(Seeing through the popular paradigms and the media fuelled paranoia)
An overview of the problem.
Fuelled by the popular media frenzies and high profile stories, we collectively carry a simple and dichotomised view of “stalking” and that is that the stalker is always the dysfunctional “bad” person and that the stalked person is always the victim. Subsequently we have a very “Black & White” perception of what stalking is and I want to challenge that paradigm. The popular media’s main commodity is fear. Stimulating public fear focuses people’s attention and increases their circulation which increases their advertising revenue. Therefore, to the media, fear is good. However to the public, fear is bad, at least the kind of constant state of apprehension that a relentless 24 hour media provides. These are things that will generally, for the vast majority of us, never touch our lives, yet are brought in to our homes via media news. From what we understand about a process called neuroplasticity, we know that experience and environment adapt our neural circuits to meet environmental demands. The consequences of an induced state of arousal are huge in terms of brain plasticity, neural wiring and our internal biological communication mechanisms. Changes in brain wiring to favour a more primitive fear oriented approach have a consequence on our reasoning and empathic qualities. They impact social interactions to be more guarded and more driven by self-interest. They change the way the brain focuses on certain tasks or subjects by introducing a more myopic and distorted outlook. 24 hour media has only been with us a couple of decades, now, so it is too early to predict how epigenetic changes are going to impact upon subsequent generations, but we may be heading down a path of emotional devolution. We may have kick started a process where our brains are being primed to favour primitive structures for more and more executive functions. We may be at risk of damaging, or even losing the reasoning capabilities that contribute to social cohesion. We fear stalkers because we have been taught to fear them, to fear the very idea of them. We have been taught not to look beyond the black and white image and not to investigate the deeper dynamics occurring within the stalker narrative. The media narrative of the stalker appeals to our phylogenetic need to know who or what, out there, is out to get us. To know when we are safe, we need to have an idea of what is not safe and it seems that this vigilance to danger is our brains default mode.
Things we don’t understand resonate within structures of the brain associated with fear. We feel an implicit sense of safety and security when everything is in its place. We have a strong and very basic phylogenetic need for security. Because of this, we have a lamentable tendency to dichotomise and taxonomise everything around us, so that anything complex and difficult to understand is organised in a ways we feel safer with. This tendency has both benefits and failings; often the compartmentalisation leads to distortions, exaggerations and myopic attitudes that twist things away from their true and complex nature in to simplified form that lacks, or leads away from, precision rather than achieves precision. Our fear of what we don’t understand is appeased by forging an artificial and forced form of understanding.
What actually causes stalking?
Firstly; we need to understand that the underlying basis of so called stalking is that of the primary mechanism of attachment. I have spoken of the biology of attachment before, but to sum up, we are all generally born wired to make emotional attachments as a primary survival strategy of, not just our species, but throughout a wide variety of species. Generally speaking, although our modern society now provides a safety net, an infant that doesn’t form an emotional bond to a parent figure has little hope of survival. Many factors can lead to a breakdown of the primary attachment.
- Prior to conception; epigenetic factors passed down through changes in DNA in eggs and sperm that can lead to developmental problems in emotional processing and behaviours that may interfere with and sabotage the attachment process.
- In utero (during pregnancy); If the mother is experiencing repetitive stressful environments the foetus in the womb is bombarded by stress associated hormones. Repeated aggression, for instance, is associated with elevated levels of testosterone, and in turn, elevated levels of testosterone in the womb have recently been linked to the development of autism.
- At birth and during early years; a mother may suffer postpartum depression which interferes with emotional bonding. A combination of 1 & 2 may result in an infant that is difficult to bond with and triggers a mother to be emotionally unavailable. Many other external and internal factors can contribute to a failure to form an emotional bond after birth.
