Emotionally abusive relationships: Social media stalkers
When does social media viewing move away from healthy curiosity into stalking behaviour? What is the harm in keeping in touch via newsfeed? What might possibly be problematic about sharing hobbies, common interest events or activities enjoyed by family and friends? Perhaps you love to witness children growing up, enjoy new relationship announcements and feel excited when you learn about the launch of books, products, companies, groups and events?
The results of a brief social media survey indicated the following reasons for Facebook use:
1. Keeping in touch with relatives and/or friends.
2. Making new friends.
4. Sharing links on news and items of interest.
5. Belonging to special interest and hobby groups.
6. Sharing information about illnesses.
7. Warning of danger.
10. Disseminating propaganda.
11. Dispelling propaganda.
12. Sharing sports results.
13. Sharing thoughts on BGT, the Voice, other tv viewing.
14. Informing of and/or attending events.
16. Preaching, dictating or Facebook policing.
17. Trolling [deliberately, secretly causing upset].
18. Sending out messages of love to the world.
19. Promotion and launch of products and companies.
20. Antidote against loneliness and depression/cry for help.
"Stalking" on social media is toxic behaviour linked with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial, obsessive and paranoid personality disorders, domestic violence and emotional abuse. Stalkers will abuse your transparency on social media to constantly monitor activities, using such information to communicate in ways that you find uncomfortable and unsettling. Leaving you feeling nervous, fearful, helpless and frustrated, often from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. Being stalked invokes feelings of anxiety and depression because stalkers violate personal boundaries. This type of trauma causes your private self to feel shaky. Such antisocial behaviour refuses to accept operating within structures that guide social norms. Stalkers sneakily, covertly, passive-aggressively let you know they're watching you, noting every comment you make, every time you celebrate, every time that you update.
A stalker's obsessive behaviour is designed to ensure they remain embedded in your world - either in order to feel closer to you as their love object - or to take revenge for any real and/or perceived slight or break-up. You will feel targeted, oppressed and unsettled as they keep themselves tied to the front of your mind. Stalking behaviour is malicious, selfish, cruel and unkind. If you say you're in the park, suddenly they're in the park. Joining a group event means they will join that particular event. Visiting a particular restaurant, bar, pub or club means they will frequent that establishment. If you walk a particular route, your footsteps will be followed. They will drive by your house. Facilitate the app to find your iPhone. If you like or comment on social media, they will do the same. They will particularly target your ex-husband or wife, girlfriend or boyfriend, or anyone with whom you have had a relationship, hoping the discomfort of crossing those boundaries will drive you insane. If you pay attention to any item posted by a perceived rival, your motives will be questioned, your whereabouts doubted, leaving you anxiously justifying your actions until you question your own sanity.
"Intent" is what defines a stalker. Their behaviour is controlling, obsessive and compulsive. Stalking is unlawful as it involves harassment and intimidation. The objective is power. Stalkers will try and chat with you or message you or suddenly appear on your Facebook wall every time you are home, nearby or online. They may turn up at your front door, contacting your friends or relatives if they feel ignored. They will put you in a position where you have to publicly reject their advances, gaslighting their actions behind an act of innocence. This is the mechanism they fire up under the smokescreen in order to appear victim to your seemingly ungrateful, unfriendly, disloyal and rude manner. When you discover the true extent of stalking behaviour, you will feel shocked. Your privacy has been violated, choices manipulated, freedom taken away. The anxiety caused by distortion of how others see you, particularly if you are a professional or hold a job in the public eye, will make you feel physically sick. Stalkers misrepresent, distort and abuse information to launch military-scale missiles drawing you into the battle in their heads, leaving you feeling drained and in pain under permanent attack from relentless pursuit. Incapable of becoming a partner for peace, the only choice in the mind of a stalker is to fight you to the death.
A stalking scenario plays out as follows. Once rumbled or "exposed", stalkers will act as "blameless victim". Possessing no personal power, these cowardly, manipulative and controlling individuals will attempt to take power by means of triangulation. Creating an agenda based on compulsive lies that distort the facts and twist the truth, they call upon a "rescuer" [bully: self-righteous, judgmental, verbally and/or physically aggressive] to help them deal with you as the "persecutor". Whether an ex, current additional partner, parent, child or best friend, the individual triangulated, if toxic and personality disordered themselves will "tell you off", "threaten" or "harass" you too. As such, struggling with their own shadow side of human nature, e.g. jealousies, insecurities and other such immaturities, the triangulated individual will easily, gladly and willfully hook into the stalker's web of lies. Once elevated the stalker's allies feel loyal and obliged. They isolate you by excluding you from events they have planned. Equally common is posting "memes" that attract an angry gang. Once their anger dissipates, revenge is bittersweet. Left with their own undealt overwhelming feelings, cutting you off simply adds to their grief. They will be left feeling guilty knowing they had a part to play. Especially if your thoughts around injustice disempower you into a state of suicidal ideation. By now stalkers feel legitimately spiteful and furious whilst you are supposed to feel guilty for hurting their feelings and, if you fail, despairing, helpless and hopeless. In such manner, stalkers project their subjective reality so that you feel their pain and take their shame. You realise these grudge-bearing individuals have set you up in a position of rejection (criticism) that layers a deeper wound in their fragile ego. A stalker's tiny sense of self lays bare the hole in their soul.
Discrediting your actions, the stalker may convince others by cutting and pasting messages, creating rhetoric by conveying words out of context or paint other fake illusory images. This form of domestic violence known as "technological violence" means the stalker can avoid taking any responsibility for their abuse and justify their relentless campaign. Unless of course you refuse to "fight". This means refusing to engage with them or any individual they have triangulated to bully you by proxy and make you feel like the "bad" one. The recommended course of action is, as ever, to remain polite and refuse to engage with any psychodrama playing out billboarded in your name. Unfortunately, as stalkers misconstrue and/or personalise everything that you post, you may in frustration be provoked. Intense pleasure creating a surge of power will be felt by the stalker if they manage to draw you in, drag you down and "catch you out". And so the drama continues until you can no longer bear to feel their transferred pain and toxic shame.
If you recognise aspects of your own journey above, either possessing stalking and/or narcissistic behaviour or find that you identify as the victim of this type of abuse, therapy can help you find freedom. If you are misusing drugs or alcohol, having affairs, gambling, gaming, overeating, addicted to porn, or co-dependent, then a 12-step programme may be helpful alongside therapy. Research has shown that, regardless of intervention e.g. CBT, schema therapy, counselling or psychotherapy, it is your motivation to change and the strength of the therapeutic relationship that is they key to freedom of mind.
"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you" Jean Paul Sartre
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About Amanda Perl
I am a BACP accredited counsellor and existential psychotherapist, a CBT practitioner, member of the British Psychological Society and course lead on the stage four BACP accredited counselling diploma. My private practice reflects my belief that each of us is unique with the potential for growth and development and can move forward in our own way.