Labeling Theory & What It Means For Victims Of Scams

When words evoke strong emotional responses they can mean many things, but most of them are not good. They can easily become triggers for unresolved and unmanaged trauma.

Authors:
• Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
• Vianey Gonzalez – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
Originally published in 2023 – updated 2024

About This Article

Labeling someone as a victim is simply a descriptive term, but how they react to it can reveal a lot about their emotional state. Some may accept it easily, while others might feel deeply ashamed, guilty, or even proud.

This internalization can lead to what’s called a victim mentality, where a person constantly sees themselves as helpless and blames others for their problems. This mindset can make it hard for them to recover from what happened. Overcoming this mentality involves accepting what happened, allowing themselves to feel their emotions, and seeking support from others.

It’s critical to understand that being labeled a victim doesn’t define a person; with the right help and support, they can move forward and rebuild their lives, reclaiming their sense of agency and resilience in the process.

SCARS 3 Steps Scam Victims Support and Recovery Program

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!

Victim – The Double Victimization of Scam Victims and How Labeling Theory Can Explain the Stigma and Discrimination Scam Victims Face

First, let’s be honest, words like ‘victim’ are only just descriptive and generic terms. If you react to the term, then something is wrong.
Some pride, guilt, blame, or shame that has not been put to bed yet!

In this article, we will discuss the problems with labeling, but the fact is that if it bothers you then this is something that has to be worked on internally too.

Labeling Theory

Labeling Theory is the idea that specific labels can have an impact on anyone, but especially for scam victims/survivors. How they see themselves directly affects their chances for recovery and a better future! However, the terms themselves are not derogatory, just generic and descriptive. How individuals react to them does tell much about how the ‘victims’ have adapted and accepted the situation.

Introduction to Labeling Theory

Labeling theory in criminology is a perspective that focuses on the ways in which social labels, such as “criminal” or “delinquent,” or “victim,” can influence an individual’s behavior.

The theory suggests that once a person is labeled as a criminal (for example,) they are more likely to engage in subsequent criminal activity.

This is because the label can lead to stigmatization, discrimination, and other negative consequences, which can make it difficult for the person to reintegrate into society. It can also modify or affect a person’s core beliefs or perception of identity of or about themself.

There are a number of ways in which labels can be applied to individuals.

  • For example, a person may be labeled as a criminal if they are arrested or convicted of a crime.
  • They may also be labeled as a delinquent if they engage in minor criminal activity or other forms of deviant behavior.
  • Labels can also be applied based on a person’s race, ethnicity, social class, or other group affiliation.

Once a person is labeled, the label can have a number of negative effects on their life. For example, they may be more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, or to be denied employment or housing opportunities. They may also be stigmatized by their peers and family members. These negative consequences can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and anger, which can increase the likelihood that the person will engage in subsequent criminal activity.

Labeling theory has been criticized for a number of reasons. One criticism is that it does not adequately explain why some people who are labeled as criminals do not engage in subsequent criminal activity. Another criticism is that the theory does not take into account the role of individual choice in criminal behavior.

Despite its limitations, labeling theory has had a significant impact on criminology. It has helped to raise awareness of the negative consequences of labeling and the importance of reintegration programs for people who have been convicted of crimes.

Effect of Labels on People in General

The effect of labels on people can be significant. Labels can lead to stigmatization, discrimination, and other negative consequences. This can make it difficult for people to reintegrate into society and can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and anger. These negative consequences can increase the likelihood that people will engage in subsequent criminal activity.

Here are some specific examples of the effects of labels on people:

  • A person who is labeled as a criminal may have difficulty finding a job or housing.
  • A person who is labeled as a delinquent may be suspended or expelled from school.
  • A person who is labeled as mentally ill may be denied access to certain services or opportunities.
  • A person who is labeled as a member of a minority group may be discriminated against in the workplace, the housing market, and other areas of life.

It is important to remember that labels are not identities. People are more than the labels that they are given. We should treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of the labels that they may have been given.

Labeling Theory Applied to Scam Victims

The concept of labeling theory can also be applied to scam victims.

