Scam Victim Empathy

How It Is Lost And How It Comes Back In Time

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.

About This Article

Scam victims often lose their empathy immediately following the end of a scam due to trauma, but it does return over time. Empathy, the ability to understand and share others’ emotions, is crucial for social interactions and relationships. It involves cognitive empathy (understanding others’ mental states) and affective empathy (sharing others’ emotions).

After a scam, the hyperactivation of the amygdala, a brain region involved in processing emotions, impairs empathy by disrupting emotional processing, perspective-taking, and emotional regulation. This hyperactivity can lead to heightened emotional reactivity and difficulty in understanding others’ emotions.

Over time, and with support from therapy and recovery groups, scam victims can gradually regain their empathy as they recover from trauma. Addressing these issues is essential for helping victims rebuild their emotional connections and social interactions.

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SCARS GREEN BOOK - The SCARS Self-Help Self-Paced Scam Victim Recovery Program Guide
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SCARS Scam Victim Support & Recovery Program

Most Scam Victims Lose Their Empathy When Trauma Sets In – Usually Immediately Following The End Of The Scam/Fraud

But it does come back in time!

Empathy is an elusive thing for scam victims. Right after the scam, the amygdala is hyperactivated and as a result, shuts down many other parts of the brain, this also includes most of your empathy.

What is Empathy?

Empathy in humans is the capacity to understand and share the emotions and experiences of others. It allows individuals to connect emotionally, perceive the feelings of others, and comprehend their perspectives. This complex process involves both cognitive and emotional (affective) components.

Externally, empathy is displayed through various actions, such as listening attentively, offering support, and showing compassion. It involves the ability to recognize emotions in others, understand their situation, and respond appropriately. Empathy enables individuals to provide comfort, aid, or understanding without judgment.

It is a complex emotion that involves both cognitive and affective components:

  • Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand the mental states of others, including their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. This involves perspective-taking, or the ability to see things from another person’s point of view. In normal life this is easily distorted by Cognitive Biases – because of this very few people actually have deep empathy regardless of what they think.
  • Affective empathy is the ability to share the emotions of others. This involves feeling the same emotions that another person is feeling, or at least feeling a similar emotion. This is often called ’emotional intelligence.’

Empathy is a skill, it is learned and is a crucial skill for social interaction and relationships. It allows us to connect with others, build relationships, and provide support. It also helps us to resolve conflicts and promote cooperation. However, after a scam, most scam victims lose this skill or capacity until they are more substantially recovered. Often what victims perceive as empathy in the few months after the scam are avoidance or coping mechanisms.

Overall, empathy is a vital aspect of social interaction and helps in forming meaningful connections, fostering cooperation, and promoting understanding between individuals.

Development of Empathy

Empathy develops throughout childhood and adolescence, influenced by genetics, environment, and social experiences:

  • Genetic Predisposition: Genetics play a role in individual differences in empathy, but environmental factors also play a significant role.
  • Nurturing Environment: A nurturing and supportive environment fosters empathy by providing opportunities for connection, emotional expression, and understanding of others.
  • Social Interactions: Social interactions with caring adults and peers provide opportunities to learn about emotions, develop perspective-taking skills, and practice empathy.
  • Cultural Influences: Cultural norms and values can influence the expression and understanding of empathy, shaping how individuals respond to the emotions of others.

Impact of Empathy on Behavior

Empathy influences our behavior in various ways:

  • Helping Behavior: Empathy motivates us to help others in need, whether through acts of kindness, support, or advocacy.
  • Compassionate Responses: Empathy prompts us to respond to the suffering of others with compassion, comfort, and understanding.
  • Prosocial Choices: Empathy guides us toward making prosocial choices that benefit others and contribute to the collective good.
  • Reduced Aggression: Empathy can help regulate emotions and reduce aggressive impulses, promoting peaceful interactions.

Importance of Empathy

Empathy is a crucial skill for individuals and societies alike:

  • Building Strong Relationships: Empathy is the foundation of strong and meaningful relationships, fostering connection, trust, and mutual understanding.
  • Fostering Compassion: Empathy cultivates compassion, enabling us to respond to the suffering of others with kindness, understanding, and support.
  • Creating a Just Society: Empathy promotes fairness, equality, and social justice by encouraging us to consider the needs and perspectives of others.
  • Promoting Global Well-being: Empathy fosters global cooperation, understanding, and respect for diverse cultures, contributing to a more peaceful and just world.

External Function of Empathy

Empathy plays a vital role in various aspects of our external lives:

  • Social Interactions: Empathy allows us to connect with others on an emotional level, build rapport, and form meaningful relationships.
  • Prosocial Behavior: Empathy motivates us to help others, act with compassion, and contribute to the well-being of others.
  • Conflict Resolution: Empathy enables us to understand different perspectives, find common ground, and resolve conflicts peacefully.
  • Social Cohesion: Empathy fosters a sense of community, promotes cooperation, and strengthens social bonds within society.

How Empathy Functions in the Brain

In the brain, empathy involves different regions, including the prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, mirror neuron system, and others.

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a complex emotion that involves multiple brain regions working together. While there is no single “empathy center” in the brain, several areas have been identified as playing important roles in different aspects of empathy.

