A Scam Victim in Extreme Distress – Stopping the Pain

An Essay about the Extreme Distress that often follows the Discovery of a Scam

•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – 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

When scam victims express extreme distress, it’s a cry for help and a manifestation of deep pain, tearing apart their sense of self. Understanding the neurological storm in their brain during distress is crucial.

Brain regions like the amygdala become hyperactive, while the prefrontal cortex, vital for rational thinking, is impaired. Dysregulated neurotransmitters contribute to mood disturbances. To cope, victims should prioritize safety and seek professional help. Even in extreme distress, small steps like deep breathing or expressing feelings can be empowering.

Peer support groups and treatment options offer solace and guidance. Recovery is a journey, but with patience and support, victims can rebuild their lives. Most importantly, they are not alone in their struggle.

988 - Hope has a new number for those in extreme distress

When you are in Extreme Distress we suggest that you talk to someone immediately – regardless of the time of day or night!

Just the act of hearing another voice can be enough to help reduce the pain. Please call 988 in North America or in your country find your local Crisis Hotlines at https://blog.opencounseling.com/suicide-hotlines/

There is never any shame in sharing your pain and wanting a little help! Axios – You are worthy!

SCARS Scam Victim Support & Recovery Program

When a Scam Victim Expresses their Extreme Distress, It is More than a Call for Help! It is an Expression of Pain!

Distress is ironically not de-stress – it is the opposite! It is a tearing apart.

The word ‘distress’ comes from Middle English: from Old French destresce (noun), destrecier (verb), based on Latin distringere to ‘stretch apart’.

Many times people, especially scam victims or anyone in this situation, in extreme distress, may be unable to both recognize the need for or accept help if offered. But perhaps in this essay, we can both help reach someone in distress or those around them to help all understand this state of tearing apart – literally, tearing apart a mind.

When Your Life is Over

When someone, such as a scam victim, expresses that their life is over and irredeemable due to their experiences, such as being victimized in a scam, it signifies a deep sense of hopelessness, despair, and emotional pain.

This sentiment typically comes from a profound and overwhelming sense of loss, trauma, or suffering that they believe has irreversibly damaged their sense of self, their relationships, and their future prospects.

For these individuals, the weight of their experiences may feel insurmountable, leaving them feeling trapped in a cycle of negativity and despair, but there is hope!

You may struggle to see a way forward or to envision a future that holds any possibility of happiness or fulfillment, that has anything but more pain, but it is there. This sense of hopelessness can be amplified by feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness, which may lead you to believe that you are undeserving of happiness or redemption. But, of course, you are deserving. It is just a matter of ending the storm in your mind that prevents you from seeing it.


The Dark Place

In some cases, individuals may use phrases like “my life is over” as a cry for help or a way to express the intensity of their emotional pain. That pain is real, it is valid. Ok, yes, it is all in your head, but that is where all emotions and pain are processed, so it does not make it any less real!

You probably feel isolated and disconnected from others, unable to articulate the depth of your suffering or to seek support. If you can say it or think it, the good news is you can let it go. It’s all in your head, yes, literally, it is a group of functions in your brain that is causing this!

It’s essential to recognize that when you express such sentiments, you are likely experiencing profound psychological distress and may be at risk of self-harm or even suicidal ideation, but not always. Sometimes you are trapped in a psychological toxic storm that seems like it is going to destroy you, and it will if you let it.

The important thing for you or anyone in this situation is to take these statements seriously and to offer yourself a solution, a path out of the darkness. Everyone can find their way out.

We are going to offer you some of those paths, such as self-empathy, validation, and support. Encouraging you to seek professional help from a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional can provide you with the tools and resources you need to begin healing and rebuilding your life.

But first, you have to walk out of the storm.

Before You Begin

If you are able to read this and understand the need to climb out of your dark hole, it helps to understand that this is all caused by a kind of storm in your brain.

It is a mechanical thing, like when your smartphone starts acting weird and you need to restart it. It is a sort of mental program running amok, and you need to push the reset button, except your brain does not have one of those. How wonderful it would be if it did!

So what is really going on in your head?

During a cycle of extreme mental or emotional distress, various regions of the brain are activated (that is an understatement, it feels sometimes like they are on fire,) contributing to the intense feelings and cognitive changes inside you.

Here’s an overview of what happens in the brain during such an extreme distress cycle:

