Leaving an Abusive Relationship Isn’t Easy (Part 2) — Stalking behavior by the abuser
[December 11, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]
How the abuser behaves when the victim is on the cusp of leaving
Let’s consider the abuser’s sudden nice behavior when he has either been told by the victim that she is leaving, or he suspects that she may leave. I would like to suggest that the abuser’s new acts of kindness have nothing to do with a repentant heart, as the church often wants victims to believe, but rather the abuser’s improved behavior is the sign of stalking behavior.
“Oh, now wait,” you may be thinking, “Not stalking? That’s a bit harsh? Isn’t stalking what a really bad guy does when he becomes obsessed with a woman he doesn’t really even know that well, and he ends up abducting and killing her?” Well, that is what movies often portray, but in fact, no, that is a myth. De Becker describes stalking as having two broad categories: unwanted pursuit by a stranger, and unwanted pursuit by someone the victim knows. He explains that unwanted pursuit by a stranger is very rare and is also the least likely to end in violence. Rather the majority of stalking situations involve people who know each other, particularly those involved in romantic relationships.
To have a better understanding of stalking let’s look at the definition of stalking, the motive behind stalking, and some typical behaviors of stalkers. Knowing what stalking is and what it looks like may help abuse victims to be able to relate it to their abusers and thus able to better protect themselves and aid in making future decisions. (The following information is taken from The Women’s Center website and their article titled, Violence & Domestic Abuse — Stalking.)
Stalking refers to repeated unwanted contact that harasses and threatens a person, causing him or her fear. It does not always involve physical contact, but can escalate to the point of physical violence. Stalking behaviors come from the need for a stalker to maintain a sense of power and control, as seen in domestic abuse.
[Note: This definition includes the stalker’s desire for power and control. Exactly the mentality of domestic abusers.]
Stalkers are motivated by a desire to control their victims’ actions and feelings, and by a desire to maintain some type of connection with them – regardless of their victims’ wishes – through manipulation and control. Stalkers will frequently threaten and harass, and in some instances the behavior will progress to physical violence.
[Note: The stalker persists regardless if the victim has clearly said she wants to end the relationship. In other words, regardless of the fact that she has clearly told him “no”.]
[Three Phases] Patterns of Stalking Behavior
While every stalker’s pattern of behavior is slightly different, there are predictable stages which a stalker may follow. Understanding how a stalker may move through the stages is helpful to show how stalking behavior can escalate in frequency, intensity, destructiveness and level of danger;
Phase 1: Unwanted Contact
(Stalkers “woo” their victim)
The efforts here are designed to either establish or maintain a relationship against a victim’s wishes. They attempt to “prove their love” to victims by:
- Gathering personal information from the victim’s friends, employers, family members, neighbors, post office, etc.
- Making repeated phone calls, sending long or a large volume of emails, letters, electronic pages
- Sending notes, flowers, and other romantic gestures
- Following, waiting for, and “coincidentally” running into the victim
- Asking other people to try to “talk to” or “convince” the victim to have or continue a relationship with the stalker.
Phase 2: Escalation
Stalkers begin to use more intrusive behavior
When a stalker’s initial advances are rejected, or they no longer feel connected to their victim, the intrusiveness, frequency, and severity of the harassment and stalking behaviors usually increases.
- Spread rumors, negative things, and false information about the victim to friends, family members, employers, faith organizations, schools (often, abusers threaten to “expose” their victim, even if the “exposure” is based upon falsehoods and lies – an effort to control other people’s perception of the situation).
- Make direct and indirect threats through intimidating phone calls, emails, pages and sending / leaving notes. (IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR A VICTIM TO KEEP COPIES OF ALL COMMUNICATION FOR DOCUMENTATION IN THE EVENT THAT THEY NEED TO PROVE THEY HAVE BEEN STALKED.) Threats may be of kidnapping, taking the children, bitter divorce or custody battle, murder or bodily harm, taking the victim to court, destruction of property etc.
