Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

Victim of Romantic Cyberstalking: Signs, What to Do, Coping

Stalking is more common than you may think.

If you were going to be stalked, you might not know that some types of stalking are more destructive than others. Recent research suggests that cyberstalking is one of the most upsetting and life-disrupting types of stalking that exists.

First, what is cyberstalking? A safe definition is to say that this type of stalking involves harassment, surveillance, or threats facilitated by technology (e.g., the internet).

How serious is the stalking problem in the United States? To give you some context, one in 6 women (16%) have been stalked during their lifetime, compared to 1 in 19 men (5%) according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2011).

Nobles and his colleagues (2013) found that a greater proportion of cyberstalking victims reported that they had to take time off; change or quit a job or school; avoid relatives, friends or holiday celebrations; and change their email address when compared to victims of traditional stalking. In addition, the financial costs associated with victimization (e.g., legal fees, taking time off work) were also significantly greater for cyberstalking victims, with cyberstalking victims having to spend about $1,200 for associated costs compared to about $500 for traditional stalking victims.

How, you might wonder, could cyberstalking be more disruptive than in-person stalking? Of course, the thought of someone following you to your car late at night is going to terrify you, but what if you couldn’t even identify your stalker? Part of what makes cyberstalking so destructive to the victim is that the cyberstalker can get away with so much without ever being seen or identified. This dynamic leaves the victim with a total sense of lack of control, and obsessive thoughts and fears often overwhelm the victim.

Now that online dating sites have become so common and accepted by the masses, dating sites are watering holes for cyberstalkers. For example, the man you went out with twice still wants to see you, even though you stopped responding to his calls; if he is a cyberstalker, he may regularly check your profile and status, find a way to make negative comments about you on that site or somewhere else online, or try to break into your email or social networking accounts. When a cyberstalker sets his sights on you, he will hide in the shadows and try to scare you until he gets you or finds a new target.

What motivates a cyberstalker? Stalking is a compulsive behavior: Most stalkers feel an urge to stalk that is so strong, they often don’t feel they have a choice. (Not true, of course).The stalker typically fixates on a person and idealizes them, believing he or she represents all the things the stalker wants for himself. When the stalker gets rejected, he often refuses to accept the truth and starts out on a course to overturn reality. The thinking for the stalker is, “If I don’t give up, one day I’ll have him or her all to myself.”

If you are ever a victim of a stalker of any kind, understand this: Reasoning is a losing battle. The psychological reasons that motivate a person to stalk – a need for power, a need to be noticed when they feel they’re usually overlooked – are deeply rooted. In fact, a stalker could seek out psychotherapy but it would probably take many sessions to uncover the motivations and help the stalker find alternatives. The police must be notified immediately if you believe someone is stalking you, and make sure to warn family, friends and neighbors about any suspicions you have about a potential stalker.

References:

Matt R. Nobles, Bradford W. Reyns, Kathleen A. Fox, Bonnie S. Fisher. Protection Against Pursuit: A Conceptual and Empirical Comparison of Cyberstalking and Stalking Victimization Among a National Sample. Justice Quarterly, 2012.

National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2011). NISVS: An Overview of 2010 Summary Report Findings.

 

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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