In my book “We need to talk about this“, I mention a phenomenon called “sadistic stalking”. (This comes from the stalking classification by forensics psychologist Lorraine Sheridan. You can find the description below.)
Imagine you’re a middle-aged woman and you’ve been stalked anonymously for years. One day, you open your front door to go to the supermarket and you find the remains of your dead husband on your doorstep. He passed away years ago, but your stalker has dug him up. Say it all out loud, as if you were talking to a friend or colleague, telling them about what is going on in your life. Then picture yourself explaining what is happening to a police officer. Now imagine that you are also feeling very upset while you are trying to convey this information.
How can other people tell whether you are mentally well or not? You will certainly sound as if you’ve lost your mind. You will very likely be assessed as the one with the mental health problem and if not, you may be told that you’ve mistaken the remains of the prey of a fox.
This example comes from a real case that happened in Britain. The woman in question had a heart attack when she found her deceased husband’s remains. She was later sectioned (declared a danger to herself or others) and spent months on a psychiatric ward as a result of the tremendous damage her sadistic stalker’s relentless targeting had done to her life. Consider this. Sadistic stalkers pick their targets because they perceive them as happy, content… and stable. Undoubtedly, many people in her surroundings did not believe the poor woman while all of that was going on and thought she was merely seeing ghosts, compounding her hardship. Living in a situation like that for years is immensely taxing.
Incidentally, that particular stalker was trying to convey the message “What’s he got that I don’t have?” when he left the remains of the deceased in front of the woman’s house.
- When you look at the victims (I prefer “targets”) of this phenomenon, you see how little we know about mental health and how hard it is to determine who is “crazy” and who isn’t.
- (Also, we need a very different approach to how society deals with stalking.)
Sadistic stalking can even be much more devious and much more “crazy-making”. If you describe someone else’s “crazy” and “crazy-making” behaviour, how can you avoid sounding “crazy” and being considered “crazy”?
People often assess other people’s mental health on the basis of what they think sounds crazy just like they assess other people’s beauty on the basis of what they they think is beautiful. Professional assessments are still subjective too, even though attempts continue to be made to standardize diagnoses.