Existential Specialness And Scam Victims

Helping Us All Understand the Biases and Mentalities that Make Us Vulnerable and challenge our Recovery

Primary Category: Psychology of Scams

•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Existential specialness, the belief that one’s existence is uniquely significant, can profoundly complicate recovery for scam victims. When individuals with this mentality fall prey to scams, they often experience intense cognitive dissonance. This clash between their self-perception of being invulnerable and the reality of being deceived generates feelings of shame and embarrassment, making it difficult for them to openly acknowledge their victimization and seek support.

This self-blame and harsh self-critique can erode their self-esteem and confidence in their judgment, further hindering proactive recovery steps. Additionally, the fear of judgment from others and the need to maintain their perceived special status often lead to isolation, preventing victims from accessing necessary emotional support and practical advice. This reluctance to seek help, coupled with a tendency to downplay the scam’s impact, delays critical actions required for recovery, such as reporting the crime or engaging in therapeutic interventions.

The existential crisis triggered by being scammed can exacerbate mental health challenges, adding layers of anxiety, depression, and existential questioning that complicate the healing process. Thus, the existential specialness mentality significantly obstructs recovery by intensifying emotional turmoil, fostering isolation, and delaying essential recovery steps.

Existential Specialness And Scam Victims - 2024 - on SCARS ScamsNOW.com - The Magazine of Scams Fraud and Cybercrime

A Note About Labeling!

We often use the term ‘scam victim’ in our articles, but this is a convenience to help those searching for information in search engines like Google. It is just a convenience and has no deeper meaning. If you have come through such an experience, YOU are a Survivor! It was not your fault. You are not alone! Axios!

Existential Specialness Mentality – Why We Think We are Special and What this does to our Outlook on Scams, Victimization, and Recovery

What is Existential Specialness?

Existential specialness refers to the belief that one’s existence is uniquely significant or that one’s life has a special purpose or destiny that sets it apart from others. It is another way of saying that a person has a ‘Manifest Destiny’.

This concept can manifest in various ways, including a heightened sense of personal importance, a feeling of being chosen for a particular mission or role, or a deep-seated conviction that one’s experiences or struggles are extraordinary compared to those of others.

Existential psychologist Irvin Yalom (1980) wrote about the concept of “personal specialness” as a common way people deny the inevitability of death. He suggested that many individuals harbor a conviction that they are exempt from the harsh realities that affect everyone else, including the inevitability of death. This belief, although illogical, serves as a self-deception strategy that helps individuals cope with the anxiety surrounding their mortality. Yalom highlighted that this mentality is a predictable part of the human condition, and he invited readers to reflect on whether they recognize themselves in this psychological defense mechanism. Through this exploration, Yalom emphasized the importance of confronting and understanding our denial strategies to lead a more authentic and meaningful life. (His Interview)

You Are Probably Not Aware

Most people are unaware that they harbor a belief in existential specialness, as this conviction is often deeply rooted in the subconscious. This belief manifests subtly, influencing thoughts and behaviors without conscious recognition.

It can be reinforced by cultural narratives that celebrate individuality and personal destiny, leading individuals to internalize a sense of unique significance. Because it operates beneath the surface, existential specialness can shape responses to life events, making people feel exceptionally deserving of success or immune to common misfortunes. This unrecognized mindset can lead to unrealistic expectations and blind spots, particularly in situations requiring critical assessment, such as when encountering potential scams.

The subtlety and pervasiveness of this belief make it difficult for individuals to identify and challenge, often leaving them vulnerable to its negative implications.

Key Aspects of Existential Specialness

Unique Purpose: Individuals with a sense of existential specialness often believe they have a unique role or mission in life. This can be linked to personal goals, spiritual beliefs, or a sense of destiny.

Personal Significance: There is a strong belief in the inherent value and importance of one’s life and actions. This can lead to a heightened sense of self-worth and motivation but may also result in feelings of isolation or alienation if others do not share or recognize this belief.

Narrative Identity: People who feel existentially special often construct their life stories in a way that emphasizes their unique experiences and contributions. This narrative helps them make sense of their lives and reinforces their sense of specialness.

Existential Meaning: The belief in one’s specialness can be a source of existential meaning, providing a framework for understanding life’s challenges and achievements. It can offer comfort and direction, especially during difficult times.

Potential Downsides: While existential specialness can be empowering, it can also lead to unrealistic expectations, disappointment, and interpersonal conflicts. If the belief in one’s specialness is excessively strong, it might result in narcissism or an inability to relate to others’ experiences.

Psychological Perspectives of Existential Specialness

Positive Psychology: From a positive psychology perspective, the belief in existential specialness can contribute to well-being by instilling a sense of purpose and motivation. It can be a source of resilience and drive.

