(Last Updated On: March 24, 2022)

Living under Manipulation for Too Long Leaves Victims …

An Exploration of the Short-Term & Long-Term Effects of Long-Term Relationship Scams

A SCARS Insight into the Psychology of Scams

What Does Extending Exposure To Romance Scams Manipulation Do To Victims?

Long-Term Scams Can Have Very Lasting Effects

This article is intended for both scam victims and can be shared with family and friends to help them better understand the scam experience.

If a romance scam lasts more than 6 months a victim must consider that it has left you more than traumatized. While there is not an exact number, more than 6 months has mentally changed victims for the worse. You will have lived so long in a fantasy, in a delusion, under manipulation and denial. These leave their mark on your mental health.

Effects Of Psychological And Emotional Manipulation

In the case that someone is physically or sexually abused, you will most likely be able to see its effects. When it comes to emotional and mental abuse, this isn’t true.

The scars are not bodily, but they can affect the abused and manipulated person for the rest of their life. This is especially true for those who do not seek help from a professional. Mental manipulation can lead to problems with intimacy, trust, respect, and security, just to name a few.

When scams last for long periods of time, the scammers mold a fantasy world for the victims using their full bag of manipulative tricks. These can leave victims in profoundly delusional states – not always, but that risk is high.

NOTE: SCARS recommends that all relationship scam victims – whether they feel like they have been traumatized or not – should find a local trauma counselor or therapist to be evaluated. Trauma does not just go away. You can’t just “man-up” and move on. Trauma is also contagious, you can give it to your family members, especially your children. Please get help! To find a local trauma counselor visit this directory or contact your nearest hospital and ask for a mental health referral: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd

Potential Short-Term Effects Of Long-Term Scams

  • Surprise and confusion – feeling like whatever is happening can’t possibly be so, wondering why the person who has been a friend or loved one is now a complete stranger and has lied to you from the beginning.
  • Questioning yourself – you may find yourself wondering if you really remember things right or if something is wrong with you. This is a result of everything you do is questioned or being told that you remember things wrong and the manipulative party was right – this is the residual effects of gaslighting.
  • Anxiety and hypervigilance – in order to avoid future manipulation during the scam and afterward, you may have become hypervigilant toward yourself and others. This is a means of avoiding behaviors that might rock the boat or looking for behavior in others that points toward judgment or blame.
  • Being passive – as taking action can lead to more pain in an emotionally abusive or manipulative relationship, being passive can become the default and if it lasts long this way, it can become a permanent part of your personality. It is something that can be hard not to do when you are in a stressful situation after the scam ends.
  • Shame, guilt, and self-blame – you may find yourself feeling guilty or blaming yourself for allowing the manipulative presence in your life. As others may blame you, it can become harder not to take that out on yourself, which leads to feeling even worse.
  • Avoiding eye contact – you may end up avoiding eye contact and becoming smaller inside of yourself in order to take up less space and feel less likely to be picked on by the manipulator while the scam was going on.
  • Walking on eggshells – not knowing what will cause a spike in behavior from the manipulator can lead to thinking excessively about every little thing you do in order to ensure you don’t upset or anger the manipulator, and this can translate to others after the scam ends.

The Longer-Term Effects Of Long-Term Scams

  • Isolation and numbness – you become an observer rather than someone who acts. You may feel little to nothing at all, even in situations that should make you joyful. This can make you feel hopeless and damaged, unable to ever feel emotions again.
  • Requiring approval – this manifests in ways like excessive accomplishing, being nice to everyone, being a people pleaser, and being focused on appearance. After feeling like you were not enough for a long period of time, your instinct is to make yourself seem perfect so others will appreciate you.
  • Feeling resentful – this can show as frustration, impatience, irritability, anger, and blame. Resentment inevitably requires release, but this can be hard to seek and allow. After someone treats you badly, it can be hard to see anything but that bad behavior.
  • Excessive judging – you may find yourself watching for what others are doing and holding people, including yourself, to very high standards. This is a means of feeling in control after not being in control. This often requires time, support, counseling, and self-compassion to move past.
  • Depression and anxiety – following manipulation or other emotional abuse, there are so many lies that have been told that you can often believe them yourself. However, the good news is that it can be healed, over time and with help.
  • Lowered resilience to future trauma – trauma will have again and when it does a person’s resilience will determine how easily they spring back from it, but long-term scam victims experience much harder times recovering from each new experience.

In addition to these signs, Stockholm syndrome is also common in these types of situations. The person who is being abused by the abuser will become accustomed to the abuse, and will even defend their painful actions. This happens in scams where the victims – after the scam – cannot fully understand the depth of the lies and continues to have serious feelings for the fake person or the scammer.

What is Stockholm Syndrome and Who Does it Affect?

Stockholm syndrome is commonly linked to kidnappings and hostage situations, but it also applies to human trafficking, and (in our experience) to long-term relationship scams. Aside from famous crime cases, regular people may also develop this psychological condition in response to various types of trauma.

What is Stockholm Syndrome?

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response. It occurs when hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers. This psychological connection develops over the course of the days, weeks, months, or even years of captivity or abuse.

