Mental Compartmentalization And Recovery For Scam Victims

• Vianey Gonzalez – 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.

Mental Compartmentalization Hinders Recovery For Emotional Or Psychological Trauma

Mental compartmentalization is something we all do, however, when it is done by scam victims to avoid painful emotions or to acknowledge trauma, it prevents healing and it can have significant negative effects. It can freeze recovery and prevent the processing of emotions so necessary for healing.

According to the Phoenix Recovery Center:

Left Open Quote - on ScamsNOW.comThe term “compartmentalization” describes the defense mechanism that helps people deal with things like trauma, grief, and emotional distress.

Instead of addressing issues, people will put their issues into mental boxes where they tuck these problems away. In this way, individuals feel that they will never have to deal with them again. The problem is that these problems will eventually need to be reckoned with.

For a number of people, this reckoning comes at a cost. Mental health and self-worth can degenerate into thoughts and behaviors whose outcomes can leave the individual broken and worse off than before.

What is Mental Compartmentalization?

Mental compartmentalization, also known as cognitive compartmentalization, is a psychological process in which an individual separates their thoughts, feelings, and memories into different compartments to reduce the impact of negative or conflicting emotions.

In a crime victim’s mind, mental compartmentalization may work in the following ways:

  • To cope with the trauma of the crime. Victims may compartmentalize their memories of the crime, their thoughts about the perpetrator, and their feelings about what happened in order to protect themselves from feeling overwhelmed by pain and fear. However, this is a negative coping mechanism and if the trauma is not addressed in time it can cause significant harm.
  • To maintain a sense of normalcy. Victims may try to compartmentalize the crime from the rest of their lives in order to be able to function and go about their daily activities. But that functioning is just an avoidance mechanism, they still need to validate their emotions and process them.
  • To avoid feeling guilty or ashamed. Victims may blame themselves for the crime, or they may feel ashamed of what happened to them. Mental compartmentalization can help them to push these feelings away. Again, this is a temporary bypass, but it can be helpful to get through a crisis.
  • To protect themselves from further harm. Victims may compartmentalize their fear of the perpetrator or their fear of being victimized again in order to be able to live their lives without being constantly afraid. Here again, this is not really a solution and the victim still needs to acknowledge their valid feelings and allow them to process.

Examples of mental compartmentalization in crime victims:

  • A rape victim may compartmentalize her memories of the rape by burying them deep in her mind. She may also compartmentalize her feelings about the rape by trying not to think about them or by pushing them away.
  • A robbery victim may compartmentalize the robbery by telling himself that it was just a material loss. He may also compartmentalize his fear of the perpetrator by telling himself that the perpetrator is unlikely to come after him again.
  • A domestic violence victim may compartmentalize her husband’s abuse by telling herself that he loves her and that he didn’t mean to hurt her. She may also compartmentalize her fear of her husband by telling herself that she is safe when he is not around.
  • A scam victim may deny that they were significantly affected by the crime. Typically in a month or two they feel better and think that trauma had no effect on them.

Mental compartmentalization can be a helpful coping mechanism for crime victims in the short term. However, it is important for victims to eventually process their trauma and address their feelings about the crime in order to heal. If mental compartmentalization is preventing a victim from moving on with their life, it is important to seek professional help.

A better solution is to join a competent support group such as SCARS offers for free ( and to find a trauma counselor or therapist (

How does Mental Compartmentalization work in the Brain?

Mental compartmentalization is a complex process that involves multiple areas of the brain. It is thought to work by inhibiting the communication between different brain regions. This prevents conflicting emotions and thoughts from being processed together.

One brain region that is thought to be involved in mental compartmentalization is the prefrontal cortex. This region is responsible for higher-order cognitive functions such as decision-making, planning, and impulse control. It is also thought to play a role in inhibiting communication between different brain regions.

Another brain region that is thought to be involved in mental compartmentalization is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is responsible for memory formation and consolidation. It is thought that the hippocampus may play a role in compartmentalizing memories of traumatic events.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions such as fear and anxiety, is activated. The amygdala can send signals to other parts of the brain, including the hippocampus, to store the memory (traumatic memories) of the event.

