Desperation – One of Many Normal Scam Victims’ Responses To Fear

After a Scam Ends Fear Becomes a Dominant Emotion that can drive Desperation or Despair

Primary Category: Recovery Psychology

•  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.

About This Article

Desperation is a profound sense of urgency and anxiety that arises when individuals feel trapped in a hopeless situation, such as a scam victim’s experience. It is driven by fear, hopelessness, urgency, and isolation, leading to intense emotional turmoil, impaired judgment, and risky behaviors.

While desperation can motivate and inspire creativity, it more often results in impulsive decisions and increased vulnerability to further scams.

Recognizing desperation involves monitoring intense emotions, obsessive thoughts, behavioral changes, and physical symptoms like fatigue and sleep disturbances. Taking action includes seeking support, practicing self-care, breaking down problems, avoiding impulsive decisions, and considering professional help.

Differentiating from distress, desperation is more intense and urgent, often leading to high-risk behaviors and extreme measures due to the perceived lack of options. Understanding and addressing desperation can help regain control and promote healthier responses to challenging situations.

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Scam Victim Desperation: an Emotional Driver and a Normal Reaction to the Fear that Follows the End of a Relationship Scam

What Is Desperation?

Desperation is a profound sense of urgency and anxiety that arises when an individual feels trapped in a difficult or hopeless situation, such as a scam victim after a scam ends. It is often accompanied by feelings of helplessness and a frantic need to escape the negative circumstances. This intense emotional state can stem from various life stressors, including financial fraud and scams, financial difficulties, health crises, relationship breakdowns, loss of employment, or severe disappointment.

Emotional Drivers of Desperation

Desperation is driven by a mix of emotional factors:

  • Fear: The fear of losing something valuable, whether it be a person, status, or financial stability, can precipitate a state of desperation.
  • Hopelessness: When individuals perceive their situation as unsolvable or unchangeable, they may become desperate.
  • Urgency: The pressing need to find a solution quickly to alleviate distress can intensify feelings of desperation.
  • Isolation: Feeling alone or unsupported can exacerbate the sense of urgency and helplessness.

The Dual Nature of Desperation

Desperation can have both positive and negative consequences:

Positive Aspects

    • Motivation: Desperation can spur individuals into action, prompting them to seek solutions or help they might not have considered otherwise.
    • Creativity: In dire situations, people may become more creative in problem-solving, thinking outside the box to find a way out.
    • Resilience: Experiencing desperation and overcoming it can build resilience and strength, teaching valuable life lessons.

Negative Aspects:

    • Impulsivity: Desperation often leads to impulsive decisions without thoroughly considering the consequences.
    • Vulnerability: Desperate individuals are more susceptible to manipulation, as their urgent need for resolution can cloud their judgment.
    • Risk-taking: The frantic need to escape distress may push people to take unnecessary or dangerous risks.

Desperation and Bad Decision Making

In the context of new scam victims, desperation can drive particularly poor decision-making:

  • Impaired Judgment: Desperation can impair an individual’s ability to think clearly and rationally. The urgency to recover lost money or restore stability can overshadow logical reasoning.
  • Increased Susceptibility: Scammers prey on desperation, offering quick fixes or too-good-to-be-true solutions that seem like a lifeline to the desperate victim.
  • Repeated Losses: Victims may continue to invest time, money, and resources into fraudulent schemes, unable to accept their losses due to the sunk cost fallacy.
  • Isolation and Secrecy: Desperate victims might avoid seeking advice or discussing their situation with trusted individuals, fearing judgment or further loss, which leads to making uninformed decisions.
  • Emotional Manipulation: Desperation makes individuals more emotionally malleable, allowing scammers to exploit their fears and hopes more effectively.

In essence, while desperation can be a powerful motivator, it often leads to hasty and ill-considered decisions, particularly for those already vulnerable, such as new scam victims. Recognizing the signs of desperation and seeking support from trusted sources can mitigate its negative impacts and lead to more measured and effective responses to challenging situations.

Difference Between Desperation and Despair

Distress and desperation, while related, are distinct emotional states with different characteristics and implications. Understanding their differences can provide insight into how they affect behavior and decision-making. It is especially important for those trying to care for individuals in these states to understand the differences.


Definition: Distress is a state of emotional suffering often characterized by anxiety, sorrow, or pain. It arises in response to challenging or adverse situations and can vary in intensity from mild to severe.


      • Emotional Reaction: Distress is primarily an emotional response to stressors or negative experiences. It can manifest as worry, sadness, anger, or frustration.
      • Physical Symptoms: It often comes with physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach issues, fatigue, or muscle tension.
      • Cognitive Effects: Distress can lead to difficulty concentrating, indecisiveness, and a negative outlook.
      • Duration: The duration of distress can be short-term, such as feeling upset after a minor argument, or long-term, such as ongoing stress from a difficult job or chronic illness.
      • Manageability: Distress is often manageable and can be alleviated through coping strategies, such as relaxation techniques, exercise, social support, or professional help.


