31 Responses to “Female Stalkers, Part 4: Attachment Style as a Predictor of Who is More Likely to Stalk and Abuse and Who is More Likely to Be Stalked and Abused”


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  1. Mellaril

    Another great article! Here’s another reference:

    “Attachment Studies with Borderline Patients: A Review”
    Hans R. Agrawal, MD, John Gunderson, MD, Bjarne M. Holmes, PhD, and Karlen Lyons-Ruth, PhD


    and the truly frightening excerpt:

    “The two studies that used self-report measures found that fearful attachment characterized BPD. For Dutton and colleagues, both fearful and preoccupied attachment, as assessed by the RQ and RSQ in abusive men, were predictive for borderline personality, but fearful attachment was so strong a predictor that the authors concluded that having borderline personality was the prototype for this particular attachment style.”

    The other interesting thing I got out of Attachment Theory was where I fell out on the attachment style chart. It seems my exgf and I were both pretty avoidant but widely different on the anxiety axis. When I look at it in terms of attachment styles, a lot of things fall right into place, not just with the exgf, but also in my marriage.

    So, when can we expect to see you on Oprah?

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      “So, when can we expect to see you on Oprah?”

      You almost made me snarf my herbal tea, Mellaril.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      Interesting passages from the Agrawal et al article:

      – “A secure attachment should engender a positive, coherent, and consistent self-image and a sense of being worthy of love, combined with a positive expectation that significant others will be generally accepting and responsive. This portrait of secure attachment contrasts dramatically with the malevolent or split representations of self and others,11 as well as with the needy, manipulative, and angry relationships, that characterize persons with BPD.”

      – “. . . a child is more likely to develop a secure attachment if his or her caregivers have a well-developed capacity to think about the contents of their own minds and those of others. This secure attachment, in turn, promotes the child’s own mental capacity to consider what is in the mind of his or her caregivers. In contrast, individuals with BPD demonstrate a diminished capacity to form representations of their caretakers’ inner thoughts and feelings. In this way a child defensively protects himself or herself from having to recognize the hostility toward, or wish to harm, him or her that may be present in the parent’s mind. In Fonagy’s theory this diminished capacity to have mental representations of the feelings and thoughts of self and others accounts for many of the core symptoms of BPD, including an unstable sense of self, impulsivity, and chronic feelings of emptiness.” And I would argue a lack of empathy- Dr T

      – “. . . individuals with BPD are unable to invoke a “soothing introject” in times of distress because of inconsistent and unstable attachments to early caregivers or, in Bowlby’s terms, because of insecure attachment. Gunderson observed that descriptions of certain insecure patterns of attachment—specifically, pleas for attention and help, clinging, and checking for proximity that often alternate with a denial of, and fearfulness about, dependency needs—closely parallel the behavior of borderline patients.”

      – “Disorganized attachment behaviors were subsequently found to be associated with family environments characterized by increased parental risk factors such as maternal depression, marital conflict, or child maltreatment. These attachment behaviors are also the behaviors most consistently associated with childhood psychopathology, including internalizing and externalizing symptoms at school age, as well as overall psychopathology and dissociative symptoms by late adolescence.”

      – “The most consistent findings from this review are that borderline patients have unresolved and fearful types of attachment. In all studies using the AAI, from 50% to 80% of borderline patients were classified as unresolved. In the two studies using self-report instruments that assessed fearful attachment, that classification was the one most frequently associated with borderline features (among abusing men and college students).” Wouldn’t women with these feature also be ‘abusing?’-Dr T

  2. TheGirlInside

    Dr. T:

    These articles all seem to focus on stalkers who are not currently in a relationship with their targets; is it possible to ‘stalk’ someone while still in a relationship with them? In other words, showing up at your work as a ‘surprise’, checking on them all the time, checking phone records on the computer, asking questions that insinuate you’re being lied to (in hopes of tripping up your partner)…do those count, or are they considered simply abusive when you are still in relationship with that person?

