Rom-coms may present it as funny or even an endearing, albeit weird, a way of showing one’s devotion to another person. But in reality, stalking is never as simplistic as it is presented by Hollywood. In fact, stalking has several applicable definitions in psychiatry and psychology, criminology, and law.

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It’s not easy dealing with a stalker; there are times that you might not even feel or know that you are being stalked especially if the stalker is doing it covertly. However, there can be more obvious signs that you are being stalked – like unsolicited (and unwanted) correspondence and gifts, blackmail, and engineering situations to initiate personal contact. Another thing that might clue you in on a stalker is that they are usually someone you know – a close friend, a spurned suitor, or an ex-spouse or lover.

Nevertheless, whether you’re sure or are merely suspecting that you are being stalked, here are some ways that you can protect yourself.

Contact the Authorities

This is one of the first, most concrete steps that you can take to protect yourself from a stalker: informing the authorities. Depending on where you live, the police may have varying capacities in apprehending a stalker, but the bottom line is that you shouldn’t wait for the situation to escalate. The moment that you feel your privacy and safety – even that of your friends and family – is compromised, contact the relevant authorities immediately.

You may also want to hire a private investigator to collect evidence. The more the police have to work on, the easier it is to have the person in question arrested and charged. A lawyer will also be helpful if you want to obtain a restraining order so that your stalker/s can’t claim ignorance or a misunderstanding.

Keep Records

Apart from the files and other evidence that a private investigator may be able to collect for you, you can also personally gather and keep evidence of stalker behavior. These include text messages and phone calls, as well as photos and other updates posted online. If you’ve already blocked the person on social media, it’s best to get a screenshot as further evidence.

It may even be valuable if you keep a record book of some form, especially if your stalker sends gifts or visits you at home or at work. This way, the authorities can look for patterns and additional evidence that will make your case stronger.

Secure Both Your Physical and Digital Presence

Apart from upgrading your door locks and changing the passcode to your home security system, you might also want to install surveillance cameras; if you have the money to spare, invest in a microphone and motion detectors. These help in monitoring your home and gathering evidence, as well as improving overall security.

Another good idea is to change up your daily patterns, especially if you are a creature of habit. Stalkers rely on your predictability, making it easier for them to follow you and gather information. This is not to say that you must stop living your life, just shake your routine up a bit to throw off your stalker and make it more difficult for them to follow you.

Online, apart from blocking the person on all your social media accounts, stop posting sensitive information such as where you’re going or uploading photos of your children. Turning off the location on your social media accounts and applications is a big step in preventing your stalker from following you. You can also increase your digital security by enabling two-step verifications on your accounts, limiting your post privacy to “friends only”, and screening connection requests carefully – your stalker will probably create multiple accounts in order to get into your inner circle.

Don’t Try to “Help”

Let go of any thoughts that you are the key that will help your stalker “get better”. Don’t attempt to play psychologist, hoping that you can influence a change of heart and behavior. Initiating contact in an attempt to “help” will send the wrong message and will most likely make the situation worse.

Remember: stalking cannot be solved by bargaining or having rational discussions. This is especially true if this was your former lover or spouse since he or she knows all the right buttons to push, so don’t be tempted to meet “one last time” or to “remain friends”. Focus on protecting yourself and your loved ones and leave the psychologizing to the experts.

Tell Someone

This is most important if your stalker is using your friends and loved ones to get closer to you. If the people close to you know that you are being stalked, they will not become unwitting accomplices or “enablers”. They will also know to protect themselves and be on the lookout for certain behaviors, like the stalker contacting them on social media but asking not to inform you about it.

Dealing with a stalker can be difficult and quite complicated, especially with a shared history between the two parties. The most important thing is to focus on yourself and your safety. Let logical thinking rule over your emotions and don’t forget to ask for help from the authorities, your trusted friends and family, and even mental health professionals if you feel it’s necessary for your peace of mind.