One idle evening I was surfing the net looking for blog ideas when I came across a November 2011 article by David Reinstein entitled “Egomania: An adaptive and necessary illness for politicians”. Given that some individuals have described me as an egomaniac over the years, and the fact that I am academically interested in manias and personally interested in politics, I couldn’t help but want to read the article (which I’ll come to in a minute).
There are countless definitions of egomania all of which have considerable overlaps. Reinstein’s article defines it as “an obsessive (driven, constant and uncontrollable) preoccupation with the self” (which pretty much hits the nail on the head as far as I am concerned). Other definitions often mention things like ‘an irresistible love of the self’ and ‘an obsessive concern for one’s own needs’ that again are again how I would define it myself. Dr. Andrew Colman in The Oxford Dictionary of Psychology defines it as ““a pathological love for, or preoccupation with, oneself”. The Wikipedia entry is a bit more long-winded:
“Egomania is an obsessive preoccupation with one’s self and applies to someone who follows their own ungoverned impulses and is possessed by delusions of personal greatness and feels a lack of appreciation. Someone suffering from this extreme egocentric focus is an egomaniac. The condition is psychologically abnormal. The term egomania is often used by laypersons in a pejorative fashion to describe an individual who is intolerably self-centred”.
Egomaniacs are typically characterized as individuals who believe the ‘whole world revolves around them’ and that they are ‘the centre of the universe’. Reinstein also claims in his article that “most egomaniacs suffer from delusions of personal greatness that cover over deeper feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. Everything is to, from, for and about them”. (And on that definition I would certainly rule out myself as being an egomaniac). Egomania also seems to be a close cousin of megalomania (i.e., a disorder in which individuals believe they are more powerful, important, or influential than is actually true – and a possible contender for a future blog!).
Egomania is not listed in the most recent (fourth) version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM-IV] (and as far as I an aware it won’t be in the next one either). However, many people believe that egomania is highly prevalent particularly among celebrities and politicians (and is something that at the very least has good face validity). In fact I read a 2011 article in Variety magazine by Peter Bart arguing that it was a “close call” as to whether egomania was a mental illness. However, we appear to tolerate (and arguably even value) egomania if the person is a politician rather than someone we personally know. As Reinstein notes:
“Why would we be so prone to accept this otherwise off-putting quality in the people we elect to represent us? One possible explanation comes immediately to mind. Many people in the general population have reservations about themselves. Perhaps we are drawn to people who seem to be (or at least present themselves as being) more self-assured. People who seem more capable, more assured and assuring, more in control and consistently authoritative may appeal to the electorate as they often do to the movie-going public”.
Again, these assertions appear to have good face validity as we are hardly going to vote for someone who doesn’t come across as confident and cocksure. As a casual observer of American politics, I didn’t give a damn about Bill Clinton’s infidelities. All I would be bothered about if I was an American voter is whether he can do the job (which personally I think he did). From a more psychological standpoint, Gretchen Reevy’s 2011 Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that egomaniacs may perhaps be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as individuals with NPD are incredibly self-centred and appear to match the criteria for being an egomaniac (although NPD is often linked more with megalomania than egomania). Such individuals also have ‘disordered relationships’. Reinstein argued in his article that he couldn’t think of anyone in American politics whether they were running for the presidency or running for Congress that wouldn’t meet the criteria for NPD. As he argues:
“How could someone not afflicted with a substantial dose of Egomania ever consider themselves to be worthy of being elected to such an office? The roles, their responsibilities, trappings and perquisites tend to attract such people. They may not always be the ‘best’ that we have, but their egos are never significantly deficient! Thus, our culture seems to require some egomaniacs. To entertain us and to lead us. It is probably not a coincidence that many entertainers have found their way into major political jobs”
I am presuming here that Reinstein is referring to (among others) Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Jesse Ventura, and Sonny Bono. Here in the UK, we have similar (if not such high profile) examples including Glenda Jackson, Andrew Faulds, and Michael Cashman. In the Encyclopedia of Emotion also notes that:
“Narcissistic personality disorder affects less than 1 percent of the population (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The cause of the disorder is unknown; the two most accepted theories are contradictory. Some theorists (e.g., Wink, 1996) say that narcissism begins with cold, rejecting parents. The child then creates the self- absorption and grandiosity as a defense against feelings of worthlessness. Others (e.g., Sperry, 2003) argue that people who become adult narcissists were spoiled as children and were taught by their parents that they were superior and special. Thus far, treatment of narcissistic personality disorder is of limited success”.
