Resilience, Recovery, And Romance Scam Victims

Psychology of Scams

A SCARS Insight

“Resilience” Is The Capacity To Recover Quickly From Difficulties; A Mental Toughness

Psychological Resilience Is The Ability To Mentally Or Emotionally Cope With A Crisis Or To Return To Pre-Crisis Status Quickly

Resilience exists when the person uses “mental processes and behaviors in promoting personal assets and protecting self from the potential negative effects of stressors”.

In simpler terms, psychological resilience exists in people who develop psychological and behavioral capabilities that allow them to remain calm during crises/chaos and to move on from the incident without long-term negative consequences.

In popular accounts, psychological resilience is sometimes likened to a “psychological immune system.”

What Is Resilience?

“The difference between a strong man and a weak one is that the former does not give up after a defeat.” — Woodrow Wilson

At one time or another, everyone will experience some form of adversity, hardship, or a tough experience.

How do people deal with these types of events that change their lives?

The death of a loved one, a romance scam, a divorce or relationship breakup, combat, a traumatic operation, or a threatening situation, a loss of a job, COVID or a serious illness, terrorist attacks, and other traumatic events: these are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. Plus in many cases real trauma!

People often adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? It involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps. Everybody needs some resilience, though it is not universal. Not everyone has the same level of resilience as others. It often depends on previous trauma.

Resilience has been described as the two interacting factors of:

  1. Preventive resistance (immunity), and
  2. Reactive resilience (the ability to rebound from adversity)

It is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.

It also means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience – but not at the same level. Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress or trauma. Emotional pain and sadness are common in individuals who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress and effort. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Developing resilience is a personal journey. People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People need and use different strategies.

For example, scam victims desperately need resilience to recover from their experience. Some will need support from family or friends, some also need real qualified support groups, others will need trauma counseling or therapy, while others might actually need in-patient psychiatric support. It just depends on the individual.

We can look at resiliency as a continuum, where each victim will have certain strengths and abilities that increase their resiliency. Given this, what are some of the key research findings around resiliency and how can victims’ assistance providers encourage growth and resiliency in their clients?

Studies indicate that many of the activities we would identify as healthy living (personal resources, a good support network, pragmatism, etc.) promote resilience. The research literature also identifies several factors related to successfully facing challenges.


This refers to having the skills and abilities to create a life that you want. There is an element of being self-sufficient and able to self-direct your life and your choice. One study argued that hardiness is made up of three related elements:

  1. Finding meaningful purpose in your life;
  2. The belief that one can influence the environment and event (self-efficacy);
  3. And the belief that both positive and negative life experiences are growth opportunities.

In other words, those victims who feel their life has meaning, who feel that they are in control and who are able to see life events as learning opportunities may be more able to face challenges.

The research shows that some victims of crime positively coping by engaging in activities that help them regain (or gain) a sense of control over their lives. These empowerment activities might include:

  • Cutting off all contact with the scammers, and cutting our all stranger contact
  • Reporting the crime to the police – this is both an affirmation that they accept they are a crime victim and retaking a measure of control
  • Learning online safety & cybersecurity
  • Learning about the psychology of scams and how it affects victims during and after the scam
  • Volunteering to help other victims
  • Supporting real organizations that assist and support victims of crime

We might also see this taking back of control in victims who become activists and victim advocates as a part of legitimate organizations to promote victims’ causes, including local activism. They apply their experience at a social level, trying to change society so that it will create fewer victims or treat victims more fairly. This may also make the person feel that they are a part of creating that safe world (or at least a safer one). Becoming active in advocacy or peer support gives a meaningful purpose to victims and can increase their hope for their own future!

NOTE: SCARS offers many volunteering opportunities in our support activity, in scam avoidance education, and crime prevention.

Types of Victim Resilience

Positive Personal Identity

This refers to having a positive view of oneself which can help a scam victim remain centered in the face of challenges. It makes sense that people who have a positive view of themselves (“I’m a good person and people like me”) will be more resilient in the face of crisis.

