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

This is the fourth article in the Shrink4Men series on female stalkers. It answers the question, which personality types are more likely to engage in stalking and which personality types are more likely to be stalked? Female Stalkers, Part 1: What is Stalking and Can Men Be Stalked by Women? is an introduction to stalking and current statistics on the phenomenon. Female Stalkers, Part 2: Checklist of Stalking and Harassment Behaviors provides a list of common stalking behaviors. Female Stalkers, Part 3: The Case of the Ex-Girlfriend Who Won’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer shares a real life story about a young man who’s currently being stalked by his ex-girlfriend.

Stalking is . . .

Let’s consider what we know about stalking and stalkers thus far. Stalking acts are engaged in by a perpetrator for different reasons: to initiate a relationship (i.e., Some call it stalking; she calls it courtship); to persuade/coerce a former partner to reconcile; to punish, frighten or control the victim; to feel a sense of personal power; to feel a “connection” to the victim; or some combination of all of the above. Stalking is a form of abuse and most abusers ultimately want control over their victims. Therefore, stalking is about controlling a love object, a hate object or a love/hate object. Both love and hate can inspire obsession.

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. If you don’t see your victim as another human being with feelings, needs and rights, it becomes very easy to perpetrate any number of cruel, crazy, malicious, spiteful and sick behaviors upon him or her. What about stalkers who believe they’re in love with their victims? Again, this is about possession and control; not love. They want to possess and control you regardless of what you want.

What does a stalker look like?

No surprises here. Research shows that the typical post-break-up/divorce stalker shares many characteristics with high-conflict people (HCPs) and/or abusive personality-disordered individuals (APDIs). Many stalking behaviors have their origins in the unhealthy aspects of the former relationship; namely, the need to control or manipulate one’s partner (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998). There’s also a correlation between a history of verbal abuse and violence and stalking (Burgess et al, 1997; Coleman, 1997). As I warn many of my clients: If your wife was cruel, vindictive, abusive and controlling during your relationship, expect these behaviors to escalate and become even worse during and after the break-up/divorce as she fights to retain control over you, your assets, the children and her former life.

There are three factors that predict which individuals are more likely to stalk (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al, 2000):

  1. Attachment style
  2. Jealousy and abuse
  3. Love style

Attachment style.

In a nutshell, the kind of attachment we have with our caregivers as children determines the kind of attachments we form in our adult relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1987, 1988; Shaver, Hazan & Bradshaw, 1988). Therefore, if you felt safe, loved and cared for as a child; you’re likely to have secure attachments in your adult love relationships. Parents who are intrusive, overly protective and inconsistent in their relationships with their children (i.e., have insecure-anxious-preoccupied or avoidant-dismissing attachment styles), tend to have kids who develop similar attachment styles and unhealthy love relationships as adults. Children learn about love relationships by watching their parents and by how their parents interact with them.

Secure attachment style. Adults who form secure attachments are comfortable depending upon others and having others depend upon them. They can tolerate both intimacy and distance in a relationship and tend to have longer lasting and more satisfying relationships (Feeney & Noller, 1990). Secure individuals also tend to be more open, understanding, honest, trusting and are more capable of  compromise and productive problem solving in their relationships. They’re not prone to jealousy and can tolerate separations with their loved ones.

Insecure attachment style. An adult with an insecure-anxious-preoccupied attachment style tends to be overly needy, clingy, becomes anxious when you’re not in their presence and constantly seeks reassurance about the relationship. They tend to experience emotionally intense highs and lows, are difficult to satisfy, and are more likely to lie to their partners to avoid being abandoned or rejected. You can’t love them enough or be close enough and they constantly monitor you and the relationship for any signs that you might leave them.

An insecure type obsesses about being abandoned or rejected. They desperately want intimacy, but often drive their partner away by constantly questioning their love, monitoring and trying to control their partner. Insecure types obsessively seek contact and express anger and resentment when faced with a separation–even a short, temporary one. Insecure attachment style is also related to “the perpetration of violence, jealousy, negative affect during conflict, following, surveillance, and separation behaviors” (Dutton, Saunders, Starzomski, & Bartholomew, 1994; Guerrero, 1998; Holtzworth-Munroe, Stuart, & Hutchinson, 1997). The only positive relationship characteristic some insecure-anxious types score high on is passion (Shaver & Hazan, 1997). However, this probably translates into a frenetic use of sex to secure, hold onto and/or control the relationship. Many individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder have insecure attachment styles.

