Betrayal And The Destruction Of Trust In Scam Victims

Scam Victim Psychology & Recovery

•  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.

Article Abstract

Romance scams inflict profound emotional and psychological harm, far exceeding mere financial loss. This paper delves into the neurochemical basis of trust formation and the devastating repercussions when that trust is violently betrayed. We explore the brain regions, hormones, and neurotransmitters involved in building intimacy, and the cascade of negative effects triggered by its shattering.

This article delves into the profound emotional and psychological repercussions experienced by victims of romance scams. It investigates the intricate neural mechanisms involved in trust formation and relationship bonding, highlighting the devastating consequences when these bonds are shattered.

The betrayal disrupts brain pathways associated with trust-building hormones like oxytocin and pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Victims endure profound emotional trauma, triggering anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. Understanding the neurological underpinnings illuminates the depth of harm inflicted, emphasizing the urgent need for comprehensive support and therapeutic interventions to aid victims’ recovery and healing.

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Exploring the Devastating Impact of Romance Scams: Betrayal of Trust and Neurological Consequences

The profound betrayal of trust resulting from romance or relationship scams inflicts deep emotional and psychological wounds upon scam victims, significantly disrupting their well-being. These scams exploit the intricacies of human trust and the brain’s mechanisms involved in forming and maintaining relationships with devastating effect.

The brain intricately constructs trust through a network involving several regions, notably the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. This process is facilitated by neurotransmitters and hormones, particularly oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Oxytocin, recognized for fostering social bonds, plays a pivotal role in trust-building, while serotonin and dopamine contribute to feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and reinforcement of positive interactions.

Building Trust and the Brain

When individuals form strong relationship bonds, their brains release oxytocin and dopamine, fostering a sense of closeness and pleasure. However, in the aftermath of discovering a deceitful relationship scam, these neural pathways are disrupted, triggering emotional turmoil. Scam victims experience a profound betrayal of trust, causing distress, anger, grief, trauma, and a pervasive sense of loss.

The impact on mental health is significant, often leading to anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. Victims endure a shattered self-image, questioning their judgment and the authenticity of future relationships. The trauma of betrayal can impair their ability to trust others, leading to social withdrawal and difficulty in forming new connections.

The Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) of the Brain and Trust

Human brains crave connection. To facilitate this, a complex neurochemical orchestra plays the prelude to trust. The ventral tegmental area (VTA), plays a management role of the reward system, releases dopamine, igniting a euphoric glow when people interact with someone we like. Oxytocin, nicknamed the “love hormone,” secreted by the hypothalamus, deepens bonding and emotional attachment. Vasopressin, another social neuropeptide, strengthens loyalty and commitment. These chemicals weave a tapestry of intimacy, drawing people closer.

The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a crucial part of the brain’s reward system and is involved in the processing of pleasurable experiences, motivation, and social interactions, including trust. Research suggests that the VTA, as part of the brain’s mesolimbic reward pathway, is associated with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to feelings of pleasure and reward. Studies have shown that when individuals engage in trusting behaviors or when trust is reciprocated, there is increased activity in the VTA and subsequent release of dopamine. This activation of the VTA and the release of dopamine contribute to the positive feelings associated with trust and social bonding.

Also, the VTA is interconnected with brain regions involved in social cognition and decision-making, such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These connections enable the VTA to integrate social information and contribute to the assessment of trustworthiness in others, influencing subsequent decisions regarding trust.

The VTA is implicated in the neural processes underlying the development of trust by mediating the rewarding aspects of social interactions and contributing to the evaluation of trustworthiness in others through its involvement in the brain’s reward and social cognition networks.

VTA & the Striatum – Working together to build and reward Trust

The ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the striatum are interconnected regions of the brain that work together and play integral roles in bonding, reward processing, and the development of trust.

  • The VTA sends dopamine-containing neurons to various brain regions, including the striatum. The striatum is involved in reward processing, motivation, and decision-making. It receives inputs, including dopamine, from the VTA.
  • Both the VTA and the striatum are part of the brain’s reward circuitry and contribute to the experience of reward and pleasure. When individuals bond or engage in trusting relationships, these areas are activated, releasing dopamine and contributing to the positive feelings associated with social interactions.
  • Research suggests that the connection between the VTA and the striatum is involved in evaluating trustworthiness in others. As individuals assess trust in social interactions, these regions, along with other brain areas, contribute to the decision-making process by integrating social information and assessing the risk and reward associated with trusting behaviors.
  • The VTA-striatum connection reinforces social behaviors that lead to positive outcomes, such as trusting relationships. Dopamine released from the VTA into the striatum reinforces and strengthens behaviors associated with positive social interactions, contributing to the development and maintenance of trust.

Learn more about the Striatum here: Striatum – Psychology of Scams 2023 (

When Trust is Destroyed or Betrayed

When trust is betrayed or broken, especially in significant relationships or social contexts, it can result in profound emotional distress and trauma. The brain’s response to broken trust involves several neural mechanisms, and the experience can evoke a range of significant emotional and psychological reactions.

  1. Emotional Response: Broken or betrayed trust often triggers emotions such as betrayal, anger, hurt, sadness, and a profound sense of disappointment. These emotions are processed in various brain regions, including the amygdala (associated with emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (involved in decision-making and emotional regulation).
  2. Stress Response: The perception of betrayal or broken trust can activate the brain’s stress response system, including the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Chronic stress resulting from broken trust can impact the hippocampus (involved in memory,) actually causing it to physically shrink, and other brain regions, affecting cognitive function and emotional regulation.
  3. Impact on Reward Pathways: Trust violations can disrupt the brain’s reward pathways, particularly involving the ventral striatum and the ventral tegmental area (VTA). When trust is betrayed, the brain’s reward system, responsible for pleasurable experiences and social bonding, becomes significantly dysregulated, leading to reduced activation in response to social stimuli. This dysregulation can last from hours to days to weeks to months depending on the individual.
  4. Trust Re-evaluation: The brain engages in cognitive processing to re-evaluate all trustworthiness in light of the betrayal. This involves the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and social cognition. Broken trust might alter present and future perceptions of trust, making individuals more cautious or skeptical in similar situations. It can also serve to destroy otherwise stable and trustworthy relationships.
  5. Impact on Relationships: Broken trust in close relationships can damage neural pathways associated with attachment and bonding, affecting subsequent interactions and the ability to form new trust bonds.

Overall, the brain’s response to broken trust involves a complex interplay of emotional, cognitive, and stress-related neural processes. The experience of betrayal can lead to persistent emotional distress (trauma,) alterations in cognitive perceptions of trust, and changes in brain function related to reward processing and stress regulation. Therapeutic interventions and support are often necessary to help individuals navigate the emotional and psychological consequences of broken trust and rebuild a sense of security and trust in relationships.

What is the Emotion we call Betrayal?

Betrayal is a complex and deeply impactful emotion involving feelings of hurt, disappointment, and a breach of trust caused by someone close or trusted. It’s characterized by the realization that someone has violated a significant trust or loyalty, often resulting in a profound sense of disillusionment, disbelief, or shock.

The emotional experience of betrayal can encompass a range of feelings, including:

  1. Hurt and Pain: The emotional pain of betrayal can be intense, akin to a deep wound, leading to feelings of anguish, sadness, or heartache.
  2. Disappointment and Disillusionment: Discovering betrayal often brings a sense of disappointment in the betrayer or in the situation. It may shatter previously held beliefs or perceptions about the betrayer and the relationship.
  3. Anger and Resentment: Betrayal can evoke feelings of anger, bitterness, or resentment towards the person who caused the betrayal. This anger might stem from feelings of injustice or being wronged.
  4. Loss of Trust: The fundamental element of betrayal is the erosion of trust. Victims of betrayal often struggle to trust others, fearing a recurrence of similar hurtful experiences.
  5. Vulnerability and Insecurity: Betrayal can leave individuals feeling vulnerable and insecure in relationships. It can create doubts about one’s judgment and ability to discern trustworthiness in others.
  6. Grief and Disbelief: Processing the betrayal might involve stages of grief, including denial, bargaining, and acceptance. It can be challenging to accept the reality of betrayal and move towards healing.
  7. Difficulty in Letting Go: Overcoming betrayal can be a prolonged process. Individuals might grapple with lingering feelings and find it challenging to forgive or move past the betrayal.

In essence, betrayal is a deeply distressing emotion that disrupts the foundation of trust and undermines the integrity of relationships. It encompasses a range of emotions, each contributing to the complex and multifaceted experience of being betrayed.

Broken Trust and Physical Health

The emotional and psychological repercussions extend to physical health, manifesting in sleep disturbances, appetite changes, and stress-related ailments. The aftermath of such betrayal demands comprehensive support, including therapeutic interventions focusing on rebuilding trust, restoring self-esteem, and processing the trauma experienced.

The physiological effects of broken trust and betrayal on scam victims can be significant and pervasive, impacting various bodily systems and overall well-being.

  1. Stress Response and Cortisol Levels: Betrayal triggers the body’s stress response, leading to the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Prolonged stress can dysregulate cortisol levels, impacting sleep patterns, immune function, and increasing the risk of anxiety and depression.
  2. Sleep Disturbances: Broken trust can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep. Sleep disturbances further exacerbate stress levels and affect cognitive function and emotional regulation.
  3. Digestive and Cardiovascular Health: Chronic stress resulting from broken trust can impact digestive health, leading to gastrointestinal issues like indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Additionally, stress can contribute to cardiovascular problems, increasing the risk of hypertension or heart-related conditions.
  4. Immune System Suppression: Prolonged stress weakens the immune system, making scam victims more susceptible to illnesses and infections. This weakened immunity can prolong recovery from physical ailments.
  5. Brain Function and Cognitive Impact: Betrayal can impair cognitive function, affecting attention, memory, and decision-making abilities. Stress-induced changes in the brain’s structure and function might hinder focus and lead to difficulties in processing information or making sound judgments.
  6. Chronic Pain and Tension: Stress resulting from broken trust can manifest physically as chronic pain, muscle tension, headaches, or other somatic complaints, exacerbating discomfort and reducing overall well-being.
  7. Hormonal Imbalance: Betrayal can disrupt hormonal balance, affecting reproductive hormones and potentially impacting fertility or libido. Imbalances in hormones like oxytocin and dopamine, associated with social bonding and pleasure, might further exacerbate feelings of isolation or disconnection.
  8. Mental Health Impact: The physiological effects of broken trust often contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Scam victims might experience persistent feelings of fear, hypervigilance, or emotional numbness.

Addressing the physiological effects of broken trust and betrayal requires comprehensive support, including interventions to manage stress, promote relaxation, and restore bodily equilibrium. Seeking professional help, engaging in stress-reducing activities, and prioritizing self-care can aid in mitigating the physiological impact and promoting overall healing and recovery for scam victims.

Recovering from Betrayal of Trust for Scam Victims

Scam Victims recovering from the effects of broken trust resulting from scams can be challenging, but several steps can help scam victims begin to reduce the impact on their well-being and minimize the cerebral effects:

  1. Seek Support and Validation: Connect with trusted friends, family, or support groups. Sharing experiences and feelings with understanding individuals can provide validation and alleviate the emotional burden. The learn about SCARS and other support service providers visit
  2. Professional Counseling or Therapy: Engage in therapy or counseling with professionals experienced in trauma recovery. Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused therapy, can help process emotions, reframe thoughts, and build coping strategies. Explore counseling or trauma therapy options at
  3. Self-Care and Stress Management: Practice self-care techniques, including mindfulness, meditation, exercise, and hobbies. Managing stress through relaxation techniques can mitigate the impact on brain function and reduce the release of stress hormones.
  4. Educate and Empower: Educate yourself about scams and manipulation tactics to regain a sense of control and prevent future victimization. Understanding how scams work can empower victims and improve their ability to assess trustworthiness in future interactions.
  5. Rebuild Supportive Networks: Foster relationships with trustworthy individuals. Building positive connections and nurturing supportive networks can aid in restoring trust in others over time. But also, avoid toxic relationships that can erode self-confidence and trust.
  6. Set Boundaries and Take Time: Establish boundaries in relationships and interactions. Take the necessary time to heal and rebuild trust gradually. Rushing into new relationships or situations might increase vulnerability.
  7. Focus on Positive Activities: Engage in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. Pursuing hobbies, volunteering, or learning new skills can redirect focus from negative experiences and promote positive emotions. These can also help scam victims reestablish trust in themselves too.
  8. Financial and Legal Support: Seek guidance from financial advisors or legal professionals if the scam involved monetary losses. Taking steps to address financial repercussions can alleviate stress and create a sense of control. But be careful to avoid impulsive decisions about money recovery.
  9. Practice Forgiveness (if beneficial): Consider forgiving oneself and the scammer. Forgiveness, if appropriate and beneficial for personal healing, can release emotional distress and facilitate the process of moving forward.
  10. Patience and Self-Compassion: Healing from the effects of broken trust takes time. Practice self-compassion, be patient with the recovery process, and acknowledge progress made, no matter how small.

By implementing these strategies and seeking appropriate support, scam victims can gradually reduce the impact of broken trust, mitigate cerebral effects, and embark on a path toward recovery, healing, and regaining a sense of trust in themselves and others.


In summary, the destruction of a strong relationship bond due to romance scams inflicts profound emotional and psychological wounds, disrupting neural pathways associated with trust and pleasure. Understanding the brain’s mechanisms behind trust formation underscores the magnitude of the betrayal’s impact on victims’ mental and physical well-being, necessitating holistic support and therapeutic interventions to aid in their recovery and restoration.

Just remember One Thing!

Just as the scam can destroy the victim’s trust in others, it can also have a similar effect on others trusting the victim. Family especially, can see the victim’s actions as a betrayal too! That is why it is important to share information about these crimes with family and friends so that they do not feel betrayed by the victim when the scam was not their fault.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit:

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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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