Scam Survivor’s Guilt : A SCARS Insight
Crime victims are especially prone to expressing guilt, even if there are no other victims of their crime.
In the case of online scam victims, the survivor’s guilt can overwhelm them but be compounded by the realization that they are just one of the millions affected by these crimes.
What Is Survivor’s Guilt?
Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome and survivor disorder or survivor’s disorder) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic or tragic event when others did not, often feeling self-guilt. It also applies when the victim feels guilt that a crime happened to them – that they were responsible for allowing it.
The experience and manifestation of survivor’s guilt will depend on an individual’s psychology. It is defined as a significant symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It may be found among survivors of combat, epidemics, murder, natural disasters, rape, terrorism, confidence scams or fraud, among the friends and family of those who have died by suicide, and in non-mortal situations.
Survivor syndrome, also known as concentration camp syndrome (or KZ syndrome on account of the German term Konzentrationslager), are terms that have been used to describe the reactions and behaviors of people who have survived massive and adverse events.
In 1949, Eddy de Wind, a Dutch psychiatrist, and survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp introduced the term “concentration camp syndrome” regarding the psychological consequences of persecution, describing the “pathological after-effects” unique to former prisoners of Nazi concentration and extermination camps. The subsequently well-documented syndrome among Holocaust survivors includes anxiety and depression, intellectual impairment, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints, and mood swings with loss of drive. Several studies have examined the “chronic and progressive” nature of the condition, with symptoms increasing in intensity as survivors age.
Commonly such survivors feel guilty that they have survived the trauma and others – such as their family, friends, and colleagues – did not.
Both conditions, along with other descriptive syndromes covering a range of traumatic events are now subsumed under post-traumatic stress disorder.
Typical Guilt Reaction After A Crime
Although every victim is different, there are some typical responses:
Shock Or Numbness
Victims may feel “frozen” and cut off from their own emotions. Some victims say they feel as if they are “watching a movie” rather than having their own experiences. Victims may not be able to make decisions or conduct their lives as they did before the crime.
Denial, Disbelief, and Anger
Victims may experience “denial,” an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. Or, they may experience disbelief, telling themselves, “This could not be happening.” They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the person who committed the crime.
Quite often, victims struggle with confusion about what has happened, and what is going on around them. They may repeat themselves several times, unaware of who they have previously said things to.
Feelings of guilt are very common. Victims frequently think that they should have been able to do something to prevent the crime. They often think “If only I had . . . this wouldn’t have happened.”
A Need to “Do” Something
It is very typical for some victims or family members to feel as though they need to “get busy” right away and make sure things are handled. This could be a way of coping for some.
Other Typical Responses:
- Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
- Continual sadness with frequent crying
- Extreme tension or anxiety
- Lack of motivation and energy
- Outbursts of anger
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Other symptoms of distress for days or weeks following a trauma
Secondary injuries: When victims do not receive the support and help they need after the crime, they may suffer “secondary” injuries. They may be hurt by a lack of understanding from friends, family, and the professionals they come in contact with – particularly if others seem to blame the victim for the crime (suggesting they should have been able to prevent or avoid it).
Online Relationship Scams Cause Trauma And Trauma Causes Guilt In Many
PTSD is a common outcome for romance & relationship scam victims.
People who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly experience guilt. In particular, individuals who have endured traumatic events may also begin to feel what’s known as trauma-related guilt. But what does the term mean exactly?
How Guilt Develops After Trauma
Trauma-related guilt refers to the feelings of regret stemming from the belief that you could or should have done something different at the time a traumatic event occurred. For example, a military veteran may regret not going back into a combat zone to save a fallen soldier. A rape survivor may feel guilty about not fighting back at the time of the assault. A relationship scam victim should have known better than to fall for it or should have stopped it earlier.
Trauma survivors may also experience a particular type of trauma-related guilt, called survivor guilt. Survivor guilt is often experienced when a person has made it through the traumatic event. A person may question why they survived. They may even blame themselves for surviving a traumatic event as if they did something wrong.
The experience of trauma-related guilt does not seem to depend on the type of traumatic event experienced. Combat exposure, physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological manipulation, and the loss of a loved one have all been found to be associated with the experience of trauma-related guilt.
In the case of scam victims, it is a combination of several of these:
- The victim’s own manipulation
- The loss of the relationship as though a loved one died
- The impact on the victim’s financial future
- The impact on their family who do not know about the scam
- The impact of maintaining the secret
Consequences Of Trauma Guilt
Feeling guilt after the experience of a traumatic event is serious, as it has been linked to a number of negative consequences.
For example, trauma-related guilt has been found to be associated with:
- social anxiety
- low self-esteem
- and thoughts of suicide
In addition, feeling a lot of trauma-related guilt has been connected to the development of PTSD.
Given the potential negative consequences of trauma-related guilt, it is important that any such guilt is recognized and addressed.
Treatment For Trauma & Survivor’s Guilt
SCARS provides “Peer to Peer’ Support Groups for scam victims, however, this may not always be enough for all victims of online crime.
We recommend to all crime victims that you seek local counseling or therapy from professionals experienced and certified in trauma. Links are provided below to help you find such licensed professionals in your community. In many countries, such counseling is provided free to scam victims.
Trauma-related guilt can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Trauma-related guilt may originate in how you think or interpret a situation.
For instance, a rape survivor may feel like they should have seen their attack coming, even though it was impossible to predict that the assault would occur. Likewise, a combat veteran may think to themselves that they should have done something different to prevent the death of a fellow soldier, even though the event may have been completely out of their control. The same is true of scam victims; that they should have known better than to believe a fraudster and should have recognized the signs.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for trauma-related guilt would focus on helping people become more aware of the thoughts or beliefs that underlie feelings of guilt, such as through self-monitoring (journaling is important in this.) The therapist would then help the person come up with more realistic interpretations of the situation. For example, lessen your guilt by realizing that the traumatic event was completely out of your control, and you acted in the best way you could given the situation. By reducing guilt, cognitive behavioral therapy may also help increase self-compassion and acceptance.
In addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic/psychoanalytic approaches can also be helpful in addressing this form of guilt. Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic approaches would aid the person in exploring their early life experiences (for example, relationships with significant others, early childhood traumas or fears) in order to identify experiences and factors that may make someone more likely to feel trauma-related guilt and shame.
Importance of Treatment For Scam Victims
Sadly, many scam victims do not believe they need help and instead turn to amateurs, fakes, and pretenders to express their feelings. These include unprofessional anti-scam groups and other nonprofessionals.
It’s important to state again that trauma-related guilt is something that desperately needs to be addressed.
You may think of trauma-related guilt as a nuisance—something which diminishes your quality of life alone. In contrast, trauma-related guilt is much more serious, and, at least in crime victims, is closely linked with suicidal thoughts.
SCARS encourages anyone coping with this guilt to talk openly with their doctors. Help is available, and studies suggest this help can make a significant difference for those who have experienced the trauma from online scams.
Finding A Counselor or Therapist
If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd
Many scam victims experience trauma and develop suicidal thoughts.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 now for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
The hotline may not be expert in the nuances of online crime, but they can listen to your pain and help you find solutions. If you need to talk to someone, 24/7 call 1-800-273-8255
For more crisis hotlines around the world visit: International Suicide & Emergency Hotlines (opencounseling.com)
SCARS Support For Scam Victims
The Society provides Support Groups and Forums available to all scam victims free of any costs*
- English Support Group on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/SCARS.Avoidance.Information.Public.Group
- Spanish Support Group on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/SCARS.RSN.Foro.de.Estafas.en.Espanol
- Portuguese Support Group on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/SCARS.Grupo.de.Suporte
- German/English Support Group on Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/Victims.Self.Help.Group
- SCARS Director – Debby Montgomery Johnson’s Stand Up & Speak Up Group: www.facebook.com/groups/Stand.Up.Speak.Up.Internet.Radio.Group
- Scam Victims’ Website Forum: www.ScamVictimSupport.org
While SCARS Provides support groups for scam victims it may not be all you need. Our recovery program also recognizes that local trauma counseling and therapy play an important role for many scam victims. Do not dismiss this out of a mistaken belief that you are fine or already recovered – it may be far from reality. After all, this is your future we are talking about!
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FAQ: How Do You Properly Report Scammers?
It is essential that law enforcement knows about scams & scammers, even though there is nothing (in most cases) that they can do.
Always report scams involving money lost or where you received money to:
- Local Police – ask them to take an “informational” police report – say you need it for your insurance
- U.S. State Police (if you live in the U.S.) – they will take the matter more seriously and provide you with more help than local police
- Your National Police or FBI « www.IC3.gov »
- The SCARS|CDN™ Cybercriminal Data Network – Worldwide Reporting Network on « www.Anyscam.com »
This helps your government understand the problem, and allows law enforcement to add scammers on watch lists worldwide.
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To learn more about SCARS visit « www.AgainstScams.org »
Please be sure to report all scammers
on « www.Anyscam.com »
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