Compassionate Care, National Accreditation:​​
The Joint Commission
SAMHSA logo
NIDA logo
Treatment Professionals in Alumni Services
DSS licensed
Person stalking to the point of Obsessive Relational Intrusion

Understanding Obsessive Relational Intrusion

Jump to Section

If you’ve never encountered the term, obsessive relational intrusion (ORI) before, you are not alone. But you’ve probably heard of stalking. ORI and stalking share some features, but there are also a few important distinctions between these two behaviors.

What is Obsessive Relational Intrusion?

In their book The Dark Side of Close Relationships, Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach defined obsessive relational intrusion as “repeated and unwanted pursuit and invasion of one’s sense of physical or symbolic privacy by another person, either stranger or acquaintance, who desires and/or presumes an intimate relationship.”

They expanded on this definition with the following points of emphasis:

  • In cases of ORI, the pursuer and the person they are pursuing are “at odds over the fundamental relationship dialectic.” The pursuer is acting on a need for greater connection and interdependence, while the victim’s primary concerns are personal autonomy and freedom from continued harassment.
  • Repetition is an integral component of obsessive relational intrusion. Continuing to engage in intrusive acts, even after the victim has established that this behavior is unacceptable, demonstrates that the pursuer has become preoccupied and obsessive.
  • While physical intrusions may be particularly upsetting (and potentially more dangerous) to the victim, ORI also includes what Spitzburg and Cupach describe as “psychological and symbolic acts.” Though their book was published in the late 90s, before the explosion of social media, it is easy to see how online behaviors can fit into this definition.

Is Obsessive Relational Intrusion the Same as Stalking?

At first glance, it can seem like obsessive relational intrusion is simply a clinical-sounding synonym for stalking. However, while these two terms describe similar behaviors, they are not the same thing.

Spitzburg and Cupach described stalking as “a severe form of ORI.” The main difference between the two, as they see it, is intent.

ORI is borne of a desire to establish a more intimate relationship with someone else, they elaborated, while stalking involves a malicious urge to harass someone so that they fear for their safety. Of course, it is entirely possible for someone to initially exhibit non-malicious ORI tendencies before progressing to stalking behaviors.

For someone who is the victim of either ORI or stalking, this distinction may hold little to no meaning. Regardless of why a pursuer engages in these intrusive behaviors, the result can be terrifying for the person who is subjected to them. 

But from a mental health standpoint, this difference can be significant, as it can help treatment professionals understand the pursuer’s state of mind and rationale for doing what they did.

Why Do People Become Obsessive and Start Stalking?

As we noted in the previous section, obsessive relational intrusions are, by definition, fueled by a desire to establish a more intimate relationship with someone. The pursuer may engage in ORI for several reasons, such as:

  • They believe that the object of their obsession is “playing hard to get.”
  • They have become convinced that they need to somehow prove their worth to the object of their obsession by going to increasingly greater lengths to connect with them.
  • They have little to no capacity for understanding social norms or recognizing the degree of distress that their behaviors may be causing.

For individuals who engage in stalking, the underlying purpose is more sinister. Reasons for stalking can include:

  • The desire to terrorize the person who is being stalked
  • A sense of possessiveness or ownership of another person
  • Trying to gather incriminating information about the other person, which the stalker intends to use against them
  • The yearning to punish a person for rejecting their initial advances or ending their relationship
  • The inability to accept that the other person no longer wants to associate with them

Though stalking often involves people who have been rejected by (or who have never even met) their victims, it can also occur within existing relationships. For example, a person who exerts unhealthy control over their partner may stalk them at work or when they are out with friends. 

Is There Treatment for People Who Become Obsessive Without Consent?

Neither obsessive relational intrusions nor stalking are mental health disorders. But in some cases, they may be symptoms of a mental illness.

Obsessions, obsessive relational intrusions, and stalking may be treatable, depending on factors such as:

  • Are these behaviors associated with a mental or behavioral health disorder?
  • What type of disorder does the individual have?
  • Does the prospective patient have any co-occurring conditions?
  • What other symptoms has the individual been experiencing?

An August 1999 study of 145 stalkers who had been referred to a forensic psychiatry center reported the following:

  • Most of the stalkers (114, or 78.6% of those in the study) were men.
  • 43 of the stalkers (29.6% of the group) had delusional disorder.
  • 74 of the stalkers (51% of the group being studied) had a personality disorder.
  • Among the stalkers who had personality disorders, most had a cluster B disorder. This category includes antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic personality disorders.
  • 27 of the stalkers (19% of the group) had erotomanic delusions.
  • 14 of the stalkers (9.6% of the group) had schizophrenia.
  • Two of the stalkers had bipolar disorder, two had major depressive disorder, and one had an anxiety disorder.
  • 36 of the stalkers (24.8%) had substance use disorders.

It is important to note that this study did not attempt to establish a causal relationship between any mental or behavioral health disorders and stalking. In other words, while the data suggests that having a cluster B personality disorder could be a risk factor for stalking, this review did not find (or even seek) proof that this is the case.

Contact Montare Behavioral Health 

Montare Behavioral Health offers personalized mental health treatment at several locations in Southern California. Our services include inpatient and outpatient care, with specialized programming for veterans, women, and young adults.

At each of our facilities, you can work with a team of compassionate experts who will assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a customized plan just for you. We understand that mental illnesses affect different people in different ways, and we are committed to providing you with the individualized care that you deserve.

To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free assessment for yourself or someone in your family, please visit our Contact page or call us today.