Even those who have an unrealistic positive view of themselves (a type of overconfidence called self-enhancement) are also more successful at facing challenges than people who have a neutral or negative view of themselves. Associates may not like them and may view them as narcissistic; however, self-enhancers tend to deal with loss more effectively than the general population. In other words, a positive belief in yourself helps you cope.

Adaptable Victims

People who are adaptable and able to adjust to life’s challenges are likely to have improved ability to cope. This may be emotional or behavioral adaptability or finding the positive elements in negative events (“silver lining”). Another element with respect to adaptability might be the willingness to adjust course mid-stream and make minor corrections in coping behaviors. This would likely increase the chances of successfully facing problems. For example, a person may feel distressed and decide to phone a friend to talk. If there is no answer, the person may need to adapt the plan and go for a walk, call another friend, meditate, call a help-line, or whatever. Those people who are not able to adapt their plan may stop at only one or two options and decrease the odds of successfully coping.

Positive People

People who have a positive outlook in the form of hope for the future tend to be more resilient also. Similarly, resilient people tend to see the world as a safe place. Many victims struggle with both hope and feeling safe after being victimized. In fact, much effort goes into building hope and motivation when supporting victims of crime. Therefore, the victims who are able to have some hope or who feel safe are much more likely to withstand the crisis of crime victimization.

Repressive Coper (Coping Repressively)

Repressive copers are people who tend to avoid negative thoughts, emotions, and memories – this is a form of denial. These victims tend to emotionally disengage from challenging situations in that they do not feel stress even when physical measures indicate that they are stressed. Denial can have benefits if limited. These are often the people who say that “it didn’t really bother me.” Popular opinion holds that these people are “shut-down” and need to get in touch with their feelings. Although this may be true for some victims, others may be better left to this natural coping strategy for a while – but if it extends for more than a couple of months, then professional help may be needed.

Experiencing Complex Emotions

Those people who are able to experience and manage complex emotions are better able to face challenging situations and not feel overwhelmed. In contrast to the repressive copers, these victims are able to identify and experience emotions very well, without blocking. Victims who are excellent at handling their emotions when dealing with the challenge of victimization and with the justice system do cope better. It is interesting to note that resiliency is linked to both repressive copers and those who process emotions well. This emphasizes the fact that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for all victims; each victim must allow themselves to find his or her strengths and usual ways of coping. Qualified support groups can be very helpful in this.

Experiencing Positive Emotions

Experiencing positive emotions help victims through two avenues:

  • Replacing negative emotions
  • Countering the effects of negative emotions

In looking at the beneficial effects of positive emotions, the theory of  “broaden and build” positive emotions applies, which basically holds that negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, depression, fear) force people to focus their attention, while positive emotions allow people to be more open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Therefore, positive emotions improve creativity and problem-solving. It is also possible, that others may be more supportive to people who express positive emotions. In looking at victims, positive emotions such as gratitude, interest, and love helped people cope better and the people trying to support them be able to empathize more fully with them.

Social Support

People who have social support and high-quality relationships also show greater resiliency than those who have fewer social resources. There is much research and theory noting the benefits of social support to crime victims and victims who receive positive social support show better adjustment and decision making following their victimization. Support may help victims release troubling feelings or get a “reality check” about thoughts, actions, and feelings which are false or misdirected. Further, it appears that even the belief that you have support can make the victim feel better, especially if anger is an issue.

Both natural supports (e.g., family, friends) and professional supports (e.g., police, lawyer, clergy, medical services, mental health services, victims’ assistance services) can offer help to the victim. Although the decision regarding where to go for support lies with the victim, those who use natural supports are also more likely to seek professional help, especially if they felt positively supported. Supportive people may provide information, companionship, reality checks, emotional support, or a safe place to live or interact. Support also seems to reduce the victim’s anxiety. This is why SCARS offers professionally moderated support groups in both English and Spanish.

