What do you do when someone with an attachment disorder attaches to you?
January 7, 2011 10:02 AM   Subscribe

I met someone online who became obsessed with me and I need to know how safe I am and what to do next.

I met a person who I do not know in real life via Facebook gaming and we became friends. She had problems with depression and I did my best to help her. Eventually she came to resent any other friendship that I had and would get angry and then apologize. Later, she told me that she had an attachment disorder. Her treatment of me was either absolute worship or if she felt that anyone else was a threat to our relationship, outbursts of anger. She became completely obsessed with me and everything I did on the site. When I said that I needed to think about our friendship and then drew some boundaries after an outburst she sent me messages threatening suicide and posted suicidal things on her wall. I called the police and she is now hospitalized. She did not, in fact, attempt suicide. But she got my attention, which I believe is what she wanted. On the advice of a professional that I had access to at the time, I cut off all contact. I told her family that I was doing so and they told her while she was in the hospital. Her reaction to that news resulted in the hospital extending her stay. Now I have a few days to determine what to do. She has also mentioned to me in the past that she was working in therapy on handling an anger management issue that she has and was recently diagnosed as bipolar. I don't know anything about attachment disorders and what I read about online seems geared more to children with the disorder. I have blocked her account and clamped down on my privacy settings. I have told mutual friends that I will not receive any messages from her through them. I would like to know what kind of risk she might pose to me and my family and if anyone has any ideas about what more steps I can take to be safe. I am also curious about the disorder itself so that I can make informed decisions as things move forward. Thank you for any input or advice.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Start by reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. It is the best how-to book on how to handle stalkers and other intrusive folks out there.

Sorry that you are having this terribly tough experience.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:07 AM on January 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

First, you need to know that you are NOT responsible for her. This is NOT your fault.

If her attachment disorder is borderline personality, if you cut her off, she is likely to develop a new attachment to someone else eventually. Just ignore her, and if she contacts any of your friends (she might), just let them know what the situation is.

Under no circumstances, no matter what she says to her, or what you hear from her family or friends should you contact her or respond in any way. There's no way anything you do besides cutting her off completely is going to make things better.

I had a similar situation with someone I met on an online dating site, and after cutting her off completely and ignoring the torrent of alternately pleading and threatening emails, facebook messages, IMs, (and even notes left at my house), she moved on or gave up or whatever after a few weeks and I haven't heard from her since.
posted by empath at 10:11 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Gather all the info you can about her stalking behavior and get a restraining order.
posted by bravowhiskey at 10:12 AM on January 7, 2011

(and by the way, it wasn't at all easy for me to cut her off. It was probably the most stressful time of my life, and I spent more than one night crying myself to sleep over it.)
posted by empath at 10:12 AM on January 7, 2011

I wouldn't get a restraining order unless she actually does something more than sending messages, unless you're aware that she's actually done something dangerous in the past.

Peaple with BPD are not all dangerous pyschopaths. Most of them are victims of abuse and are dealing with terrible demons. Just leave well enough alone, and if she starts to escalate, or things don't start dying off after a few months, then maybe think about getting a restraining order.
posted by empath at 10:15 AM on January 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

IANAD - Attachment Disorder is a childhood diagnosis from my understanding. The adult version (result?) of attachment disorder is usually Borderline Personality Disorder. I do not know your friend and I am not diagnosing her.

Only you can decide whether or not to maintain contact with her. Please remember that her mental status is not your responsibility. Whatever you decide, throwing down some boundaries and sticking to them will be the key.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2011

This book might be useful, but I think it's more aimed for someone who has a relationship with someone with BPD. But at least you'll understand more of what is going on.
posted by empath at 10:19 AM on January 7, 2011

Crappy diagnosis from bloke on internet follows..

It sounds to me like she might have Borderline Personality Disorder, that she's in crisis, but that she's currently receiving the treatment she needs.

There may be some risk to you, but it is much more likely that she is a risk to herself.

To minimize the risk to yourself, be serious about the no contact rule that you've set. If she contacts you, gently but firmly say NO. If she attempts to contact you indirectly through others, explain the situation to them, and ask that they gently but firmly say NO.

