Stalking: Why do Men and Women Stalk Each Other?

"...stalking is still very misunderstood by the public, the courts and law enforcement."

Revised: January 01, 2009

By: Michael G. Conner, Psy.D

If you want to know something about stalking, then prepare yourself to be surprised. Here are some research findings. Women stalk men nearly as much as men stalk women. Men and women also stalk each other in similar ways. Men stalk more at night and women stalk more by day. Nearly 3 out of 11 people who break up will begin to feel or think they are being stalked. On any given day, about one out of a thousand people may feel like they are being stalked. A true stalker can't stand to be ignored. If they can't have your love they will settle for your anger and hatred. The worst thing you can do is respond and interact with someone who may be stalking you. Why do they feel this way and what can you do about?

Despite a growing body of research in the past five years, stalking is still very misunderstood by the public, the courts and law enforcement. For practical purposes there are three types of stalking. Relationship stalking occurs when a couple breaks up. But that is not stalking in a legal sense. It just looks like and feels like stalking. Obsessional stalking develops because of the way the couple interacted and the way they broke up. Obsessional stalking is a psychological problem that has many causes but in general it is the result of an "on again" and "off again" relationship as was well as a "desire and fear of a relationship" in one person and "fear of separation and loss" in the other. The childhood of at least one these people is usually emotionally barren or emotionally abusive. Delusional stalking occurs when a mental disorder causes the person to become obsessed or fixated on some unsuspecting person because of what amounts to a medical condition. In some cases a severe psychological obsession becomes delusional. The delusional stalker becomes irrational and fixated on people like movie stars, a public figure, a co-worker or even a former intimate relationship.

Nearly 90% of all college students who break up will engage in what is called "unwanted pursuit behavior". Pursuit behavior includes writing notes, giving gifts, making phone calls, contacting friends, following the person or intruding in their life. This can border and easily cross the line and become an obsession.  What researcherís find interesting is that pursuit behavior is normal. If Jane dissolves a relationship with Bob, then it is very common for Bob to pursue Jane as a means to restore the relationship. Researchers call this a "relationship repair mechanism." Some people and even the courts mistakenly call this stalking.

For some men and women it is an especially difficult task to transform a deep sexual and emotional bond into a mere friendship. People with traumatic childhoods involving death and loss of a loved one have an especially difficult time. The person being "dumped" will usually have the hardest time because they are either surprised, hurt or they are made to feel like their life and reputation is ruined. Human beings have not found healthy ways to just stop feeling. They act to feel better in the moment and tend to disregard or minimize the consequences and impact of their behavior on others. Drugs and alcohol are certainly not solutions and make matters worse.

There are differences between the way men and women stalk each other. More men than women engage in bolder forms of pursuit such as showing up at a doorstep late at night "just wanting to talk". Men are less afraid to sneak around someoneís house to see if their girlfriend is with someone else. Women generally do their stalking by day or in public.

So what happens when a woman dissolves the relationship, tells Bob to stop pursuing her, but then she pursues Bob or gives him hope that they could have a relationship? Behavioral scientists say the unwanted pursuit is now "wanted." Wanted pursuit behavior includes writing back, returning phone calls, talking to the person, leaving messages, giving them hugs and otherwise encouraging and rewarding Bobís pursuit of Jane. Having sex with Bob after repeatedly breaking up is definitely a mistake. Claiming she is the victim after a willing expression of sexual intimacy with a person she claims is stalking her is probably denial. Reporting this to the police that she is being stalked the next day after having sex is probably "false crime reporting."

Obsessive relationships are not hard to create. Bob will become obsessed if Jane tells him to leave her alone while at the same time she is telling Bob she loves him and they were meant to be together. Bob will get even more obsessed when he hears that Jane has told Bobís friends how much she loves him, what a jerk he can be and she just canít be with him. Most guys like Bob might say "Forget it!", but Bob will start to feel more and more like repairing the relationship if Jane continues to intrude into his life.

Men and women become especially obsessed in a relationship when they experience a double bind. The most powerful double bind is "I love you, go away." Saying or expressing this over and over to anyone can be a sick game. What happens when Bob and Jane repeatedly break up and restore the relationship? They both start to fall apart and blame the other person. At this point Jane and Bob are both part of the problem. It is not fair to call it stalking when two people are essentially intruding and stalking each other. There are no victims of stalking when there is mutual pursuit.

