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How to Spot Stalkers and Signs of Stalking

Stalkers can be terrifying, and they're dangerous. Here's how to tell if you're being stalked.

Stalkers can be terrifying, and they're dangerous. Here's how to tell if you're being stalked.

How Can I Tell if I'm Being Stalked?

Dating is fun, but it can be scary, too. You may know there are stalkers out there, but perhaps you don’t realize they are not always obvious about what they’re doing. In fact, some may be so intrinsically jealous and possessive that they don’t realize their behavior can be considered stalking. Here’s how to recognize stalkers (insidious or more open), along with some tips on how to deal with the problem.

Your goal should be to take care of yourself and your family (single parents can often be victims via their own children) and to decide whether this person’s behavior is something you can live with for the rest of your life.

First Steps to Take if You Suspect You Have a Stalker

  • Pay attention! Assess behaviors and gather information early on in your relationships. Pay attention to what the person does, not what he or she says, and ‘file it away for future use.’
  • Be objective: It’s very easy to get caught up in a new love and to rationalize or justify in your own mind when they behave inappropriately.
  • Examine your feelings: How does this person’s behavior make you feel? If you’re in love with the right person, you should feel good, not worried, fearful, guarded, or annoyed.
  • Examine your own behaviors: Are you changing your behaviors because of what this person says or does? You may not even realize it when you adapt to someone’s stalking mode.

Watch this brief video on how a stalker's mind works, and I’ll give some examples below, as well as tips on protecting yourself:

Video: Inside the Sick Mind of a Stalker

How Stalkers Follow You

Stalkers or controlling people will often show themselves through intrusive questions or behaviors that might seem innocent but can be suffocating and even abusive. If a question makes you feel uncomfortable, pay attention to your feelings and to what the underlying behavior or goal might say.

The ‘Friendly Question’ That’s Not So Friendly

Pay attention to ‘innocent questions’ from new dating interests. Does he or she ask what you're doing rather than asking if you have a few minutes? If you are busy one night with your friends (or another date, or anything else that’s your personal business), you don’t owe him or her a detailed rundown of who you were with, what you did, who else was there or any other information they aren’t entitled to at the early stages of a relationship, or maybe ever.

"Who was there?"

It’s not intrusive for a new friend to ask, “I hope you had a good time?” when you’re busy elsewhere. But it can be a warning sign if they probe for more details, either before or after your event. Once you’re in a committed relationship, you may jointly choose to share details with each other about where you are and who you're with, as a way to show respect and to build trust. But if these questions come up in the early stages, beware.

"I thought you logged off the site, but I noticed you were still online?"

If you use social sites or online dating services, other users can often tell when you’re ‘online.’ If you’ve met someone who ‘accidentally notices’ when you’re online, pay attention to how it makes you feel, and examine whether it might be stalking behavior. If you find yourself worried about what they might think when you go online to answer messages or communicate with other friends, recognize that you’ve begun to adapt your own behaviors and internal responses to their questions. Ask yourself: Is this person a stalker?

"What are you doing Saturday night?"

This is phrased differently than the reasonable question of, “Are you free Saturday night?” The question itself is invasive. If you’d rather not see this person, or if you’re busy that night, practice saying, “I have plans” when you hear this type of question.

"Doing what?"

You’ve already said you’re busy that night, and the person comes back with “Doing what?” Big red flag! It is none of their business! Even though the natural flow of a conversation is to answer a question, some questions don’t deserve an answer. You may be planning to spend an evening alone, washing your hair, but it’s none of their business.

Stalkers Often Ask Questions

Notice that each of the above examples included questions. Why is that important? Questions elicit a response, so they engage you in a discussion. It’s normal to automatically answer someone when they ask a question, but with manipulators and stalkers, you need to be more guarded.

Video: Stalking and Fear

How Stalkers Control and Abuse People

Beware of premature or inappropriate offers to help, especially if it will put the person in your home or allow access to your children. Here are some examples:

“I happened to drive by your house (or apartment) and I noticed someone was there. Are you okay?”

This is a very sneaky question—it sounds oh-so-concerned and caring. It’s not. It’s a nosy question stemming from insecurity and possessiveness. Give me a break—unless you live next door or on the direct path this person takes to and from work, nobody ‘just happens’ to drive by where you live. See it for what it is—he or she is insidiously checking up on you.

“Oh, you have a doctor’s appointment (or surgery, or whatever)? I’ll take off work and take care of you.”

I have known people who, in an effort to inject themselves further into someone’s life, actually tried to manipulate themselves into being the caregiver after someone had surgery. This ‘friendly’ offer may not be so friendly if you are not far enough along in a relationship to share such medical events together.

