Stalking And Obsessive Love
Have you ever been stalked or been afraid that someone is stalking you? It's a terrifying experience.
Psychiatrist and stalking expert, Dr. Doreen Orion, on obsessive love and stalkers. Learn what to do if you become a victim of stalking and how to tell if a stalker will become violent.
Dr. Doreen Orion: Guest speaker.
David: HealthyPlace.com moderator.
The people in blue are audience members.
BEGINNING OF CHAT TRANSCRIPT
David: Good Evening. I'm David Roberts. I'm the moderator for tonight's conference. I want to welcome everyone to HealthyPlace.com. Tonight, our topic is on "Stalking and Obsessive Love". We have a wonderful guest: Psychiatrist and stalking expert, Dr. Doreen Orion author of the book: "I Know You Really Love Me: A Psychiatrist's Journal of Erotomania, Stalking and Obsessive Love".
We'll be talking about why stalkers do what they do, the different types of stalkers and their impacts on victims. Also, learn what to do if you become a victim of a stalker.
Good Evening, Dr. Orion and welcome to HealthyPlace.com. Thank you for agreeing to be our guest. You were a victim of a stalker yourself. Can you share the details of that with us?
Dr. Orion: I've been stalked for over ten years by a former patient I treated for 2 weeks.
David: What happened?
Dr. Orion: This person has erotomania - the delusional belief that another is in love with you. She has followed me home, peeked in our window, sent numerous notes and letters. She even moved to Colorado from Arizona, following my husband and I.
David: That must be very frightening. How are you dealing with that, emotionally?
Dr. Orion: It's a process. At first, I was definitely in denial that it was happening. Then I became angry as well as afraid. My emotions vary depending on what's going on with the stalker, where she is, etc. I'm very fortunate that I have a wonderful support system.
David: Why is it that you couldn't simply have this person arrested and taken away?
Dr. Orion: I wish it were as simple as that, and that is a large part of why I wrote my book; to help educate law enforcement as well as victims. In many states, even today, unless a stalker makes a direct threat, the police do not arrest.
David: Dr. Orion, I'm assuming there are different reasons why people stalk. Can you elaborate on that and also on the types of people, personality-wise, who do this type of thing?
Dr. Orion: In the case of the person stalking me, she is delusional, psychotic. Those types are often the most difficult to stop because they simply do not understand that the victim truly wants no contact.
David: What about the other types?
Dr. Orion: The more common type of stalker is one who has been in a relationship with the victim and can't let go. These people are extremely narcissistic - they want what they want and they do not care if the victim does not want the same.
David: I was sharing my personal story with someone in the lobby earlier tonight. I dated a woman about 6 years ago. I ended the relationship. First, the phone calls came at all hours with the hang-ups. Then, it escalated to the point when I walked outside my house one morning, my windshield was hammered in. I called the police and nothing could be done. Then one night, I came home and she had broken a window in the rear of my house and was inside sitting in the living room waiting for me. I share that story because when I announced the conference I heard from several people who shared their relationship "stalking" story with me.
Here are a couple of audience questions:
xtatic: Are there things you can do to get out of a relationship; where you think the person will become obsessive? Is there anything you can do to to make the situation lessen?
Dr. Orion: You have to be firm and clear. Don't try to be overly "nice." You shouldn't be obnoxious, but being too nice can send the wrong message. Women, particularly, often want to "let the guy down easy." They are concerned about his feelings. So when he starts making the obsessive calls or turning up at her work, she's "nice" and tries to reason with him. That's just giving him what he wants; contact. I also wanted to respond to what you said earlier: Every time I speak at professional conferences on stalking, so many people tell me their stories. So, what you experienced in people sharing their's is very common. About 8% U.S. women will be stalked some time in their lives.
David: You were stalked by a woman, as was I. Is it unusual that women are the stalkers?
Dr. Orion: Yes. It seems to be that an overwhelming majority of stalkers are male (in the 80%s). However, I also believe that women stalking men are underreported.
DawnA: Is there a profile of a stalker?
Dr. Orion: There is no one stalker profile and one of the big problems in researching the stalking literature is that no 2 research centers can agree on what to call different types of stalkers. The only exception is erotomania, which I've described above, since that is the only psychiatric diagnosis routinely associated with stalking.
