Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Health & Sex

Font Size

Mind of a Stalker: Why Torment Someone?

Stalkers are lonely and lack self-esteem, yet they feel very, very important.
By
WebMD Feature

It seems to be the price of celebrity: The stalker. Catherine Zeta-Jones has received threatening letters from a stalker who is infatuated with her husband. David Letterman has lived with it for years. What motivates these stalkers, and how dangerous are they?

 

Recommended Related to Sex & Relationships

8 of Your Most Common Questions About Sex

By Laura Berman It happens at my speaking engagements, of course, but also at cocktail parties and PTA meetings, even in department stores: People who've learned that I'm a sex therapist have tons of questions for me. Some just want to hear more about what I do, but most are concerned with very specific issues — things they've been wondering about but haven't felt comfortable asking (until they run into me shopping for shoes!). I'm happy to answer, if time and the setting permit. Not only does...

Read the 8 of Your Most Common Questions About Sex article > >

While celebrity stalking makes the news, far more frequently it's those living normal lives -- women and men both -- who are stalked by someone they know, typically a former partner or someone they're involved with.

 

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 370,000 men are stalked annually -- one in 45 men. More than 1 million women are stalked every year; about one in every 12 women will be stalked in her lifetime.

Origins of Stalking

There's a line between the overzealous pursuer and the stalker. "Stalking is much more about inducing fear," says Brook Zitek, DO, a forensic psychiatrist at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "It's repeated boxes of candy, clothing, showing up at your house, putting things through your mail slot, notes on your car -- even though you've asked them to stop," she tells WebMD.

 

The overwhelming majority of stalkers are men -- four to one, Zitek says. Psychiatrists have developed several stalker profiles:

 

  • The rejected stalker. This person was rejected in a relationship, and they perceive it as an insult, they feel wounded, and they are seeking vindication.

  • The resentful stalker. These are self-righteous, self-pitying people who may threaten, but they are the least likely to act on it.

  • The intimacy-seeking stalker. They believe they are loved or will be loved by the victim. Often they focus on someone of higher social status. This person is mentally ill and delusional.

  • The incompetent. This person is socially backward. He doesn't really understand the social rules involved in dating and romance. He doesn't mean any harm.

  • The predator. This is about sex gratification, control, and violence. The stalker doesn't necessarily know the victim. The victim may not know she is being stalked. But a predator plans their attack, rehearses it, has lots of sexual fantasies about it.

 

The rejected and predatory stalkers are most likely to assault their victims, says Zitek.

The Person Least Likely ...

You would never guess all this while dating the person, says John Moore, a licensed professional counselor in Chicago and author of Confusing Love With Obsession.

 

"They wear a mask of charm," he tells WebMD. "They're the kindest, nicest people. You wouldn't know what's really going on. You only become aware when clues of their behavior show up -- when your email provider locks you out because you've logged your password incorrectly too many times, for example."

 

In many scenarios, the stalking begins as a relationship is ending -- a divorce or breakup, says Moore. One partner becomes obsessed, convinced that this is their ideal partner. The stalker may believe that the victim is in love with him or her.

Today on WebMD

couple not communicating
How to tell when you're in one.
couple face to face
Get your love life back on track.
 
couple having an argument
Turn spats into solutions
couple in argument
When to call it quits.
 
Life Cycle of a Penis
Article
HIV Myth Facts
Slideshow
 
How Healthy is Your Sex Life
Quiz
Couple in bed
Video
 
6 Tips For Teens
Article
Close-up of young man
Article
 
screening tests for men
Slideshow
HPV Vaccine Future
Article