Socially Competent

Perhaps it is not surprising that scam victims who are socially competent also tend to be more resilient. Social competency includes the person’s skills in communication, empathy and caring, and the capacity to positively connect to others. This likely improves resiliency by helping the person successfully meet any needs and may increase the size and quality of the person’s support network. They also tend to make better support volunteers as well.

Cognitive Skills

Finally, victims that have good cognitive skills, such as intelligence and effective problem solving/planning skills are also related to being successful in facing life’s challenges. This makes sense in that the victim will have more internal personal resources from which to draw when dealing with problems. They may also be better able to examine and choose between different options. Much of the negative coping we see in our support activities is simply the person believing it is the best option they have to deal with the problem. People with greater cognitive skills should be able to generate more options (both positive and negative) and may be more likely to choose those options with fewer negative effects.

Furthermore, victims who have greater cognitive skills seem to be better able to receive benefits associated with social comparison. Victims may build understanding by comparing themselves to others who have suffered a similar crime. They may be inspired by victims who are doing well. They may also compare themselves to victims who are worse off and feel grateful they were not more harmed. Such social comparison seems to help people gain perspective and may even relate to a focus on the positive aspects of being a survivor.

It is reassuring for many victims to know that many of the elements that relate to resiliency are present in how they deal with the aftermath of the crime.

Victimization Process and Meaning-Making

To understand positive coping fro scam victims, one must understand the victimization process.

The Casarez-Levison Model is a simple model of how people move from being a member of the general population to being a victim to becoming a survivor.

  1. previctimization
  2. victimization
  3. transition
  4. resolution

Casarez-Levison indicated that people move from a precrime state (previctimization), to the crime event (victimization), to initial coping and adjustment (transition), and to moving forward (resolution) (Casarez-Levison 1992). The model is simplified even more here by focusing on the psychological strengths the person might apply before and during the crime and those strengths that might be more evident as the person deals with the crime and moves forward.

Strengths That May Apply Before or During the Crime


Previctimzation, each person has strengths and skills that come to bear on how he or she will deal with any stressor, including crime victimization. There can be individual differences in some of the characteristics detailed above regarding resiliency. What level of social support does the person have? Are they nearby and accessible? Has the person successfully dealt with and learned from previous victimization? Since research shows that current victims of crime often have a history of the previous victimization, it is likely that the person has learned coping strategies to deal with this stress. What are these skills? Are they effective?


During the crime or in the few hours following it, the psychological strengths of victims can manifest in problem-solving, attentiveness, help-seeking, etc. Oftentimes, victims will seek out informational support to make a decision on what they should do (such as visiting this website or groups on social media). Further, victims activate their support systems during this period, possibly to receive support, or get information, or make decisions. Early coping strategies are also be seen during this period.

It can be helpful for victims to review the list below and identify their strengths they see them in themselves. Their list includes six strengths that are made up of a total of 24 virtues; some may seem more immediately applicable to victims.

  1. Wisdom and knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love or learning, and perspective;
  2. Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, and vitality;
  3. Humanity: love, kindness, and social intelligence;
  4. Justice: citizenship, fairness, and leadership;
  5. Temperance: forgiveness/mercy, humility/modesty, prudence, and self-control; and
  6. Transcendence: appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality.

Notice that negative virtues, such as vigilantism, hate, lack of self-control, refusal to listen and learn, becoming a savior, and others are not coping skills and should be avoided at all costs.

Certainly being faced with a crisis of crime victimization and successfully coping with the aftermath requires many of the strengths above. In fact, it is easier to develop the strengths the person already has, rather than trying to add new ones during a stressful period.

Strengths That Apply After the Crime and Moving Forward

Transition & Meaning-Making Activities

Once the initial shock reactions have passed we may start to see transition & meaning-making activities, which can be very important to moving forward from loss or trauma. Meaning-making is important to crime victims of all types, but especially for scam victims, and in dealing with any type of trauma. In fact, it is often included as a major element in treatment interventions.

