Every breath you take” – understanding stalking behaviour

Every breath you take
And every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take
I’ll be watching you

Every single day
And every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay
I’ll be watching you

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me?
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take
Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake
I’ll be watching you

Since you’ve gone I’ve been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around, but it’s you I can’t replace
I feel so cold, and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby please,
Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me?

This song written at the time of Sting’s divorce from his wife was one of the biggest of 1983. It won ‘Song of the Year’ and ranked 84th on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is considered to be The Police’s signature song. It is estimated to generate between a quarter and a third of Sting’s music publishing income. He says that although it sounds like a romantic love song, it is about sinister obsession with a lost lover, control, jealousy, surveillance and stalking after the break-up of a relationship.Both men and women can stalk with stalking defined as the willful following and repeated harassing of another person. Each behaviour in itself generally not abusive, but becomes abusive as it accumulates over time. Stalking behaviour can include making repeated or annoying phone calls or texts, sending unwanted gifts, cards or letters, following the victim, obtaining information about the victim, harassing friends, coworkers or family members, taking photographs of the victim or waiting or parking outside the victim’s house or place of work. It can also become malicious and include things such as vandalizing the victim’s car or house, taking or destroying mail, making threats, hurting pets, sending or leaving dead animals or reporting the victim to authorities and making counter claims.Mullen et al (1999) have developed five categories of stalkers based on motivations and context: These are intimacy seekers, incompetent, resentful, rejected and predatory stalkers.The rejected stalkerexperiences feelings of loss, anger, jealousy frustration and depression after the breakup of a relationship and becomes obsessed with a mixture of reconciliation and revengeThe intimacy seeker is infatuated with another person, is often delusional and pursues an intimate relationship with an individual perceived as their true love, but their attentions are not wanted by the object of their affection.

The intellectually limited stalker. These are socially incompetent individuals who often lack sufficient social skills to develop relationships but who desire intimacy. These stalkers may have previous stalking victims, believe they deserve a partner and display a sense of entitlement. Unlike intimacy seekers they are attracted to rather than infatuated with their victims. Generally the object of their affection does not reciprocate these feelings, and the stalker does not believe that the attraction is mutual

The resentful stalker has a goal to frighten and distress the victim, may also experience feelings of injustice and desire revenge.

The predatory stalker gains a great deal of enjoyment from the power and control that comes from stalking a victim. These stalkers often strive to learn more about the victim and may even mentally rehearse a plan to attack the victim. Most of these stalkers have diagnosed a psychiatric disorder which manifests itself in deviant sexual behaviour and compared to the previous four categories are more likely to have histories of sexual offence convictions

In some situations a stalker may feel a sense of rage at being rejected by their victims and claim that the victim is stalking them. Stalking is a common behaviour in cases of the breakup of a relationship where family violence has occurred. Perpetrators of violence against their female partners often have a sense of ownership and entitlement which leads to obsession with the ex partner, particularly when she moves into a new relationship. Stalking can be used as a way to threaten, intimidate or control or as a way of getting the ex partner to return to the relationship. In some instances the stalking behaviour is reinforced when the ex partner is ‘worn down’ and ‘gives in’ and tries to reason with the stalker or offers the stalker some attention or a response such as fear, anger or shock. These responses can serve as reinforcement for the stalking behaviour.

In cases where the reinforcement is provided intermittently, it can become more frequent. This is because the stalker has learned that a reward could occur at any time and that persistence pays off. Sometimes when a stalker is met with resistance it will result in a ‘behavioural spike’ where the stalker may escalate his or her behaviours in order to gain the desired reaction of the victims.
Source: Mullen, P., Pathe, M., & Purcell, R. (1999), Stalkers and their victims, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge)

Published on Thursday, September 2nd, 2010, under Learning & development

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