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What is De Clerambault's Syndrome?

Niki Foster
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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De Clerambault's Syndrome, also called erotomania, is a psychological condition in which the sufferer is under the delusion that a certain person is in love with him or her. Typically, the object of this delusion is of a higher social class than the sufferer and is merely an acquaintance — at the most — in reality. To the person with the condition, everything that the object of affection does takes on a special significance that it does not really have. It is named after Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault, a French psychiatrist who wrote a comprehensive paper on the condition in 1921.

This condition has been recognized in some form since long before Gaetan Gatian de Clerambault published his paper, although there was no standard term for it. Ancient authors, including Hippocrates and Plutarch, describe cases that today would probably be diagnosed as de Clerambault's syndrome. Psychiatrist Jacques Ferrand is credited with the first mention of the syndrome in psychiatric literature in 1623. The concept has changed throughout the centuries, as it was originally likened to illness caused by unrequited love, and only relatively recently came to be understood as a delusional belief that another person is making romantic advances.

There have been many famous cases of de Clerambault's syndrome, most of which manifested themselves through stalking behavior. The object of many of these cases was a celebrity of some sort, either in the realm of politics or entertainment. One of the most well-known cases affected John Hinckley, Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, who he believed wanted a sign of his devotion.

De Clerambault's syndrome has also often been the subject of fiction. Nikolai Gogol's classic story, "Diary of a Madman" (1835), describes a descent into insanity that begins with a case of this condition. Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love (1997), adapted to film in 2004, tells the story of a homosexual case of the condition. The syndrome is also the subject of the 2002 French film He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, starring Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame.

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Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a TheHealthBoard editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By stoneMason — On Sep 26, 2012

I've been the target of someone with Clerambault's syndrome in the past. It was so scary! To this day, I have never met this person but apparently, she saw me speak at a conference and became obsessed with me. She got a hold of my email address and mail address and started sending me stuff.

She would write about how much we love each other and she was even stalking me, telling me the places she had seen me. I ended up having to file a police report because I was seriously worried. The police went and talked to her family and they told me that she was suffering from this condition.

A few months later, I moved and also changed my email address and thankfully, she lost track of me. I do understand that people who are dealing with this are not doing these things on purpose. But when you're the one being targeted, it's unbelievably scary.

By ddljohn — On Sep 25, 2012

@simrin-- I'm no expert on psychology and a counselor, a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist are the only people who can direct you in the right direction if you do have concerns about odd thoughts or behavior. But having said that, I don't think what you described fits into the definition of erotomania.

As far as I understand, people who suffer from this condition tend to fall in love with people they don't really know. They might have never met them or might have seen or interacted with them only once.

Usually the person they fall in love with is distant from them and successful and well-known like the article said. So there is no actual relationship there, not even friendship. It's just an obsession, a delusion and the person at the receiving end usually has no idea who this person is and has not expressed an interest in them in any way.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 24, 2012

I don't understand the difference between one-sided love and de Clerambault's syndrome. Lots of people fall in love with someone who doesn't love them back. And when we're in love, isn't it usually the case that we ignore things we don't want to see and sometimes exaggerate the little things to feel happy?

For example, I have friend right now that I sort of like and sometimes when he says certain things, I feel like he is flirting with me. Deep down, I think he likes me but just isn't making any advances. Do I have Clerambault's syndrome symptoms?!

By anon168589 — On Apr 18, 2011

This syndrome was mentioned in "Lewis", a UK detective/police series. One of the main characters believed that her psychiatrist was having a passionate affair with her and then proceeded to murder anyone in their way. Made for an interesting plot line.

By anon142713 — On Jan 13, 2011

That wasn't Hinkley. That was David Berkowitz, the son of sam serial killer in NYC, who believed his dogs were telling him to kill.

By anon50597 — On Oct 29, 2009

You're confusing Hinkley with Son of Sam.

By anon11319 — On Apr 13, 2008

I thought Hinkley was true schizophrenic, hearing commands from his dogs.

Niki Foster

Niki Foster

Writer

In addition to her role as a TheHealthBoard editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual...

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