When someone is scammed, they may be labeled as a victim by themselves, their family and friends, and even society as a whole. This label can have a number of profound effects on the victim, including:

  • Reporting crimes: Scam victims may be less likely to report their crimes to the police because they fear being judged or blamed. They may also feel ashamed or embarrassed about what happened to them. Reporting is not that hard – go to reporting.AgainstScams.org to learn more.
  • Seeking support and counseling: Scam victims may be less likely to seek support and counseling because they fear being labeled as weak or gullible (which is not true.) They may also feel that there is no one who can help them or understand what they are going through (also not true.)
  • Acknowledging trauma or grief: Scam victims may be less likely to acknowledge the trauma or grief they are experiencing because they feel like they should just “get over it” or “move on.” They may also feel like their experience is not as valid as the experiences of other victims, such as victims of violent crime.
  • Desire for recovery: Scam victims may lose hope and give up on recovery because they feel like they will never be able to overcome the experience – they accept the label of victim. They may also feel like they are not worthy of recovery.

It is important to remember that scam victims are not to blame for what happened to them!

They are the victims of a crime. It is also important to remember that there is no shame in being a victim. Scam victims deserve support, compassion, and understanding.

Overreacting to the Lable

When someone is labeled a victim, it just serves as a generic descriptive term, simply identifying an individual who has experienced harm or injustice.

However, the impact of this label can vary significantly depending on how it is perceived and internalized by the individual. While some may accept the label without much or any emotional reaction, others may internalize it, leading to complex psychological responses.

A strong visceral reaction or trigger to the word ‘victim’ can tend to indicate that a person who has been victimized has adopted the concept that they are and always will be a victim as a part of their core beliefs, and when they hear the word recoil from it because they cannot face that they have accepted this.

Internalizing the label of “victim” can evoke a range of emotions, including deep shame, guilt, blame, or even pride. These feelings may stem from various sources, such as societal expectations, personal beliefs, or past experiences. For instance, individuals may feel ashamed of being perceived as weak or vulnerable, guilty for somehow contributing to their victimization, or blamed for not preventing the harm inflicted upon them. On the other hand, some individuals may feel a sense of pride in surviving their ordeal or garnering sympathy and support from others. Hearing the word evokes the inner conflict that they feel by being forced to face all this.

Regardless of the specific emotions involved, internalizing the victim label can have profound effects on an individual’s self-esteem, identity, and well-being. It may lead to feelings of powerlessness, worthlessness, or isolation, hindering their ability to heal and move forward from their trauma. Moreover, unresolved shame, guilt, or blame can perpetuate a cycle of self-blame and self-sabotage, further complicating the recovery process. Often strong reactions or rejections of the term mean unresolved issues from their trauma or the conflicts between the fact of their victimization and their residual refusal to accept it.

Addressing the internalized label of victimhood requires a very truthful approach that acknowledges and validates the individual’s experiences while helping them gain empowerment and resilience. This probably involves therapy aimed at processing and reframing negative emotions, challenging distorted beliefs, and rebuilding self-esteem and self-worth. Additionally, social support networks, advocacy resources, and community involvement can play crucial roles in validating survivors’ experiences, promoting healing, and combating stigma associated with victimization.

Ultimately, recognizing and addressing the complexity between external labels and internalized responses is essential for supporting individuals affected by trauma. By fostering a culture of empathy, understanding, and empowerment, we can help survivors reclaim their agency, rebuild their lives, and thrive beyond their experiences of victimization.

Put another way: A healthy mind does not care about labels. They are just words.

When Victims Adopt The ‘Victim Mentality’

When scam victims accept that they are victims they can also begin to adopt a victim mentality, which can have a number of negative consequences.

What is a ‘Victim Mentality’?

In psychology, a “victim mentality” refers to a habitual/returning pattern of thinking and behaving in which an individual perceives themselves as a perpetual victim of circumstances beyond their control.

People with a victim mentality tend to believe that they are unfairly targeted or mistreated by others, and they often view themselves as powerless to change their situation. This mindset is characterized by feelings of self-pity, helplessness, and resentment, as well as a tendency to blame external factors or other people for their difficulties.

Ironically, in the case of scams, it is someone else’s fault – namely the criminals. However, people with a victim mentality tend to blame others not just the criminals.

