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Are you being stalked?

Sonal D'Silva | November 18, 2005

Stalkers are often mistakenly thought to be the curse of the rich and famous -- beautiful movie icons and glamorous rock stars being shadowed by lonely crazed recluses, desperate for attention.

The reality is that stalking is not limited to people in the public eye. And they are not always creepy strangers lurking in the bushes.

A study by Tjaden and Thoennes in 1998 found that 59 percent of female victims and 30 percent of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner.

The term 'obsessional following', also known as stalking, was coined by scientists Meloy and Gothard in 1995, after they conducted extensive research in the area.

They defined stalking as 'the wilful, malicious and repeated following or harassing of another person that threatens his or her safety.'

Types of stalkers

Behavioural scientists have defined several categories of obsessed followers.

These range from those unknown to the victim to those with whom the victim has had some sort of prior relationship, be it casual or intimate.

There are also delusional stalkers who may suffer from other psychological disorders like schizophrenia or mania.

In romantic relationships

"Obsessive behaviour in romantic relationships," explains psychiatrist Dr Ashit Sheth, "is seen in people who fall in love and are not able to take any rejection -- apparent or real."

They often spend most of their time dreaming about the other person, practically living with the person in his or her imagination.

~ Even if the relationship has ended, the 'obsessed' person tends to pursue it to a level where there is a great deal of unpleasantness. Dr Sheth says this kind of behaviour is fairly common.

~ These individuals often desire to possess the other person and control his/her activities.

~ When their advances are rejected they become possessive, argumentative and try to control the other person.

When they are told to back off, they try to hurt themselves or attempt suicide.

~ Dr Sheth clearly asserts that a suicide threat made by such persons cannot be taken lightly.

It must not be dismissed and must be reported to someone close to the individual who can get him/ her assistance.

Some of the signs

~ Persistent phone calls, often at night.

~ Waiting at the target's home or lurking in the neighbourhood.

~ Unexpected appearances at the workplace and other private domains.

~ Sending persistent letters, emails, notes or gifts.

~ Violent threats to the victim.

~ Threats of self-destruction if the victim does not give in.

How to deal with stalkers 

A word of caution: Each instance of stalking is different.

Always consult the appropriate authority, be it a behavioural specialist or the police, before deciding on a plan of action.

Most professionals emphatically discourage dealing with the problem yourself.

~ Do not dismiss such behaviour as a passing phase. Do not take any threats made towards you by such a person lightly.

~ Take professional help. Says Dr Sheth, "Rather than you trying to get involved and handling the relationship, give it over to a neutral person who is an authority. They must calmly and firmly tell other the person to stay away."

~ If the stalker is not a stranger, Dr Sheth recommends taking the assistance of an objective figure who is close to the stalker. Explain to the former that this is a relationship you are not interested in. Clarify how you are being controlled and how you feel.

Ask if they can help the obsessed individual handle the situation. They must be informed that you (the victim) are not interested, so the stalker better stay away or strong action will have to be taken. 

~ Avoid all contact with the stalker. Do not attempt to get back at them or argue with them. Says Dr Sheth, "The idea is not to prolong or not to get into irritable interactions which can provoke unpleasantness. Both pleasant and unpleasant reactions bring in more attachment. So, if the person is neutrally ignored -- which means you ignore both the good and bad incidents -- they may back off."

~ Do not send mixed messages. It is tempting to try and be nice to spare the feelings of the stalker. But an ambiguous message could easily be misinterpreted.

Dr Sheth illustrates with an example, "I just had a case where someone banged his head against a wall trying to show the girl that he could really get hurt for her and she got all worked up and tried to help."

Such 'helpful' behaviour can be easily misinterpreted, leaving the stalker with a false hope that s/he has a second chance.

~ Documentation is very important. Keep evidence of any threats made, including letters, emails, voice mail messages, etc. This will be helpful if you need to take legal action.

~ If the stalker has access to your home phone number, it might be tempting to just change the number in an attempt to stop the calls. But the experts advise against this.

Instead, let an answering machine pick up those calls and get a new number for yourself. The logic is that this prevents the stalker from trying to find a new way to contact you.

~ Inform security persons at work to screen all visitors.

~ Take your family and close friends into confidence. Understand that it is not just about you; even they might be in danger. The stalker might perceive them as obstacles in the way of his/ her attempts to get to you. Warn them to be alert.

~ Try not to go out alone. Also, try and use routes that are different from the ones you normally take on a regular basis.

~ While it is important to be firm and assertive in your message that you want no further contact, refrain from being insulting or derogatory. "Be respectful. Don't try to harm or hurt the person. Don't use derogatory remarks or tell police to beat him up. That could provoke him further," cautions Dr Sheth.

~ Don't be afraid to take help from as many sources as you can. It's the best way to make sure you don't have to live in fear, constantly looking over your shoulder.


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