About 3 years ago, I broke off a friendship with someone who was growing more and more demanding, thoughtless, and even mean to me. At the time of the breakup I began receiving posts from strangers whose messages are vaguely hostile, insulting and make uncanny references to details of my life and interests. After awhile I discovered that that all these various posters have the same IP address and are originating from the same geographic location as my ex-friend’s.
She has made no overt threats in her posts and has written nothing that could get her arrested or banned. Her key interest seems to be finding out if I am going to be attending certain events. Although I have not responded to any of her posts in over 2 years, the stalking continues. Is there anything I can I do to prevent her obsessive stalking, surveillance behavior? Could the Internet stalking escalate into more destructive, dangerous actions? Thanks.
Internet Stalking is not uncommon, and stalkers can range from ex-friends and ex-sweethearts to delusional psychotics. In teens and young adults, immaturity, jealousy, envy, and resentment are often involved. In most situations, as in your case, the stalkers have personality issues or have a Personality Disorder (see my introduction to personality disorders). Personality Disorders are completely selfish, demanding, controlling and — yes — feel entitled to punish people who reject their demands and behaviors. When a person with a Personality Disorder has completed their use and manipulation of someone, they dump them like a hot rock. However, if we choose to protect ourselves from their behavior and detach from them, they have a type of “narcissistic pride” that is hurt, giving them a feeling that they are entitled to make your life miserable. What can we do?
- The best approach is your current approach — do not respond to the comments, contacts, etc. When we respond in any fashion, it confirms to the stalker that we are emotionally or socially upset by their behavior…and they win. Imagine yourself as a slot machine that is unplugged. No matter how many times she contacts or posts — your response is always nothing. A single response or nasty comeback will produce another year of stalking.
- The openness of the Internet has unfortunately made frequent users more open about their daily lives, their daily routine, weekend activities, etc. This public openness allows potential stalkers to learn your activities and even whereabouts on social networking sites. Your stalker is probably using that kind of information to keep track of you — even using homepages of your friends to obtain information about you. To decrease this leakage of personal information into cyberspace, use website restrictions to limit access to your personal information. Don’t announce that you’re going someplace — only that you’ve been. Email your plans to friends — don’t post them. Don’t allow your networking sites to become a daily diary, as that keeps the stalker interested.
- Female stalkers are often more relationship-oriented and try to damage your self-esteem, your relationships with others, your reputation, etc. As you describe, this is true in your situation, with the stalker interested in your relationships and not being overtly threatening. In a strange psychological way, her behavior allows her to feel that she is still part of your life.
- Keep copies of all posts, nasty comments, emails, etc. associated with the situation. By definition, stalking is a “pattern” of harassment and intimidation, not a single event. If it gets worse, you’ll need these documents to establish that pattern defined by the law.
- Stalkers who feel rejected often have resentment fantasies about the old relationship. We can sometimes use a grapevine method to reduce their resentment. Knowing they are monitoring certain websites — when discussing friendship, old friends, relationships, etc. — don’t discuss ex-friends in a bad way. Rather, talk about how relationships change over time and people move on, even when we have no anger or bad feelings about the ex-friend. This can often lower their resentment level and decrease stalking behavior when they realize that you’ve simply moved on, not totally rejected them or feel badly about them.
- If she crosses the legal line, immediately turn the matter over to local law enforcement. Stalkers often feel very comfortable and capable in the Internet environment (although she’s not skilled enough to hide her IP address), but they become extremely uncomfortable when the police visit their home. Never try to fix this head-to-head, as that’s almost always a no-win situation.
At this level of stalking, she’s doing more monitoring and irritating. She’s not likely to be dangerous to you. However, if she moves to overt threatening, attempts at physical contact with you, moving toward your home as in leaving messages/notes/items — then consultation with law enforcement is appropriate.
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