We are familiar with the classical stalking as a dysfunctional attachment from which Mr Paul Mullen has derived his (rather forced) taxonomy. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/talking-about-trauma/201306/in-the-mind-stalker The attachment here is unwanted and unsolicited. But there is another and more complex side to what we think of as stalking that needs to be addressed and is often overlooked in our lamentable tendency to dichotomise the subject; that some cases of stalking are actually solicited and caused by a dysfunction in the stalked rather than the stalker. These are ones that often begin as a relationship but that follow a break up. Early relational environments that are inconsistent, fearful and unpredictable can cause an implicit inability to form a genuine attachment because the early life attachment experience caused an intense fear response. This is combined and in competition with an innate biological drive to form an attachment. A healthy and genuine attachment is, or should be in an ideal relational world, one mutually made for life, but some people that have had early unhealthy or traumatic experiences of attachment form implicit danger, or “fight or flight”, reactions to making an attachment to someone. The need to attach is still there as it is a primary action tendency, but the reaction to attachment is one of survival and that the attachment itself is the source of the threat. The need to attach may, in fact, become ramped up and more desperate in the psyche due to the constant internal bash ups, but that it always gets to a stage where the attachment is perceived as a threat. The attachment is solicited, sometimes in an almost manic fashion. When you have someone with a healthy attachment mechanism attach to someone with an unhealthy attachment mechanism due to a history of attachment trauma you have a powerful source of dissonance. We all carry the drive to form attachments, but as soon as the person with an unhealthy attachment mechanism feels exposed and vulnerable to an attachment an alternative mechanism of detachment takes over and the person goes in to fight or flight mode. The genuinely attached is left confused and disorientated by the sudden and unexpected disconnection. That one person can disconnect so easily (because they have a history of relational stresses that have cemented in place the implicit lesson that attachment = danger), when another person with a far healthier attachment mechanism finds that disconnection, once made, is almost impossible, they become labelled as the dysfunctional stalker because they cannot emotionally disconnect when the true dysfunction is in the person who has a genuine inability to form meaningful bonds and is subsequently stalked. On the one hand you have someone with a somewhat unhealthy attachment pattern where they have an unrequited need to form an attachment, but that object of attachment is subsequently and inevitably rejected once the attachment begins becoming significant because it triggers dissonance and innate “fight or flight” behaviours. And on the other hand you have someone with a somewhat dependent form of attachment that is suddenly thrown emotionally overboard without a lifeline and who then seeks to hold on in some way to the emotional commitment that they have made to the other. On the surface you have the popular image of the stalker and the stalked, but look deeper in to the dynamics and you have an interaction between someone that has some serious emotional problems forming and maintaining relationships, leaving casualties in their frantic attempts to overcome an implicitly learned program; that an emotional attachment is a source of potential catastrophe, so the innate processes of survival reject and sabotage an attachment that threatens to cross the threshold of safety. The object of attachment is thus seen as a source of danger that needs to be avoided, evaded, or otherwise discouraged. The object of attachment, unable to break their attachment because the attachment process is an innate part of our biology, continues to try to maintain a form of attachment. There may even be occasions where, despite the rejection, the continued attention can be maintained through implicitly encouraging the attention. The attention may feed a certain unconscious need and may even provide a perverse gratification and validation. People that fit in to the borderline category of relational dynamics, or the “I hate you, don’t leave me” mould often flick back and forth between rejection and attachment, and rejection, in this case, is often an attempt to seek validation and an affirmation of value.
Although, in many cases, it is indeed the stalker that is the problem, the stalked, under some circumstances, can be active in soliciting the problem. The stalked (especially if they meet some of the borderline criteria) may be actively yet implicitly encouraging and desiring the attention. We need to see beyond the myopic dichotomy of stalking and allow a greater public understanding of the relational dynamics so often involved. An unexpected and unexplainable detachment is highly traumatic to a person that has formed an emotional bond. Such trauma can throw the psyche right out of balance and cause some rather unpredictable and irrational behaviours in attempting to restore or fix that bond. Behaviours that only exacerbate the underlying irrational conditioned fears that led to the detachment of that bond because the bond itself is the underlying cause of the fear. Stalking, therefore is a more complex dynamic than the good/bad dichotomy that popular paradigms and media inform us of. Stalking can not only be caused by a dysfunctional attachment in the stalker, but also by dysfunctional attachment patterns in the stalked.