Psychological Triggers/Emotional Triggers – What They Are And How They Work

SCARS Recovery Psychology

•  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.

What Are Psychological Triggers or Emotional Triggers?

Why Do They Have So Much Control Over Our Emotions And Mind?

A psychological trigger is a stimulus that elicits or provokes a strong emotional or psychological response.

Psychological triggers can be anything from a sound or smell to a person or place, or something you read, or even a memory. They are usually associated with past traumatic or stressful experiences.

When someone is triggered, they may experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as:

  • Physical responses:
    • Increased heart rate
    • Sweating
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain
    • Nausea
    • Dizziness
    • Shaking
    • Frisson
    • Other physical discomfort
  • Psychological responses:
    • Trauma responses, such as fight, flight, freeze, or fawn
    • Flashbacks
    • Nightmares
    • Panic attacks
    • Intense emotions such as fear, anger, or sadness

Triggers can vary widely from person to person, and also depending on the trauma

What triggers one person may not trigger another person even if they experienced the same trauma.

It is also important to note that triggers can change over time. For example, someone who has been in a car accident may be triggered by the sound of a car horn in the immediate aftermath of the accident. However, over time, the person may become less sensitive to the sound of car horns and no longer experience a strong emotional response.

Technically what are Psychological Triggers?

Psychological triggers are specific stimuli, events, or situations that can elicit strong emotional, cognitive, or behavioral responses in individuals. These triggers are associated with past experiences, memories, or traumas and can lead to intense reactions.

Psychological triggers can vary from person to person, and what triggers one individual may not affect another in the same way.

Here are some key points about Psychological Triggers:

  • Emotional Responses: Psychological triggers often lead to emotional responses, such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, or even joy. These emotions can be intense and overwhelming.
  • Cognitive Responses: Triggers can also affect a person’s thoughts and cognitive processes. They may lead to racing thoughts, obsessive thinking, or cognitive distortions, impacting a person’s ability to think clearly.
  • Behavioral Responses: Individuals may respond to triggers through specific behaviors. For example, a trigger related to a past traumatic event might lead to avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding situations or places associated with the trauma.
  • Trauma-Related Triggers: Many psychological triggers are associated with past traumas. These traumas can include experiences like accidents, violence, abuse, or natural disasters.
  • PTSD Triggers: In the context of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), triggers can induce symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance. Individuals with PTSD may be particularly sensitive to triggers related to their trauma.
  • Personal Associations: Triggers are often linked to personal associations. For example, the sound of a car backfiring might trigger traumatic memories in a combat veteran who associates the sound with gunfire.
  • Phobias: Phobias are a specific form of psychological triggers, where intense fear is evoked by specific objects or situations. Common phobias include fear of spiders (arachnophobia) or fear of heights (acrophobia).
  • Anxiety Triggers: Triggers can provoke anxiety, leading to symptoms like increased heart rate, shortness of breath, and a sense of impending danger. This can occur in conditions like panic disorder.
  • Personalized Nature: Psychological triggers are highly personalized. What triggers one person may not affect another in the same way. Individualized treatment and coping strategies are often necessary.

It’s important to note that triggers can affect anyone, and they are not limited to individuals with diagnosed mental health conditions. Understanding and managing triggers is a fundamental aspect of emotional and psychological well-being. For those who find their triggers interfering with their daily lives, seeking support from mental health professionals can be beneficial in developing strategies for coping and healing.

Is there a difference between Psychological Triggers and Emotional Triggers?

The distinction between psychological triggers and emotional triggers, although they are interconnected and can influence one another, is significant.

Here’s a brief explanation of each:

Psychological Triggers:

Psychological triggers are stimuli or cues that evoke specific thought patterns, memories, or mental associations in an individual. These triggers can be related to past experiences, traumas, or learned behaviors. When exposed to psychological triggers, a person may experience a shift in thoughts, perceptions, or cognitive processes.