- Become more persistent in following the victim
- Leave evidence to remind a victim of their presence
- Break into a victim’s home
- Leave dead animals where a victim will see them
- Leave weapons or bloody objects where a victim will see or find them
Phase 3: Violence
Stalkers resort to more violence
As in domestic violence relationships, stalkers may turn to violence when the other behaviors either do not get them what they want, or have stopped working. When stalkers / abusers feel they are losing control, they may resort to using violence to assert their power and dominance over their victims. Stalkers may use:
- Severe threats, including blackmail
- Vandalism of the victim’s vehicles and property
- Physical attacks
- Sexual assaults, including rape
- Attempted murder
Other stalking behaviors may include:
- Harassing phone calls – either in frequency, or in the content of the call
- Threats – entering, or threatening to enter a victim’s home when no one is at home; threatening to report the victim to authorities when no crime has occurred; other threats which cause apprehension or fear
- Monitoring the victim’s activities – through GPS devices [and other techno-stalking methods]; by using a victim’s friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers to monitor and report back on the victim’s whereabouts and activities; by requiring that a victim “check in” at certain intervals, or answer their phone at all times
- Spying on the victim – a subset of monitoring the victim; may include literally hiding and spying, overtly showing up at an event or appointment and keeping watch, [using the children to spy on the victim], or cyberstalking….
Profile of a Stalker
Some stalkers begin the abuse during a relationship with the victim, and use stalking to maintain and demonstrate continued power and control over their victims after the relationship has ended. At other times, an abuser may begin to use stalking behaviors when a victim has asked for changes in the relationship, has asked for or filed for a divorce, or has initiated a separation. These are common situations which lead to an escalation in abuse, including either the onset or the worsening of stalking behaviors. In fact, domestic violence victims are in great danger of being seriously harmed or killed when they are being stalked by their abusers. Stalkers can become more violent as they feel less control over their victims.
How many of these types of behaviors have you experienced when you were leaving your abuser? No doubt, at least some — maybe quite a few. These stalking behaviors are typical of domestic abusers and often the abuser is quite persistent with them because he is quite determined in his goal — maintaining power and control of his victim.
Persistence can be a deceiving thing. One would think that if a person is that persistent in obtaining or maintaining a relationship, he is being motivated by his love for the person. And that may be so if we are dealing with a normal person, one who is not driven by a mentality of power, control, and entitlement. But the abuser does not have a normal mentality. He is driven by power and control. He does feel entitled to that power and control, and he does feel justified in whatever means he needs to use to maintain that power and control. Love is not the abuser’s motive. De Becker shines a revealing light on what persistence really means when he says,
….persistence only proves persistence — it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special — it means he is troubled. (p 225)
Of course, we know that abuse victims are special. De Becker is not saying that the victim is not special, rather he is clarifying for the victim that the abuser’s persistence is evidence of his problem, and I will add — it is a problem the victim cannot fix.
De Becker has been involved in successfully lobbying and testifying for stalking laws in several states. Yet regardless of the success of these laws he says what would be even more effective is if there was a class or a course that would teach men how to hear “no”, and teach young women to say “no”, a course that would also include strategies for getting away. I want to mention the one thing, the one rule, that de Becker would stress in such a class and his thoughts on why this rule is important and what he means by it. (Note: What de Becker discusses is not feasible for all abuse victims. Those with minor children, for example, would not be able to completely follow his advice, but possibly you could modify his advice to fit your situation.)
The one rule that applies to all types of unwanted pursuit is this: “Do not negotiate.” He explains —
….Once a woman has made the decision that she doesn’t want a relationship with a particular man, it needs to be said one time, explicitly. Almost any contact after that rejection will be seen as negotiation. If a woman tells a man over and over again that she doesn’t want to talk to him, that is talking to him, and every time she does it, she betrays her resolve in that matter….
If you tell someone ten times that you don’t want to talk to him, you are talking to him — nine more times than you wanted to.
When a woman gets thirty messages from a pursuer and doesn’t call him back, but then finally gives in and returns his calls, no matter what she says, he learns that the cost of reaching her is leaving thirty messages. For this type of man, any contact will be seen as progress. Of course, some victims are worried that by not responding they’ll provoke him, so they try letting him down easy. Often, the result is that he believes she is conflicted, uncertain, really likes him but just doesn’t know it yet. (p 228) [Emphasis original.]
We have discussed on the blog the effectiveness of the “no contact” strategy. Some of our readers are in a position that they are able to use a “no contact” strategy with the abuser, but for many victims that have minor children and for other reasons, “no contact” is understandably not possible. In those situations we encourage “low contact”. How that will look is different for each situation, but the goal behind “low contact” is to only engage with the abuser when necessary: don’t respond to emails, letters, texts, or calls that don’t require an answer, don’t elaborate on events or situations that the abuser doesn’t need to know about, and don’t feel the need to defend yourself to your abuser. As de Becker points out if the abuser knows he can get a response out of you he will continue his persistence.
