Shame – Secrets & Lies

ShameShame Shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self; withdrawal motivations; and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness. – Secrets & Lies

The Psychology of ScamsPsychology Of Scams Psychology Of Scams is the study of the psychological or emotional effects of scams or financial fraud on victims of these crimes. It helps victims to better understand the impact of scams on them personally or on others. To find the SCARS articles on the Psychology of Scams, use the search option to enter the term and find them.

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A Common Response To Shame Is To Hide

This Can Happen Both During The ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. And After It

One of the ways the scam victims hide from the reality of their situation is by lying about their real situation. This deception of friends and family, may seem like the thing to do at the time, but it only increases shame.

Getting To The Truth

One of the challenges of supporting scam victims is how shame plays a strong role in inhibiting communications, especially both direct and in the support groupSupport Group In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic, such as romance scams. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. A support group may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy. They can be supervised or not. SCARS support groups are moderated by the SCARS Team and or volunteers. context. It also plays a large role in separating the victims from family and friends, both during the scam and afterward.

One of the ways that shame manifests is in secrets and lies. This can also directly contribute to or increase traumaTrauma Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety or other emotional shocks, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. Trauma requires treatment, either through counseling or therapy or through trauma-oriented support programs, such as those offered by SCARS., further strengthening the shame. It can become a vicious circle of more shame, more secrets and lies, and then more trauma, and more shame, and so on.

Honesty – Is The Best Path

Brutal honesty without aggression or angerAnger Anger, also known as wrath or rage, is an intense emotional state involving a strong uncomfortable and non-cooperative response to a perceived provocation, trigger, hurt or threat. About one-third of scam victims become trapped in anger for extended periods of time following a scam. A person experiencing anger will often experience physical effects, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion that triggers a part of the fight or flight response. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically. Anger can have many physical and mental consequences. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them", psychologists point out that an angry person can very well be mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability. can be a way out of this spiral. Honesty is both a useful counter to shameful secrets and lies for both the victim themselves and those trying to help them. But you have to be careful about how much you say.

NOTE: We are not suggesting that every victim tell everyone everything. Far from it. In fact, we suggest that you only say enough to put away that shame caused by your secrecy. Here is our guide on what and how to explain what happened.

Shame Is Painful

Shame is a very painful and powerful emotion. According to many, it typically follows a moment of exposure, and this uncovering reveals aspects of ourselves of a peculiarly sensitive, intimate, vulnerable nature – such as being victimized.

What one is ashamed about clusters around several issues:

  • I am weak, I am failing in competition (as in life)
  • I am dirty, messy, the content of myself is looked at with disdain, disgust, and disdain (this can also be how others view you after a scam)
  • I am defective, I have shortcomings in my physical and mental makeup (again, “how could this have happened)
  • I have lost control over my bodily functions or my feelings (shame resulting from normal trauma or grief)

The triggerTRIGGERS A trigger is a stimulus that sets off a memory of a trauma or a specific portion of a traumatic experience. of shame between two people is the breaking of a “bond” or “bridge” during which we feel cut off from our fellow human beings.

The three ways in which humans trigger shame in each other are through:

  1. Treacherous treatment (someone being dishonest – even if it is you)
  2. Betrayal (doing something other than what you believe is the right thing to do)
  3. Abandonment (someone will not help you in the way you want)

Unhealthy Response Styles To Feelings Of Shame

Shame is worthy of special attention. Shame is a critical regulator of human social behaviorBehavior   Behavior / Behavioral Actions Otherwise known as habits, behavior or behavioral actions are strategies to help prevent online exploitation that target behavior, such as social engineering of victims. Changing your behavior is the ONLY effective means to reduce or prevent scams.. Shame can occur any time that our experience of the positive effects of life is interrupted. So an individual does not have to do something wrong to feel shame. The individual just has to experience something that interrupts their perception of themself. This understanding of shame provides a critical explanation for why victims of crime often feel a strong sense of shame, even though it was the offender who committed the “shameful” act.

One of the effects of shame often causes changes in the victim’s perception of their relationship with others, especially family and friends.

The Compass of Shame


Displayed is a graphic depiction of the “Compass of Shame”, designed by Donald Nathanson, M.D., to help us understand how we may unhealthily respond when we experience a moment of shame.

  • Attack Others- This means that we display hostility towards someone else, who was not involved in the shaming moment.
  • Attack Self- This means that we become too harsh on ourselves, and become intensely blamingBlaming Blame or Blaming is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong, their action is blameworthy. By contrast, when someone is morally responsible for doing something right, we may say that his or her action is praiseworthy. Blame imparts responsibility for an action or act, as in that they made a choice to perform that act or action. of ourselves for everything.
  • Avoid- This means that we run away from the person who shamed us, or stay away from the setting in which we felt shamed.
  • Deny Wrong Doing/Withdrawal This means that we deny feeling ashamed, or try to act like the moment of shame didn’t bother us.

The “attack other” response to shame is responsible for the proliferation of violence in modern life. Usually, people who have adequate self-esteem readily move beyond their feelings of shame (this is called “resilience“.)