Perhaps most painfully for you, do not re-initiate contact, and do not seek information about her welfare through friends or relatives. Superficial caring (and demanding care) is part of the Borderline package. If she finds out about your sympathy or empathy, she will likely assume it has greater significance than it does. Just walk away, put this behind you, and do not look back.

Finally, if you find that she does end up pursuing you in some fashion, involve the police again. Explain the situation, the previous hospitalization, and that while you do not wish to have her charged, you think she might need further treatment.

(On preview, others are getting the same vibe from this. Listen to them.)
posted by Ahab at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Getting a restraining order would be really pulling out the big guns. That's a level you don't need to escalate this to right now. Go ahead and cut off contact. If I read your question right, you've never met this person in real life, only online. That shouldn't make things too difficult. Don't respond to emails and don't answer friend requests. Block the person with Facebook controls.

The most important thing is that if you've stated you're cutting her off, stick to your word. If you cave and re-open dialog with her, you'll be telling her that she can wriggle her way back into your life if she tries hard enough. She needs to know where boundaries are with people, and that those boundaries are firm.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

N-thing everyone who says her BEHAVIOR, at least, sounds very classically BPD. Some people are just batshit insane, of course, but the fact that she told you she has an attachment disorder means you would not be wrong to guess that it may be BPD.

As someone who has dealt with people suffering from BPD and come out relatively unscathed... the #1 tip is DO. NOT. ENGAGE! No contact at all, in any way, whatsoever. People suffering from BPD (note: I don't want to say "borderlines", because that's mean and pigeonholing; I know there are some successfully recovered BPD peeps on MeFi) rely on others to "fill them up", in a way... they're almost like a glass vessel into which they scoop parts of various people. When you change or retreat or do anything to change the dynamic, you're posing a HUGE threat to them... because then they'd be empty... a void... and that would be worse than anything on earth. So they attack, because they don't have the skills necessary to prevent themselves from alienating what they crave the most.

Which is a long way of saying: you need to disengage entirely and stick to it, in every single way. Otherwise you're filling her back up, she's getting what she wants, and she'll continue to leech off of you until her source of "self" goes away. Changing phone numbers, online passwords, etc. isn't a half-bad idea... the same stuff you'd do it you broke up with a boyfriend/girlfriend who started to get scary towards the end.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:31 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

You didn't mention if she lives near you, that might be a factor.

I agree that, given events so far, a restraining order is a bit much.

1. Acknowledge that you didn't create her mental illness and you are not responsible to heal her.

2. Cut off all contact.

3. Ignore.

I would speculate that, within a short period of time, she will move on. If there are any overt online threats, contact the police (not her, not her family, not friends).

If she physically shows up, CALL the police at once.
posted by HuronBob at 10:35 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cut off contact from her entirely and don't give in. If you relent and talk to her after she's tried to get your attention 10 times, she just knows that the "price" of getting your attention is 10 attempts.

A restraining order may escalate things to a more dangerous level (read The Gift of Fear for more info on this).
posted by Ostara at 10:37 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with everyone who say it sounds like you do not need a restraining order at this point. This is assuming she does not know where you live. She hasn't made any threats against you or anyone you know (only threats of self-harm), unless I missed something, but if she does you may want to contact the police at that time.
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:22 AM on January 7, 2011

Does she know where you live or otherwise know how to find you?
posted by rhizome at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2011

Sorry you are in this predicament. I've had to deal with a similar instance only I made the mistake after many month of zero contact to respond to a message the individual sent me. As others have said DO NOT ANSWER ANYTHING!
After receiving threats of coming to my residence and workplace my last contact was to tell the individual if they carried out such an action, they would be greeted by police, with a restraining order placed after.
That stopped the person cold even with all the heavy handed threats this person made.
posted by handbanana at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2011

I do not understand why all the opposition to a restraining order. How is getting a restraining order going to harm the OP? Why not have it in place?
posted by AugustWest at 11:45 AM on January 7, 2011

AugustWest: ANYTHING AT ALL that the OP does to engage AttachmentDisorderFriend is very likely to make the problem worse. It's one of those situations where any type of contact/involvement is poking a bear. And as it wouldn't be possible for the OP to get a restraining order without AttachmentDisorderFriend FINDING OUT ABOUT IT (and thus making it a form of engaging with said Friend), it's probably not a great idea unless absolutely, positively necessary.
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:50 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, you are talking about someone who is mentally unbalanced, and would not be able to correctly process the consequences of violating a restraining order, anyway.
posted by empath at 11:57 AM on January 7, 2011

I do not understand why all the opposition to a restraining order. How is getting a restraining order going to harm the OP? Why not have it in place?