For example, in the context of scam victims, a psychological trigger could be receiving an email or a new friend request or a message from someone who reminds them of the scammer. This trigger may lead to intrusive thoughts related to the scam, heightened anxiety, or even feelings of vulnerability.

Emotional Triggers:

Emotional triggers, on the other hand, are cues or situations that provoke intense emotional responses in an individual. These responses can include feelings of anger, sadness, fear, or joy, among others. Emotional triggers are often connected to deep-seated emotions, personal values, and past experiences. When exposed to emotional triggers, a person may experience a surge of specific emotions.

For example, a romantic movie might serve as an emotional trigger for someone who recently went through a painful breakup, causing them to feel sadness, nostalgia, or longing. When the scammers ‘love bomb’ (Amygdala Hijack) their victims, these are emotional triggers!

The Relationship Between Psychological and Emotional Triggers:

Psychological triggers can lead to emotional triggers. When certain thoughts or memories are activated by psychological triggers, they can, in turn, evoke strong emotions. For instance, if a scam victim encounters a psychological trigger related to their scam experience, it may lead to an emotional trigger, causing feelings of fear, anxiety, or anger.

Conversely, emotional triggers can also give rise to psychological triggers. Intense emotions can lead to specific thought patterns or cognitive associations. For example, a person experiencing strong feelings of guilt (an emotional trigger) may subsequently have thoughts related to past mistakes (a psychological trigger).

While psychological triggers are more closely related to cognitive processes and thought patterns, emotional triggers are linked to the emotional responses they generate. Both types of triggers are important to understand, especially in the context of trauma, as they can influence an individual’s behavior, decisions, and overall well-being.

The Connection Between Emotional Triggers and Amygdala Hijacks (Love Bombs)

Emotional triggers are closely connected to the concept of an “amygdala hijack.” The amygdala is a part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, particularly those related to the perception of threats or danger, but the Amygdala is also the emotional gatekeeper.

When a person encounters a situation or stimulus that they associate with a past traumatic experience or emotional trigger, the amygdala can initiate a rapid, automatic, and often intense emotional response, which is referred to as an amygdala hijack.

Here’s how they are connected:

  1. Emotional Triggers: Emotional triggers are specific stimuli or situations that remind an individual of a past traumatic or emotionally charged event. These triggers can be diverse and highly personal, ranging from sights, sounds, or smells to specific words or phrases. When a person encounters an emotional trigger, it activates the amygdala’s response system.
  2. Amygdala Hijack: An amygdala hijack is an immediate and overwhelming emotional reaction, typically involving fear, anger, or anxiety, triggered by the amygdala. It often bypasses the brain’s rational processing centers, such as the prefrontal cortex, which can lead to impulsive or irrational behavior. The hijack occurs as a result of a perceived threat, even if the threat is not objectively present.
  3. Intense Emotional Response: When the amygdala hijack occurs due to an emotional trigger, it can result in an intense emotional response that may not be proportionate to the situation at hand. For example, an individual who experienced a past trauma related to a certain sound might have a severe emotional reaction when exposed to that sound in a non-threatening context.
  4. Fight or Flight: The amygdala’s role is to prepare the body for the “fight or flight” response when a threat is detected. When it is hijacked, the body responds accordingly, even if there is no real danger. This can lead to symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, heightened alertness, and a strong impulse to react.

Recognizing and managing emotional triggers is crucial for individuals who have experienced trauma or have strong amygdala responses. Real professionally managed support groups, therapy and coping strategies are often used to help individuals respond more rationally to emotional triggers and avoid unnecessary amygdala hijacks, especially in situations that are not genuinely threatening.

What is the Evolutionary Purpose behind Psychological Triggers?

Psychological triggers, often associated with the “fight or flight” response, have an evolutionary purpose related to survival.

These triggers helped our early ancestors respond rapidly to potential threats and dangers in their environment.