Avoidant attachment style. Adults with an avoidant attachment style are uncomfortable with and/or fear intimacy, tend not to idealize their love attachments, refuse to acknowledge a love object after separation and have less satisfying and intimate relationships. They dislike closeness with others. They fear dependency upon others and having others depend upon them. Avoidant individuals tend to be cynical, independent, self-contained, have issues trusting others, and are more apt to lie to partners in an effort to avoid intimacy. They tend to become easily irritated with their partners and display anger, contempt and hostility toward their loved ones when they attempt to be close or intimate.

Jealousy and abuse.

The degree of jealousy, abuse and violence that exists in a relationship is another predictor of who is likely to stalk. Proximity maintenance is about the desire to be close to one’s partner and is an aspect of attachment theory. Insecure types require more proximity; avoidants are uncomfortable with too much proximity. Jealousy causes people to engage in proximity-seeking with their partners and extreme jealousy fosters extreme proximity-seeking (Sharpsteen, 1995; Dutton, van Ginkel, & Landolt, 1996). Some of these individuals would try to merge into your person if they could.

Relationships in which control, violence, and abuse exist are often the most difficult and potentially risky to end (Palarea, Zona, Lane, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1999). Some research suggests a domestic violence subtype of stalker who seeks to continue a connection in order to “maintain their control over their victim and as a continued expression of their ambivalent, jealous, love-hate relationship” (Burgess et al., 1997; Dziegielewski & Roberts, 1995). I frequently see this in my work with men whose ex-wives needlessly drag out and delay the divorce process at their own expense and their children’s expense. These are also the exes who tend to stalk their exes new love interest and/or new family.

Love styles.

In addition to different attachment styles, there are also different love styles. I find much overlap between the two variables. Love styles implicated in stalking behavior include dependent (insecure-anxious), possessive (jealousy), erotic and game-playing love. A lack of friendship love is also a predictor of stalking behavior post break-up (Hendrick, Hendrick, & Dicke, 1998).

Who is more likely to stalk and who is more likely to be stalked?

An individual with an avoidant attachment style is more likely to become the victim of stalking if they’re coupled with an insecure type, which makes perfect sense (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al, 2000). Avoidant-dismissing types run away while insecure-anxious types pursue.

Secure individuals are also more likely to become victims of stalking, but for different reasons. An avoidant will try to ignore a former partner altogether. A secure individual will try to resolve the conflict, thereby giving attention to the insecure partner that she/he so desperately craves, which rewards her/his stalking behavior and encourages her/him to persist.

Attachment style is only one-third of the perfect storm. When it’s combined with a high degree of jealousy, emotional/physical/psychological abuse and a dependent, game-playing and/or possessive love style, the likelihood of a “stage 5 clinger” is high. In my estimation, an unhealthy attachment style is the main problem because an unhealthy attachment breeds dependency, jealousy, abuse and violence in an effort to calm one’s anxiety by controlling one’s partner. Alternatively, an avoidant style breeds more anxiety in an insecure type, which then fosters more jealousy, abuse and other controlling behaviors.

Can an individual’s attachment style change?

In other words, is there hope that your insecure-anxious or avoidant-dismissive style wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or ex will change? Attachment styles are considered to be relatively stable and enduring across a lifetime, as are most core personality traits such as temperament, introversion, extroversion, etc. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that unhealthy individuals will be able to change their attachment style. I believe this is because an unhealthy attachment style is part of an overall disordered personality. Disordered personalities are typically rigid, unadaptive and very resistant to change.

Alternatively, attachment styles can be relationship-specific in healthy, secure individuals (Berscheid, 1994; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al, 2000). Healthy personalities are generally stable and flexible. They can modify their behaviors in different situations and change beliefs when faced with new information. When confronted with an unhealthy personality, a healthy, secure individual may “catch their fleas” (i.e., Lie down with dogs; wake up with fleas) and defensively mirror back the unhealthy behaviors.

