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Mind of a Stalker: Why Torment Someone?

Stalkers are lonely and lack self-esteem, yet they feel very, very important.
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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?

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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.

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