyfriend who had traveled to the South with her, whom she did love. I thanked her for her time and then hung up. Smiling, I looked at George, who was frowning and shaking his head.
"No, impossible," he said. "First of all, that did not sound like Dr. X. You must have put someone else up to it." He abruptly rose and left my office. I wondered if he would ever return to see me, but I learned that day that patients who are delusional cannot be confronted with evidence to the contrary of their beliefs. He did return to the next session the following week and told me that he believed Dr. X had been lurking outside the door listening to us. He had left abruptly to find her. But, of course, he didn't find her outside my door. She was safely at home a thousand miles away!

George needed new medications and lots of therapy about his erotomania. It took me two years to convince him that Dr. X was not in love with him. During this time, he missed the opportunity to date many attractive women who were interested in him. He would always have the excuse that he was waiting for Dr. X to return and marry him.

Erotomania is extremely difficult to deal with and it can lead to people harming those they are stalking. For instance, John Hinckley, Jr. stalked President Reagan and then shot him in 1981. David Letterman was stalked by Margaret Mary Ray. The best way to handle someone stalking you is to seek professional psychiatric and often legal help.

*not his real name

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