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SCARS Guide: Romance Scam Victims & PTSD
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Can Affect Romance Scam Victims
After a traumatic experience, it’s normal to feel frightened, sad, anxious, and disconnected. But if the upset doesn’t fade and you feel stuck with a constant sense of danger and painful memories, you may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can affect people in many different situations but appears to be especially prevalent with romance scam victims.
It can seem like you’ll never get over what happened or feel normal again. But by seeking treatment, reaching out for support, and developing new coping skills, you can overcome PTSD and move on with your life.
Scam Victims’ Assistance & Support Groups
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What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop following any event that makes you fear for your safety, and that can include Romance Scams where your sense of safety has been destroyed.
Most people associate PTSD with rape or battle-scarred soldiers—and military combat is the most common cause in men—but any event or series of events, that overwhelms you with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and leaves you emotionally shattered can trigger PTSD, especially if the event feels unpredictable and uncontrollable – as romance scams do.
PTSD can affect people who personally experience the event, those who witness the event, or those who pick up the pieces afterward, such as support workers and law enforcement officers.
PTSD Vs. A Normal Response To Traumatic Events
The traumatic events that lead to post-traumatic stress disorder are usually so overwhelming and frightening that they would upset anyone – such as the immediate unexpected loss of a loved one as one example – does that sound familiar?
Following a traumatic event, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. When your sense of safety and trust are shattered, it’s normal to feel crazy, disconnected, or numb. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful, and find it difficult to stop thinking about what happened. These are normal reactions to abnormal events.
For most people, however, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
But if you have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms don’t decrease. You don’t feel a little better each day. In fact, you may start to feel worse.
A normal response to trauma becomes PTSD when you get stuck
After a traumatic experience, the mind and the body are in shock. But as you make sense of what happened (by reading and learning about the experience) and process your emotions, you come out of it.
With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however, you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.
Signs And Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD develops differently from person to person because everyone’s nervous system and tolerance for stress is a little different. Also, your learned reactions in your amygdala (animal brain) play a role in this.
Additionally, the hormone dependency in romance scams plays a disruptive role by causing withdrawal symptoms that can make the trauma worse as well.
While you’re most likely to develop symptoms of PTSD in the hours or days following a traumatic event, it can sometimes take weeks, months, or even years before they appear.
Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. Or in scam victims’ cases the receipt of a new message from an unknown person or a scammer.
While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are four main types of symptoms.
- Symptoms of PTSD #1: Re-experiencing the traumatic event
- Symptoms of PTSD #2: Avoidance and numbing
- Symptoms of PTSD #3: Hyperarousal
- Symptoms of PTSD #4: Negative thought & mood changes
IN MORE DETAIL – SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
#1: Re-experiencing The Traumatic Event
- Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
- Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
- Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
#2: Avoidance And Numbing
- Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
- Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
- A sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
- Sleep problems
- Irritability or angry outbursts
- Hypervigilance (on constant “red alert”)
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
- Aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behavior
#4: Negative Thought & Mood Changes
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Feeling alienated and alone
- Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Depression and hopelessness
PTSD Risk Factors
While it’s impossible to predict who will develop PTSD in response to trauma, there are certain risk factors that increase your vulnerability.
Many risk factors revolve around the nature of the traumatic event itself. Traumatic events are more likely to cause PTSD when they involve a severe threat to your life or personal safety: the more extreme and prolonged the threat, the greater the risk of developing PTSD in response. Intentional, human-inflicted harm—such as rape, assault, and torture— also tends to be more traumatic than “acts of God” or more impersonal accidents and disasters. The extent to which the traumatic event was unexpected, uncontrollable, and inescapable also plays a role.
Getting Help For PTSD
If you suspect that you or a loved one has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it’s important to seek help right away. The sooner PTSD is treated, the easier it is to overcome. If you’re reluctant to seek help, keep in mind that PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and the only way to overcome it is to confront what happened to you and learn to accept it as a part of your past. This process is much easier with the guidance and support of an experienced therapist or doctor.
It’s only natural to want to avoid painful memories and feelings. But if you try to numb yourself and push your memories away, PTSD will only get worse. You can’t escape your emotions completely—they emerge under stress or whenever you let down your guard—and trying to do so is exhausting. The avoidance will ultimately harm your relationships, your ability to function, and the quality of your life.
Why Should I Seek Help for PTSD?
- Early treatment is better. Symptoms of PTSD may get worse. Dealing with them now might help stop them from getting worse in the future. Finding out more about what treatments work, where to look for help, and what kind of questions to ask can make it easier to get help and lead to better outcomes.
- PTSD symptoms can change family life. PTSD symptoms can get in the way of your family life. You may find that you pull away from loved ones, are not able to get along with people, or that you are angry or even violent. Getting help for your PTSD can help improve your family life.
- PTSD can be related to other health problems. PTSD symptoms can make physical health problems worse. For example, studies have shown a relationship between PTSD and heart trouble. By getting help for your PTSD you could also improve your physical health.
Source: National Center for PTSD
Self-Help Treatment For PTSD
Recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD is a gradual, ongoing process. Healing doesn’t happen overnight, nor do the memories of the trauma ever disappear completely. This can make life seem difficult at times, but there are many things you can do to cope with residual symptoms and reduce your anxiety and fear.
PTSD SELF-HELP TIPS
#1: Challenge Your Sense Of Helplessness
Overcoming your sense of helplessness is key to overcoming PTSD. Trauma leaves you feeling powerless and vulnerable. It’s important to remind yourself that you have strengths and coping skills that can get you through tough times.
One of the best ways to reclaim your sense of power is by helping others: volunteer your time, give blood, reach out to a friend in need, or donate to your favorite charity. Taking positive action directly challenges the sense of helplessness that is a common symptom of PTSD.
Positive ways of coping with PTSD:
- Learn about trauma and PTSD
- Join a PTSD support group
- Practice relaxation techniques
- Pursue outdoor activities
- Confide in a person you trust
- Spend time with positive people
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Enjoy the peace of nature
#2: Get Moving
- When you’re suffering from PTSD, exercise can do more than just release endorphins and improve your mood and outlook. By really focusing on your body and how it feels as you move, exercise can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response. Try:
- Rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs, such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, focus on how your body feels. Notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin.
- Rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts. These activities can make it easier to focus on your body movements—after all, if you don’t, you could get hurt.
- Spending time in nature. Pursuing outdoor activities like hiking, camping, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing helps veterans cope with PTSD symptoms and transition back into civilian life. Anyone with PTSD can benefit from the relaxation, seclusion, and peace that come with being out in nature. Seek out local organizations that offer outdoor recreation or teambuilding opportunities.
#3: Reach Out To Others For Support
PTSD can make you feel disconnected from others. You may be tempted to withdraw from social activities and your loved ones. But it’s important to stay connected to life and the people who care about you. You don’t have to talk about the trauma if you don’t want to, but the caring support and companionship of others is vital to your recovery. Reach out to someone you can connect with for an uninterrupted period of time, someone who will listen when you want to talk without judging, criticizing, or continually being distracted. That person may be your significant other, a family member, a friend, or professional therapist. Or you could try:
Volunteering your time or reaching out to a friend in need. This is not only a great way to connect to others, but can also help you reclaim your sense of control.
Joining a PTSD support group. This can help you feel less isolated and alone and also provide invaluable information on how to cope with symptoms and work towards recovery.
If Connecting With Others Is Difficult
No matter how close you are to someone, or how helpful they try to be, the symptoms of PTSD that leave your nervous system feeling “stuck” can also make it difficult to connect to others. If you still don’t feel any better after talking to others, there are ways to help the process along.
Exercise or move. Before chatting with a friend, either exercise or move around. Jump up and down, swing your arms and legs, or just flail around. Your head will feel clearer and you’ll find it easier to connect.
Vocal toning. As strange as it sounds, vocal toning is a great way to open up your nervous system to social engagement—even if you can’t sing or consider yourself tone-deaf. Sit up straight and with your lips together and teeth slightly apart, simply make “mmmm” sounds. Change the pitch and volume until you experience a pleasant vibration in your face. Practice for a few minutes and notice if the vibration spreads to your heart and stomach.
Support PTSD Recovery With A Healthy Lifestyle
The symptoms of PTSD can be hard on your body so it’s important to take care of yourself and develop some healthy lifestyle habits.
Take time to relax. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, massage, or yoga can activate the body’s relaxation response and ease symptoms of PTSD.
Avoid alcohol and drugs. When you’re struggling with difficult emotions and traumatic memories, you may be tempted to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. But substance use worsens many symptoms of PTSD, interferes with treatment, and can add to problems in your relationships.
Eat a healthy diet. Start your day right with breakfast, and keep your energy up and your mind clear with balanced, nutritious meals throughout the day. Omega-3s play a vital role in emotional health so incorporate foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, and walnuts into your diet. Limit processed food, fried food, refined starches, and sugars, which can exacerbate mood swings and cause fluctuations in your energy.
Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can trigger anger, irritability, and moodiness. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual (listen to calming music, watch a funny show, or read something light) and make your bedroom as quiet, dark, and soothing as possible.
Source: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.
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