If it is love, it doesn’t hurt: psychodynamics of stalking

If it is love, it doesn’t hurt: psychodynamics of stalking

Often one wonders why a subject cannot accept the end of a relationship. “Leave me free to leave you,” he heard himself referring to those sentimental relationships in which one of the two partners is unable to agree to the breakdown of the bond and insists on perpetrating it even against the will of the other.


We would not like to ask ourselves this problem, or at least not with the frequency imposed on us by everyday reality. Instead, there are people who seem denied the right to separate from their partner, for a reason that escapes logic, ethics, a sense of justice. But why does a male subject fail to resign himself to the loss of his partner?

A possible explanation could be found by going back to the psychic conception that Freud attributes to falling in love, considered a far more lasting investment than the sexual drive, which can be felt towards any person, is ephemeral and merely aimed at satisfying a physiological libido. On the contrary, falling in love is distinguished from the sexual drive by its duration and its directionality towards an irreplaceable, non-substitutable and stable object over time (Freud, 1921).

Freud speaks of it as a drive “inhibited in the goal” precisely in reference to a need that is not only discharged with contentment, since its origin is not identifiable in a physical drive, but in an affective necessity (Freud, 1921) .

In this sense, the love object becomes an affective investment of vital importance: by loving someone, the ego becomes impoverished, sacrifices itself for the good of the loved object, strips itself of parts of itself in order to approach the fine object. to let them own it entirely. In this phase of falling in love there is also a strong idealizing connotation, by reason of which the loved object embodies the Ego Ideal, that is all that is desired, all that one would like to be.

But investing oneself in the object of love also reaffirms a form of identity that Freud defines as social, defining it not as an alternative to the individual one, but complementary, in a certain sense necessary. Bonding to another is also a means to affirm yourself, to build a stable and secure identity. One cannot exist without the other, and the love relationship is a confirmation of it. This testifies how by falling in love the subject manages to affirm his own relational identity (Freud, 1921).

Therefore falling in love does not only represent a phase of libidinal investment towards someone other than the Self, but also an affirmation of one’s identity, which in the other is recognized and structured.

When a love story comes to an end, the subject must take possession of the parts of the Self that he had invested in the other, must cease to consider it as a libidinal object and ascertain the detachment from him. His task is to separate from his partner, to de-idealize him, to renounce seeing him as the goal of his emotional drive.

As much as the separation may represent an emotionally destabilizing event, after an initial imbalance of the affective homeostasis the subject manages to reconstruct his own individual identity and resigns himself to the breaking of the bond waiting to reinvest in a new love object. These are the stages of functional separation.

In some cases, however, this differentiation process does not take place, and it is as if falling in love never ends. This can occur in individuals who have suffered affective deprivation during childhood and in whom falling in love, rather than a sense of functional existence with the other, is identified as a sort of compensation for the deprivation suffered. For these individuals, the partner, rather than an existing object in itself, performs a merely depository function of its narcissistic investments. In return, abandonment comes to constitute a disconfirmation of the idealized Self which is identified in the other, a vulnus to the parts that he has invested narcissistically in the partner, but that has not ceased to perceive as his own.

Here is the root of the problem: the stalker, as the affective persecutor is called, does not see the other as an autonomous and independent subject, but as a mere extension of the Self. And he sees himself legitimized to possess it even against his will, because in the other lives the Self: the other, in a certain sense, is the Self. It is as if the object of love belonged to him because he carries a part of himself inside. The divestment of the bond is impossible. The other is the Self and recognizing the end of the love bond would be tantamount to decreeing the psychic death of a subject who has invested the whole Self in the other, in a sort of emotional revenge. The respective individual limits take on confusing dimensions, and when the partner is not recognized his own existential autonomy,

In this case, there is a failure to overcome the infantile phase which Mahlher (1975) calls symbiotic, in which the child considers himself united to the mother in an indistinct nucleus, and cannot perceive the physical boundary between himself and her as existing. The images of the Self and the mother are condensed, united, indistinct. The nature of the relationship with the maternal object is totally parasitic, i.e. the baby acquires unilateral benefits from the dyadic relationship and reacts aggressively to empathic frustration. Therefore the mother is the Self, and the Self is the mother, and in this syncretic vision of intrapsychic reality an equally globalizing vision of external reality is reflected, in which the emotional ties are symbiotic and involve the total fusion of individualities.

As long as this condition of phagocytic union persists, the subject does not feel threatened by an abandonment anxiety, but with the advent of separation the critical event occurs: suddenly the subject realizes the impossibility of implementing his own project of invasion, possession of the identity of the other. This frustration of the symbiotic libido, in addition to reactivating archaic abandoned experiences undergone in childhood, sees the love for the loved object turn into an angry act aimed at restoring the interrupted symbiosis, which is expressed by means of persecutory compulsive behaviors aimed at recovery the other (Infrasca, 1990).

The narcissist reacts aggressively to abandonment, because his consideration of the other is merely reduced to an instrumental dimension. The other, in this case the partner, is a subject who is denied otherness, freedom, autonomy: he exists only to please his symbiotic fantasies, which he cannot oppose.

Hence the origin of the psychotic thought on the basis of which the stalker feels legitimated to the persecution of the love object to recover what he feels unfairly deprived of and which he believes belongs to him. Hence his certainty of being able to express persecutory behaviors inspired by the desire to possess the other that he considers as a mere extension of the Self, and the claim that he too must show conniving with his delusional compulsive symbiotic drive.

This seems to be the discriminating factor between functional and persecutory falling in love.

He who knows how to put an end to a love relationship is also a subject who has achieved a capacity for differentiation from the maternal object, for regulating the drives, for maturing the relational self and for an adequate examination of the inter and intrapsychic reality. This allows him to have a functional Self that knows how to exist even without the other in which he has lovingly recognized himself; on the contrary, the one who does not accept the end of a love relationship is a subject who cannot exist without the other in whom he has identified a fragile and inconsistent self, capable only of living in a symbiotic way, and who sees in the freedom of the other a threat to their stability.

The maternal object persecuted by the stalker is the mother-woman whom he identifies in the object of love; the same from which he felt abandoned and which, through separation, brings up again the painful separation never reworked. The mourning due to this loss is therefore circular in nature, because it is continuous, repeated, which occurs compulsively in any type of emotional relationship (Infrasca, 1990).

When the partner (who without his knowledge reflects the hallucinatory image of the maternal object) affirms his otherness through the end of the relationship, he unwittingly perpetrates a new betrayal that the stalker cannot accept: his project of symbiosis with the abandoning mother is again broken, and the object of love, first approached with mechanisms of idealization and hyper-evaluation, is persecuted with predatory anger, because it has become a “cruel traitor”.

The stalker falling in love consists in depositing in the other the prospect of a totalizing and totalitarian love, in which the Self possesses to live, and if it does not possess it destroys. But that in the very act of possessing, it destroys.

His is not love, but a crusade aimed at invading and canceling the otherness of the partner, carried out with a collusive and self-reported claim. The stalker is actually the victim of an intrapsychic symbiotic bond that as an executioner imposes on the other. And this is precisely the point from which to start the therapeutic treatment: to dissolve the symbiotic link with the internalized maternal object, to create awareness of the Self and the other, mentalization capacity, containment of aggressive actions, establishment of autonomous existential boundaries. Why the stalker finally manages to overcome the symbiotic phase of childhood.

Children are abandoned. Adults are left behind. And maybe that’s the difference. The stalker has never stopped feeling the child victim of a cruel maternal abandonment.