Pursuing the `Psychology of Stalking'

Article excerpt

On the cover of J. Reid Meloy's new book, a pale-faced woman dressed all in black stands before a white picket fence. Behind her, an eerie shadow broods over her shoulder. The illustration, called "Moonlight," depicts the tragic relationship between a woman and her stalker.

"I wanted to learn who they were and why they did what they did," says Mr. Meloy, who edited the book "The Psychology of Stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspectives."

Mr. Meloy gathered material for the book from research by experts in the field so there would be one comprehensive source of information on stalking. Mr. Meloy, a forensic psychologist and professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, gave an all-day workshop for the CIA in Washington yesterday.

In "Stalking," his fifth book, Mr. Meloy takes a look at what he calls "extreme romantic pursuit."

He says some people who stalk have "a courtship disorder," in which there is a history of failed relationships and evidence that they are somewhat lonely, while others have a grandiose sense of self.

"Some of these people are pathologically narcissistic and they are deeply moved by rejection. Then they become preoccupied with the other person," Mr. Meloy says.

The stalkers' reactions to their behavior is just as varied. When confronted by authorities, some stalkers indicate that they believe their behavior is not out of the ordinary while others recognize their problem.

"The more typical pattern is to minimize and rationalize the behavior `. . . All I wanted to do was see her. I needed to talk to her,' " Mr. Meloy says.

He became interested in forensic psychology in the late 1970s while completing his doctorate at the United States International University in San Diego. "I was intrigued with the interaction of psychology and criminal law," he says.

He says he decided to pursue a career in forensic psychology after heading a small maximum-security psychiatric treatment unit for mentally ill felons in San Diego.

When most people think of stalkers, Mr. Meloy says, they conjure up such characters as the one Glenn Close played in "Fatal Attraction. …