"Can I help with the kids?"

If someone brand new in your life suddenly offers to take the kids to soccer or run errands with them, assess whether it feels right and feels normal. Is this a way to keep track of your activities during non-dating time? Did you somehow let the person have a key to the house (after all, they're bringing the kids home before you'll be back from work)? It might look like a nice and caring offer, but examine whether there's an underlying motive that even they aren't aware of.

What these sound like offers of help and support, they might also indicate stalking, controlling or intrusive behaviors. This is especially true if the 'offers' occur early in a relationship, before a couple has started sharing their time in those areas of life.

Do they keep showing up at your house, even though they live nowhere nearby?

Do they keep showing up at your house, even though they live nowhere nearby?

Signs You Are Being Stalked

Even overt stalkers can sneak up on you. Most have been manipulators all their lives, so they’ve learned to lay the groundwork for their possessiveness by being loving, attentive and appearing to be Mr. or Ms. Right. Some even profess to be trusting and to dislike jealousy, which sets the tone they want and provides you with their own definition of ‘who they are,’ rather than the definition you might get through observing their behaviors. Then they begin their stalking and controlling behaviors.

Red Flags for Stalking Behaviors

  • Dropping by your workplace: Did you have a date for him or her to meet you at the office for lunch? If not, this is stalking. He’s checking out who you work with, or she’s wanting to make sure the other women in the office know you’re taken.
  • "Accidentally" parking near you—way too often: If you are coworkers, or attend the same gym, church, or other place, notice if the same person ends up parked near you on a regular basis. At first it seems coincidental, or even funny, but if there are other unwanted signals, add this clue to the list and keep watching the situation. Proximity opens the door for conversation. Always remember you are in charge of your own space and you decide with whom you will communicate.
  • Showing up unannounced: You open the door, and there they stand. But rather than looking like the controlling stalker they might be, they’re holding your favorite type of pizza and a little bouquet. They were ‘thinking of you’ and wanted to drop by. "Hope that’s okay?" they say with a smile. No, it’s not. They’re checking up on you and bringing peace offerings to make it look legit.
  • Following you: This is not just a matter of trailing your car (which does happen, but it’s way too obvious). The sneaker stalker will show up at your church, or the restaurant he knows you go to with your girlfriends or the guys. What a coincidence! Not! Pay attention when you accidentally run into that new date in a place you weren’t expecting to see them. They’re stalking you.
  • “Helping you” with your computer: If a new ‘friend’ suddenly offers to help you with a technical problem on your computer, beware. This is a way to check up on you and perhaps even read your emails or documents. Don’t let anyone ‘borrow’ your laptop to check messages or do anything else until you know you can trust them.
  • Checking the mileage on your car: Maybe you haven’t seen each other for a few days, and you’re together in the car. If there’s suddenly an excuse to look at the dashboard, ask yourself what prompted that little move. Another way this manifests is when the ‘helpful’ new friend offers to get gas in the car or ‘happens’ to notice it’s dirty and insists on taking it to the car wash for you. While this might be a normal thing for your longtime boyfriend to do, it’s unusual behavior with a new friend.
Do not stay in the relationship if you think you're being stalked.

Do not stay in the relationship if you think you're being stalked.

I'm Being Stalked. What Should I Do?

It should be no surprise that my advice is to get out of the relationship quickly. The sooner you exit, the less likely you’ll experience an ugly scene or violence. Stalkers can be clinging, peevish, demanding, cajoling and dangerous. No matter how perfect the guy seems and how great his job is, if he’s a stalker, the red flags probably outnumber the green ones. The same goes for women - there’s a reason Fatal Attraction scared the snot out of many men. She might be the hottest thing you’ve ever met, but if she’s exhibiting signs of stalking, she can become unhinged, too.

The first step in breaking it off is to just be unavailable and cease or slow down the contacts. At some point, though, you’ll have to tell them, “This isn’t the right relationship for me,” and break it off.

Chances are, they won’t take that information too well, and they may ask, “What did I do wrong?” or insist they can fix it or change (some will even say this when they haven’t heard what the problem is). They may also demand to know if you’ve met someone new

You do not owe them an explanation of why you’re breaking it off. Calmly stick to your basic statement. “This is not the right relationship for me.” You can also say, “I won’t be seeing you anymore.” Don’t say, “I’d rather not see you anymore,” because that sounds negotiable – as though you’d ‘rather not’ see them, but maybe they can talk you out of that decision. Be firm and calm.

And get out. Fast.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Marcy Goodfleisch