To be diagnosed with NPD an individual must show at least five of the following characteristics (although it’s worth noting that NPD is being removed from the new DSM-V). This version was taken from Sarah Myers article on ‘manic behaviour’:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance: Egomaniacs exaggerate their achievements and talents, and want other people to recognise them as superior.
- Preoccupation with success and power: Egomaniacs are obsessed with fantasies involving their own brilliance or beauty.
- Arrogance: Egomaniacs’ behaviour is haughty, their attitude conceited and they show rage when frustrated, contradicted, or confronted.
- Need for excessive admiration: Egomaniacs need attention, they want to be adored or, failing that, feared.
- A sense of entitlement: Egomaniacs have unreasonable expectations and believe they deserve favourable treatment.
- Exploitative: Egomaniacs are happy to take advantage of others and use people to get what they want.
- Lack of empathy: Egomaniacs can’t and/or won’t acknowledge other people’s feelings.
- A belief of being unique: Egomaniacs believe that they’re special and can only be understood by and associate with people of high status.
- Feel envy towards others: Egomaniacs believe others feel envious of them.
Myers’ article claims approximately six million people across the world have NPD (and thankfully, having completed the diagnostic test above, I’m not one of them). However, Myers claims that there are many more undiagnosed (as such people are unlikely to think there is anything wrong with them). The Encyclopedia of Emotion notes that:
“Underneath the apparent over-confidence and bravado [of an egomaniac] lies a fragile personality. The narcissistic individual actually fears that he is unworthy or a fraud. His self-esteem may be highly dependent on being recognized as the best or perfect. For instance, he may believe that he is the best salesperson in his office, and if another individual wins the salesperson award, the narcissistic person will react with extreme humiliation. He has grandiose fantasies of boundless success or power or perfect love. He is jealous of those whom he perceives as being more successful in these areas that are valued. Be- cause of the extreme insecurity, the narcissistic person often seeks attention and fishes for compliments”.
After my own brief look at some of the literature on egomania, I am now 100% confident that I am not an egomaniac (although that doesn’t mean I don’t have a big ego).
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bart, P. (2011). Egomania or mental illness: A close call. Variety, March 7. Located at: http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118033402
Myers, S. (2007). Manic behaviour. Channel 4 Health. November 1. Located at: http://www.channel4.com/health/microsites//0-9/4health/mind/wwr_manic.html
Parker, Pope, T. (2010). Narcissism no longer a psychiatric disorder. New York Times, November 29. Located at: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/narcissism-no-longer-a-psychiatric-disorder/
Reevy, G. (2011). Encyclopedia of Emotion. Oxford: Greenwood.
Reinstein, D.A. (2011). Egomania: An Adaptive and Necessary Illness for Politicians. Yahoo! Voices, November 11. Located at: http://voices.yahoo.com/egomania-adaptive-necessary-10348579.html?cat=5
Sperry, L. (2003). Handbook of Diagnosis and Treatment of DSM-IV-TR Personality Disorders (2nd ed.). New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Wikipedia (2012). Egomania. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egomania
Wikipedia (2012). Narcissistic personality disorder. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder
Wink, P. (1996). Narcissism. In C.G. Costello (Ed.), Personality characteristics of the personality disordered (pp. 146–172). New York: John Wiley.
