Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Turning Points in the Progression of Obsessive Relational Intrusion and Stalking

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Turning Points in the Progression of Obsessive Relational Intrusion and Stalking

Article excerpt

This study examined the critical events defining the temporal progression of unwanted relationship pursuit. Retrospective interviews elicited the experiences of 42 victims of obsessive relational intrusion (ORI) and its extreme manifestation, stalking. Participants described turning points within their ORI experiences, and constructed graphs representing the progression of turning points over time in terms of changes in perceived severity. Inductive data analysis revealed 17 distinct turning point types. Some turning point types were associated with increases in ORI severity and others were associated with decreases. Five temporal trajectories of ORI progression also were identified. Results indicate that ORI does not necessarily progress along linear and continuous paths. Some findings support coping advice commonly given to victims of ORI and stalking.

Keywords: obsessive relational intrusion; stalking; turning points; unwanted relationship pursuit

According to conservative national estimates, approximately 2% of men and 7%-8% of women in the U.S. have been victims of stalking (Basile, Swahn, Chen, & Saltzman, 2006; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Although the common stalking scenario portrays an obsessed stranger chasing an admired celebrity, the vast majority of stalking cases involve acquainted individuals, and about half of stalking victims were once intimate partners with their pursuers (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Thus, stalking often represents unwanted relationship pursuit that emerges "out of glitches and discontinuities in two very common and normal relationship processes-coming together and forming new relationships on one hand, and dissolving and getting out of existing relationships on the other" (Emerson, Ferris, & Gardner, 1998, p. 290). Moreover, stalking represents merely the tip of a much bigger iceberg entailing a broad range of unwanted relationship pursuit experiences, in which one person resists the efforts of another person who attempts to initiate an intimate connection or reconcile a terminated relationship (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2008). This broader domain of unwanted pursuit behavior is referred to as obsessive relational intrusion (ORI) (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998 ; Cupach, Spitzberg, & Carson, 2000).

Prior research has shed light on various aspects of ORI and stalking, including the numerous tactics employed by persistent pursuers (e.g., Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004 ; Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen, & Rohling, 2000 ; Spitzberg, 2002), the consequences for victims (e.g., Davis, Coker, & Sanderson, 2002 ; Hall, 1998; Pathé & Mullen, 2002 ; Purcell, Pathé, & Mullen, 2005), and the methods by which victims respond to unwanted pursuit (e.g., Brewster, 2001; Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000 ; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2008). However, less is known about the temporal progression ORI and stalking, despite the fact such intrusions consist primarily of recurring patterns of communication over time (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004 ; Meloy, 1998; Mullen, Pathé, & Purcell, 2000 ; Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2004; Westrup, 1998). As Emerson and his colleagues indicated, "stalking is treated atemporally, as all of one piece, with little or no attention given to how it develops, comes to be recognized, and proceeds over time" (1998, p. 291). In response to this limitation, the present study investigates the important episodes (i.e., turning points) that victims associate with both perceived escalation and de-escalation of unwanted pursuit experiences, and that characterize the temporal progression of pursuit. In the following sections, we briefly conceptualize ORI and stalking and lay the foundation for the current investigation.


ORI is defined as a pattern of "repeated and unwanted pursuit and invasion of one's sense of physical or symbolic privacy by another person, either stranger or acquaintance, who desires and/or presumes an intimate relationship" (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998, pp. …

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