Erotomania Haunts Female Tennis Stars

It has vanished from DSM, and people have ceased to look for it

Posted Jul 02, 2015

A recent report in the New York Times (July 1, 2015, A1) described how “obsessed fans haunt women on tennis tour.” This is no joke. It was such a fan who virtually ended the tennis career of ethnic-Hungarian star Monica Seles in 1993 by stabbing her in the back with a 9-inch knife while she was on court.

Recently, another such “obsessed” fan has hounded Romanian star Simona Halep. And after he learned that she was planning to marry, he “became threatening and demanding, telling Halep that she would die or never walk again for mistreating him,” as The Times reported.

Mistreating him? She never even knew that the creep existed.

The Times piece was good on the security measures these stars must now take and on their sense of menace lurking on the periphery. But it ignored what problem these male obsessives actually have that induces this dangerous behavior.

The problem is called “erotomania.” It does not mean that you are really, really manic about having sex. It is the delusional belief that someone else is in love with you.  Erotomania was one of the specific delusions to emerge from the work of French psychiatrist Etienne Esquirol on “monomania” after 1819. (Esquirol, Des maladies mentales, II, 32f) Monomania later became changed to “delusional disorder,” and it is not the same thing as schizophrenia.

There are individuals who develop specific delusional systems – such as the belief that the CIA is observing them with hidden cameras – without otherwise undergoing the personality disintegration and affective blunting of classic schizophrenia. They get up in the morning and go to work normally – except that they are tortured by a delusion of some kind, meaning a fixed false idea. In Mediterranean Europe it is often the delusional idea that their wives are unfaithful.

Erotomania may mean the fixed false idea that, let us say, a female tennis star is in love with you, and that she is prevented from declaring her love only by malicious coaches, envious partners, and the like. This could be dismissed as a relatively harmless though annoying belief, except for the fact that erotomaniacs, such as Halep’s tormentor, can turn vengefully upon the love object after perceiving themselves as rejected. The erotomanics may seek to murder their love objects or otherwise extract vengeance. So these female tennis players are right to be concerned.

Most of the other specific delusions that Esquirol and colleagues came up with – such as “homicidal monomania” – have since been folded into the larger category of delusional disorder. Bizarrely, pyromania (delight in causing fires) has survived as a “conduct disorder.”

This abolition of specific delusions as diseases of their own is in line with the general tendency of psychiatry since 1900 to classify illness on the basis of structure (psychotic or not), as opposed to content (each specific illness belief, such as persecution, becomes a disorder of its own).

Erotomania remains in some of the textbooks (where it is also called “Clérambault’s syndrome,” or psychose passionnelle). But it has vanished from DSM, and people have ceased to look for it.

This does no favor to the female tennis stars. Unlike some of the other delusional disorders, involving the CIA or electrodes in one’s fillings, erotomania can become truly dangerous. Although it is evidently commoner in women – who once believed in the Prince’s undeclared love for them – in men it is more menacing, because men have the potential to be more violent.

So, beware the transition. Once signs of anger and resentment begin surfacing in the furtive communications – and the phase of basking in the warmth of the supposed returned love is over – the erotomaniac can be quite capable of barging through security measures. Security personnel and police should know this, though most don’t. Maybe we should bring “erotomania” back as a real disorder.