In a previous blog I briefly looked at graphomania, which in a psychiatric context, relates to a morbid mental condition that manifests itself in written ramblings and confused statements. Graphomania in a non-psychiatric context typically concerns the urge or need to write to excess (and not necessarily in a professional context). Today’s blog looks at what I see as a sub-variant of this that has been termed ‘erotographomania’ although compared to ‘graphomania’ more generally, there seems to be a lot of different operational definitions of what erotographomania actually refers to. For instance:
- Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines erotographomania as when individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from writing love poems or letters.
- Like Dr. Aggrawal’s book, Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices defines erotographomania as sexual arousal from writing love poems or letters but adds that the condition was “more common before the invention of the telephone”.
- In the 2005 edition of the Comprehensive Textbook of Sexual Medicine (edited by Dr. Nilamadhab Kar and Gopal Chandra Kar), erotographomania is defined as sexual gratification through obscene writing. Citing from Dr. J.B. Mukherjee’s 1985 book Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, it is reported that erotographomania comprises “drawing obscene pictures and diagrams in lavatories, public urinals or writing obscene anonymous letters to young girls”.
- In an article on ‘manifestly manifolded manias’ in a 1986 issue of the Journal of Recreational Linguistics, Paul Hellweg defined erotographomania as the “abnormal interest in erotic literature”.
- The Right Diagnosis website claims that erotographomania can comprise either and/or the (i) compulsive desire to write love letters, (ii) compulsive desire to write love poems, and (iii) abnormal interest in erotic literature. It also claims that treatment for the condition “may not be sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way, and they feel compelled to address their condition. Many people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve sexual gratification in a satisfactory manner”.
- The Encyclo (online encyclopedia) defines erotographomania as (i) an obsession to write love letters or to write erotic or pornographic literature, (ii) an abnormal interest in erotic literature, and (iii) in psychiatry, a morbid impulse to write love letters (generally written anonymously).
Obviously the numerous definitions outlined have clear overlaps, but there is no consensus on the exact erotic or (potentially paraphilic) focus. In my research for this article I couldn’t find a single academic or clinical article on the topic, just brief definitional mentions (of which the above list was comprised). Brenda Love’s comment (above) that the condition was more common before the telephone may be why there appear more mentions of the condition historically than in contemporary texts (for instance, erotographomania was mentioned in Edward Podolsky’s 1953 Encyclopedia of Aberrations, although again, there was no substance to what was written).
I did come across two books both entitled ‘Erotographomania’. The first was published in 2005 by Mike Martin (the full title of which was Erotographomania: Cruel Nostalgia), while the second one was published in 2008 by Rebecca Smith (and simply called Erotographomania). However, neither book was academic and neither provided any insight into the condition. I also came across an online academic article written in 2010 on love letters written by Kristine Trever. Writing about her own urges to write love letters:
“What happens to that urge to write out our love and desires and emotions in some concrete, tangible way to someone else..? And more importantly where does that urge come from?…I recall an overwhelming need to express something because of the influence of something else, because of an experience that touched me, reminded me, inspired me to share. I read a story that included a poem and through the existence of these two external items, the urge hooked me, the impulse too great to deny. I was overcome. The power of the pencil took over…If this all sounds crazy, impulsive, erratic, wild, unabashed and/or idiotic, itʼs critical to note that there is an actual disease called erotographomania, which is the compulsive act of writing and writing and writing and writing and writing and writing love letters. The OCD recipe for lovers”.
The Australian musician and songwriter Nick Cave gave a lecture in 1999 on love songs and claimed that he and a friend both had erotographomania. In his lecture he said:
“The reasons why I feel compelled to sit down and write love songs are legion. Some of these came clearer to me when I sat down with a friend of mine, who for the sake of his anonymity I will refer to as J.J. and I admitted to each other that we both suffered from psychological disorder that the medical profession call erotographomania. Erotographomania is the obsessive desire to write love letters. My friend shared that he had written and sent, over the last five years, more than seven thousand love letters to his wife. My friend looked exhausted and his shame was almost palpable. I suffer from the same disease but happily have yet to reach such an advanced stage as my poor friend J. We discussed the power of the love letter and found that it was, not surprisingly, very similar to the love song. Both served as extended meditations on ones beloved. Both served to shorten the distance between the writer and the recipient. Both held within them a permanence and power that the spoken word did not. Both were erotic exercises, in themselves. Both had the potential to reinvent, through words, like Pygmalion with his self-created lover of stone, one’s beloved. Alas, the most endearing form of correspondence, the love letter, like the love song has suffered at the hands of the cold speed of technology, at the carelessness and soullessness of our age”.
