Helping Scam Victims Understand The Social Isolation Risks After A Relationship Scam

Understanding the Risks to Scam Victims after the Scam Ends!

Scam Victim Recovery Psychology

Author:
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
Originally published on RomanceScamsNOW.com in 2021

About This Article

The emergence of romance scams not only wreaks financial havoc but also plunges victims into profound social isolation. Throughout and after the scam, individuals often opt for self-imposed seclusion, severing ties with loved ones as they grapple with feelings of embarrassment, remorse, and apprehension of condemnation.

This isolation exacts a toll on mental well-being, exacerbating sensations of solitude, apprehension, and despondency. Scammers employ manipulation tactics to curtail victims’ social interactions, intensifying their isolation and reinforcing dominance. Even post-scam, victims contend with emotional anguish, compounding their inclination to retreat from social bonds.

Social isolation and loneliness are linked to adverse health outcomes, including heightened risks of cardiovascular ailments, dementia, and premature mortality.

Recognizing signs of isolation and seeking aid from trusted professionals or support networks is imperative for victims to mitigate the detrimental repercussions of their ordeal and reconnect with society.

The vigilance of friends and family in discerning signs of isolation can also play a pivotal role in extending support and intervention to those in need.

SCARS Scam Victim Support & Recovery Program

The Risks of Social Isolation with Scam Victims caused by Romance Scams

Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Scam Victims’ Mental Health

People around the world have taken unprecedented safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing is critical for slowing the spread of infectious diseases, but experts suggest solitude carries its own health cost: Social isolation can affect mental health.

However, almost all scam victims go through their own quarantine by isolating themselves during the scam and afterward.

This isolation can have serious and lasting effects on victims, especially when they are trying to recover from these experiences and most need the support of others.

What Is Social Isolation?

Social isolation is not necessarily bad; most people crave solitude at least occasionally. Being alone can be relaxing, meditative, and rejuvenating. Social isolation typically refers to solitude that is unwanted and unhealthy.

Socially isolated people may lack friends or close coworkers, and they often feel lonely or depressed. They can suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety. These are the exact kinds of feelings that scam victims feel.

The following symptoms associated with social isolation are warning signs of unhealthy social isolation:

  • Avoiding social interactions, including those that were once enjoyable
  • Canceling plans frequently and feeling relief when plans are canceled
  • Experiencing anxiety or panic when thinking about social interactions
  • Feeling distressed during periods of solitude
  • Feeling dread associated with social activities
  • Spending large amounts of time alone or with extremely limited contact with others

Social isolation can involve emotional isolation, which is an unwillingness or inability to share one’s feelings with others. When socially isolated individuals lack emotional interaction and support, they can become emotionally numb — detached from their own feelings.

When a person goes through a traumatic experience, like a romance scam, for example, there is a multitude of emotions that can cause them to self-isolate. These include fear of discovery, not knowing how to talk about what happened, shame and guilt, fear of being judged, and the fear of being ostracized by those they know.

Isolation During The Scam

During a typical relationship scam, the scammer manipulates the victim to limit their social interactions. They do this through manipulative techniques such as Gaslighting – convincing the victim that it is basically them against the world. Victims deceive family and friends and systematically isolate themselves. This benefits the scammer because it means the victim is more under their control and that there will be less contact with others that might make them see the light.

Isolation After The Scam Ends

After the scam victims are going through a broad range of emotional distress. This includes grief, body chemical withdrawal, trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, and fawn), plus shame, guilt, and self-blame. This makes victims even more likely to isolate themselves from people that they believe might blame, shame, or ridicule them. This shame & guilt are powerful emotions that only make the period after the scam that much worse and inhibit their emotional recovery.

Isolation and Loneliness

When experts study isolation’s causes and impacts, they distinguish between social isolation and loneliness.

Social isolation is an objective lack of social relationships or infrequency of social contact. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. A person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely. A person can also feel lonely when they are surrounded by people.

Because of the secrets that scam victims carry their isolation tends to fuel loneliness.

Nonetheless, isolation and loneliness are very much linked. Studies of loneliness’s causes, symptoms, and impacts shed light on the potential negative effects of this isolation.

Some Of The Causes Of Social Isolation?