David: Can a person only find out that another person, maybe the person they are dating, is a potential stalker when the "breakup" comes, or are there some early warning signs?
Dr. Orion: I'll use the pronoun "he," since male stalkers are more prevalent: A man who will later stalk a woman, has been in a relationship which is frequently controlling, while the relationship is going on. i.e., he might tell her what to wear or that she can't see her female friends. It is also not unusual for stalking behavior to begin before the relationship ends, i.e. he might show up at her place of work to make sure she's really there or listen in on her phone calls.
David: Here's another audience question:
iscu: Would you say most stalkers are dangerous in a violent sense?
Dr. Orion: A significant number are. It's important to look at several factors when assessing if a stalker might become violent:
Drug/alcohol use increases potential for violence, so does a past history of violence. It also seems that if a stalker who had a prior relationship with the victim threatens the victim, that can increase violence potential. BUT there are many cases in which stalkers never threatened and still became violent.
It is also very important to understand that there are situational factors that can increase violence in stalkers: e.g. anytime the stalker is angry at the victim or feels humiliated by her. Unfortunately, those times often occur when the legal system is involved, i.e. when a restraining order is served.
TexGal: How can one find out who the stalkers are when supposedly no one witnesses, police won't get involved, fingerprints supposedly are not on file. I was stalked from 1990 to 1996. I moved and was stalked there too. So altogether, 7 plus years of being stalked.
Dr. Orion: There are cases like that and they are very difficult. There was a case I wrote about in my book where a mother found out the identity and whereabouts of the man (a convicted felon) stalking her daughter, even when the police had no idea who he was. She was extremely resourceful and persevered, so it can be done in some cases.
David: Is it, in most cases though, that the victim doesn't become empowered, but rather frightened and withdrawn?
Dr. Orion: In many cases, yes. I met a woman once who ended up a virtual prisoner in her trailer, never leaving, and keeping sheets over her windows. She lived like that for some time. I do sincerely believe, though, that as more is learned about how dangerous stalking behavior is, and how disruptive it is to a victim's life (even if there has been no physical violence) that the laws will improve and will help empower victims.
jill: I'm a female and it has been a little over a year since I've been stalked. Now I'm starting over again and have begun dating, but sometimes I worry that I might end up in the same situation again. What should I do to overcome my fears?
Dr. Orion: Fabulous question and a very common problem for stalking victims. The best advice I can give you is: trust your gut. Gavin de Becker's book, Gift of Fear is excellent for helping with that. If I were you, I would also take a long, honest look at that last relationship and ask myself, "What did I miss?" "What signals did I ignore?", not to blame yourself, but to learn and give yourself some valuable tools.
David: I'd like to ask members of the audience: if you've been a victim, how did you handle it emotionally?
TexGal: I journaled extensively but I developed a seizure disorder due to a different trauma and the stalking only exacerbated the seizures
cheyenne4444: Emotionally, very badly. I became very withdrawn, was frightened for my life, and would walk with my head down so I could not look at others, which would upset him. Also, I was unable to see my friends, and he always watched me or had someone watching me, down to the detail of what I was wearing. So I pretty much gave up and withdrew, letting him make all decisions for me. My ex's mother was bipolar, and I believe he was too.
Dr. Orion: About the stalker making all the decisions, this goes back to what I was saying before: that they are often controlling while the relationship is going on. It starts with little things and just escalates.
jill: I told my stalker's parents about their son being a stalker.
Dr. Orion: For Jill - what happened when you told his parents? My stalker's parents knew and they only helped her have more access to me because they were afraid of her themselves!
jill: They actually tried to get help for him. It seems like he felt ashamed of what he was doing and it did work for awhile.
marie1: Is there any evidence indicating that stalkers suffer more than the general population from bipolar disorder?
Dr. Orion: That's an interesting question about bipolar disorder. There is no solid evidence, but there do seem to be many cases in the literature of stalkers with bipolar.
David: What do you recommend if a person becomes a victim of a stalker?
