Stalking – A Psychological Disorder.

What Is Stalking?

The legal definition of stalking varies in state, the United States Department of Justice defines the term as “A course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”

In addition to instilling deep distress, stalking can also escalate to a physical attack, sexual assault or murder. It’s difficult for a target to determine a stalker’s trajectory or identify if and how stalking behaviour will intensify. Stalking constitutes one form of Intimate Partner Violence, according to the CDC, along with physical violence, sexual violence and psychological aggression.

Stalking, which consists of chronic nuisance behaviours by an offender results in deleterious emotional and/or physical effects on a victim, is experienced by a significant minority of individuals in the community. It’s comforting to believe that we can easily spot a stalker. They are the skeezy, crazed strangers in trench coats who do disturbing things like following women home and tracking down their details. Right?

People who exhibit the obsessive behaviour associated with stalking—including following someone, sending unwanted gifts or communication, and staking out at someone’s home or work—vary much more widely than cultural tropes portray.

According to Michele Galietta, a clinician and psychology professor at City University of New York who focuses on therapeutic treatments for stalkers and other groups said, 'There’s no such thing as the typical stalker.' Rather than a disorder in itself, stalking is a behavior that falls under the umbrella of symptoms for various disorders. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, 'Motivations for stalking include a delusional belief in romantic destiny, a desire to reclaim a prior relationship, a sadistic urge to torment the victim, or a psychotic over-identification with the victim and the desire to replace him or her.' And stalkers can fall under a variety of diagnoses, including psychotic disorders; personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder and delusional disorders.

The relentless neurotic nature of the stalker can take the form of harassing their targets, calling them repeatedly, as well as sending letters and gifts. If these are ineffective, the individual may escalate to more intrusive behaviors such as spying on, and unexpectedly confronting their victims. Research tends to focus on how violating it is to bear the brunt of stalkers’ obsessions, but there is little to explain what exactly motivates the stalker, and further, how to therapeutically treat these offenders.

Researcher Katrina Baum at the National Institute of Justice in Washington conducted a national stalking victimization study in 2009. Victims were asked what they thought motivated their stalkers to pursue them. Of 3,416,460 victims, 36.6% considered stalker motivations as 'retaliation, anger or spite,' 32.9% replied 'control,' and 23.4% said 'mental illness or emotional instability.'

In reality, most stalkers do not suffer from hallucinations or delusions, although many do suffer from other forms of mental illness including depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders.

In 1993, Australian stalking expert Paul Mullen, clinical director and chief psychiatrist at Victoria’s Forensicare, a high-security hospital for mentally ill offenders, analyzed the behavior of 145 diagnosed stalkers. Based on their analyses, Mullen and fellow colleagues proposed five stalker subtypes, in an attempt to facilitate diagnosis and treatment. These subtypes are currently the most extensively used categorization in classifying stalker behavior.

Mullen defined the rejected stalking type as an individual who has experienced the unwanted end of a close relationship, most likely with a romantic partner, but also with a parent, work associate, or acquaintance. When this stalker’s attempts to reconcile fail, they frequently seek revenge. The therapeutic focus is usually on the stalker "falling out of love." The individual is counseled on how to move on from an angry preoccupation with the past to the sadness of the accepted loss.

The intimacy seeker identifies a person, often a stranger, as their true love and begins to behave as if they are in a relationship with that person. Many intimacy-seeking stalkers carry the delusion that their love is reciprocated. In 2009, country star Shania Twain had a stalker who fit this profile and received numerous love letters from him. He even attended Twain’s grandmother’s funeral without an invitation. The focus of management of intimacy seekers is on the underlying mental disorder coupled with efforts to overcome the social isolation and the lack of social competence that sustains it.

The incompetent subtype, like the intimacy seeker, hopes their behavior would lead to a close relationship, satisfying their need for contact and intimacy. However, this type of stalker acknowledges that their victim is not reciprocating their affection while they still continue their pursuit. Mullen views these stalkers as intellectually limited and socially awkward. Given their inability to comprehend and carry out socially normal and accepted courting rituals, the incompetent stalker uses methods that are often counterproductive and frightening. This was seen in 2004 when pop sensation Britney Spears’ stalker sent numerous love letters, e-mails, and photos of himself with frightening notes saying things such as “I’m chasing you.”

The resentful stalker experiences feelings of injustice and desires revenge against their victim rather than a relationship. Their behaviour reflects their perception that they have been humiliated and treated unfairly, viewing themselves as the victim. It has been found that resentful stalkers often regard their fathers as highly controlling. Mark Chapman, the notorious John Lennon stalker and murderer is a classic case of a resentful stalker. He described himself as the world’s biggest rock fan and admired Lennon and all his work, until he read a biography of the musician. Angered that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions [of dollars]. Chapman shot and killed Lennon on December 8, 1980. In later testimonials, Chapman described how his father never told him he loved him; and he never said he was sorry. The focus on a distressing past and the compulsive reliving of this pain can contribute to a mood disorder. Also, in a fortunate few there is a paranoid disorder that responds at least partially, to antipsychotic medication.

Finally, the predator stalker also has no desire for a relationship with their victims, but a sense of power and control. Mullen explains that they find pleasure in gathering information about their victim and fantasizing about assaulting them physically, and most frequently sexually. Predatory stalkers should almost always be managed within a sex-offender program, with the main focus being on the management of the paraphilia that is the driving force behind the stalking behavior.

What are the signs of stalking?

Stalking behavior can include the following:

• Knowing the person’s schedule, tracking their whereabouts, or physically following them

• Repeatedly sending texts, calls or emails

• Unexpectedly showing up at the person’s home, workplace or school

• Delivering unwanted gifts

• Stealing the person’s possessions

• Threatening the person or their friends and family

• Other behaviours that lead to feeling unsafe, harassed or monitored

What Leads to Stalking Behavior?

Stalking encompasses a desire to exert control over a victim. That drive could emerge from a romantic relationship, for instance, warding off suitors or trying to win over a new partner. It could arise from the fantasy of a relationship formed entirely in the person’s mind, such as in the case of celebrity stalking. Or it could have its roots in a mental health condition, such as borderline personality disorder.

Why do people become stalkers?

Perpetrators are often motivated to control, humiliate, frighten, manipulate, embarrass or take revenge on the victim. Romantic motivations are also at play, such as wooing a new mate or scaring away other potential suitors.

Mental health conditions often appear in those who become stalkers—research suggests that half of one sample of stalkers had a disorder such as antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. Borderline is particularly prominent in women stalkers.

Can borderline personality disorder lead to stalking?

People with a borderline personality disorder often feel intense anxiety about being separated or abandoned from the people they care about. They may prefer not to be alone and come across as needy or demanding in the time, communication and attention they seek from their spouse, family or friends. They might go to extreme lengths, such as stalking a person by tracking their phone or following them. Indeed, research suggests that 45 percent of people who engage in stalking behavior may have a borderline personality disorder.

References :

The Psychology Behind Stalking, By Christine Ro, Accessed on 20th July 2022

In the Mind of a Stalker, By Robert T Muller, Posted June 22, 2013

Stalking, By Anonymous, Accessed on 20th July 2022


This Blog on 'Stalking – A Psychological Disorder.' has been contributed by Chrisann D'souza. She is an ambitious and results-driven individual. She loves to learn about the human psyche and hopes to raise awareness about mental health, gender issues, and cruelty to animals.

She is part of the International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology, IJNGP is a peer-reviewed journal that serves as a platform for the enrichment, articulation, and support of the constantly emerging field dedicated to promoting the study and research in Neurolinguistics Gestalt Psychology, and Therapy.