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      Hi TGI,

      I believe, and research supports, that stalking can occur before, during and post relationship. Absolutely. In fact, part of the reason I’m writing this is so that men and women will learn to see this behaviors as huge, honking red flags and think about what they’re getting themselves into with this kind of person. Once you’re in a relationship with one of these types, it’s incredibly different to get out, or get them to leave you be, that is. Heaven forbid if you procreate with them.

      Dr T

      • Mellaril

        I think you have your work cut out for you in getting it out to people who can use the information proactively vice reactively. My guess is most of us are here because at some time in our life, we crossed paths with a Cluster B. You don’t know what you don’t know.

        I have a 14yr old daughter and a 10yr old son. I would prefer to spare them my experience. How do I pass these warnings on to them before it’s damage control? Do I include a chapter on PDs when I give my son the “Birds and Bees” talk? I sometimes wonder if my attachment style has negatively influenced them. My baggage didn’t go away when the exgf did, it followed me right into my marriage and fatherhood.

        • gooberzzz

          I’m not a parent, but I hope to be someday, so I do ponder these things. I would definitely educate my children on personality disorders, and how in many social and interpersonal relationships it can be the white elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.

          I would be reluctant to have this conversation in tandem with the “Birds and Bees” talk. It might confuse them and get a little too murky for them to grasp. Perhaps, I would engage the subject in a more of a “problem solving” realm. If that makes sense. For instance, your kids may see something in the news that you can associate with a discussion on personality disorders, or maybe they’re having trouble with a bully at school, or maybe they are the bully, either way, I think you have to put it in a context that relates to their lives and their own personal discovery and emotional growth. Also, keeping an open line of communication on this subject with them, will help you stay more connected to how you are projecting yourself, and help heal you from past relationships.

          If I was to speculate, these types of open discussions will help them learn over time how to identify this character flaw in individuals they go to school with, and will be eventually working with and partnering with in their adult lives.

          I’m not an expert, nor a parent yet, but based on what I’ve learned and experienced, I would definitely educate my children about this. It really comes down to how to get them to develop a good sense of character for themselves and how to identify it in others, so they can steer clear of any unnecessary emotional devastation in their own lives.

          My two cents. Best of luck with what you decide.

          • david

            Excellent. When you consider that physically, emotionally, socially and financially…getting involved with a Cluster B can be as devastating as drug or alcohol addiction, it should be something that a parent educates their kids on. The difference between the two, if you can beat addiction, unlike a PD, drugs don’t come back and are waiting for you at your doorstep.

          • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

            I just wrote a piece about teaching your sons about predatory women, which will be published in the March 2011 newsletter for Jan Brown’s organization, the Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women (DAHMW). I’ll post it here after the newsletter goes out.

    • Cousin Dave

      TGI, my BPD ex did a mild form of that… she called me at work constantly. She know what my work schedule was and what times I had standing meetings during the week. At a time when she knew I’d be at a meeting and away from my desk, she’d call several times and leave me weepy voice mails saying stuff like “I guess you can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and talk to your wife for five minutes”. Truth is, if caller ID had existed back then I would have screened her calls, because she was always calling wanting to ramble on about her latest personal tragedy, wasting my work time and breaking my concentration.

  3. david

    Dr T,
    This series is one of (if not the best) I have seen on the subject. One thing I learned very quickly has been 99% of “stalking” websites or articles never address the idea that women actually stalk men.

    “Abusive personalities and stalkers often lack or have selective empathy for their victims. In fact, a characteristic of stalking is that the stalker objectifies her victim.”

    I journaled this last year. You are nothing but an object to these people. Another cell phone, a dog, article of clothing. It’s sort of depressing at first but once you see what they really think, it makes it easier to understand that they DO NOT CARE for you in anyway. It has nothing to do with you personally, they’re just sick.

    Looking back, I can now see that her stalking started way before I thought it did.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      Hi David,

      99% of stalking websites may not address the fact women can and do stalk men, but research shows otherwise. These other sites seriously need to get a new shtick. “Man BAD; woman GOOD” needs to come to an end. Then again, it’s and easy to remember, simplistic, false sound byte. No wonder it’s so effective in our society.

