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Love as delusion, delusions of love: erotomania, narcissism and shame
  1. Brendan D Kelly
  1. Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Brendan D Kelly, Department of Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24, Ireland; brendankelly35{at}


Erotomania has a long, colourful history in psychiatry. It is a rare condition in which the patient (‘subject’) develops the belief that he or she is loved from afar by another person (‘object’). The subject is generally female, though men predominate in forensic samples. The object is generally perceived to belong to a higher social class, reflecting a sociopolitical element in the construction of love. Erotomania requires active treatment and risk management as it can be associated with stalking and other offending behaviour. In addition to featuring in the psychiatry literature, erotomania features in the biography of the economist John Maynard Keynes (the apparent ‘object’ of a woman’s erotomanic delusions in the early 1900s) and in fiction (eg, Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love); this reflects, in part, the general popularity of romantic themes in broader literature and society. In psychological terms, certain cases of erotomania might be underpinned by combinations of longing, disappointment, shame and narcissism in specific social contexts. Lesser forms of delusional exaggeration of true love might also exist in some stable relationships, and might even be essential for their continued existence. Overall, the division between love and delusions of love is not as distinct as one might imagine. The potential presence of an element of delusional love in many relationships might well serve important social functions, conferring specific advantages on the parties involved and increasing social and community stability. After all, delusions persist; love dies.

  • psychiatry
  • science communication
  • psychotherapy

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.