Definition: Desperation is a more intense and urgent emotional state that arises when a person feels trapped in a dire situation with no apparent solution. It often involves a frantic need to escape or resolve the situation.


      • Intensity: Desperation is more intense than distress. It involves a sense of panic and urgency.
      • Impulsivity: Desperation can drive individuals to make hasty, irrational decisions in an attempt to quickly alleviate their suffering.
      • Perceived Hopelessness: Desperation often stems from a perception that the situation is hopeless or that options are extremely limited.
      • Behavioral Drive: It can push individuals to take extreme measures or risks that they would not consider under less dire circumstances.
      • Isolation: Desperation can lead to feelings of isolation and may cause individuals to withdraw from others, fearing judgment or lack of understanding.

Key Differences

Intensity and Urgency:

      • Distress is less intense and lacks the urgent need for immediate action.
      • Desperation is highly intense and driven by a sense of urgency and panic.


      • Distress can cloud judgment but typically does not lead to extreme or impulsive actions.
      • Desperation often results in impulsive, high-risk decisions aimed at rapid resolution.

Perception of Solutions:

      • Distress allows for the recognition of potential solutions and coping mechanisms.
      • Desperation often involves a perceived lack of viable solutions, leading to frantic behavior.

Behavioral Impact:

      • Distress can be managed with coping strategies and support.
      • Desperation can lead to extreme measures and a higher likelihood of negative outcomes, such as falling victim to scams or taking dangerous risks.

While both distress and desperation involve emotional suffering, distress is a more moderate and manageable state of discomfort, whereas desperation is an extreme and urgent state of emotional turmoil. Desperation often leads to more impulsive and risky behavior due to the perceived lack of options and the intense need to escape the negative situation. Understanding these differences is crucial for providing appropriate support and interventions.

What It Feels Like To Be Truly Desperate

Feeling truly desperate is an intense and overwhelming emotional state that can significantly impact your thoughts, behaviors, and physical well-being. Recognizing desperation in yourself involves identifying several key emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physical symptoms. Here’s a detailed look at what it feels like to be truly desperate and how you can recognize it:

Intense Emotional Turmoil:

    • Overwhelming Fear or Anxiety: A constant, consuming fear about your situation and the future.
    • Hopelessness: A pervasive sense that there are no viable solutions or escape routes.
    • Panic: Sudden, intense feelings of panic or dread that can feel paralyzing.
    • Despair: A deep sense of sadness and despondency, often accompanied by crying or emotional numbness.

Cognitive Symptoms:

    • Obsessive Thoughts: Repeatedly thinking about the problem with no clear solution, often leading to mental exhaustion.
    • Impaired Judgment: Difficulty thinking logically or making rational decisions, often resulting in hasty or extreme actions.
    • Negative Thinking: A persistent focus on negative outcomes and worst-case scenarios.

Behavioral Changes:

    • Impulsivity: Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors as a way to quickly change your situation.
    • Isolation: Withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities due to feeling overwhelmed or ashamed.
    • Desperate Actions: Taking extreme measures that you wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances, such as drastic financial decisions, considering illegal activities, or harming yourself or others.

Physical Symptoms:

    • Fatigue: Severe tiredness and exhaustion from the emotional and cognitive strain.
    • Physical Discomfort: Headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, and other stress-related physical symptoms.
    • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia, frequent waking, or excessive sleeping as an escape from reality.

How to Recognize Desperation in Yourself

Monitor Your Emotions: Regularly check in with yourself about how you’re feeling. If you notice intense and overwhelming emotions that persist or escalate, it could be a sign of desperation.

Assess Your Thought Patterns: Pay attention to your thinking. Are you obsessing over a problem without finding solutions? Are your thoughts predominantly negative or catastrophic?

Observe Your Behavior: Reflect on recent actions and behaviors. Have you done things impulsively or taken risks that you normally wouldn’t? Are you withdrawing from others or acting out of character?

Notice Physical Changes: Be aware of your body. Unexplained fatigue, frequent physical discomfort, and significant changes in your sleep patterns can indicate emotional distress and desperation.

Seek Feedback: Sometimes others can see changes in us that we might not notice. Ask trusted friends or family members if they’ve observed any concerning changes in your behavior or mood.

Taking Action to Regain Control

Recognizing desperation is the first step toward addressing it. Here are some actions you can take:

  • Seek Support: Reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional. Talking about your feelings can provide relief and perspective.
  • Practice Self-Care: Focus on activities that reduce stress and promote well-being, such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies you enjoy.
  • Break Down Problems: Instead of trying to solve everything at once, break down your problems into smaller, manageable steps.
  • Avoid Impulsive Decisions: Give yourself time to think through major decisions. Seek advice and consider all options carefully.
  • Professional Help: If desperation persists, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who can provide strategies and support for managing intense emotions.

By recognizing and addressing feelings of desperation, you can begin to regain control and work towards resolving the underlying issues in a healthier, more sustainable way.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit:

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here:

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at

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Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

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.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.







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