Deadly obsessions

Being stalked by an obsessive fan seems to come with the territory if you're a celebrity, but it happens to normal people as well.

Andrea Venter, 25, was allegedly stalked and killed earlier this year by an ex-boyfriend against who she had taken out a protection order.

Several years ago, actress Uma Thurman sued a man for contacting her over a period of two years, during which time he told her that he'd kill himself if he saw her with another man. David Beckham has also been the target of an obsessed stalker who tried to breach security to get to him. And then there's the case of Rebecca Schaeffer, a young American actress who was stalked and killed by Robert John Bardo in 1989. It was reported that he obtained her home address from a private detective.

But stalking isn't limited to the rich and famous.

Where does obsession come from? What turns a would-be lover into a stalker? And why do people obsess about someone they've never met?

Idealising the object of interest
When it comes to celebrities, stalking fans are usually people who idealise the object of their interest. "Because the obsessive person doesn't have a personal relationship with the object of obsession, and may for example rely on glamorised media reports about this person (the object), it's easy to start viewing him/her as perfect," says Charl Hattingh, a Cape Town clinical psychologist in private practice.

This is especially true for the obsessive person who has a low self-esteem.

"They will imagine that the object posesses all the desired qualities they feel they don't possess," Hattingh says.

Many obsessed fans also convince themselves that they have relationships with their celebrity targets. The fan could then experience very real anger towards the object owing to feelings of rejection (if, for instance, fan mail goes unanswered) – so much so that the fan can become delusional and dangerous.

Yet, many celebrities seem oblivious to the risks.

Luphumlo Lupi Ngcayisa, a South African artists' manager, notes that no local artists have ever had bodyguards, except Kwaito singer Mandoza. "It's about time that artists make sure that family members and promoters don’t give away their contact details to fans or to anyone else," he notes.

What is romantic obsession?
Romantic obsession, which occurs when there's an unhealthy connection between two people, can, however, affect all of us.

This type of obsession can be explained by means of the so-called "Obsessive Love Wheel" (OLW), which was designed to show a process called Obsessive Relational Progression (ORP). There are four phases of ORP:

  1. The attraction phase, when a person has an overwhelming attraction to another person. The suitor becomes dependent on the romantic interest.
  2. The anxious phase, when a commitment has been made by both parties or when the suitor creates the illusion of a commitment and/or intimacy. At this stage, the suitor may begin to question the other person's fidelity or may fear abandonment.
  3. The obsessive phase, when there is an unhealthy attachment to the person. Obsessive and controlling behaviour starts to occur and eventually takes over the person's life. The person being controlled ends the relationship. Hereafter, the obsessed person's thoughts remain with the other person and neurotic, compulsive behaviour often ensues.
  4. The destructive phase, when the relationship is totally ruined. This is considered the most dangerous phase, because the person may now suffer from deep depression owing to the collapse of the relationship. Feelings of anger can result in a desire to seek revenge.

How to spot a stalker
While there isn't an exact personality profile for stalkers, there are definite patterns that characterise stalking behaviour. A stalker may take the form of:

  • Someone who has been rejected by a spouse or lover and who seeks revenge. This stalker believes that the two of them are meant to be together.
  • The intimacy seeker who intends to establish a relationship with his "true love", even though it's against the other person's will. Intimacy seekers are delusional in thinking that their quest would be successful.
  • The incompetent suitor who doesn't take rejection in his stride. When rejected, he usually stalks the victim, hoping that his behaviour would change the victim's mind.
  • The resentful stalker who expresses his anger, because he feels that he has been humiliated or treated badly by the victim. This stalker wants to have control over the victim.
  • The predatory stalker who sometimes chooses a victim randomly. This stalker gets absolute pleasure from gathering information about the victim. He fantasises about a possible assault and may have been convicted of sexual assault in the past.

Making contact
There are several ways in which a stalker can try to make contact. This person may:

  • contact the victim by telephone;
  • send letters and e-mails to the victim;
  • enter the victim's premises;
  • appear at the victim's workplace; or
  • follow the victim around.

What to do if you're being stalked
Are you being stalked? The first step is to keep a diary of the stalker's interactions with you – whether these are in person or via voice-mails, e-mails, letters or gifts. Hold on to these as it could later be used as evidence.

Then try to obtain a photograph of the person who is stalking you, as well as a description of their car and licence plate number, and report the matter to your nearest police station as soon as possible. Remember that stalkers can turn into killers. Take this extremely seriously.

- (Tandeka Bafo, Health24, updated September 2010)

Ask CyberShrink a question
Most stalkers are known

Lonely fans who target celebrities
The obsessive love wheel: Confusing love with obsession Stalking crime
Beware the stalker in your shadow
Celebrities who have been stalked
Stalking behaviour

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