(Last Updated On: January 23, 2024)

Love Bombing & Amygdala Hijacked Scam Victims

Love Is Chemical After All

Scam Victim Recovery Psychology

Authors:
•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Article Abstract

In the case of online deception, scam victims often find themselves deeply in love, only to realize it was a meticulously crafted illusion—a result of Amygdala Hijacks and Love Bombing caused by deceptive romance scams.

Love involves a complex interplay of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, creating a potent cocktail that scammers exploit. Amygdala Hijacks create urgency and fear, triggering the brain’s fight-or-flight response, while love bombing floods victims with excessive affection to foster attachment. The brain’s striatum and TPJ play pivotal roles in processing love, and scammers manipulate positive amygdala hijacks to create false trust and affection.

Understanding the brain’s role in romance scams empowers scam victims to recognize manipulation and understand why they are not to blame, fostering healthier authentic connections in the real world. Therapy proves instrumental in the recovery process, offering a safe space to process emotions and set boundaries.

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“Love” Scammed: Understanding the Brain’s Amygdala Hijacked & Love Bombing That Creates The Romance in Online Deception & Scams

Romance scams don’t just steal money, they steal hearts thanks to something called an Amygdala Hijack. Scam Victims often recount feeling deeply in love, only to learn their “soulmate” was a carefully crafted illusion or fake.

But what’s happening in the brain that makes these scams so effective? The answer lies in the intricate complexity of hormones, neurotransmitters, and a vulnerable amygdala that can be easily hijacked.

Important

It is important to understand that Love Bombing and Amygdala Hijacks are not the same thing. Amygdala Hijacks are typically used to prepare and take control of emotions while Love Bombing begins and continues. Learn more about Amygdala Hijacks here: The Amygdala Hijack And Scam Victims [Infographic] – Expanded 2024 (romancescamsnow.com)

What is Love?

Love is a complex emotion that has fascinated humans for centuries. It is a feeling that can be both exhilarating and confusing, and it is often difficult to understand the mechanics behind it. However, recent research has shed light on the biological processes that occur in the brain when we experience love.

Falling in love triggers a wide range of hormonal changes. Dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter,” surges, driving an intoxicating desire for connection and repetition. Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” fosters bonding and trust, making us feel safe and secure. Next comes Serotonin, the “mood elevator,” that keeps us feeling giddy and content. This potent cocktail creates a rose-tinted reality, making us more susceptible to grooming, manipulation, and control.

Real Love is a Chemical Cocktail

Falling in love triggers multiple hormonal and neurochemical changes.

  • Dopamine, the “reward neurotransmitter,” surges, driving a desire for connection and repetition.
  • Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” fosters bonding and trust.
  • Serotonin, the “mood elevator,” keeps us feeling happy and content.

These chemicals create a potent brew of euphoria, making us see the world through the emotions triggered by these chemicals – pure and simple.

When we fall in love, our brains release a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters which are responsible for feelings of happiness, bonding, and well-being. The release of these chemicals is what makes love such a powerful and addictive emotion.

Not All Experiences of Love are Genuine

Scammers often use manipulative techniques to force emotions caused by hormones and neurotransmitters against their victims’ will. In other words, this is a violation, or as some victims have called it “psychological rape.”

One such technique is amygdala hijacking, which is an evolutionary response to any threat to our safety and security.

The amygdala is a small almond-shaped structure in the brain that is responsible for processing emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure. When we experience a threat, the amygdala sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which activates the body’s fight-or-flight response. This response is designed to protect us from danger by releasing adrenaline and other stress hormones that prepare us to either fight or flee.

But, and this is where it gets complicated, amygdala hijacking is technically different from amygdala hijacking.

The Brain's Amygdala
Amygdala Hijack

Amygdala Hijacks & Love Bombing – Manipulating Emotions Against Your Will

The amygdala, a primal part of the brain responsible for emotions like fear and pleasure, plays a crucial role in this hormonal dysfunction.

Scammers use amygdala hijacking to create a sense of urgency and fear in their victims. They do this by creating a situation that triggers the amygdala’s fight-or-flight response, which causes the victim to act without thinking. For example, during the Australian Tax Office scam, the criminal convinces the victim that if they do not make immediate payment, they will be arrested and incarcerated. The fear response to this news causes amygdala hijack, which shuts down the pre-frontal cortex, our rational, logical ‘executive function’ part of our brain. This causes us to act and not think, leading to the victim making a payment without considering the consequences.

The critical part of an amygdala hijack is to evoke stored emotional responses and then produce and release hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. This makes the amygdala hyperactivated.

Positive Amygdala Hijacks

The amygdala can be involved in positive emotional responses as well. The amygdala plays a crucial role in processing emotions, including both positive and negative ones. It is involved in the formation and storage of emotional memories, and its activation can contribute to the intensity of emotional experiences.

In the context of positive emotions, such as joy, love, or happiness, the amygdala may become activated to enhance the encoding and retention of those positive emotional memories. Positive experiences can lead to the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that contribute to feelings of reward and pleasure.