However, if the traumatic event is too overwhelming, the prefrontal cortex may inhibit the communication between the amygdala and the hippocampus. This can prevent the memory of the event from being fully consolidated. This can lead to the memory being compartmentalized.

Mental compartmentalization can also be used to suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions. For example, if someone is feeling anxious about a presentation they have to give at work, they may compartmentalize those feelings by telling themselves that they are prepared and that they will do fine. This can help them to focus on the task at hand and to avoid feeling overwhelmed by anxiety.

However, mental compartmentalization can also have negative consequences. For example, it can make it especially difficult to process and cope with negative emotions. It can also make it difficult to learn from mistakes and to make changes in one’s behavior.

Hindering Recovery in Scam Victims

Mental compartmentalization may hinder recovery for emotional or psychological trauma sufferers in scam victims in the following ways:

  • It can prevent people from acknowledging and processing their trauma. When people compartmentalize their trauma, they essentially push it away and try to forget about it. This can make it difficult to begin the healing process.
  • It can lead to self-blame and guilt. Scam victims often blame themselves for being scammed, even though they were not at fault. Mental compartmentalization can make these feelings worse by preventing people from fully understanding and processing what happened to them.
  • It can make it difficult to trust others. Scam victims often feel betrayed by the scammer, and they may lose trust in others as a result. Mental compartmentalization can make it difficult to rebuild trust, even with people who are trustworthy.
  • It can lead to isolation and loneliness. Scam victims may feel ashamed or embarrassed about what happened to them, and they may isolate themselves from others. Mental compartmentalization can make it difficult to reach out for help and support.
  • It can increase the risk of re-victimization. Scam victims may be more vulnerable to being scammed again if they do not process their trauma and learn from their experiences. Mental compartmentalization can make it difficult to develop healthy coping mechanisms and to protect oneself from future scams.

Here are some specific examples of how mental compartmentalization can hinder recovery for emotional or psychological trauma sufferers in scam victims:

  • A scam victim who has been tricked into giving someone their personal information may compartmentalize their trauma by telling themselves that they are unlikely to be a victim of identity theft. This can prevent them from taking steps to protect themselves, such as monitoring their credit reports and freezing their credit.
  • A scam victim who has lost their savings to a Ponzi scheme may compartmentalize their trauma by telling themselves that they were just unlucky. This can prevent them from learning from their experience and from making informed investment decisions in the future.
  • A scam victim who has been emotionally manipulated by a scammer may compartmentalize their trauma by telling themselves that they are overreacting. This can prevent them from acknowledging the full extent of the harm they have suffered and from seeking the support they need to recover.

It is important to note that mental compartmentalization is a normal coping mechanism. However, it is important for scam victims to be aware of the potential negative consequences of mental compartmentalization and to take steps to address it if it is hindering their recovery.

Mental Compartmentalization is not the same as Emotional Compartmentalization

Mental compartmentalization and emotional compartmentalization are closely related concepts, but they are not the same thing.

  • Mental compartmentalization is a broader term that refers to the process of separating thoughts, feelings, and memories into different compartments in the mind. This can be done consciously or unconsciously.
  • Emotional compartmentalization is a more specific term that refers to the process of separating emotions from each other. This is often done to avoid feeling overwhelming emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, or anger.

Mental compartmentalization can include emotional compartmentalization, but it can also involve separating other types of information, such as memories, thoughts, and beliefs.

For example, a person who is experiencing trauma may use mental compartmentalization to separate the traumatic memories from their everyday thoughts and feelings. This can help them to cope with the trauma and to function in their daily lives.

However, mental compartmentalization can also have negative consequences. For example, it can lead to people denying their feelings, making excuses for their behavior, or developing a dual life.

Emotional compartmentalization can also have negative consequences. For example, it can make it difficult to form close relationships, to experience positive emotions, and to process negative emotions in a healthy way.

  • Mental compartmentalization is the process of separating thoughts, feelings, and memories into different compartments in the mind.
  • Emotional compartmentalization is the process of separating emotions from each other.