Maybe there is something in the Australian psyche when it comes to erotographomania as (during my research) I came across an Australian art exhibition on the topic that featured the work of Dejan Kaludjerovic, Claire Lambe, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Sally Rees, Noel Skrzypczak, Ben Terakes, and Paul Emmanuel. The exhibition was curated by Sarah Jones, who wrote that:
“Erotographomania (originally a term for perverse and obsessive love letter writing) aims to make parallels between the unconscious investment that artists make to address an audience and the intense erotic delusions played out in the exchange of love letters. Both produce a circuit of libidinal exchange that demands recognition. Both involve a fraught transferential displacement centred on an object of communication. Erotographomania explores pathos; the element of sadness and regret that flows between the ‘sender’ and the ‘addressee’ that becomes injected into the dubious presence of the world of objects; reflected there; contaminated by a past relentlessly regurgitated into the present. The exchange between the artist, the work and the audience remains confused and in flux, like that of the lover, the loved, the author and the intended beneficiary”.
Given an almost complete absence of academic and clinical reference to erotographomania, it begs the question of why it’s not been a topic of empirical investigation. Maybe the topic is being actively researched but no-one is calling it erotographomania. Many cyberpsychologists (including myself) have studied cybersexual behaviour that includes the sending of sexually arousing erotic emails to each other. Some of my academic papers on online sex (a few of which I’ve listed in the ‘further reading’ section below) make reference to online behaviours that fit some of the operational definitions of erotographomania outlined at the start of this article. Maybe it’s about time I wrote an article letting the cyberpsychology community know that they are simply researching an old phenomenon in a new environment.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Cave, N. (1999). Love Song Lecture September 25. Transcription of lecture at: http://everything2.com/title/Nick+Cave%2527s+Love+Song+Lecture
Encyclo Online Encyclopedia (2012). Erotographomania. Located at: http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/erotographomania
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.
Hellweg, P. (1986). Manifestly manifolded manias. Journal of Recreational Linguistics, 19(2), 100-108.
Kar, N. & Kar, G.C. (2005). Comprehensive Textbook of Sexual Medicine. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers.
Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.
Martin, M. (2005). Erotographomania: Cruel Nostalgia. BookSurge Publishing.
Mukherjee, J.B. (1985). Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. London: Academic Publishers.
Podolsky, E. (1953). Encyclopedia of Aberrations: A Psychiatric Handbook. London: Arco.
Right Diagnosis (2012). Erotographomania, February 1. http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/e/erotographomania/intro.htm
Smith, R. (2008). Erotographomania. Blurb Publishing (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1468330)
Trever, K. (2010). How to write a love letter, or how do you write a love letter? Located at: http://www.kristinetrever.com/pdf/LoveLetter-Trever.pdf
In a previous blog, I briefly looked at to what extent love can be addictive. However, recent history has seen the rise of the term ‘obsessive love’. Obsessive love is typically associated with unrequited love, but there are relationships in which individuals could be said to obsess over each other and relationships in which one member obsesses over their partner. According to Dr. Helen Fisher in her 2005 book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, some people believe that all love is obsessive as it can be characterised by feelings of exhilaration, and intrusive, obsessive thoughts about the object of one’s affection. One common view is that love and relationships are a specialized kind of mutual addiction.