  4. uburoi

    A truly amazing and enlightening piece of writing Doc! This whole series of articles sheds so much light on the aftermath of what many of us have gone through. I unfortunately can identify with the lying to avoid a freak fest with Captain Crazy Pants. Lying or withholding about having two beers with your friends isn’t cool but when you know you are not doing anything wrong to begin with and you know you are going to get needled endlessly when you get home, well your options at the time seem to dwindle. Lying just to keep the peace on stuff like this should be a a huge sign that it is time to bail. I think that the avoidant behaviors in myself where not always there but were induced after making the “mistake” of telling her what exactly my plans were and then getting everything short of a heat lamp and glass of water just outta my reach type interrogation. damn fine article once again Doc! Thanks!

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      Thanks, uburoi. I agree, if you have to lie about things like having a beer with your friends, speaking to your family, etc., it’s definitely a red flag. Such possessive and controlling behaviors are indicative of abuse.

  5. Closure at last

    What a cohesive, well-researched and well-explained post! Not only of the stalking mannerisms but the factors and attachment styles that predispose the behaviors of both the stalker and the stalked. Looking forward to the cyberstalking post too….Geez, Doc, when one starts reading all the articles on Shrink for Men from the start right from your old site to this recent one, it’s as though all the hyper-puzzling ‘whys’ that many of us had, but didn’t know where to find answers to, slowly – one by one- all those ‘whys’ get logically answered and lead to much comprehension, wisdom and mental peace.

    I must confess, that though I have healed from my own encounters with Cluster Bs, mainly thanks to your site (and Shari’s) I check in just to see what new insights you have to offer. It’s more for seeking knowledge now for life and learning from a wise source.

  6. ron7127

    O can realte to the lying to avoid conflict deal. After repeatedly being attacked for doing innocuous things. like visiting my son(her step son) at his school for lunch, I began lying to avoid the fights/silent treatments.
    As for cyber stalking, my disordered sister, who writes me hurtful and untruthful e-mails, on occassion, apparently found out I post on this site, and she monitors the posts.
    Since some of them pertain to her and her bizzare , abusive behaviors, she gets quite upset and writes me telling me to stop. Never mind that this is an anonymous board where she is neither identified or forced to come and read. She feels entitled to instruct me to stop posting. Weird to be followed around the internet by one’s sibling and criticized.

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      I have something similar going on over on the original Shrink4Men blog. A wife hacked into her husband’s email and found comments he posted on my old site using a pseudonym. What does she do? She gets her SIL (his sister who has something like 5 ex-husbands according to the guy) in on the act, they both feign indignant outrage, call their husband/brother (respectively) a liar, and bash him for publicly airing their dirty laundry. Mind you, the man in question left comments under a pseudonym, erego, he’s not publicly airing dirty laundry; while these two numbskulls both tried posting comments using their real names. So I ask you, who’s actually trying to make their dirty laundry public? The guy using an unidentifiable pseudonym or the two women posting under their real names?

      Thus far, I have not posted their comments, which has led them to accuse me of being a “woman basher” and “anti-women.” Meanwhile, what these ladies don’t seem to get is that I’m actually protecting them from exposing their actual identities. Gotta love it.

      • D

        Sometimes when I read of an event like this I’ll stop for a minute and come out of the present and ask how I might have read and understood it years ago. And that would have been: unable to relate, would sound kind of distant, unlikely too – something you could believe that someone out there does, but on an exceptional basis.

        How different that is/was from present experience, where I read these stories and find them immediately plausible, simple matter of “been there”, “know the type”.


      • ron7127

        Yes, my sister’s actions make no sense, as well. Not only did she track me to this site(for who knows what reason), but, upon discovering that I wrote about her behaviors, she directed one of my other sisters to the site.
        The behaviors I described, an abusive letter to me and her treatment of her boyfriend, were entirely accurate. I would think she would not want to highlight this stuff by revealing my thoughts to others.
        But, like the woman you mentioned, she seeks to enlist allies, and distort things.
        I never bothered with her behaviors in the pat, until I got this horrible e-mai attacking me this summer. In the past, I probably would have just ignored iot, but I just got fed up with seeing her act this way toward me and others.