Many circumstances can cause people to be isolated from others or to choose self-isolation:

  • Intimate partner violence. People in abusive relationships sometimes avoid contact with family, friends, or coworkers because of an unwillingness to reveal their true situation.
  • Loss of loved ones. Isolating after the loss of friends or family members can be common, especially among seniors who have lost many loved ones in their age group.
  • Mental health issues. Issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem often result from social isolation, but they can also cause it.
  • Remote location. Individuals who live in remote areas or who are geographically separated from family and friends due to job duties (military service, for example) can experience feelings of isolation.
  • Physical impairments. Physical challenges that limit mobility can reduce an individual’s ability to interact socially. Some people with physical disabilities feel ashamed of their disability or appearance, which can make them reluctant to interact socially. Hearing and vision impairments can also create a sense of isolation.
  • Social media. Communication via social media helps some people stay connected to others, but it can lead to isolation if it becomes a substitute for meaningful conversations and in-person socialization.
  • Unemployment. The shame associated with losing a job or being unable to secure new employment can lead individuals to self-isolate.
    Social isolation can also result from physical distancing measures such as those necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now couple those with the after-effects of the scam and the likelihood of isolation grows substantially. Guilt and shame are overwhelming emotions that cause victims to hide, stay silent, and avoid contact.

Effects of Isolation and Loneliness

Mental and physical health are interconnected. Isolation’s adverse health consequences range from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.

Isolation and loneliness are also linked to poor cardiovascular health and cognitive function:

  • A study led by an epidemiologist at Newcastle University concluded that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with a higher risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • A study published in The Journals of Gerontology concluded that loneliness was associated with a 40 percent increase in the risk of dementia.
  • Links between social isolation and serious medical conditions are not fully understood, but ample evidence supports the connection. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked social isolation with higher risks of premature mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to loneliness and isolation as serious public health risks.

Some effects of social isolation are specific to pandemics or other public health situations that require people to physically distance themselves. When you combine that with the effects of relationship scams both during and after it is a recipe for disaster.

Loneliness and depression can also go hand in hand with anxiety and fear about the dangers associated with the event that made physical distancing measures necessary. Victims are especially fearful about others learning what happened and how much money they lost.

High-Risk Groups

Relationship scam victims are a high-risk group for isolation and its damaging effects. It is for this reason and others that SCARS recommends that are scam victims find local trauma counseling or therapy. This is important to at least be evaluated within the first few months after a scam, or if isolation has become a part of the victim’s life.

Self-Care Strategies

It is important for individuals dealing with social isolation to have self-care strategies. This is particularly true when the factors contributing to isolation present real barriers to accessing outside resources, such as people who live in remote areas may not have easy in-person access to mental health professionals.

Individuals can lessen isolation’s negative effects by taking steps to address the challenges isolation presents:

  • Engage in relaxing activities. Exercise and stretching, reading, listening to music, meditation and prayer, journaling, and hobbies can help relieve stress that can be associated with isolation.
  • Follow a routine. Daily routines promote a sense of purpose and normalcy.
  • Maintain healthy habits. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and engaging in physical activity can promote better mental health.
  • Stay connected. If conditions limit in-person contact, phone calls, email, texting, social media platforms, and videoconferencing can be used to stay in touch.
  • Stay informed. Keeping in the loop can be particularly important for those isolated for any reason, but even more so after being manipulated heavily. Learning the real facts about scams, scammers, and the psychology of how it all works can help people avoid feeling panicky. That said, controlling media consumption is also helpful –– too much exposure to negative news about scams can feed anxiety. Especially avoid the endless streams of scammer or stolen photos that can increase feelings of hopelessness.

Support Groups

Professionally managed scam victim support groups can also play a role in helping the victim re-integrate with others through group interactions and participation. SCARS offers such groups and has found significant success with those victims willing to commit to their recovery. SCARS scam victim support groups are offered in English or Spanish, plus SCARS partners and affiliates offer them around the world.

Therapeutic Treatment

Individuals suffering from the effects of scam-based isolation or loneliness should be mindful of their symptoms and seek help from experts if they persist or become severe.

Trauma therapists help by exploring underlying issues related to isolation or self-isolation. For example, a person’s isolation may be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder amplified by the relationship scam ending.

In addition to identifying underlying issues, a trauma counselor or therapist can develop a treatment plan that helps victims regain a sense of control over their lives.

Types of therapy used to treat isolation might include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT is a talk therapy that helps people become more aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts that affect their behavior. CBT sessions can help individuals identify misperceptions and reshape negative thinking.
  • Exposure therapy. Exposure therapy programs help people break avoidance and fear patterns. During exposure therapy sessions, in a safe environment, individuals are exposed (in person or in their imagination) to situations they avoid. They confront fears, process emotions, and manage anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

Individuals who experience any of the following should consider consulting a medical or mental health professional:

  • Confused thinking
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Excessive feelings of anger or fear
  • Extreme swings in emotion
  • Inability to cope with daily problems
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Prolonged depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse

When circumstances limit in-person contact, people can connect with a mental health professional by phone or telemedicine.

Keep An Eye Out!

Some isolated people can find it difficult to ask for help. When others keep an eye out for those who might need assistance but are hesitant to ask, they can play a part in lessening isolation’s negative effects on them.

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at www.ScamPsychology.org

Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this article is intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

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.

Opinions

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.

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