In the case of scams or manipulative tactics, scammers may exploit the amygdala’s role in processing positive emotions to create a sense of trust, affection, or attachment in their victims. They might use various techniques, including love bombing, to trigger positive emotional responses and strengthen the emotional connection between the scammer and the victim.

It’s important to note that the amygdala’s involvement in emotional processing is complex, and its activation is not inherently negative. The amygdala’s role is adaptive, helping individuals form emotional memories that guide behavior and decision-making. However, in the context of scams, manipulation involves exploiting these natural processes to deceive and manipulate victims emotionally, whether through positive or negative emotional experiences.

Love Bombing Red Flags

Love Bombing Technique

Love bombing often initiates with excessive flattery, premature declarations of love, and extravagant gestures. It’s essential to discern warning signs, as perpetrators aim to create dependency, control lives, and cultivate emotional reliance. Red flags include excessive time demands, encouraged dependency, and mistreatment of others.

When we connect with someone we feel affection for – after trust and affection have become established, the amygdala becomes less active, allowing positive emotions to flow freely.

This decreased amygada activity makes us more susceptible to romantic manipulation, especially techniques like:

  • Love Bombing: A targeted onslaught of affection and adoration that triggers rapid emotional attachment and oxytocin release, making it harder to think critically. Being showered with love and affection during the early stages of a relationship can be exciting and flattering. However, while such gestures are sometimes sincere, they can constitute emotional abuse and be harmful in various ways if the individual performing them does so in order to manipulate their partner. If you’re in the dating world, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of love bombing so you can recognize it if it happens to you and defend yourself accordingly.
  • Mirroring: Mimicking the victim’s mannerisms and interests, fostering a sense of deep connection and understanding.
  • Social Isolation: This is called ‘gaslighting’ – encouraging the victim to cut off ties with friends and family, increasing dependence on the scammer and reducing support networks.

Real Love Bombing is not a form of amygdala hijack but is often confused for it.

These manipulative tactics exploit the vulnerability of the amygdala in an artificially love-struck brain. They bypass critical thinking and directly trigger the emotional reward system in the striatum and TPJ (and elsewhere,) creating a powerful sense of attachment and dependence. This “amygdala hijack” can make it feel like love is real, even when it’s a carefully constructed illusion.

This technique used by scammers is known as ‘love bombing’, which is a form of emotional manipulation that involves showering the victim with affection and attention. During the grooming stage, the criminal works on eliciting a high level of trust to manipulate the victim into what the criminal terms the ‘ether state’. This state is characterized by high oxytocin levels which are increased through ‘love bombing’; validating the victim, telling him or her how wonderful they are, sending love notes and love poems throughout the day, and relentlessly, emotionally bombarding them with ‘love vibes’. When the criminal has manipulated the victim into this state, they can start asking for money, often citing plausible (but at the same time, unusual) reasons, such as accidents, lost wallets or banking issues. The victim is encouraged to keep messaging through the night, leading to sleep deprivation, which also has a detrimental effect on cognitive function. The criminal will paint a vivid and highly potent picture of a future life together. Because the victim will want to believe everything the criminal says, they will employ selective thinking. The victim will filter out any observations that run contrary to their belief in their love interest’s story. This is why it is so difficult for well-meaning friends or family members to convince the victim they are falling for a scammer.

The potential effects of love bombing are profound, causing emotional turmoil and establishing a push-and-pull dynamic over time. Perpetrators may engage in such behavior due to deep-seated insecurities, seeking validation through grand gestures. Recovering from love bombing involves removing oneself from the harmful situation, regaining independence, and rebuilding self-esteem.

The Striatum & TPJ and Love!

The striatum and TPJ (temporoparietal junction) play important roles in the brain’s processing of love, affection, and attachment, each contributing to different aspects of these emotions.

A. Striatum:

    • The striatum is a key component of the brain’s reward system. It is associated with the experience of pleasure and reinforcement of behavior.
    • In the context of love, the striatum is activated when individuals experience rewarding stimuli, such as being with a loved one. This activation reinforces the desire to seek and maintain that connection.
    • Dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, is released in the striatum during positive social interactions, contributing to feelings of love and attachment.

The striatum and the nucleus accumbens are closely related structures in the brain, and the nucleus accumbens is a part of the striatum. Their definitions and distinctions:

  1. Striatum:
    • The striatum is a subcortical part of the forebrain, located near the center of the brain.
    • It consists of two main components: the caudate nucleus and the putamen. These structures are involved in various functions, including motor control, reward processing, and cognitive functions.
    • The striatum plays a crucial role in the brain’s reward system and motor function.
  2. Nucleus Accumbens:
    • The nucleus accumbens (NAcc) is a specific region within the ventral striatum. It is often considered a key component of the brain’s reward system.
    • The nucleus accumbens is associated with the processing of reward, pleasure, reinforcement, and addiction. It plays a role in motivation and the experience of pleasure related to various stimuli, including social interactions and substances like drugs. It plays a major role in love bombing.
  3. Distinctions:
    • The striatum is a broader term encompassing the entire structure, including the caudate nucleus and putamen.
    • The nucleus accumbens is a specific region within the ventral striatum, emphasizing its role in reward processing and motivation.