Leaving can be very difficult. In some cases almost as difficult as being in the relationship with the abuser. Abusers can be very persistent and convincing when trying to keep their victims from leaving. The abuser’s behavior can appear to be that of a repentant person, their actions can be deceivingly kind and loving. The unwisdom of Christian leadership or friends will often be for the victim to show her abuser more grace (be nice) and the victim will probably be encouraged to reconcile. And all the while society’s message to “let him down easily” is resounding in her head. No wonder it typically takes an abuse victim several attempts to leave before she finally does.
I hope that by having a better understanding of the abuser’s persistent actions when the victim leaves and having some strategies for getting away will lessen the confusion and make it a bit easier for the victim. It is true that leaving an abuser is never easy. Leaving will indeed require strength, stamina, and courage. But one thing I have found is that some of the strongest and most courageous people I have met are abuse victims.
[December 11, 2022: Editors’ notes:
—For some comments made prior to December 11, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to December 11, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to December 11, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (December 11, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]
Posts in this series
Part 1: Leaving an Abusive Relationship Isn’t Easy (part 1) — Will he hear my “no”? Should I let him down easy?
Part 2: Is this post.
- Posted in: Abusers
- Tagged: abuser's mentality, abuser's tactics, boundaries, fear, getting free, mind control
Thanks so much, Twbtc, for these posts.
The week before I separated from h, he bought me flowers (this from a man who had constantly belittled me and harangued me — all our married life — that I could possibly like flowers)….I found it so confusing I did not know how to respond, trying to be thankful (we are taught to be gracious when given a gift even if we don’t like it as such). I told him I did not know what to make of them — he was so angry, I was the one with the ‘problem’….
Everywhere I went he was there before me — a pre-emptive strike….at school, church, Bible Study, family….phoned my boss at work (thankfully got nowhere 🙂 ) all in the name of ‘concern’ for my welfare and getting his version of events out there.
Confession was a prime lever too….”yes, she’s done the right thing separating from me, I’ve done her wrong, but I didn’t realise it….” “I’m a changed man now….” “pray for her….” “if only she would forgive me….” “we need to get back together….” “actually it’s God’s WILL that we get back together!”
Just this week he ‘turned up’ at the house — “you wanted me to ‘help’ Y” (an ill family member). No, not violent, but definitely re-asserting himself in the home….”you need me, you can’t do this by yourself, here let me help….in fact, get out of my way — I WILL help you!”
Another form of reasserting himself has been through emails (7000 / 11000 words) would not consistently respect word limits….getting into my mind (there’s a whole domain to be king of there!). I realised I was having all the same symptoms of stress from abuse as when I was living with him! I needed him out of my head….so I have barred him from emailing (yes all at ACFJ can cheer here 🙂 ).
Ahhh the relief….
But Twbtc, your post is so spot on — persistence is a huge thing in this dynamic, good advice —
(I thought I would be getting through to him by only answering, briefly the occasional email….) Educators call it ‘intermittent reinforcement’, keeping the hope alive, when what it really needs is extinguishing – like an out of control fire….
[Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]
Years ago, I foolishly dated a guy I’ll call “Crazed Stalker Boyfriend”. There was, at least in my circles, zero understanding that there was even such a thing as stalking. Thank God I had two voices of semi-reason in my life that managed to convince me that he was not some lovelorn dejected suitor desperate to prove his love for me, or someone I needed to “let down more gently”, or someone that would eventually get the hint if I treated him nicely while insisting we could never be more than friends. It was a frightening experience, and at times I felt as if I were going crazy. I can’t imagine how much worse things would have been had our relationship been more serious.
My experience affirms what you wrote here. Only “no contact” worked. I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary drama, anguish and fear had I known that upfront.
What about when there’s children involved and you have to talk to him to some extent? He keeps using the children to try to have additional contact. They are always the excuse. Where is the boundary? I try to ignore him when he keeps fishing for responses from me but eventually I have to answer a call or respond to a text.
You control when you respond. You can ignore calls (I never talk to X) or texts. Limiting your responses to only a specific topic will help YOU know what to respond to.