Nonetheless, we all react to shame, in varying degrees, in the ways described by the Compass.

Restorative (recovery) practices, by their very nature, provide an opportunity for us to express our shame, along with other emotions, and in doing so reduce their intensity.

Shame is like a dam in your mind. It holds back a massive amount of the things we think we should do or be doing. But once you create a crack, it all seems to come flowing out and the shame is no longer a barrier (or at least is far less.)

Shameful Secrets

Shameful Secrets Bother Us More Than Guilty Secrets

Everyone has secrets, but what causes someone to think about them over and over again? People who feel shame about a secret, as opposed to guilt, are more likely to be consumed by thoughts of what they are hiding, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Almost everyone keeps secrets, and they may be harmful to our well-being, our relationships and our health,” said Michael L. Slepian, PhD, of Columbia University and lead author of the study. “How secrecy brings such harm, however, is highly understudied.”

The study was published in the journal Emotion.

Slepian and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 participants asking a series of questions about secrets they had and how much shame and guilt they associated with those secrets. Participants were asked questions designed to measure shame (e.g., “I am worthless and small”) and guilt (e.g., “I feel remorse and regret about something I have done”). Participants also reported the number of times they thought about their secret and concealed it each day during the prior month.

“We examined shame and guilt, the two most highly studied self-conscious emotions,” Slepian said. “Unlike basic emotions, such as anger and fear, which refer to something outside of oneself, shame and guilt center on the self.”

People who reported feeling shame thought about their secrets significantly more often than people who reported feeling guilty or those who felt no shame or guilt about their secret. The authors also found that neither guilt nor shame predicted concealment of secrets.

“Hiding a secret is largely driven by how often a person is having a conversation related to the secret with the person whom he or she is hiding it from, not how he or she feels about the secret,” Slepian said.

When a person felt shame about the secret, he or she felt small, worthless or powerless, while guilt made an individual feel remorse, tension or regret. Secrets about one’s mental healthMental health Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community". According to WHO, mental health includes "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others". From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines "mental health"., a prior traumatic experience or unhappiness with one’s physical appearance tended to evoke more shame, according to Slepian, whereas hurting another person, lying to someone or violating someone’s trust induced more guilt.

Feeling regret did not cause a person to think repeatedly about a secret in the same way that feeling powerless did, Slepian concluded.

“People should not be so hard on themselves when thinking about their secrets, the researchers said. ”

“If the secret feels burdensome, try not to take it personally but recognize instead that it reflects on your behavior, and you can change that,” Slepian said. “Guilt focuses people on what to do next and so shifting away from shame toward guilt should help people better cope with their secrets and move forward.”

The conclusion that scam victims can draw from this is that secrets and shame go hand in hand. The maintenance of secrets, especially those that are withheld from friends and family – that profoundly impact – can cause significant and increasing shame. However the answer is to share some of the story. You do not have to tell them everything, but just letting a portion of the secret go can dramatically impact a victims sense of worthiness and wholeness.

Envy and Jealousy

Feelings of envy and jealousy are often rooted in feelings of shame. Both involve feelings of shame and loss of self-esteem.

Envy may be triggered when you encounter someone who has something, either within yourself or a possession, that you lack. This can manifest in the context of scam victims as envy of other victims who have not suffered as much or lost as much money! But, your shame can also create this in other areas of your life and it is important to be watchful.

Envy is connected with feelings of inferiority, negative feelings towards a person who has what you want, and a nagging feeling of longing for those missing qualities within yourself, or possessions, that you feel is lacking or missing. All of which can come from shame and even trauma.

Those who feel envy often know that it is not socially acceptable. Likewise, it is not unusual for the envious person to feel happy or relieved when the envied person loses what was prized. in the case of victims, when they suffer more! This is also called “Tall Poppy SyndromeSyndrome It is a group of symptoms that can consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.,” but can also relate to  Schadenfreude.

Jealousy, on the other hand, is concerned with the potential loss of a valued relationship that you already have, or the loss of an opportunity to gain a relationship that you want to have. In contrast to envy, certain expressions of jealousy are socially acceptable. Often there are painful feelings of anger, fear of loss, hurt, and a wish to get even with someone.

Surprisingly, jealousy can come into the situation or relationship (after the scam) between the victim and the scammerScammer A Scammer or Fraudster is someone that engages in deception to obtain money or achieve another objective. They are criminals that attempt to deceive a victim into sending more or performing some other activity that benefits the scammer.! Victims can also feel jealous of other victims that seem to receive more attention or support.

Oftentimes envy, and jealousy can be experienced at the same time. For example, the circumstances that trigger jealousy of one’s relationship may then lead to comparing oneself with others (and turning them into one’s rival,) then leading to the envy of that rival.

We have seen many victims become jealous of other victims or even the SCARS staff. It makes sense when you consider the disparity between what that victim is feeling and how others are doing or feeling better.