Here’s how psychological triggers served an evolutionary purpose:

  1. Rapid Threat Detection: The animal brain developed mechanisms to quickly detect potential threats and assess whether they require a fight-or-flight response. This ability allowed our animal ancestors to respond promptly to dangers like predators or environmental hazards.
  2. Survival Advantage: Individuals who could rapidly recognize and respond to threats were more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Over generations, these individuals had an evolutionary advantage.
  3. Stress Response: The fight-or-flight (or freeze or fawn) response involves the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones prepare the body to react swiftly and effectively, improving physical performance.
  4. Memory Formation: Triggers often involve the recall of past experiences or memories. The ability to remember past threats and respond to similar situations was critical for survival. The brain’s memory formation was adapted to prioritize memories associated with survival and danger.
  5. Learning and Adaptation: As animals encountered new environments and challenges, they needed to adapt to diverse and evolving threats. Psychological triggers allowed them to learn from experiences and adapt their behavior to different situations.
  6. Social and Group Dynamics: The ability to detect potential threats and respond to them was not limited to individual survival but also contributed to group survival. Early humans (an many animals) lived in social groups, and the ability to detect and respond to danger benefited the entire community. And responses like freeze or fawn also contribute to the cohesiveness of the society.
  7. Complex Social Interactions: Early human societies involved complex social interactions, hierarchies, and alliances. The brain’s ability to recognize social cues and triggers (such as potential betrayals or conflicts) played a role in social survival.
  8. Adaptive Stress Responses: Stress responses, while primarily associated with the fight-or-flight reaction, also serve other purposes. They can enhance focus, memory, and cognitive abilities, which can be beneficial in various challenging situations.
  9. Balancing Responses: Not all threats required a fight-or-flight response. The brain’s ability to evaluate and choose the most appropriate response, whether it’s confrontation, avoidance, or cooperation, was crucial for human survival.

While these evolutionary adaptations helped early humans and other animals survive and thrive, they are still present in modern animals (especially in humans.) However, in contemporary society, the triggers that were once life-saving responses to immediate physical threats can sometimes be activated by non-life-threatening, psychological, or emotional stimuli. This can contribute to various psychological and emotional challenges, including stress-related disorders.

Understanding the evolutionary basis of psychological triggers can provide insight into why we react the way we do in certain situations. In modern times, it’s essential to recognize and manage these responses to adapt to a world with fewer physical threats and more complex social and psychological stressors.

How do Romance Scammers use Triggers during the Scam?

Scammers and fraudsters often use psychological or emotional triggers to manipulate their victims into giving them money or personal information. These triggers can be very effective, especially for people who are vulnerable or who are looking for love, connection, or financial security.

Emotional triggers are used very effectively during the grooming, manipulation, and control phases of these crimes. They help create the initial bonding and then allow the criminals to control the victim while they harvest the victim’s money.

Here are some of the most common psychological triggers that scammers use:

  • Fear of missing out (FOMO): Scammers may create a sense of urgency or scarcity to pressure their victims into making a quick decision. For example, they may say that the victim needs to act now to avoid losing out on a great opportunity or to avoid facing negative consequences.
  • Reciprocity: Scammers may start by giving their victims something of value, such as a gift, a favor, or a compliment. This makes the victim feel obligated to return the favor, which the scammer can then exploit. For example, a scammer may send their victim a gift and then ask for money in return.
  • Social proof: Scammers may use the illusion of social proof to convince their victims that their story is legitimate and trustworthy. For example, they may have fake testimonials on their website or they may claim to be affiliated with a well-known company. They may also have other actors involved to reinforce their story.
  • Authority: Scammers may pose as an authority figure, such as a government official, a bank representative, or a law enforcement officer. This can give them an air of legitimacy and make their victims more likely to trust them.
  • Scarcity: Scammers may create a sense of scarcity by claiming that there is a limited supply of something or that there is only a short period of time to take advantage of an offer. This can pressure their victims into making quick decisions without thinking things through.
  • Hope: Scammers may prey on their victims’ hopes and dreams. For example, they may promise to help their victims find love, lose weight, get rich quick, or cure a disease.

Note that these are Cognitive Biases, that work to create vulnerabilities in scam victims.