  • Amygdala Activation: The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure (squishy bit) in the brain associated with processing emotions, particularly fear and anxiety when it becomes highly activated. This heightened activity leads to the intensification of emotional responses and the perception of threats or danger. As a scam victim, you are going to hear and learn a lot about this little squishy bit in your brain that is the root of so many of your problems past, present, and future. When it gets hyper-activated all kinds of bad things (thoughts and feelings) can get going with a vengeance. It is there to keep us safe in times of real danger, but it gets confused and runs around like there is extreme danger when nothing like that is happening.
  • Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis Activation: The HPA axis, a complex neuroendocrine system involved in the body’s stress response also becomes activated. This results in the release of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, into the bloodstream. These hormones prepare the body to respond to perceived threats by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness. Stress is like a bomb it just builds up until it explodes. So now you need to learn how to defuse that bomb.
  • Prefrontal Cortex Impairment: The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functions (the smart part of your brain) such as decision-making, problem-solving, and impulse control, becomes impaired during extreme distress. This leads to real difficulties in rational thinking and decision-making, as well as to increased impulsive behavior. By reading all this you are giving it more control again.
  • Hippocampal Involvement: The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in memory formation and emotional regulation, is also affected during extreme distress. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels impair hippocampal function, leading to difficulties in memory consolidation and emotional processing, which means that you go through life and hardly remember what you are doing.
  • Dysregulation of Neurotransmitters: Neurotransmitters, chemical messengers that transmit signals between neurons in the brain (helping you to think,) become dysregulated during extreme distress. Imbalances in neurotransmitter levels, such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), can contribute to mood disturbances, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. And, as long as the storm is ranging things just stay bad.
  • Activation of the Default Mode Network (DMN): The default mode network, a network of brain regions involved in self-referential thinking and mind-wandering, becomes hyperactive during extreme distress. This leads to rumination, negative self-talk, and an increased focus on internal worries and concerns. In other words, the DMN (or as we call it the DAMN NETWORK) in your brain runs amok!
  • Alterations in Pain Processing: Extreme distress can also affect the brain’s perception and processing of physical pain. Studies have shown that emotional pain and physical pain share common neural pathways, and individuals experiencing emotional distress may be more sensitive to physical discomfort. This means that when you have a mind full of negative thoughts it can actually hurt – it feels painful. No, you are not crazy, this is just how the brain works.

Extreme mental or emotional distress involves a complex interwoven process of neural circuits, neurotransmitter systems, and neuroendocrine pathways in the brain. Understanding these underlying neurobiological mechanisms can help you understand that what you are thinking may not be real and that it is just your brain acting a bit out of control.

Interventions and treatments aimed at mitigating distress and promoting emotional well-being are very much possible, and we are going to talk about those.

Just focus on this one thought – this is NOT YOUR FAULT!

Ok, Now What?

How do you climb down from the cliff of your own despair?

You’re absolutely right, that is the question!

When someone (you or someone else) is in extreme distress and feels like their life is broken or over, taking even the smallest steps toward stopping the negative thoughts and moving forward toward recovery can feel impossible.

In such cases, you must prioritize your immediate safety and seek professional help as soon as possible. But what if you cannot do that because it is the middle of the night, or you are unwilling to reach out, what can you do to back down and away from your extreme distress?

If you’re feeling like your life is broken and irredeemable, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unsure about what to do next. Remember, it is ok to not be ok!

Here are some steps you can take to start moving forward – but you have to do them, no one can do them for you:

At the height of the Storm

  • FIRST – Take a Deep Breath: When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to breathe deeply and try to calm your mind. Doing just this can really affect your stress levels. Remember that it’s okay to feel the way you do, and you’re not alone in your struggles – well maybe you are, but what we mean is that countless others have gone through the same thing and survived, and you can too.
  • 988 – Reach Out for Support: Even if it feels difficult, try reaching out to someone you trust—a friend, family member, or even a helpline. Talking to someone about what you’re going through can help lighten the burden and provide some relief. Call 988 or your local crisis line – talking actually helps a lot! But not everyone can or will do that, so what can they do – WRITE!
  • Express Your Feelings: Allow yourself to express your feelings openly and honestly. Whether it’s through journaling, art, music, or talking to someone, finding a way to express yourself is therapeutic. Writing about your feelings, happy good or dark as night, is a survival imperative. Write everything you feel, as often as you feel. Fill up journals or just create a blizzard of Post-it notes. Writing exercises a different part of the brain and can reduce distress by giving you a sense of accomplishment and rewarding you with good hormones and neurotransmitters.
  • Focus on Small Steps: Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, focus on taking small steps forward. Whether it’s making a phone call, going for a walk, or practicing self-care, every small step counts. Focus on just one thing, try to do it just once. Then when you do celebrate that achievement! Then try to do it again until it becomes a new item on your list of things you can do daily. Did you know that DoorDash delivers Jello or pancakes at 3 am from Denny’s? Who can feel bad eating Jello or pancakes? In other words, do a little indulgence too! You want to get the reward center in your brain to give you some help.
  • Seek Professional Help When Ready: If and when you feel ready, consider reaching out to a therapist or counselor, or support organization who can provide professional support and guidance. They can help you navigate your feelings and develop coping strategies for moving forward. But, of course, you first have to want to, and that may be beyond what you can do at first.
  • Remember You’re Not Alone: It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in your struggles, and there are people who have been through the same struggles and some of them are willing to help you. People who care about you and want to help may not be the right people for you just yet, and that is ok. Sometimes talking to strangers (just not scammers) is more helpful. Don’t hesitate to lean on your support system for assistance, but it is ok to find a new one too. Bartenders can be great, but self-medicating during distress is a one-way ticket to alcoholism, the same with drugs.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Be gentle and compassionate with yourself as you navigate this difficult time. Remember that healing takes time, and it’s okay to have setbacks along the way. This was not your fault – say it out loud, and you are worthy of being happy again! AXIOS!