      • Cousin Dave

        Dr. T, I read this and got a humorous idea for a Web site: a place where NPDs can post about how wonderful they are and how everyone else in their lives is so inferior to them! Of course, they’d be more than welcome to post under their real names. Then, other people could search the site to see if anyone they know has posted there. I’d make money by selling ad space to therapists who treat victims of Cluster B behavior.

  7. Mellaril

    I read “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love” Amir Levine (Author), Rachel Heller (Author) recently.

    I thought it had a pretty good discussion of how the behaviors we read about here play out in terms of attachment styles. I learned a lot from it, especially in terms of things like “protest behavior” that occurs when we fail to successfully dodge the minefields. It also has the same lists of “red flags” Dr. T writes about but viewed from the attachment style perspective vice the PD perspective. The authors don’t mention that some of these behaviors are abusive and/or potential indicators of real problems, only that they are indicators of insecure attachment styles. Reading the first few chapters, I thought the authors had been lurking on the forum.

    Where the book comes up short is it glosses over the dark side of insecure attachments Dr T’s been describing in her Stalker Series and her other blogs. If you read the book with no experience or knowledge in PDs, it would be easy to come away with the ideas that insecure attachments are something you can manage, can possibly be changed and likely don’t carry much downside risk. It would make a great Cosmo article, “Undersatnding Your Boyfriend’s Attachment Style, Leveraging His Insecurities So He’ll Never Leave You!”

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier

      “Where the book comes up short is it glosses over the dark side of insecure attachments Dr T’s been describing in her Stalker Series and her other blogs. If you read the book with no experience or knowledge in PDs, it would be easy to come away with the ideas that insecure attachments are something you can manage, can possibly be changed and likely don’t carry much downside risk. It would make a great Cosmo article, “Undersatnding Your Boyfriend’s Attachment Style, Leveraging His Insecurities So He’ll Never Leave You!””

      And this is my problem with many professional publications. They describe the behavior, but don’t actually call it what it is: ABUSIVE. Maddening. I’m sure one of the reasons they don’t is because they don’t want to be attacked by BPD advocacy groups.

  8. D

    Dr. T,

    Where do you get these pictures?

  9. anna.s

    This is a long one…bear with me.

    I’ve been reading your series on female stalkers with interest. As a woman who has recently lost the man she loves, I have a question for you: where does the line between reasonable attempts at reconciliation and stalking begin?

    Let me give you a little background on my former relationship to clarify why I ask you this. My (now-ex) boyfriend and I met online. We’ve “known” each other for about two years, and been romantically interested in each other for about 9 months. Last fall we began talking daily via a VoIP service. His romantic intentions toward me were clear and I reciprocated, and we arranged to meet. We never did – we were making plans to do so when he abruptly cut off all contact with both me and all of our online friends. Before I continue, I would just like to note that I am aware that our relationship was unconventional, and there is good reason to be skeptical of the intentions of both parties, but we were close, and I do trust that his feelings were as genuine as mine were.

    I didn’t hear from him for over 3 weeks – I admit to sending a number of emails during that time, but having gone from talking daily to not at all I do not feel this was unjustified – up until this time any absence came with an explanation. My letters were not threatening to him or myself – I simply expressed my concern and displeasure at his unexplained absence in a calm manner, though I probably emailed more than was necessary. When he did finally respond he apologized for leaving without a word and explained that he was not well. His health, which had been declining over the last two months, had gotten worse, and he no longer had the energy to maintain our relationship. He’d hoped I would get mad enough not to care if I ever heard from him again because he didn’t want me to worry about him. He finally realized that wasn’t going to happen – I am not an angry person by nature – and so he wrote to ask me to let him go. He wanted to deal with his condition alone, and he hoped one day I would understand and forgive him.

