Stalking is a crime and stalkers are criminals. This simple truth is often ignored by mental health practitioners, by law enforcement agencies, and by the media. The horrid consequences of stalking are typically underestimated and stalkers are mocked as eccentric and lonely weirdoes. Yet, stalking affects one fifth of all women and an unknown number of men – and often ends in violence and bloodshed.
A 1997 Review Paper titled "Stalking (Part I) An Overview of the Problem", Karen M Abrams, MD, FRCPC1, Gail Erlick Robinson, MD, DPsych, FRCPC2, define stalking thus:
"Stalking, or criminal harassment, is defined as the 'wilful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing of another person', usually requiring a 'credible threat of violence' against the victim or the victim's family (1). 'Harass' refers to wilful conduct directed at a person that seriously alarms, annoys, or distresses the person and which serves no legitimate purpose (2). Typically, the behaviour involves such things as loitering near the victim, approaching, making multiple phone calls, constantly surveilling, harassing the victim's employer or children, harming a pet, interfering with personal property, sabotaging dates, and sending threatening or sexually suggestive 'gifts' or letters. The harassment usually escalates, often beginning with phone calls that gradually become more threatening and aggressive in nature, and frequently ends in violent acts (3). In essence, the offender's behaviour is terrorizing, intimidating, and threatening, and restricts the freedom of and controls the victim.
In the US, there are individual state laws but no unified federal antistalking laws. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a crime to knowingly or recklessly harass another person in any of the following ways: 1) by repeatedly following or communicating either directly or indirectly with that person or anyone known to them; 2) by watching where that person or anyone known to them resides, works, or happens to be; or 3) by engaging in any threatening conduct directed at that person or his or her family, if any of these cause the person to reasonably fear for his or her safety (4). In both the US and Canada, antistalking laws are in a state of flux."
Many criminals (and, therefore, many stalkers) suffer from personality disorders – most prevalently, the Antisocial Personality Disorder, formerly known as "psychopathy". Co-morbidity – a "cocktail" of mental health disorders – is frequent. Most stalkers abuse substances (alcohol, drugs) and are prone to violence or other forms of aggression.
APD or AsPD was formerly called "psychopathy" or, more colloquially, "sociopathy". Some scholars, such as Robert Hare, still distinguish psychopathy from mere antisocial behaviour. The disorder appears in early adolescence but criminal behaviour and substance abuse often abate with age, usually by the fourth or fifth decade of life. It may have a genetic or hereditary determinant and afflicts mainly men. The diagnosis is controversial and regarded by some scholar as scientifically unfounded.
Psychopaths regard other people as objects to be manipulated and instruments of gratification and utility. They have no discernible conscience, are devoid of empathy and find it difficult to perceive other people's nonverbal cues, needs, emotions, and preferences. Consequently, the psychopath rejects other people's rights and his commensurate obligations. He is impulsive, reckless, irresponsible and unable to postpone gratification. He often rationalises his behaviour showing an utter absence of remorse for hurting or defrauding others.
Their (primitive) defence mechanisms include splitting (they view the world – and people in it – as "all good" or "all evil"), projection (attribute their own shortcomings unto others) and Projective Identification (force others to behave the way they expect them to).
The psychopath fails to comply with social norms. Hence the criminal acts, the deceitfulness and identity theft, the use of aliases, the constant lying, and the conning of even his nearest and dearest for gain or pleasure. Psychopaths are unreliable and do not honour their undertakings, obligations, contracts, and responsibilities. They rarely hold a job for long or repay their debts. They are vindictive, remorseless, ruthless, driven, dangerous, aggressive, violent, irritable, and, sometimes, prone to magical thinking. They seldom plan for the long and medium terms, believing themselves to be immune to the consequences of their own actions.
Many psychopaths are outright bullies. Michigan psychologist Donald B. Saunders distinguishes between three types of aggressors: "family-only", "generally violent" (most likely to suffer from APD), and the "emotionally volatile". In an interview to Psychology Today, he described the "generally Violent" thus:
"Type 2 men – the generally violent – use violence outside the home as well as in it. Their violence is severe and tied to alcohol; they have high rates of arrest for drunk driving and violence. Most have been abused as children and have rigid attitudes about sex roles. These men, Saunders explains, 'are calculating; they have a history with the criminal justice system and know what they can get away with'."
Bullies feel inadequate and compensates for it by being violent – verbally, psychologically, or physically. Some bullies suffer from personality and other mental health disorders. They feel entitled to special treatment, seek attention, lack empathy, are rageful and envious, and exploit and then discard their co-workers.
Bullies are insincere, haughty, unreliable, and lack empathy and sensitivity to the emotions, needs, and preferences of others whom they regard and treat as objects or instruments of gratification.
Bullies are ruthless, cold, and have alloplastic defences (and outside locus of control) – they blame others for their failures, defeats, or misfortunes. Bullies have low frustration and tolerance thresholds, get bored and anxious easily, are violently impatient, emotionally labile, unstable, erratic, and untrustworthy. They lack self-discipline, are egotistic, exploitative, rapacious, opportunistic, driven, reckless, and callous.
Bullies are emotionally immature and control freaks. They are consummate liars and deceivingly charming. Bullies dress, talk, and behave normally. Many of them are persuasive, manipulative, or even charismatic. They are socially adept, liked, and often fun to be around and the centre of attention. Only a prolonged and intensive interaction with them – sometimes as a victim – exposes their dysfunctions.
Though ruthless and, typically, violent, the psychopath is a calculating machine, out to maximize his gratification and personal profit. Psychopaths lack empathy and may even be sadistic – but understand well and instantly the language of carrots and sticks.
Best coping strategy
Convince your psychopath that messing with your life or with your nearest is going to cost him dearly.
Do not threaten him. Simply, be unequivocal and firm about your desire to be left in peace and your intentions to involve the Law should he stalk, harass, or threaten you.
Give him a choice between being left alone and becoming the target of multiple arrests, restraining orders, and worse.
Take extreme precautions at all times and meet him accompanied by someone and in public places – and only if you have no other choice.
Minimize contact and interact with him through professionals (lawyers, accountants, therapists, police officers, judges).
Document every contact, every conversation, try to commit everything to writing. You may need it as evidence.
Educate your children to be on their guard and to exercise caution and good judgement.
Keep fully posted and updated your local law enforcement agencies, your friends, the media, and anyone else who would listen.
Be careful with your personal information. Provide only the bare and necessary minimum. Remember: he has ways of finding out.
Under no circumstances succumb to his romantic advances, accept his gifts, respond to personal communications, show interest in his affairs, help him out, or send him messages directly or through third parties. Maintain the No Contact rule.
Equally, do not seek revenge. Do not provoke him, "punish him", taunt him, disparage him, bad-mouth or gossip about him or your relationship.
Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East.
He served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, Global Politician, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam's Web site at samvak.tripod.com