Intimacy seekers

The five types identified in the Mullen et al (1999) typology are the basis of approaches to the clinical management of stalking (Mullen, Pathé and Purcell 2001; Mullen, Mackenzie, Ogloff, Pathé and Purcell 2006) and the Stalking Risk Profile (MacKenzie et al, 2009).

Intimacy seekers (N=49), responding to their loneliness, attempt to bring to fruition a relationship with a person who has engaged their affection, and who they are convinced already does, or will, reciprocate that love despite obvious evidence to the contrary.

Understanding Intimacy Seekers in the Context of Stalking

Stalking is a distressing and often terrifying experience for victims, characterised by a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive.

Among the various types of stalkers, intimacy seekers stand out due to their delusional belief in a romantic connection with their target.

This article shows the psychological underpinnings, impacts on victims, and the legal and social interventions available in the UK to address the behaviours of intimacy seekers.

Psychological Underpinnings

Intimacy seekers are driven by a profound need for closeness and a delusional belief that their target reciprocates their feelings. This behaviour is often rooted in:

  • Attachment Issues: Intimacy seekers frequently suffer from attachment disorders stemming from childhood experiences of neglect, abandonment, or inconsistent caregiving. This history shows an intense need for closeness and a fear of rejection.

  • Personality Disorders: Traits of personality disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, may contribute to the obsessive and delusional behaviours seen in intimacy seekers.

  • Erotomania: This specific delusional disorder involves the belief that another person is in love with them. This conviction persists despite clear evidence to the contrary and is resistant to reason or logic.

Impacts on the Victim

Victims of stalking by intimacy seekers experience significant emotional, psychological, and physical distress:

  • Emotional and Psychological Distress: Victims often suffer from high levels of stress, anxiety, and fear due to the persistent intrusion into their lives, leading to a constant state of hypervigilance.

  • Disruption of Daily Life: The victim’s personal and professional life can be severely disrupted. They may feel unsafe at work, home, or in public spaces, prompting significant changes in their routine or even relocation.

  • Physical Health Issues: Chronic stress from being stalked can lead to various physical health problems, such as sleep disturbances, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and a weakened immune response.

  • Social Isolation: To avoid encounters with the stalker, victims may withdraw from social activities, resulting in isolation and a loss of social support networks.

Legal and Social Interventions in the UK

The UK has established several legal frameworks and support services to protect victims of stalking and address the behaviours of intimacy seekers:

  • Protection from Harassment Act 1997: This act makes it illegal to pursue a course of conduct that amounts to harassment, including provisions for restraining orders and criminal charges against the stalker.

  • Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs): Introduced in 2020, SPOs are civil orders issued by a magistrate to prevent stalking behaviours. These orders can impose restrictions on the stalker, such as prohibiting contact with the victim or entering certain areas; not easy to get from the police.

  • Police Involvement: Victims are encouraged to report stalking to the police – let us know how you got on as we hope to collate experience for research purposes. 

  • Support Services: Numerous organisations offer support to victims of stalking, including the National Stalking Helpline, and Victim Support. These organisations provide emotional support, practical advice, and assistance with safety planning.

  • Civil Remedies: Victims can seek civil remedies, such as injunctions or restraining orders, through the courts, providing additional protection and legal recourse if the stalker violates the terms of the order.

Coping Strategies for Victims

Victims of intimacy seekers can take several steps to protect themselves and mitigate the impacts of stalking:

  • Documentation: Keeping detailed records of all stalking incidents, including dates, times, locations, and any witnesses, can be crucial for legal proceedings.

  • Safety Planning: Developing a safety plan, which may include changing routines, securing the home, and having emergency contacts, can help victims feel more secure.

  • Emotional Support: Seeking support from friends, family, and professional counsellors can provide emotional relief and practical advice on handling the situation.

  • Technology Precautions: Being cautious with personal information online, using privacy settings on social media, and possibly changing phone numbers and email addresses can reduce the stalker’s ability to contact the victim.

Misconceptions About Autism and Mental Health

It is a common misconception that stalking behaviours are predominantly linked to autism spectrum disorders or other mental health conditions. While certain psychological conditions can contribute to stalking, it is essential to separate these from the deliberate choices made by some individuals.

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders: Individuals on the autism spectrum might struggle with social cues and boundaries, but this does not inherently lead to stalking behaviour. It is important to avoid generalising or stigmatising autism in this context.

  • Mental Health Conditions: Conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression can sometimes be linked to stalking behaviours due to delusional thinking or other symptoms. However, this represents a small subset of stalkers, and mental health issues alone do not account for the majority of stalking cases.

The Role of Personal Choice and Accountability

Many instances of stalking are the result of personal choice and behaviour, independent of any underlying mental health issues. These individuals make a conscious decision to engage in stalking, fully aware of the distress and harm they are causing. Recognising this aspect is crucial for several reasons:

  • Accountability: Understanding that stalking can be a choice emphasises the need for holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. It shifts the focus from solely treating potential psychological issues to also addressing criminal behaviour and ensuring justice for victims.

  • Comprehensive Interventions: Effective interventions require a multi-faceted approach that includes psychological support for those with underlying conditions, legal action against those who willingly choose to stalk, and robust support systems for victims.

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