I don't know why others are opposed, but two things come to mind:

(1) A restraining order is not just a rubber-stamped thing that you are guaranteed to get. They are restrictions on a person's freedom and thus judges will not grant them in every case. Unless there are explicit threats against the "victim," a restraining order might not be issued. And I would think a failed attempt to get a restraining order would possibly embolden a stalker.

(2) When you apply for a restraining order the subject of it has the right to appear at the hearing and oppose it. That gives them an opportunity to see the person seeking the order and even cross-examine them. It can be unpleasant to the person seeking the order, and weirdly satisfying to the subject of the order.
posted by jayder at 11:58 AM on January 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

I do not understand why all the opposition to a restraining order.

The potential risks of getting restraining orders are well spelled out in The Gift of Fear. It can be a useful tool in many circumstances, but in other circumstances it has been counterproductive for many people.

I e-know someone who got a restraining order against his ex-wife and she physically attacked him in the courtroom. Fortunately, he was not injured, but HOLY SHIT was I freaked out when I heard about it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:02 PM on January 7, 2011

Please keep detailed records of every time she attempts to contact you. This journal will be useful legally should it ever get to that stage.
posted by Sully at 12:11 PM on January 7, 2011

What she wants is attention from our Asker, and to know that Asker is thinking about her - in any fashion. A restraining order would give her exactly that, even if for a short, possibly dramatic time.
posted by Diag at 1:49 PM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a friend like this. After I set appropriate boundaries, saw them violated, and then explained that I was done with the relationship, there was about a month of constant phone calls, emails, and physical letters (that contained the most twisted, mean, vile interpretations of almost everything I've ever said to her). Then...it stopped. She found other people who would listen to her woes about the Horrible Evil Ex-Friend Catlet, and left me alone. No contact in four years.
posted by catlet at 1:52 PM on January 7, 2011

I think you're getting good advice. I just want to remind you that this Isn't Your Fault. Nothing she says or does is your fault. You engaged in a friendly e-acquaintanceship with her and you didn't do anything wrong. If she does continue to pursue a relationship with you and you find yourself tortuously replaying every exchange, looking for the Cause that would Effect her inappropriate behavior, remember: what she's doing isn't going to follow normal patterns of cause and effect and it's Not Your Fault.
posted by Neofelis at 4:06 PM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

What Neofelis said is so true, and so important. This isn't about you. It's about her and some imaginary entity she's created that only roughly corresponds to you. Nothing you did caused this; nothing you do can stop this, except not interacting with her in any way.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:50 PM on January 7, 2011

AugustWest: "I do not understand why all the opposition to a restraining order. How is getting a restraining order going to harm the OP? Why not have it in place?"

Not only what others have said, but a restraining order tells the stalker where he/she may not go, IIRC, and this will reveal the victim's address. If we are understanding correctly that they only know each other online, this could escalate things to in person.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:13 PM on January 7, 2011

The advice here is good. Attachment disorder is a childhood disorder that doesn't necessarily "grow" into any one adult disorder. The behavior you're describing does sound more like borderline personality disorder, but it's difficult for anyone here to diagnose that just based on your description.

There is nothing for you to do besides cut off all contact, as you've already said that you would.

You have done nothing wrong, and I commend your good intentions.

That said: if you feel the need to "help" or resume contact because you feel guilty--think about the net effect of your involvement with her so far. Interacting with you has not been helpful to her. She might think that she wants/needs to be in touch with you, but realistically your friendship was difficult for her to handle and obviously triggered harmful behavior.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:39 PM on January 8, 2011

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