Let’s use “Josh,” the young man who’s being stalked by his ex-girlfriend, from Female Stalkers, Part 3, as an example. Let’s say his parents helped foster a healthy, secure attachment style in Josh by being present, consistent, loving and “good enough” (Winnicott, 1953). Josh grows up, goes to school and becomes involved with a young woman who has an insecure-anxious style (and Borderline Personality Disorder). To cope with her abusive, intrusive and stalking behaviors, Josh engages in avoidant-dismissing behaviors (e.g., leaving town, adhering to a No Contact policy).

A healthy, secure and otherwise honest individual will lie to an insecure or avoidant partner in an effort to avoid their negative relationship behaviors. For example, Josh feels forced to lie to his ex in order to avoid dealing with her—he says he rejects her dinner invitations and tells her he has to work when the reality is he just doesn’t want to see her and she won’t take no for an answer.

Stalking behavior is another puzzle piece to understanding the abusive personality. Not all abusers stalk, but many do, which is why I’m writing this series. I’m also writing this series to help men understand that stalking behavior (or whatever term they use to describe it) is serious and indicative of much bigger problems with their partner/ex. The next article in this series will focus on cyberstalking and cyber-harassment as it seems to be a common issue that many of my clients and Shrink4Men community members experience.

Shrink4Men Coaching and Consulting Services:

Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

Photo credits:

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References:

  • Berscheid, E. (1994). Interpersonal relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 45, 79- 129.
  • Burgess, A. W., Baker, T., Greening, D., Hartman, C. R., Burgess, A. G., Douglas, J. E., & Halloran, R. (1997). Stalking behaviors within domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence, 12, 389-403.
  • Coleman, F. (1997). Stalking behavior and the cycle of domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 420-432.
  • Cupach, W. R., & Spitzberg, B. H. (1998). Obsessive relational intrusion and stalking. In B. H. Spitzberg & W. R. Cupach (Eds.), The dark side of close relationships (pp. 233-263). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Dutton, D. G., Saunders, K., Starzomski, A., & Bartholomew, K. (1994). Intimacy-anger and insecure attachment as precursors of abuse in intimate relationships. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 1367-1386.
  • Dutton, D. G., van Ginkel, C., & Landolt, M. A. (1996). Jealousy, intimate abusiveness, and intrusiveness. Journal of Family Violence, 11, 411-423.
  • Dziegielewski, S. F., & Roberts, A. R. (1995). Stalking victims and survivors. In A. R. Roberts (Ed.), Crisis intervention and time-limited cognitive treatment (pp. 73-90). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Feeney, J. A., & Noller, P. (1990) Attachment style as a predictor of adult romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 2, 281-291.
  • Guerrero, L. K. (1998). Attachment-style differences in the experience and expression of romantic jealousy. Personal Relationships, 5, 273-291.
  • Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 511-524.
  • Hendrick, C., Hendrick, S. S., & Dicke, A. (1998). The Love Attitudes Scale: Short Form. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 147-159.
  • Holtzworth-Munroe, A., Stuart, G. L., & Hutchinson, G. (1997). Violent versus nonviolent husbands: Differences in attachment patterns, dependency, and jealousy. Journal of Family Psychology, 11, 314-331.
  • Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Palarea, R.E., Cohen, J., & Rohling, M. L. (2000). Breaking up is hard to do: Unwanted pursuit behaviors following the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Violence and Victims, 15, 73-90.
  • Palarea, R. E., Zona, M. A., Lane, J., & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. (in press). Stalking in intimate relationships. Law and Human Behavior.
  • Sharpsteen, D. (1995). The effects of relationship and self-esteem threats on the likelihood of romantic jealousy. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12, 89-101.
  • Shaver, P., Hazan, C., & Bradshaw, D. (1988). Love as attachment: The integration of three behavioral systems. In R. J. Sternberg & M. L. Barnes (Eds.), The psychology of love (pp. 68-99). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Shaver, P., & Hazan, C. (1988). A biased overview of the study of love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 5, 473-501.
  • Winnicott, D. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34:89-97

Comments

  1. Mellaril says

    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

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1857277/

    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 says

      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 says

    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?
    Thanks,

    • Dr Tara J. Palmatier says

      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 says

        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 says

          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 says

            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 says

            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 says

      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 says

    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 says

      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 says

    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 says

      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 says

    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 says

    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 says

      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 says

        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”.

        Sad.

      • ron7127 says

        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 says

        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 says

    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 says

      “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. anna.s says

    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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