Likewise, feeling envious of someone may lead to judging someone as a rival for one’s trusted friend’s attention or a perceived completion for dominance in a context, and lead to feeling of jealousy towards your trusted friends or associates.

Shame and Lying

Many, but not all forms of normal lying have their roots in shame. This is not to be confused with professional fraudFraud In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain (money or other assets), or to deprive a victim of a legal right. Fraud can violate civil law (e.g., a fraud victim may sue the fraud perpetrator to avoid the fraud or recover monetary compensation) or criminal law (e.g., a fraud perpetrator may be prosecuted and imprisoned by governmental authorities), or it may cause no loss of money, property, or legal right but still be an element of another civil or criminal wrong. The purpose of fraud may be monetary gain or other benefits, for example by obtaining a passport, travel document, or driver's license, or mortgage fraud, where the perpetrator may attempt to qualify for a mortgage by way of false statements. A fraud can also be a hoax, which is a distinct concept that involves deliberate deception without the intention of gain or of materially damaging or depriving a victim.. One classification scheme for lying, detailed in the book, “Lies, Lies, Lies, The Psychology of Deceit”, by Charles V. Ford, M.D.) is as follows:

The Type of Lie……….The Reason Behind the Lie:

  • Benign ………. To smooth social relationships
  • Compensatory ………. To impress others
  • Defensive ………. To escape from a difficult situation (this is the one most often found with scam victims)
  • Gossip ………. To circulate rumors maliciously
  • Implied ………. To mislead by part truths
  • Malicious ………. To deceive for personal gain
  • Pathological ………. To lie self-destructively (also found in scam victims as a form of self-punishment)

Most scam victim lie about their scam, bith as a result of their manipulation (GaslightingGaslighting Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group creates the seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and disinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. Once in this state the criminal can then more easily control the victim for their own purposes. Instances can range from the denial by a scammer that a scam has occurred, to belittling the victim's emotions and feelings, to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The goal of gaslighting is to gradually undermine the victim's confidence in their own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from delusion, thereby rendering the individual or group pathologically dependent on the gaslighter for their thinking and feelings.) but also as an avoidance mechanism to preserve the illusion of the romance. This is not a judgmental statement, but rather an acknowledgement of this activity.

What matetrs after the scam ends is to do all that you can to recover emotionally from thsi experience. This includes unwinding the actions that cause shame, guilt, and can lead to trauma or increase trauma. This includes recognizing the lies that were told with the understanding that it really does not matter anymore why they were told, they just need to be reversed.

In solving this simple problem a victim can relieve vast amounts of shame, stress, and trauma. Again, remember that you do not have to tell everyone every little detail – just the basics. Read this.

But just as important as breaking the lie by telling (at least) part of the truth, is the need to apologize for what was done.

The Content Of An Apology

Historically, people have avoided apologizing for misbehavior because of issues of pride (aka shame) and the wish to avoid those feelings of shame.

We have now come to learn that apologizing provides emotional benefits to those who give and receive them.

One of the ways that victims can begin to forgiveForgiveness What Is Forgiveness? Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. themselves and others is to apologize to themselves and those that they wronged during the scam. Instead of thinking that you are forgiving, you are apologizing – but the impact is very much the same, especially if you are sincerely apologizing to yourself for your mistake – this then enables the next step which is to forgive yourself.

Almost all forms of substance abuse recover also rely on apologies as a fundamental part of moving forward.


Notice the word “wrongdoer” – we do not mean that we are calling victims wrongdoers, but rather in the context of shame each victim is calling themselves that. Shame is about thinking about yourself as a “wrongdoer.”

  1. The wrongdoer (the victim) must confess to the offense with a clear statement of the hurt inflicted. How the scam affected you and others – psychologically and financially, or more.
  2. The wrongdoer (the victim) must describe why they hurt the injured person (themself or others). This involves understanding the psychology of scams, such as Biases, Desires, and more on this can be found here.
  3. The wrongdoer (the victim) must express regret about their behavior. Regret in this context is to express acceptance. When you accept what is done, you can feel regret or the wish that it had been different, but this is different than guilt or shame.
  4. The wrongdoer (the victim) must promise to never hurt the injured person (themselves or others) again. This becomes a promise to yourself that you will learn what is needed to remain safe in the future! This is not so much that it will never happen again, but rather it is an intention to do what you can to prevent it in the future.
  5. The wrongdoer (the victim) must offer some form of compensation to the injured person (themself or others). What recompense might this be? One simple form is to never deceive, hide or keep secrets from themselves and others. However, sometimes a ritual can be very powerful and cathartic. You can invite that friend or family member to dinner or give them some small token as you way of showing that you are sincere.

We know that the victim is blameless – they made a simple mistake and it exploded out of their control. But shame imposes this belief that the victim did wrong.

Also notice that every one of these five core components is a critical part of recovery programs from Alcoholics Anonymous and others! Apologizing is the first half of forgiving. And that this apology process is important in every victim’s recovery.

If you are currently seeing a trauma counselor or therapist, discuss this with them.

Hopefully, this has provided some insights and actionable information you can use.

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