It may be useful to categorise obsessive love as an addiction because the behaviour is often similar. It is possible to see the resemblance between the definitions given for obsessions and addictions. In 2003, Griffin and Tyrrell stated that “obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that cause marked degrees of anxiety or distress”. Similarly, Stanton Peele and Archie Brodsky in their 1975 book Love and Addiction defined addiction as “a single overwhelming involvement with one thing that serves to cut a person off from life, to close him or her off to experience, to debilitate him, to make him less open, free, and positive in dealing with the world”. From this it is obvious that there is a resemblance in the fact that both can be debilitating. However, though it seems that certain aspects of obsessive love resemble a behavioural addiction, it has not been fully investigated.
Current literature uses the term ‘obsessive love’ to describe erotomania or love addiction. Obsessive love can therefore be seen as an umbrella term that covers subgroups such as erotomanics and love addicts, although no literature has been found that uses both concepts within the context of obsessive love. A common conception of obsessive love is generally that of a person being infatuated with a particular individual. However, another category includes those who feel the need to be in love generally. These are commonly known as ‘love addicts’. A more medically accepted category of obsessive love is that of erotomania.
Erotomania is a ‘rare delusional disorder’ also known as De Clerembault’s Syndrome. This type of obsessive lover develops a fixation on a person and becomes convinced that they are having a romantic relationship regardless of attempts by the recipient to convince them otherwise. Although erotomania and love addiction are dealt with as individual disorders, they share a number of characteristics. Obsessive love is seen predominantly in women although it has been realised that there are male sufferers. Also, more specifically, erotomania usually occurs in unmarried women that are isolated and lonely and have low self-esteem. However, recent studies have shown the disorder to be present in men who have a history of substance abuse or mental illness.
Obsessive lovers lack the ability to develop and are obsessed with impossible needs and unrealistic expectations. They engage in desperate hopes and unending fears. Obsessive lovers often have a past history of mental illness and/or a criminal record. Erotomania is also often associated with other mental disorders, in particular paranoid schizophrenia. Only ten percent of those that suffer erotomania do not suffer any other forms of mental illness. Typically the recipient is often higher in social status – often a boss or a celebrity. Symptoms of this form of obsessive love include delusions of passion followed by delusions of persecution. The individual creates reasons as to why the recipient cannot be with them such as their job or shyness. The person also believes that the recipient is more in love with them than vice versa.
Obsessive love can take place both in and out of a relationship. It can be a past partner, a friend, an acquaintance or even a stranger. Characteristics shared by all types of obsessive love include addictive personalities and low self-esteem. Obsessive lovers also have a tendency for violence and self-destruction. A person with such an obsession is likely to avoid change, and is typically dependent with a need for security. As this disorder is of an obsessive nature, the love the person feels is not particularly intimate. It is often the case that the love interest is the biggest thing in their life and so they dedicate lots of time to it.
Generally, the obsessed person’s life revolves around the person they are obsessed with. Whether in a relationship or not, the happiness of the obsessed is a direct result of the actions of the love object. As a result of this, the obsessed may beg to be told of how to make the other person happy so that they become the person the love object would want them to be. Obsessive lovers will go to great lengths to achieve or maintain the love of the love interest. Behaviour can become unpleasant for the recipient. Such actions include obscene phone calls, criminal damage or even physical violence and stalking. Their behaviour may necessitate the interest of the law.
This is frequently an occupational hazard for celebrities. In 1995, Madonna was stalked by Robert Hoskins. The man suffered from erotomania and believed that she was his wife. In an attempt to see his ‘wife’ he gained access to her home and assaulted a security guard. He was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. There are always fans that take their love for their idol into obsession.
Stalking is clearly a form of obsessive behaviour, and it has been found that those patients who have been stalked have described it as ‘psychological rape’. This can only further illustrate the devastating consequences of obsessive love. Stalking has even been given the clinical term ‘obsessional following’, and can be defined as the wilful, malicious and repeated following and harassing of another person. There is no single stalker profile and no two research centres can agree on what to call different types of stalkers. The only exception is erotomania. This is the only psychiatric diagnosis routinely associated with stalking.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Bogerts, B. (2005). Delusional jealousy and obsessive love – causes and forms. MMW Fortschritte der Medizin, 147(6), 28-9.