Romance scammers are particularly adept at using psychological/emotional triggers to manipulate their victims. They often target people who are vulnerable. They may create fake online profiles or they may pose as someone they are not using photos that evoke an emotional trigger. They may also use love bombing (amygdala hijacks,) which is the act of overwhelming someone with affection and attention early in the relationship resulting in emotional triggering. This can create a strong emotional bond between the victim and the scammer, making it more difficult for the victim to see the red flags.

What are the Psychological Triggers that would affect the Victims of Scams or Fraud, such as Romance Scams?

Victims of scams, including romance scams, can experience a range of psychological triggers and stressors that affect their emotional well-being. These triggers result from the deceptive tactics used by scammers, the emotional manipulation involved, and the financial losses incurred.

Here are some common Psychological Triggers for Scam Victims:

  1. Betrayal Trauma: Scam victims often experience a deep sense of betrayal. They trusted the scammer, believed in the authenticity of the relationship, and were ultimately deceived. This betrayal can be a significant trigger, leading to feelings of anger, hurt, and mistrust.
  2. Grief and Loss: Victims may mourn not only the financial losses but also the emotional investment in a fictitious relationship. The loss of what they believed to be true love or companionship can trigger profound grief, leading to symptoms like sadness, denial, and longing.
  3. Shame and Embarrassment: Many scam victims feel ashamed and embarrassed about falling for the scam. These emotions can be powerful triggers, potentially leading to social withdrawal and reluctance to seek help or share their experiences.
  4. Fear and Anxiety: Scammers often use threats, intimidation, or blackmail to manipulate victims. As a result, victims may experience heightened fear and anxiety, worrying about their personal safety, reputation, or potential legal consequences.
  5. Isolation: Scammers frequently isolate their victims from friends and family. The isolation itself is a trigger that can lead to feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness.
  6. Financial Stress: Victims face significant financial stress, which can trigger a range of emotional responses, including panic, anxiety, and depression. The fear of financial ruin or debt can be overwhelming.
  7. Distrust: Scam victims may develop a general distrust of others, fearing that they will be taken advantage of again. This distrust can affect their ability to form new relationships, including friendships and romantic partnerships.
  8. Anger and Frustration: Victims may feel intense anger towards the scammer and themselves. These emotions can be triggering, leading to aggressive or self-destructive behavior.
  9. Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms: Some victims may experience post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, or hypervigilance. These are triggered by the traumatic nature of the scam experience.
  10. Complex Grief Symptoms: Complex grief is different than PTSD and has its own set of psychological responses.
  11. Depression: The cumulative impact of the scam, including financial loss, emotional manipulation, and the ending of a deceptive relationship, can trigger symptoms of depression, such as sadness, loss of interest, and feelings of worthlessness.
  12. Suicidal Ideation: In extreme cases, victims may experience suicidal thoughts or tendencies as a result of the emotional trauma and financial devastation they face.

It’s important to note that the combination of these triggers (and others) can result in complex psychological responses, which may vary from one victim to another. Some victims may experience symptoms similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) due to the long-lasting, manipulative nature of the scam.

Support, understanding, and professional help are essential for scam victims to navigate these psychological triggers and work toward recovery. Recognizing and addressing these triggers is a crucial step in healing and regaining a sense of control and well-being.

How do Psychological Triggers Manifest Themselves for Scam Victims that exhibit the Fight or Flight Trauma Responses?

Psychological triggers can manifest differently for scam victims who exhibit fight-or-flight trauma responses. These responses are rooted in survival instincts and can be triggered by various cues or reminders of the scam.

