Stalking Part II: Getting Past the Obvious – Tammy Yard McCracken

“I stalked you on the internet…”

“I’ve been lurking around his Facebook page”

“I totally follow every social media site for ________”

Sounds creepy. Only it isn’t in our world of social media. Constant internet access has created a culturally acceptable context under the nomenclature of stalking. We follow each other around on Facebook, Instagram, webpages, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. and joke about stalking people online. We joke about it because it is acceptable behavior. Sometimes we tell on ourselves, sometimes we don’t. If someone tells you they stalked your Facebook page, it is because they are perfectly comfortable with their actions and expect you will be too. It’s what we do because we can – information at our fingertips and all that. This is not an overt indicator of future violence. Nor is it an indicator –in and of itself – of twisted social scripts, and if they never tell you…you will be completely unaffected. Calling this new form of voyeuristic research stalking is an unfortunate, albeit loosely accurate application of the language; but it is not an expression of violence or risk.

What puts stalking on the spectrum of violent behavior is when it involves evident assumptions of license against the autonomy of another human being. While it’s true that not all stalking includes physical violence causing pain, injury, damage, or imprisonment; it is nonetheless well inside the parameters of violence dynamics. It assumes license against autonomy because, at a point, the hunter has made unilateral decisions about the target’s future. Before taking this deeper, two quick reminders from the first article:

  • all stalking, socially sanctioned or not, is hunting
  • there is a point along the trajectory of the hunt at which the stalking becomes evident to the intended target

On the first point: predators stalk their prey. Humans are predators. Therefore, if you are stalking someone’s Facebook page, you are hunting. Maybe you are just curious about what an old friend from high school is up to, but it is still hunting.

On the second point: the hunter must reveal itself to complete the hunt. This reveal may be overt, like an ambush; or it may be a gradual build from secretive to evident behaviors demonstrating a toxic spin of standard social scripts. In either category there is a point along the continuum in which the target becomes conscious of the hunter.

When the awareness hits, our understanding of what it means to be prey kicks in. Our lizard brain opens both eyes and knocks on the back door of our monkey and human brains. Senses heighten and a variety of physical warning signals begin to flash in the target’s body. Reports of feeling the presence of the predator long before there is visual contact are not paranoia. This is our instinct-driven ability to identify subtle changes in the environment necessary for survival when we lived on the savannah following herds.

In our current reality, most people have never met their Lizard brain. This is not a bad thing. It is good to experience safety and security. Because most people have not met their primitive Lizard brain, most people in domesticated societies do not know what it feels like when the Lizard brain begins to stir. The consequence is dismissal. If the Lizard brain begins to shake off its hibernation and you have no context for it, your monkey brain will resist it.

This is critical. Even in the mid stages of a stalking timeline when the Threat’s actions are becoming more obvious, targets will create justifications for their primal alarm system and work to dismiss/justify the Threat’s behavior.

I have the odd distinction of being hunted by two distinct types of stalkers[1]. Drawing from these experiences, I can look back at the timelines and see any number of red flags that were present early on in the hunt. I did not identify them consciously because they didn’t match any of my mental blue prints. My Lizard brain stirred and I ignored it. Too primitive. Too visceral. Too antithetical to my social scripts and schemas.

This is what makes conscious boundary setting a complex and uncertain process when we try to apply boundary setting to stalking dynamics.

Dismissing the early indicators guarantees the hunt will progress and the hunter will grow more confident. Early awareness is no magic wand. Awareness is insufficient without action and early action may or may not shut the stalking behaviors down. Early detection does give the intended target a greater number of options. Uninterrupted, the stalking timeline escalates. Always. As the timeline escalates, options for the target shrink and standard boundary setting becomes increasingly ineffective and has been known to periodically escalate the stalker’s aggression.

What are the early indicators? In reviewing the common published bullet points, the material generally addresses behavioral indicators of the stalker, which means the hunt has progressed fairly deep into the timeline. If the behavior is observable by the target or a third party, the hunter is getting more confident and doesn’t mind being seen. Again, once the hunting behavior is openly observable, the timeline is deep.

I want to press back even farther. Instead of trying to find ways to see a hunter in stealth mode, let’s go to something potentially more reliable at an earlier point on the timeline. The movement of your Lizard Brain.

The subtle internal markers of your Lizard Brain coming awake can show up before observable behavioral flags in the Threat. If the hair stands up on the back of your neck or you feel like you need to shake off an interaction – literally – this is the Lizard brain stirring inside its hibernation. There are other indicators of your lizard brain waking up; the instinct to stop and look around for no apparent reason, a gut check that you’re being watched, eyes narrowing (yours) in response to an interaction with someone who bugs you, the little voice in the back of your head that was weird, again as it relates to bumping into the person hunting you.

One of the responsibilities of your primal survival programming is to make you invisible to the Threat. Eyes (and the brains processing the visual information), like things that move. Predator’s eyes are designed to really like things that move. Moving shadows under the cabinets mean potential meals for house cats. It’s why cats like to play with pieces of string pulled across the floor. It is also why mice freeze when Fluffy makes the scene. So do we. Another indicator your Lizard brain is being summoned is when you feel the need to just go still. You are more noticeable when you move, easier to see, easier to assess, easier to track. When you are still, you are less attractive. It is why playing possum works for the possums. No, it’s not quite that simple but the Lizard brain is working off some pretty primal cues.

These are a few examples of what it can look/feel like when your primal survival instincts are beginning to influence your perception. There are more and some will be unique to you and your circumstances. Our lizard brains have not gone extinct for a reason. When yours wants to come out of hibernation, make note. The earliest of warning signs won’t stand up in isolation but if you keep track of little Lizard Brain Alerts, you gain an advantage in the timeline.

Note: I would be remiss to ignore the obvious. Lizard Brain Alerts do not automatically mean you are being stalked, it is a correlation of sorts. Our eyes narrow when we experience something distasteful, that could be any number of things. Right now, this is all theory and throwing darts to see what might be useful, or not.

[1] There are several taxonomies for categories of stalking patterns depending on the research and researcher. No one taxonomy is universally accepted as best I can ascertain.


One thought on “Stalking Part II: Getting Past the Obvious – Tammy Yard McCracken”

  1. I think that Tammy’s Lizard Brain Alerts is an effective way to think about the warnings of intuition. Rather than thinking of intuition as some abstract concept, Tammy is giving specific examples to make this concept more relatable to everyday experiences.

    As a practical matter, I think people tend to ignore their Lizard Brain Alerts due to the many incidents of false positives. These events tend to condition people to ignore the Alerts. One way to counter-act this conditioning is to investigate what triggered the Alert. Even if nothing “happens”, something did happen. Identifying the triggering event is a useful skill to develop and will enhance intuition rather dull it.

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