Debbelt, P. & Assion, H.J. (2001). Paranoia erotica (de Clerambault syndrome) in affective disorder. Der Nervenarzt. 72, 879-83.
Fisher, H. (2005). Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Graziano, W.G. & Musser L.M. (1982). The joining and parting of the ways. In Duck, S (Ed.). Personal Relationships 4: Dissolving Personal Relationships (pp.75-106). London: Academic Press.
Kennedy, N., McDonough, M., Kelly, B., & Berrios, G.E. (2002). Erotomania revisited: Clinical course and treatment. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 43, 1-6.
McCann, J.T. (1998). Subtypes of stalking (obsessional following) in adolescence. Journal of Adolescence, 21, 667-75.
Meloy, J. R. (1998). The psychology of stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspectives. New York: Academic Press.
Orion, D. (1997). I Know You Really Love Me: A Psychiatrist’s Journal of Erotomania, Stalking, and Obsessive Love. London: MacMillan Publishing Company.
Peabody, S. (1994). Addiction to love. California: Celestial Arts.
Peele, S. & Brodsky, A. (1975). Love and Addiction. New York: Taplinger.
Sinclair, H.C, and Frieze, I.H. (2000). Initial courtship behaviour and stalking: how should we draw the line? Violence and Victims. 15(1), 23-40.
Stanbury, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Obsessive love as an addiction. Psychology Review, 12(3), 2-4.
“Some people think that collecting old books is a kind of mild insanity. The collector, on his side, smiles upon the ignorant who cannot understand the enjoyment of collecting. The philosopher says: Ne quid nimis, go not too far. But all of the adages this one is the most difficult to follow. The bibliophile is the master of his books, the bibliomaniac their slave. With development of bibliomania, the friendly, warming flame of a hobby become devastating, ravaging wildfire, a tempest of loosened and vehement passions. We are then in the presence of a pathological, irresistible mental compulsion, which has produced more than one crime interesting enough to be remembered”
What amazes me about this opening quote is that it was written almost 70 years ago. It comes from an article by Dr. Martin Sander published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1943). So what’s the evidence for the existence of “bibliomania”? Does it really exist? In a nutshell, yes.
Bibliomania has been reported to be a symptom of some obsessive-compulsive disorders particularly those associated with the collecting and hoarding of books. For a small minority, bibliomania can result in the breakdown of personal relationships and/or the damaging of the person’s health. It is believed that the condition had no generally accepted name until 1866. Dr. John Ferriar – a British physician from Manchester – had a poem published simply entitled “Bibliomania”.
In his 2001 book The Anatomy of Bibliomania, Holbrook Jackson noted that English bibliographer Thomas Dibdin (1776-1847) wrote about bibliomania. Dibdin described the condition as a fatal affliction and referred to it as “the Book disease” that has “almost uniformly confined its attacks to the male sex, and among these, to the people in the higher and middling classes of society, while the artificer, labourer, and peasant have escaped wholly uninjured”.
In recent history, arguably the most well known bibliomaniac was Stephen Blumberg from Iowa (US). The so-called “book bandit” was convicted of stealing $5.3 million worth of books (over 23,600 books). In 1991 during Blumberg’s trial, the forensic psychiatrist Dr. William S. Logan noted that Blumberg had been treated for compulsive behaviour and had suffered schizophrenic delusions ad that these conditions had underpinned his bibliomania. Following a four-and-a-half year prison sentence, Blumberg was released but immediately resumed his book collecting and stealing.