With this syndrome, hostages or abuse victims may come to sympathize with their captors or develop a deep connection to their abuser or manipulator. This is the opposite of the fear, terror, and disdain that might be expected from the victims in these situations.

Over the course of time, some victims do come to develop positive feelings toward their abusers – not only do they see them as human beings but can develop lasting feelings. They may even begin to feel as if they share common goals and causes. The victim may begin to develop negative feelings toward others outside of the situation, such as the police or authorities. They may resent anyone who may be trying to help them escape from the dangerous situation they’re in – such as family and friends in the case of relationship scams.

This paradox does not happen with every victim, and it’s unclear why it occurs when it does.

Many psychologists and medical professionals consider Stockholm syndrome a coping mechanism, or a way to help victims handle the trauma of a terrifying situation. Indeed, the history of the syndrome may help explain why that is. However, in the case of scams it is different, but it can produce the same outcome.

Psychologists and mental health experts assigned the term “Stockholm syndrome” in 1973 to the condition that occurs when hostages victims develop an emotional or psychological connection to the people who held them in captivity.

Despite being well known, however, Stockholm syndrome is not recognized by the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This manual is used by mental health experts and other specialists to diagnose mental health disorders. However, regardless of this, it is recognized that bonds do form between victims and abusers and that these can be very hard to break. Victims often require trauma therapy to help them recover from this, along with long-term support.

But What is Manipulation?

Manipulation is the exercise of harmful influence over others.

People who manipulate others (such as scammers) attack their victim’s mental and emotional sides to get what they want. The person manipulating — called the manipulator — seeks to create an imbalance of power, and take advantage of a victim to get power, control, benefits, and/or privileges at the expense of the victim.

Manipulation can happen in close or casual relationships in the real world, but they are more common in closely formed relationships. They also regularly occur in scams or fake relationships – such as romance scams and others. In a way, everyone can manipulate others to get what they want. But manipulation is defined as any attempt to sway someone’s emotions to get them to act or feel a certain way.

Manipulators have common tricks they’ll use to make you feel irrational and more likely to give in to their requests. A few common examples include:

  • Guilt
  • Complaining
  • Comparing
  • Lying
  • Denying
  • Feigning ignorance or innocence
  • Blame
  • Mind games

Signs of Manipulation?

Manipulation can happen in many forms. In fact, sometimes kindness can be a form of manipulation depending on the intent. Then the question is raised, is any form of influence considered manipulation? In certain contexts, the answer can be yes, but not all manipulation is with evil intent:

  • Children manipulate their parents
  • Parents manipulate children
  • Spouses and partners manipulate each other
  • Cats & dogs manipulate their owners
  • Governments all manipulate
  • Companies manipulate their customers
  • The list is endless

Whether manipulation has good or bad intentions, it is still an attempt to undermine your rational thinking. One definition of mental health is the ability to be resistant to manipulation – recognized or not.

 People who manipulate others have common traits that you can look for. They include:

  • They know your weaknesses and how to exploit them
  • They use your insecurities and needs against you
  • They convince you to give up something important to you, to make you more dependent on them – such as your money, but always your time and feelings and trust
  • If they are successful in their manipulation, they will continue to do so until you are able to get out of the situation

Some Attributes of a Manipulator

  • A manipulator will actively lie to you, make excuses, blame you, or strategically share facts about them and withhold other truths. In doing this, they are gaining power over you and gaining intellectual superiority.
  • Manipulators are experts in exaggeration and generalization. They may say things like, “No one has ever loved me.” They use vague accusations to make it harder to see the holes in their arguments.
  • They are passive-aggressive for many reasons that aren’t always intended to manipulate. But manipulators will use this tactic to make you feel guilty and give backhanded compliments. They are doing this to show anger without directly being angry, making you feel confused.
  • They are openly judging, ridiculing, and dismissing you. They want to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, and that no matter what you do you will be inadequate to them. They only focus on negative aspects and do not offer constructive solutions.

Getting Help

Whether or not a victim suffers from the long-term effects of manipulation or even Stockholm Syndrome it is important to get professional help to recover.

Trauma, in whatever form, will not just go away. It requires help, but a part of the lasting effects of manipulation is to make victims doubt that they are traumatized – they are just being historical, exaggerating, feeling sorry for themselves. To their family and friends, this can seem like the case too.

It is very hard for even professionals to help some victims because of the complexity of the outward symptoms and the victim’s own denial and self-abuse following a long-term scam. A “pity party” can be just drama, but very often it is the real effects of trauma. It is best to accept that professional help will be needed for a proper evaluation.

Where to Find Help:

  • Visit this directory: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd or visit your state or regional mental health licensing body to see the list of local practitioners – remember you are looking for trauma professionals.
  • Contact a local victims’ assistance provider or join a SCARS scam victims’ support group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SCARS.Avoidance.Information.Public.Group
  • SCARS offers free resources to help scam victims and their friends and families understand what has happened to the victim here on this website or in Spanish on www.ContraEstafas.org
  • SCARS also offers several useful books for scam victims at a small cost on shop.AgainstScams.org
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