Here’s how they may manifest for victims who tend to exhibit fight-or-flight responses:

Fight Response:

  • Defensiveness: Scam victims with a fight response may become defensive or confrontational when triggered. They might react with anger, aggression, or hostility, particularly when they feel threatened or reminded of the scam.
  • Hyper-Vigilance: They may constantly be on guard, monitoring their surroundings for potential threats or scams. This hypervigilance can lead to anxiety and heightened stress levels.
  • Reactivity: Victims may have an exaggerated startle response, meaning they react strongly to unexpected stimuli. This can include jumping at sudden noises or feeling jumpy in situations that remind them of the scam.
  • Difficulty Trusting: The fight response can lead to trust issues and skepticism, making it challenging to trust others, especially in financial or personal matters.
  • Rumination: Victims might ruminate on their scam experience, going over the details and feeling intense anger or resentment. This can affect their ability to move on and find closure.

Flight Response:

  • Avoidance: Scam victims exhibiting a flight response may choose to avoid situations, people, or places that trigger reminders of the scam. This avoidance can lead to social withdrawal or isolation.
  • Escapist Behavior: They may engage in escapist behaviors such as substance abuse, excessive work, or distraction through activities to avoid dealing with the emotional pain triggered by reminders.
  • Anxiety and Panic: Flight responses can manifest as anxiety or panic attacks when confronted with triggers. These episodes can be distressing and overwhelming.
  • Difficulty Coping: Victims may struggle to cope with stress and adversity, often opting for avoidance as a way to cope with emotional distress.
  • Impaired Decision-Making: The flight response can impair decision-making as victims may prioritize immediate escape over thoughtful, rational decision-making, particularly in stressful situations.

Managing Triggers for Fight and Flight Responses:

  1. Self-Awareness: Victims should work on recognizing their specific triggers and trauma responses. Understanding their fight or flight tendencies can help in managing reactions.
  2. Therapy: Trauma-focused therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or exposure therapy, can assist in addressing trauma responses and building coping strategies.
  3. Support Groups: Joining support groups for scam victims can provide a safe space to share experiences and learn from others who have similar triggers.
  4. Stress Management: Learning stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, relaxation exercises, or meditation, can help regulate emotional responses when triggered.
  5. Gradual Exposure: With the guidance of a therapist, victims can gradually expose themselves to triggers in a controlled and safe manner to reduce their emotional impact over time.
  6. Decision-Making Skills: Develop or rebuild decision-making skills that are based on rational assessment rather than immediate escape.
  7. Communication Skills: Work on effective communication skills to express emotions and needs, which can reduce defensiveness and confrontational responses.
  8. Boundaries: Develop and enforce healthy boundaries in personal and professional relationships to reduce vulnerability to potential threats.

It’s essential for scam victims to understand that their fight or flight responses are natural reactions to a traumatic experience. While these responses might have served as survival mechanisms during the period immediately after the scam, managing and healing from them is part of the recovery process. Seeking professional help and support is crucial for effectively addressing trauma triggers.

How do Psychological Triggers Manifest Themselves for Scam Victims that exhibit the Freeze or Fawn Trauma Responses?

Psychological triggers can manifest differently for scam victims who exhibit freeze or fawn trauma responses. These responses are rooted in survival instincts and can be triggered by various cues or reminders of the scam.

Here’s how they may manifest for victims who tend to freeze or fawn:

Freeze Response:

  • Immobilization: Scam victims with a freeze response may become paralyzed or emotionally numb when triggered. They might feel unable to react or make decisions, similar to how they felt during the scam when manipulation left them feeling helpless.
  • Avoidance: They may avoid situations, people, or topics that remind them of the scam. This avoidance can hinder their ability to address the trauma or seek help.
  • Recurrent Flashbacks: Triggers can lead to vivid and distressing flashbacks to their scam experience. These intrusive memories can be overwhelming and disrupt daily life.
  • Physical Symptoms: Victims might experience physical symptoms like a racing heart, shortness of breath, or trembling when confronted with triggers.
  • Difficulty Trusting: The freeze response can lead to a deep-seated distrust of others, making it challenging to rebuild trust in personal and professional relationships.