The nucleus accumbens is a subregion within the larger striatum, and it specifically plays a central role in reward-related processes and motivation. The striatum, in its entirety, contributes to a range of functions beyond reward, including motor control and cognitive processes.

B. TPJ (Temporoparietal Junction):

  • The TPJ is involved in various social cognitive functions, including perspective-taking, empathy, and understanding the intentions of others.
  • In the context of love and affection, the TPJ may play a role in understanding and empathizing with the emotions and needs of a partner.
  • It contributes to the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others, fostering a sense of connection and shared emotional experiences.

Together, these brain regions form a complex network involved in the multifaceted experience of love. While the striatum is more closely associated with the reward and pleasure aspects of love, the TPJ contributes to the social and cognitive dimensions, enabling individuals to connect emotionally and understand the perspectives of their loved ones. The intricate interplay of these regions underscores the richness and depth of human emotional experiences in the context of relationships.

Other Brain Functions that Play Strong Roles in Love

Feelings of love, affection, and strong emotional attachment involve a complex interplay of various brain functions and neurotransmitter systems, and scammers use amygdala hijacks and love bombing to control this.

Here are some key brain regions and functions associated with these emotions:

  1. Oxytocin and Vasopressin Release:
    • Oxytocin and vasopressin are hormones released by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. They play crucial roles in social bonding, pair bonding, and maternal-infant attachment.
    • Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” and is associated with maternal behaviors, social bonding, and attachment.
  2. Hippocampus:
    • The hippocampus is involved in the formation and retrieval of memories. It plays a role in creating lasting memories of emotional experiences, contributing to the formation of strong emotional bonds. These can be used in amygdala hijacking as well as under conscious control.
  3. Prefrontal Cortex:
    • The prefrontal cortex, particularly the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), is associated with decision-making, emotional regulation, and social cognition.
    • It helps in assessing the emotional significance of stimuli and contributes to the ability to make socially appropriate decisions in relationships.
  4. Endorphins:
    • Endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators. They are released during pleasurable activities and contribute to the overall sense of well-being associated with love.
  5. Serotonin and Dopamine:
    • Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters associated with mood regulation and pleasure.
    • Dopamine, in particular, is linked to the brain’s reward system and is released during pleasurable experiences, reinforcing behaviors associated with love and attachment.
  6. Mirror Neurons:
    • Mirror neurons, found in various brain regions, are involved in empathy and imitation. They contribute to the ability to understand and share the emotions of others, fostering emotional connection.

The intricate network of these brain regions and neurotransmitter systems underscores the multifaceted nature of love and emotional attachment. The interplay of cognitive, emotional, and reward-related processes contributes to the rich and complex experience of human relationships.

Reclaiming Control

Understanding the brain’s role in romance scams is crucial for both prevention and recovery. It empowers victims to recognize the manipulative tactics used and know that their intense emotions were not solely their own. In other words, they were valid emotions and the scam victims felt them, but they were not voluntary or with their consent.

Here are some ways to protect against being amygdala-hijacked or love-bombed:

  • Be wary of rapid online romances: True love takes time to develop. Slow down and get to know someone genuinely before investing emotionally.
  • Maintain a healthy dose of skepticism: If things seem too good to be true, they probably are. Don’t ignore red flags or inconsistencies in your online love interest’s story.
  • Stay connected to your support network: Talk to friends and family about your online relationships. Their objective perspective can help you see things clearly.

Falling in love is a beautiful experience, but it shouldn’t involve manipulation or coercion. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of a romance scam, don’t hesitate to seek help from trusted friends, family, or professional resources for support and counseling.

Everyone deserves to experience genuine love, free from the deceptive hands of online predators.

By understanding the mechanics of “love” in the brain and the tricks scammers employ, people can protect themselves and build healthier, more authentic connections in the real world.

The Importance of Therapy

Therapy, whether in-person or online, proves instrumental in the healing process. Therapists provide a safe space to express and process feelings, offer guidance in setting boundaries, and empower individuals to recognize potential abuse in future relationships. Online therapy platforms offer accessible support for those on the path to recovery.

Summary

Remember, love is a complex emotion that is governed by a variety of biological and psychological factors. When we fall in love, our brains release a cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters that create a sense of euphoria and pleasure.

However, scammers often use manipulative techniques to force emotions caused by hormones and neurotransmitters against their victims’ will – this is a violation or psychological rape! One such technique is amygdala hijacking, which is an evolutionary response to any threat to our safety and security. By understanding the mechanics of love and the techniques used by scammers, we can protect ourselves from falling prey to these scams and enjoy the true pleasures of love, but equally important is understanding that the love that scam victims felt was not real, it was triggered by the criminal’s manipulations.

Major Brain Functions

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PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

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