Meaning-Making May Begin With Making Sense Of Their Victimization

Some people will do this by seeking out information (such as here on This might help them understand common reactions, treatment options, the justice system, their rights, and so forth. Others might prefer to cope emotionally, facing their emotions head-on to help move beyond negative feelings. Recent research suggests that emotion-focused coping may help to reduce stress and improve the victim’s self-assessment, especially among women. It is important for the victim to help supporters on what type of coping is most effective for them as long as it is possitive.


Resolution is similar to previctimization in that the person is not focused on being a victim of crime; he or she is simply living life – they have reached a state of survivorship. Resolution does not mean returning to “the past,” as though the crime did not occur. Rather, the person integrates the crime and their reactions, coping into their new identity. Posttraumatic growth refers to when a person is affected by the trauma and learns new coping strategies or gains a new perspective by facing the problem. Victims may focus on how they have grown from the experience. In fact, people will often see themselves as much weaker before the event, even if that is not true; this may be in an effort to see the benefit in an obviously difficult situation, but that is ok. Regardless of the perception, seeing yourself as a survivor is a positive thing.

Posttraumatic Growth

Posttraumatic growth does not mean that dealing with trauma is a positive experience in these people’s lives. Even those people who report high levels of Posttraumatic growth also indicate many problems and difficulties related to their trauma. In other words, most people would rather have avoided the trauma altogether but are able to recognize how they have grown. It seems that most survivors tended to describe their growth in ways that fell under three overall categories:

  1. Change in how the person sees herself
    • Personal strength: I can survive anything
    • New possibilities: I want to explore new interests/activities
  2. Change in how she relates to others: connection and compassion
  3. Change in life philosophy
    • Appreciation of life (enjoy the little things)
    • Spiritual change

These avenues of growth and resolution should be fostered to help the person leave victimhood behind. Being a victim of crime will always be part of what has happened to them, but hopefully, it will not define who they are.

Moving Forward

People face the challenge of criminal victimization by applying any and all of their coping strategies (resilience,) both positive and negative. These strategies can help them move forward or hold them back. It can be helpful for those victims to be reminded that positive coping and resiliency are a major factor in a victim’s ability to make meaning out of what happened and move forward. This core of strength can be identified and developed in even the most distressed victim of scams. By fostering that strength and facilitating the growth of positive coping, victims can more quickly make sense of what has happened to them.

We know that resiliency is common but it is not easy. We know that most victims do not seek out victim services (such as SCARS) for help. It is hoped that this article has served as a reminder that the trauma and pain of crime victimization is something people can, and do, face with strength and dignity. People who have been victimized should be reminded of this as well. SCARS is here to support all scam victims worldwide, but the victim has to be willing and able to accept that help.

Getting Support Improved Resilience

Our experience has shown that victims of scams found it helpful to have someone guiding them, providing them with information, accompanying them through the reporting process, or providing support through the entire post-scam period of their life. People expressed gratitude that they were not left alone when they were feeling overwhelmed and lost. Participants of our support groups referred to how helpful they found it when the group and moderators were listening to them was respectful, patient, available, and seemed to be well-trained and knowledgeable about the type of criminality that they experienced, and helped them with available options. This is our support mission.

We feel that our award-winning victim services are perceived as supportive, compassionate, willing to listen to concerns and to answer questions without pressuring or rushing. We let victim evolve their emotional state as they are able.

In addition, SCARS provides immediate support, as well as follow-up, longer-term support, and continuous ongoing information and education. But we do not focus victims on negative and obsessive behaviors, but instead, help them turn away from these and follow the path of recovery. All SCARS support services are always free of charge.

SCARS also publishes additional support and recovery tools at the SCARS Store here.

Every victim can recover through the development of resilience. Sadly, most will not. Try to make sure that you are not one of them.

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