Fawn Response:

  • Excessive Compliance: Victims exhibiting a fawn response may revert to their pattern of compliance and people-pleasing. They may go to great lengths to avoid conflict, even if it’s to their detriment.
  • Over-Apologizing: They might excessively apologize and take responsibility for situations or conversations, even when they are not at fault.
  • Self-Blame: The fawn response can intensify feelings of self-blame, where victims believe they should have done more to prevent the scam. This self-blame can be triggered by any mention of the scam.
  • Difficulty Saying No: Scam victims may struggle to assert themselves or set boundaries, making them vulnerable to exploitation or manipulation by others.
  • Insecurity: Reminders of the scam can intensify feelings of insecurity and the need for external validation and approval.

Managing Triggers for Freeze and Fawn Responses:

  1. Self-Awareness: Victims should work on recognizing their specific triggers and trauma responses. Understanding their freeze or fawn tendencies can help in managing reactions.
  2. Therapy: Trauma-focused therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), can assist in addressing trauma responses and building coping strategies.
  3. Support Groups: Joining support groups for scam victims can provide a safe space to share experiences and learn from others who have similar triggers.
  4. Boundaries: Develop and enforce healthy boundaries in personal and professional relationships to reduce vulnerability to manipulation.
  5. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practicing mindfulness, deep breathing, or relaxation exercises can help regulate emotional responses when triggered.
  6. Reframing Thoughts: Victims can work on challenging negative or self-blaming thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and positive beliefs.
  7. Gradual Exposure: With the guidance of a therapist, victims can gradually expose themselves to triggers in a controlled and safe manner to reduce their emotional impact over time.
  8. Self-Compassion: Encourage self-compassion and self-forgiveness. Victims should remind themselves that they were manipulated by skilled scammers and should not blame themselves for the experience.

It’s important to remember that recovery from scam-related trauma is a process that takes time, and professional help and support can be invaluable in managing trauma responses and triggers.

Do Psychological Triggers or Emotional Triggers serve a useful purpose in Helping the Victims of Crime to overcome their Trauma or do they just make it worse?

Psychological and emotional triggers can serve both useful and detrimental purposes for victims of crime, depending on how they are managed and addressed.

Here’s a breakdown of their roles in the recovery process:

Useful Purposes:

  • Awareness and Understanding: Triggers can help victims become aware of their trauma and its impact. They serve as signals that something needs attention. Recognizing these triggers is the first step toward understanding and addressing the trauma.
  • Processing and Healing: Triggers can sometimes provide an opportunity for victims to process their emotions, thoughts, and memories related to the traumatic experience. By confronting these triggers, individuals may gradually work through their trauma and move toward healing.
  • Therapeutic Progress: In therapy, triggers can be used as valuable tools for therapists to help victims explore and understand their trauma. Therapeutic techniques such as exposure therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy often involve identifying and addressing triggers to desensitize or reframe their impact.

Detrimental Purposes:

  • Re-traumatization: Triggers, if not managed properly, can lead to re-traumatization. When victims encounter overwhelming psychological or emotional triggers, they may experience a resurgence of intense trauma-related feelings, thoughts, and reactions.
  • Avoidance and Suppression: Some victims may respond to triggers by avoiding or suppressing them. This coping strategy may provide temporary relief, but it can hinder the healing process in the long run. Avoidance prevents victims from addressing their trauma effectively.
  • Increased Vulnerability: In some cases, triggers can make victims more vulnerable to re-victimization. For example, a scam victim who doesn’t address their psychological triggers related to trust and attachment might be at higher risk of falling for another scam.

How can Victims of Romance Scams or other Fraud Recognize and Control their Psychological/Emotional Triggers?

Recognizing and controlling psychological triggers in the aftermath of romance scams or other types of fraud is essential for the recovery and well-being of the victims.

