I’m not a therapist or psychologist, but I have dealt with and dodged more than my fair share of let’s say unstable folk, that some would say are a little psycho. I’ve been stalked a few times; once by a student (who was a policeman), then by a client, and I’ve had a couple of online nutters that I managed to get rid of because fortunately I never gave my real name. First of all you need to spot a psycho, and then avoid them without upsetting them because they are unpredictable. If that isn’t possible, or you realized a bit late in the day they weren’t what they seemed, cut all ties, and don’t hesitate. While some may not harm you physically, they can make life difficult and stressful by trolling, or stalking you, plus if you upset them they can turn. Here are a few things to look out for, and they may well save you mentally in the long run, and perhaps even your life:
- People who list their achievements, where they have worked, and who they know are doing it to seek attention. Often it is grossly exaggerated, so beware of these people as they try to impress you to gain trust quickly. Personally red flags start waving in the air when this happens to me.
- Be careful of those who push for private details such as phone numbers, email addresses, and social media contacts. Most people ask for one, and then build up to sharing other details when they are more comfortable. Unless there is a shared network such as a mutual friend or company, it maybe best to just message on Facebook without adding anyone as a friend, or to give a work email or one that is used for junk mail. If you don’t have a spare email for subscriptions or newsletters, then consider setting one up. These days it’s wise to have separate public work and protected personal social media accounts; it’s normal and acceptable.
- Don’t feel obliged to respond to any prying communications, but reply if and when it’s convenient for you. Psychos tend to be impatient and insistent, and that can lead to stalking. Someone that constantly texts, leaves voicemails or instant messages without a break to pressurize you into something, then that’s unstable behavior.
- Be polite, and let them down gently if they are insistent. A good way is to say that you will be away and won’t have any internet or cellphone reception for a while. Sometimes a break is enough to create some distance. If that doesn’t work, then you may have to resort to blocking, or saying your spam filter is strong if challenged to say that no messages were received. Don’t open them as some browsers can track and inform a sender when an email has been delivered, open, and read, and some may send viruses. It maybe an idea to keep them in a separate folder in case you need evidence for a restraining order.
- Never admit to an unstable person that you were too busy to reply as they can turn on you. Of course you have no obligation to them, but for your own safety it maybe safer to feign forgetfulness, a lost password, or a tale of a lost or stolen phone. A minor catastrophe can be a good distraction.
Now, how to get rid of them if they don’t get the hint when you have put off meeting or responding to any communications? First ask others in confidence, by phone or in person if possible if you think someone unstable is becoming a problem. Be careful of online interaction as screenshots or forwarded emails can make things worse if shared and it falls into the wrong inbox. You maybe overreacting, or they may have seen the signs and were unsure whether to say something. That’s often the case, and I will hold my hand up to being guilty here. I sometimes think it’s none of my business or that someone can handle it, whereas I have found people have been grateful for support and also reaffirmation that they weren’t imagining things. Here is what to do if something doesn’t feel right and you think an unstable person is affecting your life:
- Do a basic internet search of their name and any details you have. Try to use public wi-fi or do it in a library, as some searches can be traced. Most people have some digital footprint, but if they don’t, that doesn’t mean they are deceitful, but that they wish to protect their privacy. I have a small digital footprint, mainly because I have been stalked before, but I do exist. Make sure they aren’t wanted for a crime, on the run, or have other names. People can have other names such as a maiden name, or pen or stage names, but usually are upfront about it. I had a flatmate whose boyfriend seemed a bit dodgy. I looked him up to find he didn’t exist, but tracked him down and found that he used his mother’s maiden name because he had been in jail. I kind of needed to know that as he was staying over in my flat, with access to everything.
- If you see unusual activity on your emails or social media, then change the passwords as a precaution. An alternative is to deactivate for a while if the person is a little unstable, because they may take it personally if they find out only they are blocked. Some will try to hack into your details or will browse your profile to find out more information, and then try and befriend your friends. I had a few people that randomly befriended my friends. It was embarrassing when people asked why they were requesting to be friends, and I had no answer. They were quickly blocked. Hide your friends list just in case.
- Eventually you may have to block their email address, their number, and on your social media. The best time to do it is in the early hours when they least expect it. Increase all your privacy settings, and switch off your voicemail for a while.
- You must cut ties, and that may mean mutual acquaintances too (or keep a distance). If they are singled out they may make things worse—this is why it’s best to spot the issue early on to avoid such drastic action. Unstable people are usually narcissists, and a word or action can trigger things. Don’t risk it!
- If things get worse, then seek legal advice in obtaining a restraining order. Keep evidence of texts and emails. These days stalking can turn from an obsession to actual harm. While part of you may feel you can cope, it can take a toll on your mental health and prevention is better than cure.
- In drastic situations consider moving, and changing your phone number. It goes without saying to screen all calls, and make sure any emails opened are from people you know. It’s not unusual for unstable people to try and send spam emails, viruses, or to post phone numbers on sex sites. I had some strange calls when people starting calling me up for services that I was not offering, as someone had posted my number somewhere public.
We learn from experience and sadly that means there maybe some unpleasant events along the way. It’s not always easy to spot an unstable person as they can be charming, flattering, and can also be helpful at first, therefore you won’t immediately spot the signs. People who are too eager, who are too open about their activities or feelings use this as a means to show enthusiasm and to garner trust. I mean, why wouldn’t you trust someone who tells you how they feel and what they are doing all of the time? In reality, not many people do, and those who overshare are usually very needy, and do it for attention. The best thing to do is not to interact and engage because it encourages and enables them.
Today stalking and harassing people online as well as in real life is a dangerous issue, and while I have been stalked before doesn’t mean that it won’t or can’t happen again. I am however more aware of the tell tale signs, and I am cautious, and don’t give out too much personal information. Yes, I use screen names and pen names not to hide, but to protect myself. While some social media platforms demand you use your real name to prevent fake profiles, there is nothing wrong in using a nickname or abbreviation of your name to prevent people from finding you. What people need to remember is that everyone has a right to privacy, but also need to take some responsibility to protect their identity and their personal information. Obviously some people won’t appreciate someone looking them up, but if they have nothing to hide then there shouldn’t be a problem. As for online dating, checking someone’s real details is a must if you are going to meet them, and don’t give away too much such as where you live. It’s too risky!
As they say, don’t poke the bear, but walk away and don’t look back.