People have been
stalked for a long time, but stalking is only now starting to be recognized as
a psychologically damaging form of assault – and still being handled very badly
by the police and legal system.
Unwelcome and intrusive contact
Stalking is related to
obsessive perversions of love. It is
often seen between people who knew each other very well, as lovers or friends.
One of them may handle the break-up really badly and maintain unwelcome and
intrusive contact with their former lover or friend.
Read: Is it love or is it jealousy?
Variations on this
theme turn up on the CyberShrink forum. We hear from men and women who intellectually know that a relationship
or even marriage is over, but emotionally refuse to accept the fact, and end up
harassing their former associate.
Even when not in direct contact, they may continue to watch their “ex”, perhaps
cruising past their place of work, keeping tabs on their friends and finding
out who they’re going out with. It’s a
form of possessiveness, of refusing to let go. They remain emotionally stuck in
defunct relationships and cannot move on.
Read: Jealousy's two sides
Some stalkers seem to
suffer from a rare psychiatric disorder, de Clérambault's syndrome, or
Erotomania, in which someone, usually a young woman, develops the delusional
idea that someone famous, whom she considers of higher social or professional
standing, is in love with her. He’s a
secret admirer, revealing love in subtle ways, with significant but barely
noticeable glances, or public messages with special meanings unnoticed by
others. She then writes or sends gifts
to, or visits the person, who naturally has no idea who she is. She ignores discouragement, assuming the
rejection of her advances is just a tactic to hide this secret love from the
Stalking by proxy
With the modern phenomenon
of celebrity culture, there are many people in the public eye who are regular “visitors”
in our living rooms. We forget they’re only on our TV sets and the sense of knowing
them merges into the feeling that the celebrity also ought to know us.
When you’re an
attention addict, like a Kardashian, thriving on and profiting from near
constant attention, it’s confusing for those you have trained to obsess about
you, to find that they’ve not actually been invited into your lives.
Read: Overdose of celebrity
But the media have now
normalised such obsessions and endless celebrity gossip in magazines and the
unreal “reality” shows on TV makes it seem quite normal to obsess about the details
of someone else’s life. Indeed, obsessing over “stars” in this way has become
stalking by proxy.
After all, what are
the paparazzi but stalkers for pay, who haunt others on your behalf, and allow
you to enjoy them voyeuristically from the comfort of your own home?
The internet trolls
who spend so much time following and either praising or criticizing others are
technologically enabled stalkers, and do so with greater impunity than ever
before – as they can be intrusive and offensive from another country or even continent.
Rejected and humiliated
It’s so easy for
complete strangers to form a delusional fantasy relationship with you. Someone’s
strong admiration for a person (or persona played by that person) starts to
become an imaginary relationship, a feeling that their life and yours are
somehow linked. This admirer now feels
that the celebrity owes them something in return. Imagining that this is a
reciprocal relationship they easily feel rejected and humiliated and may become
hostile and angry.
Read: Breakup can trigger depression
The stalker’s target understandably
does not want any relationship, so this “unrequired love” is bound to end in
tears. It may even lead to arrest, criminal charges and restraining order. This
may be traumatic for the stalker but it is necessary that the “victim” asserts
their autonomy and make the stalker firmly aware of the reality of the
The British Crime
Survey over years has shown that between a third and half of all victims of
stalking are men, though men don’t usually report it and the police and judges
don’t take it seriously enough when they do.
violence, stalking is damaging to the victim and needs to be dealt with. Stalkers
want to exert control over their targets. There’s the always the risk that they
may move from wanting to please you to wanting to punish or even harm you. The
invasion of the victim’s private space can cause distress and a sense of
intrusion and violation.
Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder
That there can be real
physical risk should never be ignored. American researchers estimate that up to 25%
of significant stalking ends in real violence. Some estimate a 2% risk of
murder or manslaughter. 90% of women who
are eventually killed by an ex-partner, were previously stalked by him.
Read: Subtle signs of domestic violence
A major American
survey of 8,000 men and 8,000 women found that 8% of women and 2% of men had
been stalked at some time. Only half of all cases are reported to the police. 25%
lead to arrest, and only 12 % lead to criminal prosecution – and that’s in a
country with effective police and courts.
There’s been very
little useful research into how stalking affects people, but it can cause
depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The smaller but
persistent personal changes in the victim are also harmful. You become much more cautious, suspicious, and
aggressive; you change your routines, double-check your home alarms and change
your phone numbers.
We don’t begin by wanting
our stalker to be jailed; we just want their harassment and pestering to
stop. If it’s allowed to continue for
more than a couple of weeks, it tends to become chronic and forms part of the
stalker’s daily routine.
One should never form
a real relationship with the stalker. You may once tell them directly and
calmly that you don’t want and will not accept any form of relationship with
them. Getting into prolonged discussions
or negotiations only makes things worse.
Shrinks are often
targets of stalkers. Maclean & colleagues in 2013 surveyed nearly a quarter
of British psychiatrists, and nearly 11 per cent said they had been stalked.
Some coped better than others, and most of them said they found it difficult to
get suitable support.
Read: Need a shrink?
McIvor and colleagues questioned
just over 300 psychiatrists in a large mental health organization, and 41%,
mainly consultants, reported being stalked by patients. Most stalkers were men, with personality
disorder or major mental illness.
A German study by
Krammer & others of psychiatrists and psychologists in Graz, found that
nearly 40% had experienced stalking, especially from female patients, making non-violent threats. The patients mainly suffered from
schizophrenia, delusional disorders, or personality disorder, and around 40% of
the shrinks developed mild symptoms of PTSD.
Have you ever been stalked? Share your experiences with us.
When somebody’s watching you . . .
Ask your psychiatrist
experiences of being stalked: a qualitative analysis. L Maclean, D Reiss, S Whyte etc.
J Am Acad Psychiatry
Law. 2013; 41(2):193-9.
- Stalking behaviour by
patients towards psychiatrists in a large mental health organisation. RJ McIvor, L Potter, L Davies. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2008 Jul; 54(4):
- The effects of stalking on psychiatrists,
psychotherapists and psychologists. Prevalence of stalking and its emotional
impact]. In German. A Krammer, A Stepan,
A Baranyi, etc. Nervenarzt. 2007 Jul;
- Research on stalking:
what do we know and where do we go? KE
Davis, IH Frieze. Violence Vict. 2000
Winter; 15(4): 473-87.
Image: Stalker from Shutterstock