Here are some steps victims can take to better manage these triggers:

  • Educate Yourself: Understanding the psychological impact of scams can empower victims to recognize the emotional triggers they may experience. Knowledge is a crucial first step.
  • Seek Professional Help: Consider therapy or counseling. Mental health professionals can provide valuable support in addressing emotional triggers and managing the associated trauma. Find counseling or therapy resources here.
  • Join Support Groups: Connect with others who have experienced similar scams. Support groups provide a safe space to share experiences and coping strategies. Join a SCARS support group here.
  • Accept Your Feelings: It’s normal to feel a range of emotions, including anger, sadness, and shame. Accept these feelings without judgment; they are part of the healing process.
  • Share Your Experience: Confide in friends or family you trust. Sharing your story can relieve some of the emotional burden and provide a support network.
  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be gentle with yourself. Scam victims often blame themselves, but it’s crucial to understand that scammers are skilled manipulators.
  • Set Boundaries: Re-establish healthy boundaries in your life. This can help regain a sense of control and safety.
  • Financial Recovery: Seek legal and financial advice if necessary. Taking concrete steps to address financial losses can alleviate stress.
  • Develop Coping Strategies: Work with a mental health professional to develop coping strategies for managing triggers. These may include relaxation techniques, mindfulness, or journaling.
  • Stay Informed: Stay informed about common scam tactics and red flags. Knowledge can help prevent future victimization.
  • Avoid Isolation: Engage with your support network and try to avoid isolation. Social connections can provide emotional support.
  • Reframe Negative Thoughts: Challenge negative or self-critical thoughts that may arise. Cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques can be helpful.
  • Consider Legal Action: Consult with law enforcement or legal professionals if the scammer is traceable. Pursuing justice can provide a sense of closure.
  • Time and Patience: Healing takes time. Be patient with yourself and allow for gradual progress.
  • Awareness of Triggers: Develop self-awareness about what specific situations or thoughts trigger your emotional responses. Awareness is the first step to control.
  • Create a Safety Plan: If the scam involved threats or violence, consider creating a safety plan to protect yourself and your loved ones.
  • Ongoing Self-Care: Continue practicing self-care, even after the initial shock subsides. Prioritize your emotional and mental well-being.
  • Support from Organizations: Reach out to organizations that specialize in helping scam victims. They can provide guidance, resources, and further assistance.

It’s important to note that every individual’s experience is unique, and recovery varies from person to person. Recognizing and managing psychological triggers is an ongoing process, but with time, support, and resilience, victims can regain a sense of control and move forward with their lives.

Coping with Triggers

There are a number of different ways to cope with triggers at the moment. Some people find it helpful to avoid their triggers altogether. However, this is not always possible or practical. Most others find it more helpful to develop coping mechanisms to manage their distress when they are exposed to their triggers.

These coping mechanisms may include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Grounding exercises
  • Positive self-talk
  • Mindfulness
  • Seeking support from a therapist or counselor
  • Participating in a support group
  • Journaling


  • Treatment and Coping: Identifying and understanding triggers is an important part of therapy for conditions like PTSD, anxiety disorders, and phobias. Therapists help individuals develop coping strategies and desensitize responses to triggers.
  • Exposure Therapy: In some cases, controlled exposure to triggers, as part of exposure therapy, can help individuals reduce their emotional and physiological responses over time.
  • Avoidance: Some individuals may employ avoidance as a coping strategy, avoiding situations, places, or people that trigger distress. While this can provide short-term relief, it can reinforce fear and anxiety over the long term.

If you are struggling to cope with triggers, it is important to seek professional help. A therapist can help you to understand your triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and heal from your past trauma.

The Role of Treatment and Support for Scam Victims

Whether triggers have a useful or detrimental impact largely depends on how they are addressed. Proper therapy and support can help victims manage triggers effectively. Therapists work with victims to develop coping strategies, reframe negative associations, and gradually reduce the emotional charge of triggers. In this context, triggers can serve as a guide for therapeutic and recovery progress.

In conclusion, triggers are a double-edged sword. While they can initially intensify emotional and psychological distress, they also hold the potential to guide individuals toward awareness, understanding, and healing. With the right support and treatment, victims of crime (scams) can learn to manage and ultimately overcome the negative impact of triggers.

It’s essential for victims to seek professional help and access support networks to facilitate their recovery. See our SCARS resources below.

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.


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