Existential Psychology: Existential psychologists might explore how this belief relates to broader questions of meaning, freedom, and responsibility. They may examine how individuals navigate the tension between their sense of specialness and the inherent uncertainties of life.

Developmental Psychology: Developmental psychologists might study how beliefs about existential specialness evolve over the lifespan and how they impact personal development and relationships.

Cultural and Social Influences of Existential Specialness

Cultural narratives and social contexts can significantly influence beliefs about existential specialness. For instance, some cultures emphasize individualism and personal achievement, which can reinforce the idea that each person has a unique destiny. Conversely, collectivist cultures might place less emphasis on individual specialness and more on community and shared goals.

In summary, existential specialness is a belief in one’s unique significance and purpose in life. While it can provide meaning and motivation, it is important to balance this belief with realistic expectations and understand one’s interconnectedness with others.

Existential Specialness and Scams

Existential specialness, the belief in one’s unique significance and invulnerability, can significantly increase susceptibility to scams.

Existential specialness can make individuals more susceptible to scams and complicate their recovery due to several psychological and emotional factors. This mindset reinforces overconfidence, leading individuals to underestimate their vulnerability to deception and overestimate their judgment.

Scammers exploit this by crafting personalized communications that validate the victim’s sense of specialness, presenting opportunities that seem tailor-made for their unique qualities or destiny. This targeted manipulation makes the scam appear credible and lowers the victim’s defenses. Moreover, the desire for validation and recognition of their special status can drive individuals to engage in scams, as these often promise exclusive or exceptional benefits. Consequently, the existential specialness mentality not only blinds individuals to potential red flags but also makes them prime targets for scammers who know how to play to their self-perceptions.

Increased Susceptibility to Scams

Desire for Validation: Individuals with a strong sense of existential specialness often seek validation of their unique significance. Scammers can exploit this by offering flattery, exclusive opportunities, or personalized attention that reinforces the individual’s belief in their specialness.

Targeted Manipulation: Scammers are adept at identifying psychological vulnerabilities. They may craft messages or opportunities that align with the individual’s sense of special purpose or destiny, making the scam more appealing and believable.

Overconfidence: A belief in one’s specialness can lead to overconfidence in one’s judgment and decision-making abilities. This overconfidence can result in a reduced skepticism toward too-good-to-be-true offers and a greater likelihood of falling for scams.

Unique Opportunities: Scams that present themselves as unique or exclusive opportunities are particularly attractive to those with a sense of existential specialness. These individuals might believe they are uniquely qualified or destined for these opportunities, lowering their defenses.

The existential specialness mentality, where individuals perceive themselves as unique and exceptional in ways that protect them from common vulnerabilities, significantly increases susceptibility to scams. This mindset creates a sense of invulnerability (even if they are not aware of it,) leading individuals to believe that they are less likely to fall victim to scams or other crimes compared to others. This overconfidence can result in lowered vigilance and a lack of critical assessment of potentially suspicious situations. When someone feels inherently special or different from the average person, they may assume that their intelligence, intuition, or life experiences shield them from deception. This false sense of security can make them more likely to overlook red flags that would otherwise trigger caution.

Scammers are adept at exploiting this mindset by crafting messages that appeal to the victim’s sense of specialness. They may use personalized language or exclusive offers that play into the individual’s belief in their unique status. For instance, a scammer might claim that the target has been specially selected for a lucrative opportunity or has been identified as uniquely qualified for a prize. Such targeted flattery and customization reinforce the victim’s self-perception of being special, making the scam appear more credible. The victim’s desire to maintain this special status can overshadow their usual skepticism, leading them to engage in the scam and potentially share personal information or financial details.

This existential specialness mentality can also lead to an underestimation of the sophistication of scams. Believing that only the naive or uninformed can be deceived, those with this mindset may not fully appreciate the advanced tactics and psychological manipulation used by modern scammers. They may assume that they would easily recognize any deceitful attempt, underestimating the scammer’s ability to create convincing scenarios. This lack of preparation and awareness leaves them particularly vulnerable, as they might not take necessary precautions, such as verifying the authenticity of communications or seeking advice before making decisions.

In addition to increasing susceptibility, the existential specialness mentality can also complicate recovery from a scam. When individuals who see themselves as exceptional realize they have been deceived, the cognitive dissonance can be profound. They must reconcile their self-image with the reality of having fallen for a scam, which can lead to intense feelings of shame, embarrassment, and self-doubt. This emotional turmoil can hinder their ability to seek help or discuss their experience with others, as they fear judgment and damage to their self-esteem. The process of recovery thus becomes more challenging, as they must not only deal with the practical repercussions of the scam but also work through the psychological impact on their self-identity.

