What motivates stalkers? The need to control and dominate

Longer prison sentences and adequately financed treatment services needed

What motivates stalkers? Women’s accounts of being stalked have been in the media again as have calls for this activity to be a criminal offence in its own right and not part of overall harassment legislation.

One theory goes something like this:

Imagine you are working on a project with a team from another organisation. The other team includes a woman you find really intelligent, amusing and attractive. You’d really like to get to know her better. You’ve even fantasised about her.

One evening, during a team social event, you’re walking down a corridor when she and a colleague approach from the other direction. You smile and get ready for a chat but she blanks you and walks on.


You go on your way, embarrassed and soon the embarrassment turns into anger at the snub. Maybe you decide she’s stuck-up, drop the admiration and give her the cold shoulder the next day. That would be the normal thing to do.

If you’re stalker material, though, you’ll feel shame, not embarrassment. And the shame will become rage because rage is easier to handle than shame. To get rid of the embarrassment and the shame behind it you have to bring her down, humiliate her until you no longer have to have those horrible feelings.

You send her text messages and emails as cruel as you can make them. You turn up outside her office and her home. Maybe you turn up wherever she goes on holiday. As far as you are concerned, this is all her fault.

Meanwhile she is falling apart but that’s okay because you want to drag her down, dominate her, maybe even destroy her so that you can feel better.


According to J Reid Meloy in The Psychology of Stalking you're probably in your forties and more intelligent than other criminals (not that you think you're a criminal, of course). So you have both life experience and brain power to make you good at manipulation. You may well drink too much or abuse drugs. You may have a mindset - a personality disorder - that's very, very hard to shift. You may not be working or you may work part-time so you have time to devote to your crusade. You may not have had much success in intimate relationships which underlines your hatred of women.

This isn’t the only theory of stalking, of course. Some stalkers are tormenting the woman with whom they had an actual relationship but who ended it, to their outrage. The behaviour aims to bring her back or to punish her.

Some seek intimacy from a total stranger, some resent a perceived injustice, others are very incompetent in their approach to women.

In all this they act in ways that are far, far beyond normality and that are not amenable to reasoned argument. Only a minority, it would appear, are sexual predators: for most it’s the need to control, to dominate and to denigrate that’s the driver.

Some estimates say stalking normally lasts for months to a year or two but sometimes it goes on for many years.

In Ireland we treat stalking legally as a form of harassment. But harassment includes far less extreme behaviours than stalking. Many harassers, I assume, can be brought to see the errors of their ways even if this requires the threat or the richly deserved actuality of prison.

Stalking is different and may require offenders to receive long enough sentences to have the time to undergo treatment which they probably wouldn’t undergo without jail or the threat of it. That means, in turn, that we would have to have adequately financed treatment services for the courts to send them to. In the end, the treatment may be the key.

Well, the victims, both women and men (mostly women) deserve no less. But looking at the current situation in which stalking isn’t a crime in its own right and at the funding of mental health services, I fear we may be on a long road.

And what’s really scary is that treatment may not work for all.

– Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).