Individuals with a victim mentality usually exhibit certain behavioral and cognitive patterns, such as:

  1. Externalizing Blame: They attribute their problems and setbacks to external factors, such as other people, fate, or society, rather than taking responsibility for their actions or choices. Not just the criminals, but society, the government, law enforcement, sometimes friends and family for not protecting them, and even support providers for not saving or fixing them fast enough or well enough.
  2. Magnifying Negative Experiences: They dwell on past traumas or injustices, exaggerating their significance and allowing them to overshadow positive aspects of their lives.
  3. Avoiding Personal Accountability: They resist taking proactive steps to improve their circumstances or address their challenges, often making excuses or rationalizations for their inaction.
  4. Seeking Validation and Sympathy: They frequently seek attention and validation from others by recounting their perceived grievances or portraying themselves as victims in need of support and sympathy.
  5. Perpetuating a Cycle of Victimhood: They usually unconsciously seek out situations or relationships that reinforce their sense of victimization, perpetuating a cycle of negative thinking and behavior.

It’s important to note that while experiencing victimization is a genuine and valid human experience, adopting a chronic victim mentality is very detrimental to one’s mental health and overall well-being. It leads to feelings of powerlessness, low self-esteem, and social alienation, and it may hinder personal growth and resilience. It will prevent moving forward and the ability to recover from the experience.

Counseling or Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals with a victim mentality challenge and reframe their negative beliefs and behaviors, empowering them to take control of their lives and cultivate a more resilient and adaptive mindset. Additionally, building self-awareness, practicing self-compassion, and fostering a sense of agency and personal responsibility are essential steps in overcoming a victim mentality and embracing a more empowered and positive outlook on life.

Examples of what People with Victim Mentality Experience

  • They often feel helpless and hopeless. This is because they may feel like they have no control over what happened to them and that they are powerless to prevent it from happening again.
  • They can feel angry and resentful. This is because they may feel like they have been wronged and that they deserve justice.
  • They can feel ashamed and embarrassed. This is because they may feel like they are stupid or gullible for falling for a scam.
  • They often isolate themselves from others. This is because they may feel like no one understands what they are going through or that they will be judged or blamed.
  • They often develop mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A victim mentality makes it difficult for scam victims to recover from their scam experience. This is because they may feel like they are not worthy of recovery or that they are incapable of overcoming what happened to them. Or they simply do not want to deal with it.

If you are a scam victim, it is important to remember that you are not alone. There are people who care about you and want to help. It is also important to remember that you are not to blame for what happened to you. You are the victim of a crime.

Tips for Overcoming Victim Mentality:

  • Accept that you are a victim. This does not mean that you have to wallow in self-pity or give up on yourself. It simply means acknowledging and accepting that what happened to you was wrong and that you were not to blame. When you can do that you become a survivor!
  • Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It is okay to feel angry, sad, scared, or ashamed. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions or pretend that you are okay when you’re not.
  • Talk to someone you trust. This could be a friend, family member, counselor or therapist, or support group. Talking about your experience can help you to process it and to start to heal.
  • Focus on your strengths. Make a list of all the things that you are good at and that you are proud of. This can help you to build your self-esteem and to remind yourself that you are a valuable person. You are worthy! Axios!
  • Set goals for yourself. What do you want to achieve in life? Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start to develop a new plan to make it happen.

It is important to remember that recovery from a scam takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and don’t give up. There is hope for the future.

Overcoming the Label

Here are some tips for helping scam victims overcome the negative effects of labeling:

  • Be supportive and understanding: Let scam victims know that it is not their fault and that they are not alone. Listen to their story without judgment.
  • Encourage them to report the crime: Let scam victims know that it is important to report the crime so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice, but even more important is that it helps them to proclaim their innocence and retake control back from the criminals.
  • Help them find support and counseling: There are a number of resources available to scam victims, including support groups, counseling services, and financial assistance programs. Find support at support.AgainstScams.org and counseling or therapy at counseling.AgainstScams.org
  • Encourage them to acknowledge their trauma or grief: Let scam victims know that it is okay to feel sad, angry, or scared. Their emotions are valid! Encourage them to talk about their experience and to seek support from others.
  • Help them maintain hope: Let scam victims know that they are SURVIVORS and can recover from their experience. Help them set goals and develop a plan for moving forward.

If you are a scam victim, please know that you are not alone, there are more than 100 million scam victims in just the last 10 years. There are people who care about you and want to help. Please reach out for support – see our resources below.

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.

Opinions

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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