My friend Jessica just broke up with her boyfriend of 6 months. Why? Her boyfriend’s ex-wife went crazy after finding out he was dating someone new; she created a scene in front of his house that ultimately required him to call the police to get her to leave his property. Suffice it to say, my friend did not want to be involved with someone who brought so much baggage to the table.
I understood all too well. Sadly, many of my closest friends have had similar experiences. A few of my favorite gems (names have been changed to protect the innocent):
1) my friend Ryan has a soon-to-be ex-wife who, in an attempt to get Ryan fired, emailed all of his coworkers with intimate details about their marriage and reasons for their divorce (despite needing him for alimony);
2) my friend Michelle has an ex-boyfriend who has been harassing her current boyfriend by posting slanderous and libelous things about him publically on social networking sites; and
3) my favorite, most clear act of desperation and indication of mental illness was something experienced by my friend Brian. His ex-wife evidently lied about having stage four cancer in order to get him to return to her, only to later say it was “stage 2, wait and see” (medical fact: there is no such thing), then Lupus, and then nothing. Medical documents have yet to be produced to support her claims.
Crazy seems like too mild of a term to describe these examples. Over drinks one night, my friends and I decided to re-label these exes Insanimus Guano. Insanimus, which is Latin for insane, and Guano, which is Spanish for bat feces. Because who doesn’t refer to crazy ex-partners as bat feces?
Why do Insanimus Guano exes go to such drastic measures to control, maintain, and harass their ex-partners? I get many questions about this very topic submitted to ScienceOfRelationships.com, so I know my small sample of friends is not unique. Fortunately, psychological science can provide a few answers. Stalking behaviors are chronic, intrusive, and intimidating behaviors such as constant texting or emailing, damaging property, harassment through the use of verbal insults, damaging the victim’s reputation through third parties (e.g., Google+ or Facebook), jeopardizing work status, and blackmail.1 Each of my friends has been stalked.
Most people think about celebrity stalkers when we talk about stalking, such as William Lepeska who swam across Biscayne Bay to unite with his hot, tennis star girlfriend Anna Kournikova (who had no idea who he was until he was caught nude on the lawn of her neighbor’s house). There are, however, many different types of stalkers. For example, rejected stalkers are people that cannot let go of a former romantic relationship so they stalk their exes as a way to reconcile and get revenge on them—they do not accept that their relationship is over and will go to great extents to make sure that their exes know it.2 There are even stalkers who claim to be the stalking victim when in actuality they are the perpetrator. Psychologists believe that these individuals commit “reverse stalking” in order to have an alibi for their own harassing behaviors and to try and maintain a relationship with the true victims by getting their sympathy.3
Why do they do this? Around half of the stalkers of ex-partners suffer from some diagnosable mental disorder,4 such as such as borderline,5 narcissistic, or paranoid personality disorders.4 Egos are easily bruised for those folks, as they have a poor ability to maintain interpersonal boundaries and cannot control their feelings of jealousy or rage. For example, my friend Kate had an ex who called all of her family members when they split up, trying to get them to side with him rather than seeking support from his own side of the family or friends. People with preoccupied attachment styles are also more likely to stalk than other types, as people with this style constantly seek approval from others due to inner feelings of self-loathing. To prove their worthiness, the rejected, preoccupied individual may try to punish or humiliate the rejecter.4
If you are being stalked, either by your ex or the ex of your current partner, what can you do? There are a number of things that work to varying degrees of success. We know what doesn’t work: moving-with tactics.4 These are tactics like trying to reason with the stalker, trying to negotiate with them to leave you alone and move on, go your separate ways, etc. Unfortunately, the stalker will still think that if they continue to contact you, you will break down and go back to them. Wrong approach. Instead, you need to send a clear message: tell them you don’t want them to contact you again at any time, in any way. Then, keep a paper and electronic trail of all further contact while avoiding responding. If there are children, it is best to keep contact to a minimum and ONLY about the kids.4 Many people I know have had to take drastic protective measures when their Insanimus Guano exes were in full operation, such as getting restraining orders or getting new security systems for their homes. Do what you need to do to stay safe (and to keep your pet rabbit from being boiled).
The good news is that most stalking is nonviolent and does not continue past a year and a half.4 Admittedly, that is a long time to live with the uncertainty of not knowing how or when a stalking ex will attack. Hopefully, my friends will be in the clear soon, and I can only hope I am not the target of someone else in the future!
1Spitzberg, B. H., & Cupach, M. (2007). The state of the art of stalking: Taking stock of emerging literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 12, 64-86.
2Mullen, P. E., Pathe, M., & Purcell, R. (2000). Stalkers and their victims. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
3Zona, M. A., Sharma, K. K., & Lane, J. C. (1993). A comparative study of erotomanic and obsessional subjects in a forensic sample. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38, 894-903.
4Miller, L. (2012). Stalking: Patterns, motives, and intervention strategies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, on-line first.
5Felmlee, D. H. (1998). “Be careful what you wish for…”: A quantitative and qualitative investigation of “fatal attractions.” Personal Relationships, 5, 235-253.
Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.