The Hidden Scars of Being Stalked: What You Need to Know

Stalking isn’t just about incessant phone calls or mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. It’s an insidious form of trauma that has far-reaching implications, not only for the victims but also for the people surrounding them.

Recent research has pulled back the curtain on how deeply stalking can affect not just the person targeted, but also their friends, family, and even coworkers.

The Many Ways Stalking Affects You

A new study published in July 2023 identifies four major areas where stalking takes its toll:

  • Mental Health and Substance Use: The most common impact, affecting nearly 92% of victims. This includes emotional strain and sometimes even drug or alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism.
  • Physical Health: While less common, some victims suffer actual pains and physical effects, which can be exacerbated by the stress and anxiety of the situation.
  • Daily Life Disruptions: Stalking can force you to change your routines, your job, or even your home.
  • Effect on Friends and Family: In more than a third of cases, stalking doesn’t just affect the victim. Friends, family, and even co-workers can find their own lives disrupted or become targets themselves.

It’s Not Just About Severity: Types of Stalking Behaviors Matter

What makes stalking especially distressing is not just how long it lasts or how severe each incident is, but the variety of ways stalkers can invade your life. The study shows that the more types of stalking behaviors a person experiences, the worse the overall impact.

This challenges past understandings that tended to focus primarily on the severity or duration of stalking incidents. Behavioral diversity effectively multiplies the areas of a victim’s life that are disrupted, leaving them with fewer “safe spaces.”

These stalking behaviors can include:

  • Cyberstalking: Online harassment through social media, email, or other digital means.
  • Physical Stalking: Being followed or watched in person.
  • Property Damage: Destruction or tampering with your personal belongings.
  • Unwanted Communication: Receiving distressing letters, emails, or phone calls.
  • Third-party Contact: The stalker reaching out to people you know, like friends or family, to further intimidate you.

How Stalking Takes a Toll on Physical Health

A 2019 study brings a crucial aspect into focus: the physical pain that often accompanies the emotional trauma of stalking. This is especially important because persistent pain can co-occur with trauma-related mental health issues, even when the traumatic event doesn’t involve physical injury.

The study found that the more negative self-cognitions—harmful thoughts about oneself—a stalking victim has, the higher their sensory pain intensity and pain-related interference in daily activities. This suggests that your emotional state can directly influence how much physical pain you feel.

Higher levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms and depressive symptoms were linked to greater affective pain intensity, which is the emotional quality of pain. In simpler terms, the worse your emotional symptoms, the worse the emotional aspect of any physical pain you feel.

Understanding the link between physical pain and emotional trauma can offer a more comprehensive view of stalking’s impact.

It adds another layer to the complexity of a victim’s experience, emphasizing that the scars of stalking can be both seen and unseen. This has important implications for treatment, suggesting that tackling only the psychological or only the physical symptoms is insufficient for holistic healing.

Tips for Healing and Recovery

If you or someone you know has been affected by stalking, here’s what you can do:

Get a Thorough Check-up

Consult a healthcare provider for a complete assessment of your emotional and physical well-being. This will help you create a targeted treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Don’t Forget Your Support Network

If your friends and family have also been affected, they may need support too. A group therapy session or community resources can offer collective healing.

Consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Negative thoughts can magnify your pain and suffering. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help reframe these thoughts and improve your mental and physical health.

If Multiple Stalking Behaviors Occur

If you or someone you know is experiencing diverse types of stalking behaviors, it’s even more critical to seek help immediately, as the impact tends to be more severe in such cases.

Tap into Community and Legal Resources

Stalking can disrupt your daily life in a big way. You might need legal advice or community support to navigate issues like housing or job changes.

Stalking leaves a broad and deep impact that can ripple through your emotional, physical, and social life. Understanding this complexity is the first step toward healing. With comprehensive care and a strong support network, recovery and a return to a sense of safety are achievable.