While they are closely related, they are not the same thing. Mental compartmentalization can include emotional compartmentalization, but it can also involve separating other types of information, such as memories, thoughts, and beliefs.

  • Mental compartmentalization is broader, while emotional compartmentalization is more specific.
  • Mental compartmentalization can be used to manage overwhelming emotions or to protect oneself from trauma in the short term, while emotional compartmentalization is used to avoid feeling overwhelming emotions. Both are negative coping mechanisms that can lead to significant mental & emotional challenges in the long term.
  • Potential negative consequences of mental compartmentalization include denying one’s feelings, making excuses for one’s behavior, and developing a dual life, while potential negative consequences of emotional compartmentalization include difficulty forming close relationships, difficulty experiencing positive emotions, and difficulty processing negative emotions in a healthy way.

How do You Know that You are Compartmentalizing?

Scam victims can recognize that they are compartmentalizing by paying attention to the following signs:

  • Minimizing, equivocating, or denying the impact of the scam. This involves telling yourself that the scam was not a big deal, that you should have known better, or that you are the only one who has ever been scammed.
  • Avoiding thinking about the scam. You find yourself avoiding talking about the scam, reading about scams, or even watching the news. Not only is this denial but it is also compartmentalizing.
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed about being scammed. You blame yourself for being scammed, or feel ashamed that you were fooled. You were not fooled – you we expertly lured, groomed, manipulated, and controlled.
  • Isolating yourself from others. You withdraw from social activities or avoid talking to people about your experience. This also shows as reduced participation in support groups or therapy.
  • Having difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or making decisions.

If you are experiencing any of these signs, it is important to acknowledge that you may be compartmentalizing. This is a normal coping mechanism, but it is important to address it in order to heal from your experience.

Reversing or Overcoming Mental or Emotional Compartmentalization

Mental or emotional compartmentalization can be a difficult thing to overcome, but there are a few things that crime or scam victims can do to start the process:

1. Acknowledge and accept that you are compartmentalizing. The first step is to recognize that you are using compartmentalization as a coping mechanism. This can be difficult, as it may involve facing painful emotions that you have been avoiding. However, it is important to be honest with yourself in order to begin the healing process.

2. Talk to someone you trust. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, support group, therapist, or other support person can help you process your emotions and start to challenge your compartmentalization. It is important to talk about your experience so it can help you to feel less alone and more validated.

3. Identify your triggers. Once you are aware that you are compartmentalizing, start to pay attention to the things that trigger it. What are the situations, thoughts, or feelings that make you want to shut down? Once you know your triggers, you can start to develop strategies for coping with them in a healthy way.

4. Challenge your compartmentalizing thoughts. When you find yourself compartmentalizing, try to challenge the thoughts that are leading to this behavior. Ask yourself if these thoughts are realistic or helpful. For example, if you are telling yourself that you are not allowed to feel sad about your experience, remind yourself that it is okay to feel your emotions.

5. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can be a helpful tool for learning to tolerate negative emotions and for developing a more accepting attitude towards your experience. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, such as meditation, yoga, or simply taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breath.

6. Seek professional help if needed. If you are struggling to overcome mental or emotional compartmentalization on your own, consider seeking professional help. A therapist can teach you additional coping skills and strategies for healing from your trauma.

It is important to be patient with yourself as you work through this process. Overcoming mental or emotional compartmentalization takes time and effort. However, it is possible to heal from trauma and to live a full and meaningful life.

Scam Victim Mental Compartmentalization Tips

Here are some tips for scam victims on how to address the role of mental compartmentalization in their recovery:

  • Acknowledge and process your trauma. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that you are feeling, and don’t try to push them away.
  • Don’t blame yourself. You are not at fault for being scammed.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Talking about your experience can help you to process your trauma and to start the healing process.
  • Seek professional help. A therapist can help you to understand your trauma and to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
  • Educate yourself about scams. The more you know about scams, the better equipped you will be to protect yourself in the future.

By taking these steps, scam victims can overcome the challenges of mental compartmentalization and recover from their trauma.

SCARS Resources:

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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