STALKING: RECOGNISING IT AND DEFENDING YOURSELF
Some behaviour, like making calls, sending texts or email, surprise visits and
even sending flowers or presents, can be welcomed signs of affection, however,
sometimes, they can become real forms of persecution which can limit the freedom
of someone’s life and violate his/her privacy, even going so far as scaring the
person who is the victim of stalking.
An obsessive harasser or stalker can be someone you know, with whom you have
a sort of relationship, or it can be someone you do not know and whose path you
have crossed by chance, for example, at work.
Following, harassment, persecution
Following, harassment and persecution can take many forms. They can be sporadic
or they can be insistent demonstrations of a psychological and social phenomenon
called stalking, also known as obsessive following. The word stalking was coined to symbolically represent the behaviour of someone
who lies in wait and continually harasses someone. A stalker shows signs of complex
types of behaviour which are summarised very well by the words ‘keeping a look-out’,
which involves waiting, following and collecting information on the victim and
his/her movements, behaviour which is almost always typical of all stalkers, despite
differences from one case to another.
Some studies on this phenomenon have shown that there are two distinct behaviour categories through which one can carry out stalking.
- The first type consists of intrusive communication and it includes all types of behaviour aimed at sending messages about their
(the stalkers’) emotions, needs, impulses, desires or intentions, which can be
related to affection (even if it is forced or addictive) or hatred, resentment
or revenge. The persecution methods used involve using a communication tool, such
as mobile phone, letters, text messages, emails or even graffiti or murals.
- The second type of stalking behaviour is made up of contact, which can take the form of directly checking on the victim’s behaviour, by
shadowing them or monitoring them, or directly confronting the victim by turning up at his/her work or house and making threats or assaults. Usually
there are not two completely separate types of stalkers, in fact stalkers have
features from both categories, showing signs of the first category to begin with
and then doing things common to the second category.
Stalking behaviour has been outlined in all its specifics so as to be able to
distinguish it from other, similar types of behaviour. More precisely, there are three particular features which must be present if you want to talk about stalking:
- the stalker acts towards a person, who is called a victim, in virtue of an ideal
and emotional investment which is based on a relational situation which may be
real or partially/completely imagined (depending on the personality of the stalker
and the level of contact they keep with reality);
- the stalking occurs through behaviour based on communication and/or contact,
but in every case it connotes repetition, insistence and intrusiveness;
- the psychological pressure, related to the stalker’s coercive behaviour and psychological
terrorism carried out, puts the stalking victim in a state of alert, emergency
and psychological stress. These psychological experiences can be related to the
perception of the persecutory behaviour, considered to be unwelcome, intrusive
and annoying, and the victim may also worry and be anxious because of fear for
The identikit of a stalker
The coercion which connotes stalking behaviour, and which allows it to be outlined
in legal terms, has led to the hypothesis that this problem is a form of an obsessive
disorder. However, as has been observed, pathological obsessive disorders are
connoted by egodystonic experiences related to previously carried out behaviour
and, consequently, by feeling bad because of ideas, thoughts, mental images and
obsessive impulses connected to persecution. These feelings of discomfort and
intrusion are not usually found in stalkers, rather they tend to get pleasure
from persecuting their victim.
It is also very important to underline that stalking is not a uniform phenomenon,
therefore it is difficult to place stalkers in a precise, diagnostic category
or always identify the presence of an actual mental disease. Stalkers are not
always people with a mental disorder and, even if there are some forms of persecution
which are psychopathic, this is not always present in every case, just like substance
abuse is not always present in cases of stalking.
What is important to understand is that very different reasons can be hidden
behind similar types of stalking behaviour. This conclusion was reached following
studies which examined the psychological profile of numerous stalkers and, on
the basis of these, five types of stalkers were identified, which are categorised according to the needs and desires which
- The first type of insistent stalker has been called the bitter stalker. His/her behaviour is driven by a desire to take revenge on some kind of damage
or loss previously experienced. This is quite a dangerous category which can initially
damage the image of the person and then the person him/herself. The most serious
problem is related to the stalker’s non-existent analysis of reality; the resentment
the stalker feels justifies his/her behaviour which, by creating feelings of being
in control of life, then tends to reinforce the behaviour.
- The second type of stalker has been referred to as ‘in need of affection’, and these stalkers are searching for a relationship and attention which can
take the form of a friendship or a relationship. The victim is usually considered
as the ideal friend/lover due to a generalisation of his/her characteristics,
which can be superficial, and the stalker believes the victim can help him/her
to fill this affectionate hole by means of a relationship/friendship. Quite often,
the victim’s refusal is denied by the stalker and he/she reinterprets it by convincing
him/herself that the victim needs to free him/herself and overcome some kind of
psychological or concrete difficulty. This category includes erotomania and this
involves the stalker ‘seeing’, a desire in the victim’s responses which he/she
is resisting. The idea of refusal, as an intolerable attack on the stalker him/herself,
is pushed away and, in turn, a form of defence is created so as to distance him/herself
from the victim’s real perception of the stalker, the victim’s reactions and the
actual relationship they have, which is replaced with an imaginary one.
