Madame Bovary Syndrome: What is it and what are its symptoms?

Throughout our lives, each of us develops our own worldview, based on the experience and learning we gain not only from what we experience, but from what our fellow human beings and our culture teach us.

This point of view includes, among other things, how our relationships with others should be, which leads us to have expectations about the socio-emotional interactions that we have.

however, sometimes our expectations are unrealistic and we encounter a reality that we don’t like and that it can cause us discontent. Although in general we all have a certain disappointment that we eventually overcome, some people live in a state of constant frustration, affected by overly idealistic and romantic expectations which, when faced with reality, cannot be fulfilled.

This is what happens in the so-called Madame Bovary syndrome or bovarism, Which we will talk about throughout this article.

  • Recommended: “The myth of the orange half: no couple is ideal”, by Bertrand Regader

Madame Bovary syndrome: what are we talking about?

Bovarism or Madame Bovary syndrome is a model of maladaptive behavior and cognition characterized by the existence of a persistent and chronic dissatisfaction arising from the strong mismatch between reality and the expectations we have of the world, especially in the area of ​​emotional and romantic relationships. While romantic relationships are a common element in their type of thinking, the defining characteristic of the disorder is chronic dissatisfaction and the pursuit of an unrealistic ideal of happiness.

This syndrome, a behavioral disorder which, although not officially considered, is increasingly well known, can cause a high level of unhappiness and psychological suffering to those who suffer from it, and is much more common in women than in women. men, although each once again. there is a greater tendency for balance between the two sexes. The name of the syndrome is part of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, in which the protagonist maintains excessive expectations of love (due to the idealization of this derivative of reading romantic novels) and seeks to satisfy in the face of what ‘he considers as monotonous and a boring life and a marriage without love, without ever being able to satisfy them.

Who suffers from Madame Bovary syndrome generally maintains an idyllic and utopian view of love and relationships, A vision which does not resist their contrast with real life and which generates on the one hand a great dissatisfaction and on the other hand a rejection of this reality, not being able to accept the great divergence between their expectations and the world. It is common for them to maintain a compulsive pursuit of happiness and their vision of perfect life and relationships. They are usually looking for their orange half, their perfect soul mate or partner. There is also often an extreme fear of not being found, even the denial of this possibility.

They tend to develop a melancholy and dependent personality, striving to bring their relationships as close as possible to their ideal.

Psychological and relational consequences

The effect of this syndrome can be huge. The person himself often feels dissatisfied and unhappy, and tends to deny aspects of the world that do not correspond to his ideals. It is common for anxiety and depressive symptoms to appear, with a tendency to melancholy and dysthymia, and sometimes lead to aggressive and self-destructive behaviors.

Their social and couple relationships are very unsatisfactory, marked by possessiveness, jealousy and recriminations, while they tend to focus on the other (in a very dependent way) so that it stops working together for much of his own interests. not to be abandoned. There is a certain egocentricity, valuing the relationship by the way it only affects the subject himself.

Main symptoms of this disorder

Among the main symptoms of this deterioration, the presence of the aforementioned permanent dissatisfaction stands out in the first place, as well as the maintenance of rigid and unrealistic expectations and perspectives. There is a strong cognitive dissonance. It is not uncommon for the person to see themselves as sacrificed and idealized, with a tendency to see themselves as deserving the best.

There is usually a biased worldview, only processing the information that supports your worldview and ignoring the rest, and they refuse to even acknowledge it. Likewise, emotionally, there also tends to be a deep sense of emptiness due to the inability to achieve your desires., As well as an overestimation and an exaggerated emotional reaction to conflicts and differences. There is usually neuroticism and difficulty tolerating monotony and frustration, while still maintaining excessive expectations of what your life should be like.

On a romantic level, these people tend to compulsively seek out ideal love, spending a lot of time looking for love or keeping someone by their side. There is a great emotional dependence and often the subject focuses exclusively on his partner, with whom an identification is sought. Identification with the other reaches the level where the tastes and ways of seeing the world of the spouse are copied and assumed as theirs.

However, when this does not meet their expectations, they may look for other people despite having a partner, so it is not uncommon for infidelity and you not to end a relationship until. which you can switch to another considered better. Impossible and complicated loves usually attract them, given the challenge they pose.

Possible causes

Madame Bovary syndrome is not a recognized disorder and its causes are not fully understood. However, the very definition of the disorder states that the source of this chronic dissatisfaction lies in the mismatch between the person’s expectations and reality.

These expectations may be due to an overly utopian view of romantic relationships., Often exacerbated by literature, films or theatrical works. It has also been observed that people with this syndrome tend to have experienced situations of abandonment, deprivation of affection or abuse in childhood, which may have led to the idealization of the couple situation. or a normative affection and an extreme fear of not achieving it.


Madame Bovary syndrome is a behavioral disorder whose treatment involves working on deeper beliefs in terms of the value of relationships, changing cognitive biases and unrealistic beliefs, and working on self-esteem. It is necessary to reflect and analyze how to think, feel and relate to oneself and the environment, as well as how this has affected the life of the subject and those around them.

However, it should be borne in mind that this syndrome is deeply affected by personality traits and more specifically by dependent personality disorder, so treatment should take into account that they will have to work on deep aspects of the way of being and of the world on the part. patient, which may require determining the reason for the need for a change before moving on to treating the problematic points themselves.

Bibliographical references:

  • Gaultier, J. (1892). Bovarysme, psychology in the work of Flaubert, Paris, France.

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