Have you ever noticed how we throw around words nonchalantly, without a giving a second thought as to their perceived meaning?
How many of us use the word “fan” on a daily basis, possibly without realizing that the word is derived from the word “fanatic”. Webster’s Dictionary defines a fanatic as a person who is extremely enthusiastic about, and devoted to, some interest or activity. In the entertainment world, fans are a necessity, because if there are no fans, there is no one to buy the tickets, the music, the books, movies, or the merchandise. In essence, without fans, there is no celebrity. Fans are however, not limited to the typical entertainment realm of musicians and actors, politicians, company executives, news personalities, and even private citizens can also attract their own set of fans in today’s society.
But what if the interest and attraction goes too far?
For some, there can be a fine line between the “fan” and the more obsessive “super fan” – which usually has a more negative connotation. A super fan may be described as a fan that develops an unhealthy obsession with a celebrity or other public figure. I’m not implying through the course of this article, that all, or even most, “super fans” should be considered a threat, but the potential certainly does exist. The danger comes when the fan’s interests goes beyond that of simple interest, and starts to drift, crossing the line to more of an obsessive or compulsive nature.
Some have even compared this change in behavior to that of an actual addiction.
The Rise of Stalking
One of the most common overt manifestations of the negative and dangerous level of the super fan attention comes in the form of stalking. A study in Psychology Today reported that an estimated 12 to 16 percent of women and 7 to 10 percent of men will be stalked at some point within their lifetime. This data represents the general population, so one could surmise that for those who live their daily lives in the glare of the public eye, those numbers, and the associated risks, could be much higher.
Stalking can be generally defined as a pattern of behavior by one person against another, which is ultimately intended to cause harassment, or to intimidate or terrorize the victim. This can also include cyber stalking and even cyber bulling – both of which are being seen in rising numbers, especially among the adolescent and young adult populations.
Social Media Influence
Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and all other forms of social media networks allow for an unprecedented level of access to one’s private life, which can also open a door for a would-be stalker. These sites provide a proverbial treasure trove of personal, and at times, real-time, information. For the celebrity super fan, especially those who may suffer from some form of mental illness, social media offers them a window into the personal life of their obsession, which can often lead to a perceived personal connection, and an increase in the level of obsessive interest. For those who intend to do harm, social media can inadvertently provide information, such as travel habits, familiar faces, or even the location, of potentially targeted individuals, giving a would-be stalker split-second access, or at the very least, the possibility of access. It doesn’t even have to be through the intended target’s social media accounts, there have been documented incidents where members of the personality’s entourage or inner circle have been identified, followed or “friended,” and those accounts then used to obtain various information about the actual target.
Not all stalkers are harmful, but realistically, all stalkers have the potential to do harm. It’s the often unpredictable nature and unknown intentions that contributes to the level of terror or intimidation that is felt by the intended target of the harassment.
The Mental Health Factor
Do mental health issues play a role in incidents of stalking? The short answer is, possibly, but not necessarily always. It’s also worth mentioning that a person could have traits of a diagnosable mental health disorder, but not have the quantity needed to legally and ethically assign a diagnosis based on the criteria in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is universally used by mental health professionals to diagnose a mental, behavioral, or substance use disorder. It’s also important to note that stalking itself is not a mental health disorder.
Research conducted in both the United States and Australia has suggested that at least 50% of stalkers who have entered the criminal justice system do indeed have an identifiable mental health condition of some kind, with personality disorders, psychotic disorders, depression, and substance use disorders being the most common (McEwan et al., 2009; Mohandie et al.; 2006.). Commonly found disorders have included Schizoid and Schizotypal Disorder, as well as Schizophrenia and Paranoid Personality Disorder, which are known to have associated delusions and hallucinations. Other disorders even more commonly associated with stalkers include Borderline Personality Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder. Even those who do not meet full criteria for a diagnosis often have traits of Narcissism and/or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
At this point, it should be emphasized again that this information is not meant to say or infer that only individuals with mental health issues are prone to stalking behaviors, nor is it intended to insulate that every individual with one of the aforementioned disorders is destined to become a stalker but we as protectors must try and pick up on behaviors and intent as early as we can.
Stalkers and Super Fans – When Does Being A Fan Go Too Far?
By: Jason Poston
Jason Poston, CAS, PPS, LCSW is an Executive Protection Professional and a licensed mental health and substance abuse therapist, with more than 10 years combined experience working with youth and adults with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use disorders.