Obsessive pursuit becomes stalking when it becomes scary and it is not mutual pursuit. Continuous following, showing up on a personís door step, entering their house or taking objects are referred to as intrusions. Obsessive intrusions can alarm and scare people. Repeated and severe intrusions suggest the person may be obsessed or delusional. Taking objects, mementos and property reflect serious problems. It is especially bad if a guy is taking the girlís underwear. Women donít do that but they are more likely to take a guyís dog, claim they found the dog and then ask the guy to come get it.

Researchers have found that about 1 out of 24 people who are convinced they are being stalked actually arenít. And about 1 out of 49 people who are being stalked actually donít believe they are. Now here is where it all gets interesting. Some people who claim to be stalked suffer from what has been called "false stalking syndrome." This syndrome (a pattern of behavior) confuses the public, the courts, law enforcement and even the friends of the so-called victim.

False stalking syndrome is similar to another disorder called "Munchausenís Syndrome", named after a Baron who was famous for outlandish stories that were so convincing that people believed him. People with this disorder will go to the doctor for treatment as a means to gain attention, sympathy and support from others. Some mothers will take their children to doctors for treatment that is not necessary - called Munchausen's by Proxy.

Women with false stalking syndrome will go to the police, ministers, friends and others to gain support, friendship and escape from problems in their life. It has not been established whether or not men have this syndrome. Women with this condition are typically dramatic, sexually provocative, live chaotic lives, suffer repeated relationship failures, have financial problems and have very dysfunctional histories usually involving drug or alcohol use. They also have histories of being stalked or know people who have been stalked. Any person who repeatedly places their self in proximity of a person they claim is stalking them is likely to suffer from false stalking syndrome or may be involved in false crime reporting.

The extreme form of Munchausenís involves making up symptoms or inflicting injury through abuse or even poisoning. The extreme form of false stalking syndrome involves creating the appearance that the womenís life is ruined or in danger. In this case, a woman repeatedly engages in a relationship with a man, does not tell her support system and then claims to be a victim of stalking. Such women will tell police and the court that they fear for their life, obtain a stalking order and they will then go to the so-called "stalkers" church, community group or place of employment.

The behavior of false stalking syndrome appears to be limited almost exclusively to women. However, both men and women become involved in false crime reporting - usually to get revenge or to discredit the other person during a business conflict, a divorce or child custody dispute.

Understanding the dynamics of stalking is the first best thing you can do to prevent it from happening. Keep in mind that a stalking order is essentially a restraining order and it does virtually nothing to prevent violence if the stalkers intends to do harm. Not all stalkers intend to do harm. Whether you have a stalking order or not, you need to take steps to reduce the risk of being stalked. Here are some helpful suggestions if you think you could be or may be stalked.

1. End the relationship together with the help of counselor.

2. Talk to a counselor to help you make sure that you donít send mixed messages.

3. Agree to give each other a period of time with no contact.

4. Donít talk to mutual friends or the other personís friends about your relationship.

5. Avoid places where the other person will be for at least 30 days.

6. Go ahead and date if you want but donít date the other person's  friends or co-workers.

7. Get caller ID on your home phone and answer only safe numbers.

8. Get a cell phone, block your number and give the number to trusted people.

9. Document every contact and attempted contact with a time, date, witnesses and what happened.

10. Do not get into a pattern of being angry and then nice to the other person.

11. Say "no" only once, don't let them down "easy", reveal nothing about yourself, and say nothing else to explain or justify yourself.

12. There must be no contact of any kind under any circumstances if you think you are being stalked.

13. Mutual friends and acquaintances should not discuss the other person at all with a potential stalker.

14. Contact a qualified mental health professional if you believe you are at risk or if you are being stalked.

15. If you have a stalking order against someone, then you should never place yourself in proximity to that person or engage in anything that could be considered proximity seeking behavior.

16. Do not give the person any reason to think about you, talk about you to anyone or by going places where they routinely go as part of their life.

copyright 2002 to 2008, Michael G. Conner