    My initial response was shock and worry – I wrote back hastily and told him he didn’t have to do this alone and I didn’t want him to, and begged him to at least talk to me one last time. After about an hour I calmed down and wrote him again. I didn’t hold back on the emotional response, because frankly when the person you love might be dying you want to say whatever you need to say – I told I loved him and that if he asked me to I would stay with him through this. Not entirely rational, but emotionally honest, and we had discussed our feelings at this level before so he already knew how I felt. I asked him to leave my contact information with his family and to tell them to call me in the event that something serious happened to him. I knew he wouldn’t though, so I sent a brief note via Facebook to his brother with my number and a request to call should something happen.

    The next day I wrote him a proper goodbye letter, reiterating how I felt about him but telling him I respected his decision to do this alone, wishing him the best and letting him know that I would be here if he needed me. I also said that should he ever want a second chance at this I would be open to talking about it. I told him I wasn’t angry and that I forgave him, and that although I would have liked to help him through this I knew that wasn’t his way and would not force the issue. I told him what he needed to hear, and it was honest, although in my grieving process I have moments when I am indeed angry, but ultimately I know this is the best thing for both of us. He has not written since the letter explaining himself and I have not written since saying goodbye.

    Now this brings me back to my original question – where that line is between normal emotional response and stalking or abusive behavior. Reading through your series there were a few moments when I caught myself going “oh GOD that sounds like me!” This is especially appalling to me because I tried so hard to protect his heart, knowing what he went through with his ex-wife – the idea that I might have acted like she did makes me ill. There were two things especially that caught me – sending messages to family members, and using the internet to find out information about a partner/interest.

    I’ve already mentioned sending that message to his brother. I think this is the worst thing I did, but under the circumstances of a serious illness I don’t think it was entirely unjustified. His family did know who I was, so he wasn’t getting a note from some random girl he’d never heard of. The note was short and to the point, as free of emotion as such a note could be, and I specifically asked that he not respond to it. I have not and will not write him again. My concern was only that, should phone calls need to be made, I be on the list of people to be called. I know my ex would want to protect me from that pain, and for the same reason he tried to end our relationship without explanation he would not let them know to inform me should the worst happen, even though I had asked him to. It is difficult to say who should respect who’s wishes in this situation, and admittedly I chose my needs over his here. He won’t be happy I sent that note, but I think he will understand why. Of course I recognize that he may not even really be sick and this was his way of getting out of our relationship (I don’t believe that, but admit it is possible) in which case I’m sure they’re having a good laugh right now.

    The other thing I did was Google him, way back when it first became clear that he was romantically interested in me. I did this in part out of curiosity about him of course, but more as a measure of self protection – I was considering becoming involved with someone I met online who lived over a thousand miles away and knew no one I knew in real life. It seemed prudent to attempt to verify some of the things he told me. A quick Google enabled me to verify that he did indeed live in the city he said he did, that he had previously lived in the cities he’d said he had, and that a divorce record did exist with his name on it – I didn’t even search for that deliberately, it just came up in the results. Once I knew he was who he said he was I did not search further – I did not try to get his actual address, phone number or a copy of the divorce papers, nor did I pay any money for information. I had no desire to invade his privacy in that way. From freely available information I knew enough to know he was legit and to feel comfortable proceeding with the relationship, and I left it at that so that I could continue getting to know him naturally.

    I realize my situation is unusual due to the nature of our relationship – In fact I would probably consider some of what I did as sketchy in conventional circumstances. My male friends assure me I was not out of line – they said they would be wary of the Facebook message if my ex-partner had not been ill, and the Googling if we hadn’t met online, but agree that my motivations were legitimate under the circumstances. Of course they might be just trying to make me feel better, so I am curious to know what a professional would say, or even the general male public, about this.

    So, where is that line? Where does curiosity, covering your bases and reasonable emotional need become stalking and abusive behaviour? Is it all in the motivation behind the action? Does it depend on the response of the person on the receiving end of the advances? Where is the line between trying to salvage a cherished relationship and engaging in stalking behaviour?

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