K, yes, when kids are involved the abuser can play that window for all it’s worth. Whenever my ex and I had to talk on the phone about the children and visitation matters (talks I tried to keep to an absolute minimum), and he started diverting the conversation so he could have a stab at me, I would hang up. For example, I would say to him, “You have started abusing me so I’m hanging up.” And I’d just hang up.
Not always easy to do, and sometimes if the child was present I would choose not to use that strategy as in the child’s mind it would ‘prove’ that I was being mean to dad. So, as in all dealings with an abuser, one chooses at the time what seems like the least dangerous way of responding. But I certainly hung up quite a few times, and I think it caused him to ‘try it on’ less often, during those phone conversations.
I would also refuse to see him face-to-face when he dropped her back after visitation. I would keep the door shut until he drove away. She would have rung the doorbell and I’d come to the other side of the door and call to her through the door to assure here that I was there and welcome her home. But I taught her (and made it clear to him, by phone) that I wouldn’t open the door ’til after he’d driven away. That helped save me from MANY instances of abuse from him. And it stopped him using her as a message-stick which had been a tactic he’d tried to use prior to that — sending her into the house to relay a message from him to me, asking me to come out and speak to him.
Yes, with kids you HAVE to have some contact. I have limited it to only email and email is always cc’d to two other designated people (a friend and a pastor who have graciously allowed his garbage to regularly come into their house via email). They don’t respond to him but actually tame down some of his ridiculousness by just being there and I can go to them for sanity checks. It took years for the volume of email to subside. It used to be novels everyday now it is much smaller and infrequent. He still tries to send “Happy Birthday” emails which I immediately point out has nothing to do with children or child support and is considered harassment. This year he actually skipped Mother’s Day so after 6 years….something is getting through. My kids are old enough to call him and arrange what they want from him as far as visits or contact. They all got phones earlier than I think I would have simply so that they could do that.
Hi, K, welcome to the blog! 🙂
Please read our New Users’ Info page and if you want to change your screen name for safety’s sake, email email@example.com and ask her to change it for you.
I am amazed….I came here today because I am having this exact problem. I want to leave and my husband is saying “You just make me all the more determined to not give up.” Yet, his behavior is no different. It’s bizarre, confusing and upsetting.
Great advice! Nicely written.
Not easy when you have children and are court ordered to remain chained fast to your abuser. He uses the children to contact me every single day. 200 texts and 20 phone calls in August alone. It’s emotionally exhausting.
I paid my attorney $125 to tell me to send her the texts and I could then pay her to review them and tell me if it was “harassment” or not. Advised that I go to the police but warned “if you do, he will just focus on revenge”. Overall I was told to “just ignore him”.
He was sure to text and also call to wish me a happy birthday. “I really mean that. Enjoy your day”. Injecting himself into my life at every turn. It’s like a rapist sending flowers to his victim on their anniversary. His well-wishes are appalling. — But don’t voice your feeling or you’re the one who looks crazy, don’t get emotional, if you act hateful then you’re accused of being mean and uncooperative and risk alienating the children subconsciously with your own bitterness. A no win situation.
I am a truly a psychological and emotionally abused prisoner of war for ten years who escaped a domestically abusive monster and now I’m bound by court order to “play nice”, keep my mouth shut to his contempt and harassment, thank God for his calm days, ignore his accusations intimidation and threats, his court modifications, etc….or else. I have long stopped defending reality, keeping proof, documenting, and trying to prove the monster he is to everyone. As he says “no one cares”. He’s right.
This pure-bred Narcissist’s is casually moving forward safe and content within his all consuming and quite convincing fantasy world.
Happy Birthday to me!
[Paragraph breaks added to enhance readability. Editors.]
My only experience with stalking was horrific and lasted many months. After dumping my boyfriend at the time, he basically commenced a campaign of stalking against me for six months. He used to walk by [my] workplace and spit on the window and he’d pee in my petrol tank. He left threatening letters at my home, sent letters to my boss, every member of my family (telling them I was a whore on drugs) and what he did to my pets I still can’t talk about.
Even though it has been many years, I found out recently that this disgusting man, [name redacted by Eds.], is still at it, tormenting other women. There are now 3 that we know about. Be warned. He is very dangerous. He is from [town in the state of NSW] Australia and he will typically become violent while you are dating him – then relentlessly stalk you once you leave him.
