(Last Updated On: March 25, 2022)

Scam Victim Social Isolation Risks

The Psychology of Scams

A SCARS Insight

The Risks Of Social Isolation Caused By Romance Scams

Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Scam Victim Mental Health

People around the world have taken unprecedented safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical distancing is critical for slowing the spread of infectious diseases, but experts suggest solitude carries its own health cost: Social isolation can affect mental health.

However, almost all scam victims go through their own form of quarantine by isolating themselves bother during the scam and afterward.

This isolation can have serious and lasting effects on victims, especially when they are trying to recover from these experiences and most need the support of others.

What Is Social Isolation?

Social isolation is not necessarily bad; most people crave solitude at least occasionally. Being alone can be relaxing, meditative, and rejuvenating. Social isolation typically refers to solitude that is unwanted and unhealthy.

Socially isolated people may lack friends or close coworkers, and they often feel lonely or depressed. They can suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety. These are the exact kinds of feelings that scam victims feel.

The following symptoms associated with social isolation are warning signs of unhealthy social isolation:

  • Avoiding social interactions, including those that were once enjoyable
  • Canceling plans frequently and feeling relief when plans are canceled
  • Experiencing anxiety or panic when thinking about social interactions
  • Feeling distressed during periods of solitude
  • Feeling dread associated with social activities
  • Spending large amounts of time alone or with extremely limited contact with others

Social isolation can involve emotional isolation, which is an unwillingness or inability to share one’s feelings with others. When socially isolated individuals lack emotional interaction and support, they can become emotionally numb — detached from their own feelings.

When a person goes through a traumatic experience, like a romance scam, for example, there is a multitude of emotions that can cause them to self-isolate. These include fear of discovery, not knowing how to talk about what happened, shame and guilt, fear of being judged, and the fear of being ostracized by those they know.

Isolation During The Scam

During a typical relationship scam, the scammer manipulates the victim to limit their social interactions. They do this through manipulative techniques such as Gaslighting – convincing the victim that it is basically them against the world. Victims to deceive family and friends, and systematically isolate themselves. This benefits the scammer because it means the victim is more under their control and that there will be less contact with others that might make them see the light.

Isolation After The Scam Ends

After the scam victims are going through a broad range of emotional distress. This includes grief, body chemical withdrawal, trauma responses (fight, flight, freeze, and fawn), plus shame, guilt, and self-blame. This makes victims even more likely to isolate themselves from people that they believe might blame, shame, or ridicule them. This shame & guilt are powerful emotions that only make the period after the scam that much worse, and inhibit their emotional recovery.

Isolation and Loneliness

When experts study isolation’s causes and impacts, they distinguish between social isolation and loneliness.

Social isolation is an objective lack of social relationships or infrequency of social contact. Loneliness is a subjective feeling of isolation. A person can be socially isolated but not feel lonely. A person can also feel lonely when they are surrounded by people.

Because of the secrets that scam victims carry their isolation tends to fuel loneliness.

Nonetheless, isolation and loneliness are very much linked. Studies of loneliness’s causes, symptoms, and impacts shed light on the potential negative effects of this isolation.

Some Of The Causes Of Social Isolation?

Many circumstances can cause people to be isolated from others or to choose self-isolation:

  • Intimate partner violence. People in abusive relationships sometimes avoid contact with family, friends, or coworkers because of an unwillingness to reveal their true situation.
  • Loss of loved ones. Isolating after the loss of friends or family members can be common, especially among seniors who have lost many loved ones in their age group.
  • Mental health issues. Issues such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem often result from social isolation, but they can also cause it.
  • Remote location. Individuals who live in remote areas or who are geographically separated from family and friends due to job duties (military service, for example) can experience feelings of isolation.
  • Physical impairments. Physical challenges that limit mobility can reduce an individual’s ability to interact socially. Some people with physical disabilities feel ashamed of their disability or appearance, which can make them reluctant to interact socially. Hearing and vision impairments can also create a sense of isolation.
  • Social media. Communication via social media helps some people stay connected to others, but it can lead to isolation if it becomes a substitute for meaningful conversations and in-person socialization.
  • Unemployment. The shame associated with losing a job or being unable to secure new employment can lead individuals to self-isolate.
    Social isolation can also result from physical distancing measures such as those necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now couple those with the after-effects of the scam and the likelihood of isolation grows substantially. Guilt and shame are overwhelming emotions that cause victims to hide, stay silent, and avoid contact.

Effects of Isolation and Loneliness

Mental and physical health are interconnected. Isolation’s adverse health consequences range from sleeplessness to reduced immune function. Loneliness is associated with higher anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.

Isolation and loneliness are also linked to poor cardiovascular health and cognitive function:

  • A study led by an epidemiologist at Newcastle University concluded that deficiencies in social relationships are associated with a higher risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.
  • A study published in The Journals of Gerontology concluded that loneliness was associated with a 40 percent increase in the risk of dementia.
  • Links between social isolation and serious medical conditions are not fully understood, but ample evidence supports the connection. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology linked social isolation with higher risks of premature mortality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points to loneliness and isolation as serious public health risks.

Some effects of social isolation are specific to pandemics or other public health situations that require people to physically-distance. When you combine that with the effects of relationship scams both during and after it is a recipe for disaster.

Loneliness and depression can also go hand in hand with anxiety and fear about the dangers associated with the event that made physical distancing measures necessary. Victims are especially fearful about others learning what happened and how much money they lost.

High-Risk Groups

Relationship scam victims are a high-risk group for isolation and its damaging effects. It is for this reason and others that SCARS recommends that are scam victims find local trauma counseling or therapy. This is important to at least be evaluated with thin the first few months after a scam, or if isolation has become a part of the victim’s life.

Self-Care Strategies

It is important for individuals dealing with social isolation to have self-care strategies. This is particularly true when the factors contributing to isolation present real barriers to accessing outside resources, such as for people who live in remote areas may not have easy in-person access to mental health professionals.

Individuals can lessen isolation’s negative effects by taking steps to address the challenges isolation presents:

  • Engage in relaxing activities. Exercise and stretching, reading, listening to music, meditation and prayer, journaling, and hobbies can help relieve stress that can be associated with isolation.
  • Follow a routine. Daily routines promote a sense of purpose and normalcy.
  • Maintain healthy habits. Eating well, getting enough sleep, and engaging in physical activity can promote better mental health.
  • Stay connected. If conditions limit in-person contact, phone calls, email, texting, social media platforms, and videoconferencing can be used to stay in touch.
  • Stay informed. Keeping in the loop can be particularly important for those isolated for any reason, but even more so after being manipulated heavily. Learning the real facts about scams, scammers, and the psychology of how it all works can help people avoid feeling panicky. That said, controlling media consumption is also helpful –– too much exposure to negative news about scams can feed anxiety. Especially avoid the endless streams of scammer or stolen photos that can increase feelings of hopelessness.

Support Groups

Professionally managed scam victim support groups can also play a role in helping the victim re-integrate with others through group interactions and participation. SCARS offers such groups and has found significant success with those victims willing to commit to their recovery. SCARS scam victim support groups are offered in English or Spanish, plus SCARS partners and affiliates offer them around the world.

Therapeutic Treatment

Individuals suffering from the effects of scam-based isolation or loneliness should be mindful of their symptoms and seek help from experts if they persist or become severe.

Trauma therapists help by exploring underlying issues related to isolation or self-isolation. For example, a person’s isolation may be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder amplified by the relationship scam ending.

In addition to identifying underlying issues, a trauma counselor or therapist can develop a treatment plan that helps victims regain a sense of control over their lives.

Types of therapy used to treat isolation might include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy. CBT is a talk therapy that helps people become more aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts that affect their behavior. CBT sessions can help individuals identify misperceptions and reshape negative thinking.
  • Exposure therapy. Exposure therapy programs help people break avoidance and fear patterns. During exposure therapy sessions, in a safe environment, individuals are exposed (in person or in their imagination) to situations they avoid. They confront fears, process emotions, and manage anxiety.

When to Seek Professional Help

Individuals who experience any of the following should consider consulting a medical or mental health professional:

  • Confused thinking
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Excessive feelings of anger or fear
  • Extreme swings in emotion
  • Inability to cope with daily problems
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Prolonged depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Substance abuse

When circumstances limit in-person contact, people can connect with a mental health professional by phone or telemedicine.

Keep An Eye Out!

Some isolated people can find it difficult to ask for help. When others keep an eye out for those who might need assistance but be hesitant to ask, they can play a part in lessening isolation’s negative effects on them.

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