Complications in Recovery

Shame and Embarrassment: When scam victims see themselves as special and fall victim to scams, they can experience profound shame and embarrassment. The realization that they were deceived can conflict sharply with their self-image, making it harder to accept and move on.

Cognitive Dissonance: The gap between their self-perception as special and the reality of being scammed creates cognitive dissonance. This mental discomfort can lead to denial or rationalization, delaying acknowledgment of the scam and the start of recovery.

Isolation: The belief in their unique significance can cause scam victims to feel isolated or misunderstood by others, especially if they think others cannot relate to their experience. This isolation can prevent them from seeking support and sharing their experiences, which are crucial steps in the recovery process.

Identity Crisis: Being scammed can trigger an existential crisis, challenging their sense of purpose and self-worth. The need to reconcile their perceived specialness with the vulnerability exposed by the scam can lead to significant emotional and psychological turmoil.

Trust Issues: Recovery often requires rebuilding trust in oneself and others. For individuals with a strong sense of existential specialness, the betrayal experienced in a scam can severely damage their ability to trust their own judgment and the intentions of others, complicating the healing process.

The existential specialness mentality complicates the recovery process for scam victims in several profound ways.

Individuals who see themselves as inherently unique or exceptional can experience significant cognitive dissonance when they fall victim to a scam. This dissonance arises from the clash between their self-perception as savvy and invulnerable and the reality that they were deceived. The realization that they were not immune to manipulation can be deeply unsettling, leading to intense feelings of shame and embarrassment. These emotions can be overwhelming, making it difficult for victims to acknowledge their experience openly and seek the support they need.

The shame associated with being scammed is made worse by the belief that they should have been able to see through the deception. This self-blame can spiral into a persistent sense of inadequacy and self-doubt, as victims question their judgment and intelligence. The internal narrative often shifts to a harsh critique of their perceived failure, which can damage their self-esteem and hinder their confidence in making future decisions. This erosion of self-trust is particularly detrimental because it can paralyze victims, preventing them from taking proactive steps to address the aftermath of the scam, such as reporting the crime or seeking professional help.

The reluctance to seek help is another significant barrier to recovery for those with an existential specialness mentality. Admitting to being scammed can feel like an admission of personal failure or a blow to their perceived exceptionalism. The fear of judgment or ridicule from others may lead them to suffer in silence, avoiding conversations that could provide emotional support and practical advice. This isolation can prolong the recovery process, as victims may not access the resources or guidance needed to navigate the complexities of financial restitution, legal proceedings, or psychological healing.

Additionally, the deep-seated need to maintain their special status can cause victims to downplay the impact of the scam or refuse to fully confront its consequences. They might rationalize or minimize the event as a minor setback rather than acknowledging the full extent of the damage. This denial can impede recovery by delaying critical actions, such as canceling compromised accounts, notifying relevant authorities, or engaging in therapeutic interventions. Without addressing the problem head-on, victims risk further financial loss, identity theft, and ongoing emotional distress.

The path to recovery is also complicated by the existential crisis that such an experience can trigger.

Being scammed forces individuals to reevaluate their beliefs about their place in the world and their perceived invulnerability. This existential questioning can lead to a broader sense of disillusionment and despair, as victims grapple with the fragility of their self-concept. The psychological toll of this crisis can manifest as anxiety, depression, or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), further complicating the recovery process. Overcoming these mental health challenges requires substantial effort and support, which victims may be reluctant to seek due to their compromised sense of specialness.

Existential specialness mentality significantly complicates the recovery process for scam victims by intensifying feelings of shame, self-doubt, and isolation. It hinders their willingness to seek help and confront the consequences of the scam, while also triggering deeper existential crises that can exacerbate mental health issues. To facilitate recovery, it is crucial for victims to challenge this mentality, seek supportive networks, and engage with professional resources to rebuild their self-esteem and regain a sense of control over their lives.

Existential specialness and Cognitive Biases

Existential specialness is not a cognitive bias itself, but rather a collection of cognitive biases and psychological mechanisms that together create a mindset where individuals believe they are uniquely exempt from common human experiences, such as mortality and suffering.

This mentality can be supported by several cognitive biases and psychological mechanisms, including:

Optimism Bias: This bias leads individuals to believe that they are less likely to experience negative events compared to others. It contributes to the sense of specialness by fostering the belief that bad things happen to others but not to oneself.

Illusion of Control: This is the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events, leading them to believe they can avoid or mitigate common risks and challenges that affect others.