Dear Rebecca, welcome to the blog and thank you for your comment. 🙂
We removed the name of your ex and the town he is from. We generally don’t publish those kinds of details on this blog, as we don’t want the blog administrators to be sued.
We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.
If you want us to change it to something other than Rebecca, just email The woman behind the curtain: firstname.lastname@example.org — she will be more than happy to assist. 🙂
In hindsight, I recognize a long distance connection (initiated through someone else) was an abuser. Fortunately, he was long distance.
After one particularly racist and offensive “humorous” email, I went “No Contact”. Only one call followed. The emails continued for years. They filtered to the junk folder.
I suspect his death from health issues is what caused the emails to stop.
In re-reading my 31ST JULY 2018 – 9:56 PM comment, realized part of my comment could be mis-read.
To clarify my comment:
The person who was the long distance connection was the abuser.
The person who initiated the connection was definitely not an abuser. Although I don’t know if he professed any particular religion, he was a good example of: a Christian (not “Christian”) man, a Christian (not “Christian”) husband, and a Christian (not “Christian”) father.
I don’t know how well the person who initiated the connection knew the person who became my long distance connection.
I’m guessing the person who initiated the connection didn’t realize the person he introduced me to was an abuser.
I am married [length of marriage redacted by Eds] and have [number of children redacted] children. A few months into my marriage with my husband the emotional abuse and control began to get very bad. But by the time we were to be married he had already emotionally abused me without me even knowing [or] realising what he was doing. I thought it was my duty as a woman and fiancee to bow down to his wants needs and desires otherwise I was not a good woman. This was spoken of often that women who did not obey their husbands and and were not good wives. By now I was in too deep and love is blind.
A year into our marriage physical abuse emotional abuse and complete isolation from family and friends with control over my occupation. This was to be my life. It’s been like this for years. If I even think about the time it seems like yesterday it all started. It’s unreal.
I had these beautiful children and no choice over their upbringing or what a mother’s own instinct and special happiness I wanted to bestow over them. Life happened in between all of this going on. Afraid to leave I was yes I had no education I wasn’t allowed to better develop my skills. I now know why. Isolation. Control. Kept me from leaving, how can I look after the kids without an education. Yet here I am working and learning skills. Of course I can leave. Can’t I.
No because it’s so bad the fear the emotional trauma of what was drilled into my every core. That I didn’t know what I was thinking anymore or feeling confusion was my deal for each day of late.
But I started to do research because I now had internet at work and could browse and YouTube.
What a wealth of information, so powerful it scares me to the core when I realized this is what my life was, is.
I have left twice but went back as I did not know or have these valuable tools now available to me today.
I have now left. I have so much reliable people who helped me get out secretly as I had to.
But now I am safe where I am my kids and I.
What to deal with now is the stalking.
I am very afraid as I do not know what [to do] now. He is going to any lengths to get people to talk me into going back.
I’m afraid there lies a very very long road ahead at the rate he is being persistent. I am afraid. I have gotten a [protection order].
But why am I so afraid. I feel maybe my mind is playing tricks on me.
But then I read up again and research and I realise. I am in a very dangerous position right now.
Please wish me and my children luck. Any prayers.
And to anyone going through this right now. Be very very strong its a fight for your life. Don’t give up.
Will make it.
Dear sister, I’ll pray for you. Your words are vivid, and utterly believable. Separation is the most dangerous time. You are not crazy. 🙂 🙂 🙂
I edited and airbrushed some details of your comment, to protect you from being identified.
Welcome to the blog! 🙂
Well done for doing all that research and for seeking support and protection. Well done for coming to grips with the truth that you are at high risk and the stalking your abuser is engineering is indeed intense and dangerous. Coming to grips with that reality is a big step! And it’s normal to have recurrent self-doubts, so you are not alone there.
You probably know a fair bit already about safety and safety planning, but this page might have a few more tips for you that you could find helpful. Safety Planning
If you have to go Low- or No-Contact with people who your abuser has recruited as his allies, people who are trying to persuade you to go back to him, then so be it. There is nothing wrong with setting firm boundaries against such people. Those people are usually very naive and they have no idea how much the abuser is manipulating them to carry out his hidden agenda (i.e. to get you back).
Here is another link you might find helpful if you are speaking to those kinds of people: Unhelpful Comments by Well-Meaning People: A coaching clinic for victims of domestic abuse and their supporters
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