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Professional News
Stalker Classification Aids Diagnosis, Treatment
Psychiatric News
Volume 36 Number 12 page 8-27

Stalkers can be young or old, male or female, professional or unemployed. But most are male, isolated, socially inept, and mentally ill, said Australian stalking expert Paul Mullen, M.D., at APA’s 2001 annual meeting in New Orleans in May.

He and two colleagues at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health received the Manfred S. Guttmacher Award last month for their book Stalkers and their Victims (see article above).

"Most of them are looking for some semblance of a relationship in a life devoid of intimacy," said Mullen.

Mullen found from his study of 145 stalkers, which was reported in the August 1999 American Journal of Psychiatry, that half the stalkers never had a long-term relationship, and 30 percent were separated or divorced.

To facilitate diagnosis and treatment, he classified stalkers into five categories: the rejected, the intimacy seeker, the incompetent suitor, the resentful, and the predatory.

"People rejected by their spouses or lovers tend to vacillate between seeking reconciliation and revenge. What sustains them is narcissistic entitlement and the belief this is the only relationship they are going to have, which they may be right about," said Mullen.

Forty-three of the 52 "rejected" stalkers had personality disorders, said Mullen.

The intimacy-seeking type wants to establish a relationship with his "true love" regardless of her wishes. "Several of these stalkers were prone to jealousy, and a number became enraged at their would-be partner’s indifference to their approaches," said Mullen.

Twenty-seven of the 49 intimacy seekers were delusional in believing that their love was reciprocated. Fifteen had a personality disorder and a delusion that their quest would be ultimately successful. The remaining five had schizophrenia, and two had mania, said Mullen.

The incompetent suitors were exclusively men who were rebuffed when they asked women for a date. "They tend to be socially inept. When they are rejected, they begin to stalk due to irritation, arrogance, and optimism that their behavior will change the woman’s mind," said Mullen.

These men were often intellectually limited, with primitive courting skills.

The resentful stalkers believe they have been humiliated or treated unfairly and pursue stalking to express their distress or anger, said Mullen. In his study, half of the 16 resentful stalkers pursued a vendetta against a specific victim, while the remainder had a general grievance and chose their victims at random.

"They are sustained by an enormous sense of power and control over the victim. The resentful stalkers are hard to treat because they often believe they are the victims," said Mullen.

The six predatory stalkers in Mullen’s study were preparing to attack sexually a victim whom they chose at random. They took pleasure in gathering information about the victim and fantasizing about the assault, which could prolong the stalking. They tended to have paraphilias and prior sex convictions, according to Mullen.

Mullen emphasized that the focus of therapy should be on factors that sustain the stalking such as the stalker’s narcissistic sense of entitlement.

He also recommended confronting the self-deceptions, which deny, minimize, or justify the behavior. "You have to spend a lot of time establishing that the perpetrator is a stalker," he said.

Treating the rejected stalker should involve helping him or her give up the relationship and accept loss.

Judicial sanctions do not work well with intimacy seekers, who tend to believe they must pay a price for true love, said Mullen. The court may order treatment, which should focus on treating their delusions or other mental disorders.

"Try to help them overcome their social isolation, but don’t be too ambitious. Get them a cat—a dog is a major improvement," advised Mullen.

The incompetent suitors are responsive to judicial sanctions but tend to relapse, said Mullen. The treatment goal is to improve their courting skills and general social skills.

The resentful stalkers are the most challenging to treat. "Forget instilling victim empathy—they know precisely what they’re doing. They rarely get arrested because they play a careful game of maximizing the distress to the victim and minimizing the damage to themselves," said Mullen.

Recognize the legitimacy of the basic grievance where possible but label the excesses of their pursuit, recommended Mullen. He also recommended that predatory stalkers should be treated as sex offenders. ▪

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