Shame – Secrets & Lies

Shame – Secrets & Lies

The Psychology of Scams

Scam Victim Recovery – A SCARS Insight

A Common Response To Shame Is To Hide

This Can Happen Both During The Scam 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 group 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 trauma, 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 anger can be a way out of this spiral. Honesty is 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, and the content of my self 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 trigger 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:

  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 behavior. 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 blaming 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, Ph.D., 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 secrets. The authors also found that neither guilt nor shame predicted the 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 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 victim’s 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 the 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 Syndrome,” 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 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 rivals,) 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 feelings 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 fraud. 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 victims lie about their scam, both as a result of their manipulation (Gaslighting) but also as an avoidance mechanism to preserve the illusion of the romance. This is not a judgmental statement, but rather an acknowledgment of this activity.

What matters after the scam ends is to do all that you can recover emotionally from this experience. This includes unwinding the actions that cause shame and 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 forgive 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 recovery 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 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.

-/ 30 /-

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Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

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