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SCARS™ Psychology Of Scams: Desensitizing
For Most Victims After The Scam Is A Very Traumatic Period
NOTE: The following is not intended as a treatment or therapy guide but as a discussion of the subject matter. All decisions about mental health treatments or therapies should be made by patients in consultation with a licensed mental help professional.
- make less sensitive. “creams to desensitize the skin at the site of the injection”
- make (someone) less likely to feel shock or distress at scenes of cruelty, violence, or suffering by overexposure to such images.
- free (someone) from a phobia or neurosis by gradually exposing the person to the thing that is feared.
However, one of the most useful tools (based upon literature relating to other forms of trauma, and our own experience in helping thousands of scam victims) is a process called Desensitization.
Most romance scam victims do not fully understand the trauma that they have experienced. Few take the time to pragmatically approach the subject to give themselves a sufficient understanding that they can then use to help guide their recovery. The majority of romance scam victims remain in partial denial or succumb to anger or similar syndromes or disorders (such as Victims’ Disorder »). However, as many as 30% are realists and desire to recover and it for these that we prepare our information.
One possible key for many is to apply treatment and prevention options for PTSD » sufferers – such as Desensitization.
The word is usually used in a negative context, but PTSD implies a reworking of the brain’s fear networks: an inability to extinguish fear memories and an aberrant association between neutral experiences—triggers—and traumatic recall. With PTSD, desensitization is often exactly what is needed to help control and overcome the trauma.
Many of the PTSD treatments with the strongest evidence base target this process. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) », for example, pairs a patient’s recounting of a traumatic memory with steady side-to-side eye movements guided by the therapist. While it’s a bit unclear (biologically speaking) why the treatment works, the protocol can often render the traumatic memory neutral. Variants of cognitive behavioral therapy like cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure seek similar goals: By recounting traumatic experiences again and again, it seems that patients can fully process the memories, shifting them from the traumatic to the banal. If we imagine that these therapies are targeting similar neural circuits and processes as those affected by antidepressants—to be sure, a contentious claim—it’s also possible to conceptualize antidepressants as accomplishing the same goal of memory reprocessing.
For military veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder is a tragic realization of a threat that’s always there. For the rest of the population – experiences like sexual violence, car accidents, and romance scams are perhaps less predictable but just as traumatic. Many mental health professionals are trying to adapt combat-focused tools like Virtual Combat to the civilian sphere. Treatment for all patients will mean bringing the military and civilian worlds a little closer together.
But what can a scam victim learn from this that can be applied every day in helping their recovery move forward?
In our own SCARS Support Groups we focus on several critical elements that serve to help victims desensitize their memories of their scam experience. Each of these is something that the victim themselves can do to help overcome their trauma.
Desensitization Exercise One: Reporting The Crime
While it might seem that having to face a police officer would be more traumatic, and indeed it can be very difficult, that actual act of telling an interested stranger about the experience is cathartic and is a release. Just the act of getting it out in the open can be a tremendous release. Additionally, having made the report is a significant step in asserting your own control over your life – that is one of the things that you fear is holding back and continuing to prevent recovery. Reporting to online sources is certainly easier, it has far less benefit immediately, but it should be done also.
Desensitization Exercise Two: Journaling
There are various types of journaling that you can do and is based on your personal preference.
Journaling may include a “drawing journal” for those who prefer not to write, and a picture is worth a thousand words. After all, storytelling predates writing, with the earliest forms of storytelling being oral or combined with gestures and expressions. Cave drawings told stories of hunting and survival. In psychology, storytelling is an integral part of making sense of our lives (McFeature, 2009).
Journaling, or keeping a regular record of experiences and feelings, especially as they relate to your recovery, can be a helpful tool to advance your healing process and help you desensitize your painful memories. For example, a journal can be used to record your recovery-related struggles and accomplishments or to identify – and work through – difficult emotions. It also helps to hold you accountable for your decisions and actions and helps you invest in your own self-discovery.
Desensitization Exercise Three: Repetitive Story Telling
When participating in our Support Groups we encourage each victim to recount their experience. It can be done in writing as a story, it can be done verbally as a selfie video or just an audio recording on your phone. Our own experience is that with each retelling the pain and power of the scam experience become less. There are any number of other support group members who can confirm this – just ask them.
Human memory has a strange quality as well, it tends to amplify the negative qualities unless you work to remove them through retelling. Why do mentally healthy soldiers retell their stories (especially among themselves)? It weakens the pain of those memories and allows them to accentuation of the more positive elements in them. Telling your story over and over may seem boring but it is your most powerful tool in destroying the power that the scam and scammer may still have over you.
What We Do Not Recommend
For most victims, we have found that constant exposure to scammer or stolen photos actually enhances the trauma. Most of the time it serves no real purpose and online increases a sense of hopelessness. There are vastly more fake identities than are being removed, and constant viewing is (in our opinion) unhealthy and slows recovery.
We have found that the more you engage in desensitizing exercises the faster the pain will subside. Couple that with learning and reading all that you can on the mechanics of the process will help you develop a healthy outlook on what happened but also on where you are going. One of the hardest burdens to bare is often the financial impact, yet through desensitizing you can convert that nameless dread into a manageable process that may be difficult but far less painless than it would have been otherwise.
We care what happens to you, and remember that we are here to support you. But also remember that some people need more than what we can provide and in those cases we urge you to get professional help!
We have had so many individuals successfully recover from romance scams. If you make the effort you can get through this also!
If you are interested in joining one of our worldwide scam victims’ support groups just let us know.
We wish you all the best!
A SCARS Division
Miami Florida U.S.A.