Despite the condition being written about for 150 years, bibliomania is not a psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Bibliomaniac behaviours include the multiple purchasing of the same book and in more extreme cases the persistent stealing of books. One of the defining features of bibliomania is that the acquisition and collecting of increasing numbers of books have no use to the bibliomaniac, nor little intrinsic value to genuine book collectors. Other book-related conditions include ‘bibliophilia’ (which is simply the love of books but not in a paraphilic sense), ‘bibliokleptomania’ (the stealing of books), ‘bibliophagy’ (the eating of books), and ‘bibliotaphy’ (the burying of books).
Dr Norman Weiner wrote a theoretical paper on bibliomania in a 1966 issue of the Psychoanalytic Quarterly because it had “largely been ignored by psychoanalysts”. He noted that few people enter treatment for bibliomania and speculated that this was because the activity may be ego-syntonic (i.e., a behaviour that is in harmony with and acceptable to the needs and goals of the person’s ego or ideal self-image). He also provided case study evidence that for some people, the act of book collecting as a hobby may cause psychological conflict that for sufferers relieves anxiety.
Writing in a 2006 issue of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, Dr. Peter Subkowski wrote that the urge to collect is a ubiquitous phenomenon that has anthropological, sociobiological and individual psychodynamic roots (not surprising given that Subkowski is a psychoanalyst). He also claims that collecting occurs far more frequently among men than women. He describes collecting as an activity that can be “addictive, obsessive and messy””. From his psychoanalytical standpoint, Subkowski claimed that the type of collecting and choice of object were important indicators as to the unconscious psychodynamics of a collector and that:
“Collecting ranges across a broad spectrum, from an ego-syntonic integrated mode (i.e. sublimation) to a neurotic defence against pre-oedipal or oedipal traumas and conflicts…Collecting represents a specific form of object relating and way of handling primary loss trauma, which is different from addiction, compulsion, or perversion”.
When researching this article, I came across very little academic research on the topic although there has been a fair amount of research on collectors. For instance, Dr. Russell Belk (1991) writing in the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality describes collectors of mass-produced objects as falling into one of two main types: the taxonomic collector who attempts to own an example of every type of a series of items produced, and the aesthetic collector who simply gathers items because they are pleasing in some way. Belk also describes collecting as “fetishistic” and that collecting items and bringing them together makes them sacred.
In a 1991 issue of the Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, Ruth Formanek’s suggested five common motivations for collecting. These were: extension of the self (e.g., acquiring knowledge, or in controlling one’s collection); social (finding, relating to, and sharing with, like-minded others); preserving history and creating a sense of continuity; financial investment; and finally, an addiction or compulsion. Formanek says that what is common to all motivations to collect is a passion for the particular things collected. Professor Donald Case (University of Kentucky, US) in a 2006 review of collecting in the journal Library Trends says that it is this almost “sexual excitement” that led many early psychologists (including Freud) to see collecting as a manifestation of anal-erotic impulses.
An empirical survey by Formanek of 167 people (a mixture students, university staff members, collectors, art dealers, etc.) was published as a book chapter in the 1994 book Interpreting Objects and Collections (edited by Dr. Susan Pierce). One of the primary objectives of Formanek’s study was to look at the motivation of book collectors. She noted that:
“An important motivation is the feeling of excitement and elation. Referred to but as yet unexplored in the literature, is the collector’s addiction to collecting. The terms ‘obsession’ and ‘compulsion’ are mentioned chiefly in the popular literature, and are not distinguished from addiction”.
Of those who completed the survey, nine of the participants specifically mentioned addiction, obsession and compulsion as one of the reasons for collecting books although only one collector went into any detail. There were many other motivations for book collecting listed including the books being a financial investment, the challenge of the hunt, adding to one’s knowledge, and “collecting as preservation, restoration, history and a sense of continuity”.
Bibliomania probably means different things to different people and for some it is seen in a more positive light whereas others pathologize the behaviour. It doesn’t look as though the condition will appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders any time soon, but there certainly appears to be a small body of empirical evidence to suggest that for some people, book collecting can be compulsive.
Belk, R. W. (1991). The ineluctable mysteries of possessions. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6(6), 17-55.
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