Some of the key regions involved in empathy include:

  • Anterior Insula: The anterior insula plays a role in sensing bodily sensations linked to emotions, aiding in the understanding of someone else’s emotional state.
  • Posterior Insula (PI): The insula is involved in processing bodily sensations, including emotions. It is also involved in self-awareness, which is important for understanding the emotions of others.
    • Emotional Awareness: The PI plays a role in emotional awareness, the ability to recognize and understand our own emotions. It helps us label and differentiate between different emotional states, contributing to emotional intelligence.
    • Emotional Regulation: The PI is involved in emotional regulation, the ability to manage and control our emotions. It helps us modulate emotional responses and adapt to challenging situations, promoting emotional well-being.
  • Prefrontal Cortex: The prefrontal cortex is associated with understanding others’ perspectives and intentions.
  • Mirror Neurons: Mirror neurons, found in areas like the premotor cortex, activate when observing others’ actions or emotions, allowing individuals to simulate and comprehend the feelings or behaviors of others.
  • Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC): The ACC is involved in processing emotions, including both cognitive and affective empathy.
  • Dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC): The dACC is located in the front of the brain and is involved in regulating emotions and self-awareness. Studies have shown that the dACC is activated when people experience empathy distress, the feeling of discomfort or sadness in response to the suffering of others.
  • Ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC): The VMPFC is involved in emotional evaluation and decision-making. It is also involved in understanding social cues, such as facial expressions and tone of voice.
  • Supramarginal gyrus (SMG): The SMG is located in the parietal lobe and is involved in understanding the intentions and actions of others. Studies have shown that the SMG is activated when people observe the body language and facial expressions of others.
  • Amygdala: The amygdala is involved in processing fear and anxiety. It is also involved in social behavior, including aggression and empathy.

These are just a few of the many brain regions that are thought to be involved in empathy. Researchers are still learning about the exact roles of these regions and how they work together to create the complex emotion of empathy.

How is Empathy Physically affected when the Amygdala becomes Hyperactivated?

You already know (from reading our other articles) that emotional and psychological trauma following the scam’s end causes the Amygdala to become hyperactivated and what some of the effects are from this. However, it also incapacitated a scam victim’s empathy too!

The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure located deep within the brain, plays a crucial role in processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety. When the amygdala becomes hyperactive, it can significantly impact empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.)

  1. Interference with Emotional Processing: An overactive amygdala can interfere with the brain’s ability to distinguish between personal and external emotions. This can lead to heightened emotional reactivity and difficulty in understanding the emotional states of others, hindering empathy.
  2. Impaired Perspective-Taking: The amygdala’s hyperactivity can impair perspective-taking, the ability to see things from another person’s point of view. This can make it challenging to grasp the emotional experiences of others, further diminishing empathy.
  3. Reduced Emotional Regulation: An overactive amygdala can lead to difficulty in regulating emotions, making individuals more susceptible to emotional distress and less able to manage their own emotions effectively. This can interfere with their ability to respond empathetically to the emotions of others.
  4. Heightened Self-Focus: Hyperactivity in the amygdala can intensify self-focus and preoccupation with one’s own emotions, making it more difficult to attend to and understand the emotional cues of others. This can hinder the development of empathy.
  5. Altered Social Interactions: Impaired empathy due to an overactive amygdala can negatively impact social interactions. Individuals may struggle to connect with others on an emotional level, leading to social isolation and difficulty forming meaningful relationships.

A way to test this is to sit down with a friend and look at random photos on the internet. The scam victim should always go first and describe what each photo communicates, and what emotion it evokes. The scam victim will normally get it wrong or say it evokes something negative, whereas the friend may have an opposite reaction because they are not traumatized. In our SCARS Support Groups, we frequently display photos for this purpose so that survivors can self-diagnose their level of empathy throughout the recovery process.

Again, What is the Amygdala?

Amygdala hyperactivation can be a common symptom for anyone who experiences emotional or psychological trauma, especially for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event. In the context of crime victims, PTSD can be caused by various types of crimes, including assault, robbery, sexual assault, witnessing violence, and especially with longer-duration scams, such as relationship romantic or investment scams.

When a person experiences a traumatic event, the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions like fear and anxiety, becomes hyperactive. This can lead to a number of symptoms, including:

  • Flashbacks: Experiencing vivid and reliving memories of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares: Having recurring dreams about the traumatic event
  • Hypervigilance: Being constantly on guard and expecting something bad to happen
  • Avoidance: Avoiding anything that reminds the person of the traumatic event
  • Hyperarousal: Being easily startled and having difficulty concentrating
  • Impairment of the various Cortexes of the Brain: This impairs cognition, empathy, learning, and even things like foreign language use. It can cause symptoms that feel like a kind of ‘brain fog.’

In addition to these symptoms, amygdala hyperactivation can also lead to impaired empathy in crime victims. This is because the overactive amygdala can interfere with the brain’s ability to distinguish between personal and external emotions. This can make it difficult for crime victims to understand and share the feelings of others, which can further isolate them and make it difficult to cope with their trauma.

Treatment for trauma typically includes therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Therapy can help crime victims learn how to manage their symptoms and cope with their trauma. Medication can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression if necessary. At a minimum, scam victims should join a professionally managed support program.


In summary, hyperactivity in the amygdala can have a detrimental effect on empathy by interfering with emotional processing, perspective-taking, emotional regulation, and social interactions. Addressing these underlying issues can help individuals develop stronger empathetic skills and improve their ability to connect with others on an emotional level.

It is for reasons like these that SCARS recommends to all scam survivors that they seek out a professional trauma counselor or therapist to assist them in their recovery, along with a SCARS Support & Recovery Group.

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Please Note

These are complex concepts and we present this theory and information to help educate scam victims and professionals about the complexities of the mind and the impacts of relationship scams and other types of fraud. Additional research and study are needed to better understand these brain functions and processes so that it may lead to better approaches to therapy, as well as support and recovery mechanisms.

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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