Creeping up on you

Obsession has absolutely nothing to do with love, but everything to do with the twilight zone, says Susan Erasmus. Do we specialise in this in SA?

The grim story of Andrea Venter, who was allegedly hit in the face and stabbed to death by a stalker ex-boyfriend, must resonate with everyone who has ever been scared of a current or former partner.

While such stalking cases are by no means restricted to SA, we do seem to have an awful lot of these incidents, often involving guns, always involving a jealous ex of some sort, and frequently ending in the death of one or both people. Sometimes a few bystanders get taken out as well.

Given the high degree of violence in our society, it is probably no surprise that this is reflected in people's personal relationships, or the aftermath thereof.

If you're wondering how people get involved with anyone who can do something like this, here's the answer: for months this person will be charm personified, until he or she is absolutely certain that the victim is hooked on their approval. And has been systematically isolated.

This isolation is usually achieved over time in various ways. If a partner is unpleasant when family comes to visit, they won't be so keen to come again soon. Friends and colleagues are constantly criticised so that eventually it just becomes easier for the victim to withdraw on a social level and not initiate contact with others. Social connections will eventually peter out.

This behaviour has nothing to do with love, and everything to do with fear and jealousy, whatever you might be told. If your partner really cares about you, he/she will encourage you to have friendships and keep contact with your family.

Imagine for a moment what this poor woman in Johannesburg went through: she got an interdict against this man, presumably fled to another city, and tried to restart her life, while all the time knowing to which lengths he would go to find her, and what he was capable of doing. And no-one could do anything to help until he actually did something to her. This truly must be the twilight zone. Many people live in it and feel that they are beyond the reach of society's protective measures, such as they are.

And the deadly exes have a total disregard for things such as protection orders, as they feel they are a law unto themselves anyway. They are special and rules don't apply to them.

Initially, a person may be flattered by the level of attention showered on them by a new partner, but things can get claustrophobic quickly. Obsession has nothing to do with trust or with love, and everything to do with a fear of betrayal and abandonment. Deep down, the obsessed lover doesn't think he or she deserves your affections, or is worthy of them, so other methods have to be employed to keep you nailed to the perch. Subtle threats and the destruction of your self-esteem are usually high up on this list. Don't forget the old favourite: no one will care for you or understand you as well as I do.

And then there's a point where we move onto something distinctly more ominous: if I can't have you, no one will.

Relationships evoke strong emotions in everyone. But it's what we do with these feelings that counts and shows us who we truly are.

As a nation we seem to have a high percentage of unbalanced and insecure, possessive people, who truly believe there is only one person for them. They see and treat this person as a possession, and any signs of independence are viewed with alarm. And promptly punished. This smacks of a grim patriarchal attitude, which clearly is still with us – and seems to be on the increase.

Just one word – it is by no means just men who make themselves guilty of this, as many a guy can report after a messy break-up or divorce.

The bottom line is if you are being harassed or followed by an ex, do whatever it takes to ensure your own safety as far as you can. Even if it means moving in again with family, or going to another place entirely. And be paranoid. Be very paranoid. Stats show you have every reason to be.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, May 2011)

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