SocietyJuly 15, 2016

Hello Caller: Help! I’m obsessively cyber-stalking my boyfriend’s ex


This week, Ms. X advises a young woman whose social media stalking is spiralling out of control.

Hi Ms X,

I have a problem for the digital age: I stalk my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend relentlessly on social media.

My very supportive, loving, and trusting boyfriend and I have been together for just over a year, and this is something I’ve struggled with for about six months, ever since I broke an early resolution not to touch her online presence.

Her relationship with my boyfriend lasted two years, and was super turbulent and I think mutually very emotionally abusive. He’s already told me a lot about her.

Now I feel like I know almost everything about her, since I check her social media profiles several times daily. She’s pretty active online, and so I know who her friends are, what her cat’s name is, what her butt looks like.

What I struggle with is this compulsive checking, and the subsequent compulsive comparison of myself to her. I’ve struggled with bad body image and disordered eating in the past, and she’s super hot with an amazing figure. Plus, she’s really cool, and her relationship with my boy was all fireworks and fighting and *passion*, while ours is not exciting in that way; it’s stable and content.

While I know that what I should do is block myself from her profiles and work on my self worth, my resolve doesn’t last long and I unblock myself in case I’ve ‘missed anything’.

It’s impacting on my mental health quite a bit, which is already pretty miserable (I’m on anti-depressants and saw a counsellor earlier this year).

My boyfriend knows that I have stalked her online, but not to this extent. He’s very lovely and doesn’t think I am weird – but I know that I am.

The Weirdest (early 20s)

Hello Caller,

Ah sweetheart. I’ve got so many reactions to this letter. Let’s dive straight in.

I think you know that this very particular behavior is a kind of fancy cyber self harming. You say that you “struggled with bad body image and disordered eating in the past” and that your mental health is “pretty miserable”. I think instead of your psychic pain manifesting with food, you are now “binging” on the pain of comparing yourself to your boyfriend’s ex.

I feel like she could be any kind of person and you would still find a way for it to hurt you. Yes, she might have a cute butt but if it wasn’t that, what would it be? Nicer hair or straighter teeth? I think she is actually irrelevant. The pain – the act of you causing yourself pain by stalking her – is the issue here. Why are you doing it? What do you get from hurting yourself?

And here I want to dedicate a paragraph to anyone who tortures themselves with the idea that their partners’ exes were like some next level French film vixen with whom they can’t compete. You say “her relationship with my boy was all fireworks and fighting and *passion*, while ours is not exciting in that way; it’s stable and content”.

What I say is that the best thing about a French film is that it only lasts for two bloody hours! Dear god, imagine living with Betty Blue 24/7. If you haven’t watched that movie let me save you the time – it doesn’t end well.

So don’t think that just because you’re not causing mayhem you can’t be sexy. Your boyfriend might actually find stability and a certain evenness of character highly erotic.

My feeling is that you need some sophisticated talk therapy to pull this apart. If you are happy with the counsellor you had before then great, but you may feel you need someone more skilled. I’ll explain how to find someone like that in a moment.

You are obviously smart and have a decent sense of self. I don’t think you just woke up one morning and decided to have issues with food and self image and engage in self harm by social media. I suspect some stuff occurred earlier in your life that has helped create the conditions for these issues to bloom like mould in a shower stall.

Within the safety of a therapeutic relationship, you’ll be able to start digging to find out where they first took root. That kind of work stands you in good stead for the rest of your life, Caller. It makes you less likely to get triggered or snagged by difficult situations or people.

It might take a bit of dedication to find the right therapist but please persist. To that end, here is my abridged ‘How to find a therapist’ guide:

Approach this like you would hiring a plumber. If there is raw sewerage in the ensuite, some light tinkering won’t cut it. Finding a therapist is the same: if you have some serious issues to work through, a bit of idle chit chat is unlikely to be enough.

Ask your GP if there are any therapists they would suggest; you can also Google counsellors or psychotherapists who work in your area. Call at least three and have a brief chat over the phone. Be aware that you’ll pay more for a psychologist than a therapist or counsellor.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. How much experience they’ve had with the issues you want to resolve is a good one. So is whether they have a preferred modality of treatment; this can be good way to find out early if they have a hobby horse they’ll want to try out on you.

If that initial chat goes alright then book a session with them. It usually takes a few sessions to establish a “working alliance”, the ability to engage with each other and effect helpful change.

If you don’t like them then move on. It might take a handful of tries to find the right person so don’t give up if the first one isn’t right, but if you get to double digits without finding someone you click with you’ll need to take a hard look at your own expectations and attitude. I might be totally wrong here but my gut feeling is that you should see a female therapist (and if that comment incurs wild howls of outrage, so be it).

In the meantime, you need to channel that energy – because what you’re experiencing is energy! It takes time, skills and dedication to effectively stalk someone. Seriously, I would suggest you consider all the places you can use a skill set like that: journalism, PR and the police force leap to mind immediately, places where you can engage in licensed stalking and get paid for it. I mean it. Imagine what you could achieve using the two hours a day you are spending looking at Betty Blue’s bloody Instagram account and feeling like crap!

I believe you can flip this, Caller. I get the feeling you have the internal resources to track down some external resources and get this sorted. You are not The Weirdest – you are the next No. 1 Lady Detective.

Ms. X

Got a question for Ms. X? Send an email to hellocaller@thespinoff.co.nz, ideally including key information such as your age and gender.

All messages will be kept in the strictest confidence and your name will not be published. If you wish to remain completely anonymous, consider using a free remailer service like Send Email.

Need help now?

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Youthline 0800 376 633

OUTline (LGBT helpline) 0800 688 5463

More helplines can be found at the Mental Health Foundation’s directory. For a list of Māori mental health services, click here.

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