When the Storm is Easing

  • Focus on Self-Care: Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Make time for activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and prioritize your well-being. Easier said than done, but if you can make small efforts at self-care they will add up. If, for example, it is hard to get up and take a shower, try taking a bath. Make it a ritual instead of just a chore. This can lift your spirit and make you feel more whole in the process.
  • Stay Connected: Stay connected with supportive people in your life who can offer encouragement and assistance when needed. Whether it’s through phone calls, texts, or video chats, staying connected can provide a sense of comfort and companionship. You must talk with someone every day, otherwise the alienation and isolation will just continue to build until it is unbearable.
  • Keep Hope Alive: Lastly, try to hold onto hope that things can and will get better with time and support. Even in your darkest moments, know that there is always hope for a brighter future. Well, so goes the theory. The fact is that with your mind full of toxic thoughts it is hard to have any hope. Instead, hold onto a choice. You have a choice to at least stay stationary instead of letting yourself get worse. Imagine you are a giant tree that no matter how the ground shakes or the wind blows it stays immovable. The first step on your journey is to change from sliding down the slow to the abyss is to change that standing steadfast and immovable! Once you get that then you can begin to think about climbing the mountain again. And yes, before you complain that trees cannot move, some actually can (Socratea exorrhiza or Stenocereus eruca) – if they can you can too!

Ok, Next?

After you manage the crisis of the moment then it is time to work on your emotional stability. You are not crazy, but it is, after all, all in your head. This means you need to work on the inside of your head so you can solve what is happening outside.

Here are some steps that individuals can take, even in the midst of extreme distress – well maybe not in extreme distress, but if you made progress and feel like you can move forward here are things you can do:

  • Reach Out for Immediate Support: If someone is in crisis, it’s essential to reach out to trusted friends, family members, or hotlines for immediate support and assistance. There are helplines available for various crises (see above,) including suicide prevention, domestic violence, and mental health support. You need to take advantage of these, they really are there to help you.
  • Focus on Basic Needs: When in crisis, it’s important to prioritize basic needs such as food, shelter, and safety. If necessary, seek assistance from community resources, shelters, or emergency services to ensure immediate safety and stability. If you feel like you just cannot cope, go to any hospital emergency room and they will help you. Sometimes just staying in a new location for a couple of days is enough to reset things.
  • Seek Emergency Mental Health Services: If someone is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s crucial to seek emergency mental health services immediately. This may involve going to the nearest emergency room or contacting emergency services for assistance.
  • Use Coping Strategies: While in crisis, individuals can use coping strategies to help manage intense emotions and distress. Deep breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and mindfulness practices can provide temporary relief and help regulate emotions. This all sounds great, but maybe you need more. But when you are ready start learning – just the act of learning helps stabilize your mind.
  • Explore Treatment Options: Once immediate safety is ensured, individuals can explore treatment options with the help of a mental health professional. This may involve seeking therapy, medication management, or hospitalization, depending on the severity of the crisis. There really is no ‘one size fits all’, different people respond better to some forms of help than others. Yoga, or therapy, or talking to your priest, whatever you are willing to try, try it.
  • Engage in Peer Support: Peer support groups or online communities can provide valuable support and understanding from individuals who have experienced similar challenges. Connecting with others who can empathize with one’s struggles can offer validation and encouragement during difficult times. SCARS is a global expert in this. But remember, you may not be ready for this and therapy may be needed to help you before you are ready. Remember, you are not an expert in psychology, please trust the people who are.
  • Develop a Safety Plan: Working with a mental health professional to develop a safety plan can provide guidance on how to cope with crisis situations and identify strategies for managing suicidal thoughts or self-harm urges.
  • Lean on Trusted Supports: Relying on trusted friends, family members, or mentors for support can provide a sense of stability and connection during times of crisis. These individuals can offer practical assistance, emotional support, and companionship throughout the recovery process. This means that if you are in a support group use it and participate in it – it will not help you if you cannot communicate with others.
  • Stay Connected with Professionals: Regularly attending therapy sessions and staying connected with mental health professionals can provide ongoing support and guidance during the recovery process. It’s essential to communicate openly and honestly with professionals about one’s struggles and needs. It is easy to feel like you are better and do not need their help anymore, but that is exactly when it is important to stay connected – remember the squishy bits lie to you!
  • Take One Step at a Time: Recovery is a journey, and it’s okay to take small, gradual steps toward healing. Focusing on the present moment and taking things one step at a time can make the recovery process feel more manageable and less overwhelming.


In times of extreme distress, it’s crucial to prioritize what is most important to you – your immediate safety and seek professional help – but first you have to climb down. Recovery is possible, and with the right support and resources, individuals can gradually rebuild their lives and find hope and healing.

Remember, this is about your survival! The scam was not your fault – this was done to you! You are a survivor – you will survive this too and come out stronger than before – forging steel makes it stronger! You are worthy – AXIOS!

Most importantly, you are not alone!

You are worthy! AXIOS!

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

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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