We’ve all heard the stories of the girl who broke up with a boyfriend, but the boy keeps calling and driving by the girl’s house and won’t let go. For many years, this behavior was thought of as harmless “lovesickness,” but we now know that this behavior is anything but harmless, nor is it lovesickness. How do you tell the difference?
Stalking behavior is about wanting power and control over another, whereas love is about wanting to make another person happy and secure. Once the line is crossed and your ex-love interest no longer seems to care that he is making you worried and fearful, is keeping you and your family awake with unwanted phone calls and showing up uninvited, is interfering with your other relationships and making you feel as if you have no privacy, he is trying to regain control over you, and that is stalking, not love.
When we think of stalkers, we usually think of psychopathic strangers we see on TV who lurk around in the shadows waiting for an opportunity to attack their victim. The even more frightening truth is that most victims know their stalkers, and that stalkers are very dangerous. In fact, stalkers are always potentially dangerous. Pay attention the next time you watch the news and notice that most women found murdered were murdered by their own boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, husband or ex-husband. A large percentage of violence against women is preceded by stalking behavior, often when the woman tries to leave the relationship.
Aside from stalkers with whom you’ve had some relationship, another common type of stalker is what is known as the acquaintance stalker. This stalker will be somewhere within your environment. He may be a casual friend or the neighbor two doors down who you occasionally wave at when you see him in the yard, or he may be someone you’ve never spoken to, whose name you don’t even know, just a boy who you vaguely remember seeing in the hall at school or mowing the neighbor’s lawn. You may have gotten a creepy feeling that he was watching you, or you may never have even noticed him at all; but at some point, it becomes apparent that he is fixated on you.
What makes a person you don’t even know become obsessed with you? Some women may be flattered at first that they are the focus of so much attention. The truth is, though, that it actually has very little to do with you or who you are. It has more to do with what’s inside him – or rather, what’s missing inside him, which is self-esteem. Low self-esteem, or a poor sense of self-worth, can be caused by many things. It is not always easy to tell when someone has low self-esteem, and the person himself may not even know he is lacking in it. If you have ever known a person who likes to put down or criticize others for no reason, that person probably has low self-esteem and is doing what some call “leveling,” which is trying to make himself feel more significant by making another person feel less significant. A person with low self-worth may also try to “get a life” by latching themselves onto others. He may have an unusually obsessive fixation on a certain sports team or music artist or be fanatical in some other area, such as religion. His “relationship” with these entities makes him feel more powerful and important by association, as if their worth and importance will rub off on him.
The same thing happens in his pursuit of women. He feels that if he possesses a certain girl, this reflects on him and makes him more important. If an actual relationship develops, when the time comes that the woman is ready to break up and move on, he cannot accept this, because not only is she leaving him, she is taking his sense of self-worth with her. The person whose entire sense of himself hinges on the feeling of control he gets from possessing another may become violent either toward himself or others who he may feel are standing in his way, and he may stop at nothing to try to force the girlfriend to continue in the relationship.
Even if this is an acquaintance stalker and there is no real relationship, you will likely still get lots of hang-up phone calls or see the person drive by your house or your school. He may be lurking in the background anytime you go to a game or a fast-food restaurant. He may ask you to go out with him. You may refuse politely, but he will still continue to spy on you and follow you around. In your mind, there is no relationship. In his mind, there is. In his mind, any contact with you, whether voluntary or involuntary, whether negative or positive, is enough to make him feel you have a relationship. This kind of stalker is just as potentially dangerous as the one you know, because in his mind, he intends to possess you at all costs.
If you are a female, chances are very good that you will, at some point, have a stalker. If you are one of the lucky ones who don’t, chances are you will know other women who do. Stalkers can be rich or poor, handsome or geeky, young or old. They can be charming one minute and callous the next. They come from all walks of society, as do their victims. You don’t have to be beautiful and popular to attract a stalker. Stalkers are very hard to get rid of. That’s why it’s most important that you try to avoid getting involved with anyone who shows signs of being a stalker.
HOW DO YOU KNOW HE’S A STALKER?
The following is a list of things that should tip you off that a boy may have stalking tendencies and should be avoided. Stalkers usually display one or more of the following traits:
Won’t take no for an answer
Not embarrassed by his actions
Doesn’t care that he’s making others miserable
Can be charming at times, but can also be mean and controlling
Is obsessive in general, becomes obsessively fixated on things and people.
Unsuccessful in relationships. Check around. If he has stalked in the past, he will do so again.
Extremely jealous and paranoid. May demand that you account for all your time away from him.
Gives you a cell phone so that he can monitor everything you do. If someone gives you a cellphone, they can tell see the bill and tell who you’ve talked to and can even check your messages. It is also possible to equip the cellphone with GPS so that he can see everywhere you go. You should never allow anyone other than your parents to give you a cell phone.
Tries to control you. May try to keep you from spending time with friends and family. May blame friends and family for keeping you apart.
Calls/texts too much
Spies on you
And perhaps most importantly, he makes you feel uncomfortable. Always listen to your instincts.
WHAT TO DO?
As soon as you suspect you are dealing with a stalker, let your close friends and family know about the situation. Then you must tell that person once and only once that under no circumstances will you ever be interested in seeing or hearing from him again.
As women, we are raised to be polite and respectful to others and to be nice and not hurt people’s feelings, but when dealing with a stalker, anything less than brutal rejection will only give him hope and allow him to delude himself that he has a relationship with you. Most of us would be much more comfortable telling an unwanted suitor, “Sorry, I have another boyfriend,” or “You’re a nice guy, but I’m just not interested right now.” Unfortunately, what the obsessed stalker hears is, “I might be interested in you sometime.” No matter what you’ve been taught, you must set this aside when dealing with a potential stalker and tell him, without any hesitation, that you want no further contact with him. Then you must consistently refuse all contact.
Remember: “People who can’t say no attract people who can’t let go.” –Gavin DeBecker “The Gift of Fear”
It is very important to know that the more time the stalker has invested in obsessing over you, the higher the possibility that he will become violent. For this reason, it is very important that you break off contact with the stalker as early as possible. He will be far more likely to move on to another target if he hasn’t invested much time in obsessing about you. The longer you let him have contact, the harder he will be to get rid of and the more dangerous he will become.
ll 50 states now have anti-stalking laws. The legal definition of stalking is: a repeated pattern of harassment that presents a threat to the victim. If you have a stalker, cease all contact with him and start keeping a log of every phone call, texts, e-mails, drive-by or any other encounter you have with him. Get a second phone, if necessary, so you don’t ever have to answer the one he calls on and can save his messages for evidence.
Then, before taking any further action, such as obtaining a retraining order, whereby the Court makes it illegal for him to come close to you, I recommend reading up on the subject (I suggest Robert Snow’s book listed below) and consulting The National Center for Victims of Crime (link listed below) and following their recommendations, in order to ensure your safety. It’s important that a stalking expert be given all available information about the stalker so that they can make a determination whether it is likely that placing a restraining order on him will help or whether it will only trigger him to react more violently, which is often the case. So before you take legal steps, it is important that you first consult with an expert and learn the pros and cons.
Remember, the best prevention is to learn the warning signs and avoid getting involved with a potential stalker to begin with.
“Stopping a Stalker” by Chief Robert L. Snow
“The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker