Stalking, something most of us have done in a minor way, remember going through your exes’ profile secretly, or following your crush to get their attention? They are pretty much a lower level of stalking. But stalking doesn’t end there. Serial stalkers, the actual criminals to be terrified of, do way more dangerous things than just going through your Instagram profile. Stalking is defined as repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other behaviour directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is a behaviour and not a mental disorder. It is important to understand that stalkers struggle with mental health or personality disorders that motivate this problematic behaviour.
There’s a line between the overzealous pursuer and the stalker. “Stalking is much more about inducing fear,” says Brook Zitek, a forensic psychiatrist. “It’s repeated boxes of candy, clothing, showing up at your house, putting things through your mail slot, notes on your car — even though you’ve asked them to stop,” she says. Though many stalkers make threats to their victim or other people, in a minority of cases stalkers become violent and assault their primary victim or a secondary target (e.g. the victim’s partner). Research shows that most stalkers who become violent do not cause serious harm, however, the psychological effects of stalking and violence can be significant.
The overwhelming majority of stalkers are men — four to one, Zitek says. Psychiatrists have developed several stalker profiles:
- The rejected stalker – This person was rejected in a relationship, and they perceive it as an insult, they feel wounded, and they are seeking vindication.
- The resentful stalker – These are self-righteous, self-pitying people who may threaten, but they are the least likely to act on it.
- The intimacy-seeking stalker – They believe they are loved or will be loved by the victim. Often they focus on someone of higher social status. This person probably has neurosis and is delusional.
- The incompetent – Individuals in this category are socially and economically backwards. They don’t really understand the social rules involved in dating and romance and don’t mean any harm. They stalk in hope of getting closer or forming a relationship with the victim.
- The predator – This is about sexual gratification, control, and violence. The stalker doesn’t necessarily know the victim. The victim may not know they are being stalked. But a predator plans their attack, rehearses it, and has lots of sexual fantasies regarding the same.
The rejected and predatory stalkers are most likely to assault their victims, says Zitek.
Stalkers are present with a wide variety of mental disorders, with psychosis often playing a role for those stalkers with Intimacy Seeking or Resentful motivations, while personality disorders, depression and substance misuse are common amongst those with Rejected, Resentful, and Predatory motivations. In many scenarios, the stalking begins as a relationship is ending – a divorce or breakup, says John Moore, a licensed counsellor. The stalker may believe that the victim is in love with them. In other cases, people stalk someone they have only met briefly — someone they don’t really know, or barely know. The stalker may also focus on a celebrity, especially if they’ve seen them in person — at a public appearance like a concert. Stalkers may go through the “obsessive love wheel” — the various stages of a relationship obsession:
- The attraction phase
- The anxious phase, when the controlling behaviours show themselves
- The obsessive phase, where stalking takes place
- The destructive phase
“The stalker is usually an isolated and shy person, one who lives alone, lacks any type of important intimate relationship — not just sexual, but friends or family, too. “There’s also a narcissistic personality disorder and very low self-esteem. The stalker feels that they’re the most important person in the world,” says Moore. Stalkers as a group, have an impressive capacity to rationalize, minimize and excuse their behaviours. Paul Mullen, a psychiatrist, explains that “in almost all stalkers there is a need both to improve interpersonal and social skills and to instil a more realistic understanding of the impact of their behaviours on victims.”
It is very important to know when to get concerned if faced with a stalker. The red flags:
- You immediately start getting several phone calls or emails right after meeting this person.
- The person is clingy, controlling, or upset if you want to spend time with friends and family.
“Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t tell them ‘I don’t want anything to do with you.’ By rejecting that person, there is a chance of violence. If you reject that person, oftentimes they feel angry, threatened. There is the possibility of violence,” says Moore. When faced with these red flags what you can do:
- Tell everyone you know that this is going on — your employer, friends, family.
- Gently but firmly tell the person you’ve decided to move on. Don’t get drawn into discussions of why. Just say, “This situation isn’t right for me” or “I’m not ready yet” — whatever you need to say, but say it gently.
If stalking still prevails, seek legal methods; file a report, change your email and ATM password. Stalkers have a fantasy that you love them. You really need to be on the offensive and there is no harm in changing passwords. Never underestimate a threat, even if it is just one, take it to the authorities.
One most important thing to remember in the management of stalkers is to see them as individuals in need of psychological help. Here is something else, ask yourself now: Are you a stalker? Did you see these obsessive characteristics in you? If yes, don’t fret. Seek professional therapists, or join support groups. Remember there are always people to help you, and they will do so only if you reach out.