Confirmation Bias: This bias causes individuals to seek out and remember information that confirms their preexisting beliefs. For those with existential specialness, this means focusing on instances where they avoided misfortune while ignoring evidence that they are just as vulnerable as anyone else.

Self-Serving Bias: This involves attributing positive events to one’s own actions and abilities while attributing negative events to external factors. This bias can support a sense of specialness by reinforcing the idea that one’s positive outcomes are due to their unique qualities.

Narrative Fallacy: This is the tendency to create a coherent story from random or unrelated events. People might interpret their personal history as evidence of their specialness, crafting a narrative that highlights their unique qualities and downplays their vulnerabilities.

Survivorship Bias: This occurs when people focus on successful outcomes while ignoring the many failures. Individuals might look at their life experiences and conclude they are special because they survived certain challenges, ignoring those who did not.

Availability Heuristic: This is the tendency to judge the likelihood of events based on how easily examples come to mind. If individuals can easily recall times they avoided disaster or experienced success, they might overestimate their invulnerability.

Together, these biases and mechanisms contribute to the development and maintenance of the existential specialness mentality. Understanding this collection of biases can help individuals recognize and challenge their beliefs about their unique invulnerability, promoting a more realistic and balanced perspective.

To learn more about Cognitive Biases visit ScamPsychology.org

Overcoming the Existential Specialness Mentality

Overcoming the existential specialness mentality after falling victim to a scam involves a multi-faceted approach that addresses both the cognitive and emotional aspects of their self-perception. Here are several strategies to help scam victims move beyond this mentality:

Self-Awareness and Reflection

Acknowledge the Mindset: Recognize and accept that the belief in one’s existential specialness can be both a strength and a vulnerability. Encourage acknowledgment of the experience and accept that anyone, regardless of their perceived specialness, can be deceived is a critical first step. This can help reduce feelings of shame and isolation.

Reflect on Vulnerabilities: Understand how this mindset made them susceptible to the scam. Journaling about their experience can help them identify specific thought patterns and behaviors that were exploited.

Cognitive Restructuring

Challenge Unrealistic Beliefs: Work on reframing beliefs about uniqueness and invulnerability. This can involve questioning the idea that being special should protect them from negative experiences.

Balanced Self-View: Develop a more balanced view of themselves, recognizing both strengths and vulnerabilities. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be particularly effective for this.

Education and Awareness

Learn About Scams: Educate themselves about common scam tactics and the psychology behind them. Understanding that anyone can be scammed can reduce feelings of shame and isolation.

Case Studies: Reading about other scam victims, including those who might also have felt special, can provide perspective and reduce feelings of uniqueness in their vulnerability.

Professional Support

Therapy: Engaging with a licensed therapist can help process the emotional impact of the scam and work through issues related to self-worth and identity.

Support Groups: Joining support groups for scam victims can provide a sense of community and shared understanding, reducing feelings of isolation and specialness in their suffering.

Rebuilding Trust

Trust in Self: Rebuild self-trust by recognizing that making a mistake does not define their entire identity. Focus on small, positive decisions and actions to regain confidence.

Trust in Others: Gradually reestablish trust in others by setting healthy boundaries and being cautious, but not overly skeptical, in new relationships.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Mindfulness and Relaxation: Practice mindfulness, meditation, or other relaxation techniques to manage stress and anxiety.

Physical Activity: Regular exercise can improve mood and overall well-being, making it easier to cope with emotional distress.

Developing Resilience

Resilience Training: Engage in activities that build resilience, such as problem-solving exercises, resilience workshops, or resilience-focused therapy.

Learning from Experience: Use the experience of being scammed as an opportunity for personal growth. Reflect on what has been learned and how they can apply this knowledge to future situations.

Community Engagement

Volunteering: Get involved in community service or volunteer work. Helping others can shift focus away from self and foster a sense of connection and purpose.

Educational Outreach: Share their story and knowledge about scams with others to help prevent similar incidents. This can be empowering and help redefine their sense of purpose.

Setting Realistic Goals

Short-term Goals: Set achievable short-term goals to regain a sense of control and accomplishment.

Long-term Goals: Gradually work towards long-term goals that align with a healthier self-view, emphasizing growth and resilience rather than specialness.


Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize that being scammed does not diminish your value or worth. Self-compassion exercises can help foster a healthier self-relationship.

Forgiveness: Forgive themselves for any perceived mistakes and understand that everyone is vulnerable to deception at times.

By addressing both the cognitive and emotional aspects of the existential specialness mentality, scam victims can develop a healthier, more balanced self-perception, reducing susceptibility to future scams and aiding in their recovery process.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

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

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here: www.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines

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 www.ScamPsychology.org

SCARS Resources:

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 Relationship 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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