Dr. Orion: The most important thing is not to have any contact with the stalker. NONE. Even negative attention is worse than no attention at all. If he calls you 30 times and you let your machine pick up and on the 31st you can't stand it anymore and you yell into the receiver, "don't call me again" all you've done is teach him it takes 31 calls to get a rise out of you.
I also think it's important to emphasize that everyone tells victims to get restraining orders, but this is not always the best advice. If you are considering getting one, you must first research how these orders are handled in similar cases in your jurisdiction. Do the police arrest or do they just warn? The woman stalking me violated the restraining order 24 times before the police arrested her, and then did so only because the responding officer had himself been stalked. In jurisdictions in which police don't arrest for violations, it's often better not to get one, because then the stalker feels emboldened - like he can do anything, even more than he's doing already and the police won't arrest him. Find out, if you can, what the stalker's response has been in the past to restraining orders (if they've been issued). If he has stopped in the past, that's good. And, again, be aware that getting a restraining order can put you in more danger.
David: What you were saying a moment ago, regarding the calls example, sounds very much like "parenting advice;" what a therapist might say to a parent who has a child who acts out a lot.
Dr. Orion: Good analogy. I often say that a stalker acts like a child. He'd rather have your love, but he'll take your anger if there's no alternative. The worst thing is to be ignored. But often, that's the best tactic and hope that he will get bored and go away.
David: Here's a good question:
TexGal: Can a stalker be reformed?
Dr. Orion: Such a good question, it's a shame there's no good answer. Studying stalkers, including treating them, is so new that there are no known absolute treatments. Obviously, if a stalker has an underlying mental illness (and about 50% seem to) it's very important to treat that. It also seems that court ordered treatment, particularly close supervision, works better in many cases than voluntary treatment, because stalkers often don't feel they have a problem.
mjonesy: I've been stalked now for over 6 years. I haven't responded to him in anyway for at least a year, but he still comes over to my home. I have heard mixed opinions about using restraining orders. Women seem to think it just incites the stalker to bother you even more. A policeman in my area says he can't help me until I file a restraining order. But my stalker is different than others, I think, because he comes over to my home and enters my home to do damage.
Dr. Orion: It's difficult to understand how the police say they can't do anything if there is evidence of breaking and entering into your home. Again, the opinions and even the data on restraining orders are mixed. In my own case, I did not respond to the stalker in any way for 3 years, but it kept getting worse, then I got a restraining order which I wish I hadn't when I found out the police would not arrest.
mjonesy: He does his damage to my house when I'm not there. He gets a big kick in the fact that he can come into my house without breaking any windows or doors.
David: A few more audience comments on what has been said so far:
DawnA: In our California county, we have mandatory 52 week Batterers Treatment Counseling for domestic violence offenders. The treatment provider runs a Stalker group within the program. I know a Prosecutor who was a stalking victim. The stalker continued to "stalk" from jail with letters.
TexGal: I helped a lady who was being stalked, even drew a sketch of her stalker, she saw him, she was bi-polar and it caused serious problems with her health.
Dr. Orion: I know of cases like TexGal's where police will set up surveillance tapes to catch the perpetrator, or the victim does it herself. Other victims in this situation have gotten a dog.
cheyenne4444: What is the worst judicial punishment a stalker can receive?
Dr. Orion: In terms of punishment: California is the most progressive state for stalking victims. They have many excellent programs like ESP in Los Angeles. In other states, stalkers can get up to 20 years for felony stalking, but the usual punishment is 3-5 years.
David: Are stalkers serial in nature. After they finish with you, do they go onto the next person?
Dr. Orion: Some stalkers are serial. One study found that in the case of erotomanic stalkers, 17% stalked previous victims. There is also evidence that in that kind of stalking, having had more than one victim increases the propensity for violence.
David: It's getting late. I appreciate you coming tonight Dr. Orion and being our guest. And I want to thank everyone in the audience for coming and participating. I hope you found the information helpful.
Dr. Orion: Thank you.
David: Here's the link to Dr. Orion's book: I Know You Really Love me.
Good night everyone.
Disclaimer: We are not recommending or endorsing any of the suggestions of our guest. In fact, we strongly encourage you to talk over any therapies, remedies or suggestions with your doctor BEFORE you implement them or make any changes in your treatment.
Last Updated: 30 March 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD