Being Scammed Is Often Also A Form Of Addiction
One of the things that surprised us early on, was how similar the response of victims was to SUBSTANCE ADDICTION
For some, online dating and the connection it brings is a form of addiction, just as strong as substance addiction. Why is that? Because online dating is more about “projection” than actual reality. It is about what we WANT to happen, more than what actually is in many cases.
The unprepared approach to online dating from this perspective, and as a result, are much more easily snared in the web of a scammer. This is because scammers KNOW how to feed your belief and keep you addicted inside your own head, just like a drug or alcohol addict.
What Is Love?
According to a team of scientists led by Dr. Helen Fisher at Rutgers, romantic love can be broken down into three categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Each category is characterized by its own set of hormones stemming from the brain.
Love can be distilled into three categories:
- and attachment.
Though there are overlaps and subtleties to each, each type is characterized by its own set of hormones. Testosterone and estrogen drive lust; dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin create attraction; and oxytocin and vasopressin mediate attachment.
Continued exposure to any of them can result in a form of dependency. Because of the nature of a romance scam, some researchers have found elevated levels of some hormones with a developed dependency.
Lust is driven by the desire for sexual gratification. The evolutionary basis for this stems from our need to reproduce, a need shared among all living things. Through reproduction, organisms pass on their genes and thus contribute to the perpetuation of their species.
The hypothalamus of the brain plays a big role in this, stimulating the production of the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen from the testes and ovaries (Figure 1). While these chemicals are often stereotyped as being “male” and “female,” respectively, both play a role in men and women. As it turns out, testosterone increases libido in just about everyone. The effects are less pronounced with estrogen, but some women report being more sexually motivated around the time they ovulate when estrogen levels are highest.
Male scam victims will experience this more than women will during a scam.
Attraction seems to be a distinct, though closely related, phenomenon. While we can certainly lust for someone we are attracted to, and vice versa, one can happen without the other. Attraction involves the brain pathways that control “reward” behavior, which partly explains why the first few weeks or months of a relationship can be so exhilarating and even all-consuming. But in the case of scams, this is often sustained through the duration of the scam.
Dopamine, produced by the hypothalamus, is a particularly well-publicized player in the brain’s reward pathway – it’s released when we do things that feel good to us. In this case, these things include spending time with loved ones and having sex. High levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine, are released during attraction. These chemicals make us giddy, energetic, and euphoric, even leading to decreased appetite and insomnia – which means you actually can be so “in love” that you can’t eat and can’t sleep. In fact, norepinephrine, also known as noradrenalin, may sound familiar because it plays a large role in the fight or flight response, which kicks into high gear when we’re stressed and keeps us alert. Brain scans of people in love have actually shown that the primary “reward” centers of the brain, including the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus, fire like crazy when people are shown a photo of someone they are intensely attracted to, compared to when they are shown someone they feel neutral towards (like an old high school acquaintance).
Finally, attraction seems to lead to a reduction in serotonin, a hormone that’s known to be involved in appetite and mood. Interestingly, people who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder also have low levels of serotonin, leading scientists to speculate that this is what underlies the overpowering infatuation that characterizes the beginning stages of love.
Attachment is the predominant factor in long-term relationships. While lust and attraction are pretty much exclusive to romantic entanglements, attachment mediates friendships, parent-infant bonding, social cordiality, and many other intimacies as well. The two primary hormones here appear to be oxytocin and vasopressin.
Oxytocin is often nicknamed “cuddle hormone” for this reason. Like dopamine, oxytocin is produced by the hypothalamus and released in large quantities during sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth. This may seem like a very strange assortment of activities – not all of which are necessarily enjoyable – but the common factor here is that all of these events are precursors to bonding. It also makes it pretty clear why having separate areas for attachment, lust, and attraction is important: we are attached to our immediate family, but those other emotions have no business there (and let’s just say people who have muddled this up don’t have the best track record).
The Down Side
Hormones are released, making us feel good, rewarded, and close to our romantic partners. But love is often accompanied by jealousy, erratic behavior, and irrationality, along with a host of other less-than-positive emotions and moods. It seems that our friendly cohort of hormones is also responsible for the downsides of love. And the manipulative technique also triggers negative effects on purpose as additional control mechanisms.
Dopamine, for instance, is the hormone responsible for the vast majority of the brain’s reward pathway – and that means controlling both the good and the bad. We experience surges of dopamine for our virtues and our vices. In fact, the dopamine pathway is particularly well studied when it comes to addiction. The same regions that light up when we’re feeling attraction light up when drug addicts take cocaine and when we binge eat sweets. For example, cocaine maintains dopamine signaling for much longer than usual, leading to a temporary “high.” In a way, attraction is much like an addiction to another human being. Similarly, the same brain regions light up when we become addicted to material goods as when we become emotionally dependent on our partners (Figure 2). And addicts going into withdrawal are not unlike love-struck people craving the company of someone they cannot see.
The story is somewhat similar for oxytocin: too much of a good thing can be bad. Recent studies on party drugs such as MDMA and GHB shows that oxytocin may be the hormone behind the feel-good, sociable effects these chemicals produce. Some researchers believe this also to be true during romance scams. These positive feelings are taken to an extreme in this case, causing the user to dissociate from his or her environment and act wildly and recklessly. Furthermore, oxytocin’s role as a “bonding” hormone appears to help reinforce the positive feelings we already feel towards the people we love. That is, as we become more attached to our families, friends, and significant others – including fake relationship scammers, oxytocin is working in the background, reminding us why we like these people and increasing our affection for them. While this may be a good thing for monogamy, such associations are not always positive. For example, oxytocin has also been suggested to play a role in ethnocentrism, increasing our love for people in our already-established cultural groups and making those unlike us seem more foreign. Thus, like dopamine, oxytocin can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
Dealing With It
This “Scammer Addiction” can be every bit as difficult to deal with as other forms of addiction, depending on the individual. You bought into the scammer’s set of lies, and as it progresses, your own denial or willingness to believe against all the facts in front of you is what defeats you. According to: A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.:
Recovery from addiction is not an easy task. In fact, change of any sort is usually somewhat stressful and uncomfortable. Whether or not someone attempts natural recovery or gets help, “something” must change. In other words, “something” must cause them to move away from addiction and toward recovery. That “something” is the motivation to change.
In the case of romance scams, this is the overwhelming proof that they are being scammed, even though it usually comes after a significant financial loss.
Recovery is fundamentally about the motivation to change. At some point in every addicted person’s life, there comes a moment when they realize they need to change. The difference between those who successfully make the needed changes, and those who do not, comes down to motivation. Since motivation is so critical to recovery, it is important for therapists and therapy participants alike to understand the motivation for change. This includes understanding the degree of motivation; the type of motivation; as well as understanding various ways to increase motivation. Once sufficiently motivated, people can and do change.
The first step is the emotional AND intellectual recognition that you have been scammed. Before you can change you must address the recognition of what has happened to you. You have to first intellectually recognize that the red flags are there, then that they were probably there all along – this means to have to accept that something was wrong and it was not just the scammer, but that it was also in you. Once this sets in, you can begin to approach change.
Most of us recognize that change is not an event that suddenly occurs. Rather, it is a process that gradually unfolds over time. As this process begins to unfold, a person’s motivation changes. The most popular framework for discussing motivation to change is the Stages of Change Model developed by James Prochaska, Ph.D. and Carlo DiClimente, Ph.D. Their work began during the late 1970s when they became interested in the way people change. They developed, tested, and refined the Stages of Change Model. This model is one of the most widely used and accepted models within the field of addiction treatment.
In the book “Changing for Good” (1994), Prochaska and DiClemente describe the six stages of change:
Stages Of Change
Stage #1: Pre-Contemplation – Suspecting The Scam
People at this stage may be aware of the costs of their addiction. However, they do not see them as significant as compared to the benefits. Of course, others may view this situation differently. Characteristics of this stage are a lack of interest in change, and having no plan or intention to change. We might describe this person as unaware.
Stage#2: Contemplation – Recognition Of The Scam
People in the contemplation stage have become aware of problems associated with their behavior. However, they are ambivalent about whether or not it is worthwhile to change. Characteristics of this stage are: exploring the potential to change; desiring change but lacking the confidence and commitment to change behavior; and having the intention to change at some unspecified time in the future. We might describe this person as aware and open to change. Between stage 2 and 3: A decision is made. People conclude that the negatives of their behavior outweigh the positives. They choose to change their behavior. They make a commitment to change. This decision represents an event, not a process.
In dating scams, this is the moment when you recognize you have been scammed.
Stage #3: Preparation – Eliminating The Scam
At this stage people accept responsibility to change their behavior. They evaluate and select techniques for behavioral change. Characteristics of this stage include: developing a plan to make the needed changes; building confidence and commitment to change; and having the intention to change within one month. We might describe this person as willing to change and anticipating of the benefits of change.
This is where you block out the scammer and report their actions.
Stage #4: Action – Changing Your Mindset
At this stage people engage in self-directed behavioral change efforts while gaining new insights and developing new skills. Although these change efforts are self-directed, outside help may be sought. This might include rehab or therapy. Characteristics of this stage include: consciously choosing new behavior; learning to overcome the tendencies toward unwanted behavior; and engaging in change actions for less than six months. We might describe this person as enthusiastically embracing change and gaining momentum.
You will need to recognize the behavior in yourself that led to the scam, and modify your outlook and behavior going forward to work on preventing this from happening again.
Stage #5: Maintenance – Avoiding Scams
People in the maintenance stage have mastered the ability to sustain new behavior with minimal effort. They have established new behavioral patterns and self-control. Characteristics of this stage include: remaining alert to high-risk situations; maintaining a focus on relapse prevention; and behavioral change that has been sustained six months. We might describe this person as persevering and consolidating their change efforts. They are integrating change into the way they live their life.
While you have performed the recognition and changed your ways, this is not an easy stage. It comes with a negative view of your ability to ever find the right person for you. Unfortunately, this is simply something you will have to live through, regardless of the ultimate success of your search.
Stage #6: Termination – Living Your Life
At the termination stage people have adopted a new self-image consistent with desired behavior and lifestyle. They do not react to temptation in any situation. Characteristics of this stage include: confidence; enjoying self-control; and appreciation of a healthier and happier life. The relapse prevention plan has evolved into the pursuit of a meaningful and healthy lifestyle. As such, relapse into the former way of life becomes almost unthinkable.
This is the stage of acceptance of what has occurred and the willingness to try again, but with your eyes wide open. Though some will never return to online dating having given up. If you do give up, and that is not really a bad reality, it does not mean that you cannot continue your life with the possibilities still there, you should look at living in the real world, and look to more local forms of social engagement rather than online.
Relapse to a prior stage can occur anywhere during this process. For example, someone in the action stage may move back to the contemplation or pre-contemplation stage. This is one of the reasons why scammers will continue to contact you, they know that many can be scammed again since they have not yet fully accepted that they were scammed.