- A third type of stalker is called an incompetent suitor whose behaviour is fuelled by his/her lack of relationship capabilities, which
translates into oppressive, explicit and, when the stalker cannot obtain the results
he/she desires, aggressive and rude behaviour. This type of stalking does not
usually last very long as these stalkers tend to change their victim regularly.
There is also the rejected stalker, who is persecutor who has become like this because of a refusal. It is usually
an ex who wants to get back with the ex-partner of take revenge of the ex-partner
because he/she broke up with him/her. The stalker’s feelings often oscillate between
these two things and the persecuting can last a long time as the stalker does
not let him/herself be intimidated by the victim’s negative reactions. In fact,
the persecution represents a type of relationship which means the stalker does
not completely lose the victim, which is an unacceptable idea. In the psychology
of this type of stalking, what plays an important role is the attachment developed
to the victim, which is a type of insecurity which can cause feelings of anxiety
related to abandonment and which creates tendencies within the stalker, which
are more or less conscious, to consider the absence of the victim as a threat
of obliteration or annulment of him/her.
- The final category to have been defined is that of the predator and this category consists of a stalker who wants to have sexual relations with
the victim, who the stalker may follow, chase and scar. The fear felt by the victim
actually excites this type of stalker and he/she feels a sense of power when organising
an assault. This type of stalking can also affect children and can be done by
people who suffer from sexual disorders like paedophilia and fetishism.
The victim and the link to his/her stalker
Many people who are stalked are women aged between 18-24. However, some types
of persecution, for example those related to resentment and fear of losing a relationship
after being rejected, mainly happen to women aged 35-44 years.
Some research into this phenomenon have shown interesting results which can be
used to further reflect on the characteristics of victims of stalking and on the
importance of the relationship which, often just in the stalker’s mind, can be
as influential as a real relationship. In this regard, it was found that there
is a social group at risk of stalking represented by all members of the so-called
"helping professions", such as doctors, psychologists, nurses, and any kind of
"helper". There seem to be two explanations why this is: on the one hand, these
professionals come into contact with people's deep needs for help and these people
can easily become victims of projections of affection and internalised relationships;
one the other hand, the excessive hopes of some patients can be betrayed by daily
professionalism and stalking becomes a demand for attention or an attempt to take
revenge for the attribution of responsibility on the patient’s health, life or
his/her loved ones, aspects which are never fully in the hands of just one person.
Since not every case of stalking is the same, it is not possible to generalise
defence techniques which must be used in situations of stalking and with various
types of persecutors.
However, there are some useful rules to follow:
- First and foremost, denying the problem does not help. Quite often, because nobody
wants to consider themselves a victim, people tend to avoid recognising the danger
but ending up underestimating the risk and thus helping the stalker. The first
step is always to admit there is a problem and to take more exaggerated precautions
compared to what somebody without a stalker problem would normally take. It is
also important to read-up about the problem and understand what the real risks
are, and behaving in a such a way as to discourage the stalker when possible.
- If the stalking consists of starting or asking to rekindle a relationship, be
firm when saying NO, saying it just once and in a very clear way. Doing anything
else to get rid of a stalker, like suggesting they need professional help or treatment,
will be read as reactions to his/her behaviour, and therefore as reinforcements
and attention. Even giving back an unwelcomed present, an angry phone call or
a negative response to a letter are signs of attention which reinforce the stalking.
- Very useful behaviour for defending oneself from the risk of attacks is being
prudent, not going out at the same time every day, going out during busy times
and not going to isolated places and maybe even take a dog as a form of defence,
which has been seen to be very useful as an actual form of defence, as well as
making the victim feel safer.
- If the stalking goes on via telephones, do not change number because the frustration
felt by the stalker will only increase the reasons to talk the victim. It is best
to try to get a second phone line, letting the old one become a line that the
stalker can still ring but which you hang up immediately and then gradually respond
less and less often.
- In order to get proof for the police, do not let yourself get caught up in the
anger or fear of the situation; write down the dates of the stalking/episodes.
- It is always a good idea to have a spare mobile phone with you in case of emergency.
- If you think you are in danger or are being followed, never run home or to a
friend’s house; go to the police.
The consequences of stalking
Unfortunately, and because of legal norms limiting preventative actions in emergency
situations, stalking can happen for a long time with negative psychological consequences
mainly for the victim, but also for the stalker, and sometimes those who observe
The victim can carry the scars of the stalking with him/her forever, in spite
of how long the persecution lasted. The consequences for the stalker are often
different and they last for a very long time, becoming chronic. Depending on the
type of act carried out and the emotions experienced, the victim can suffer from
anxiety attacks, sleep problems, nightmares, flashbacks and may even show signs
of post traumatic stress disorder.
The stalker tends to go with want he/she wants and denies the reality, consequently
damaging his/her mental health and the quality of his/her social life, which deteriorates
with the intensity of the persecution.
The audience of the stalking incidents may be restricted to a family audience
who, by identifying with the victim empathetically, can develop concern for the
loved one or vicarious forms of fear and anxiety. However, the audience, in a
wider sense, and thanks to the important role played by mass media, is society,
where tolerated violations of privacy can represent a behavioural model which
fuels new phenomena because the stalking of people in the public eye is often
justified (or partially justified) with ‘moments of madness’ or ‘loving the victim