[This DrP article was written for GASO]
Love scamming is a toxic relationship. And when it comes to such relationships, it takes being in the thick of one to understand. Before then, people think “That will never happen to me, I will walk away as soon as I see the faintest whiff”. What we don’t understand is, these relationships are engineered to hook you in. You could say there is a manual in the way toxic personalities operate; you could also explore how people in these scamming facilities have been trained by clever dark minds. Love scams are a numbers game. That means the targets are many, but all they have to hook in, is a percentage.
And all you need is for someone to be particularly vulnerable. We all get vulnerable.
Maybe they’ve just moved to a new city or country. Maybe they’ve just changed jobs, lost someone they loved, or their future looks uncertain because of a health situation.
People feel lonely then, no matter how many friends they may have. And when we feel isolated, disconnected from ourselves, the future and others, the love scammer can sink their jaws in.
They sound like they care. They sound like a human being. They sound like they want to know about you.
Otherwise, why would you even bother entertaining a callous person or a robot?
This goes on for some time, and you develop a relationship with them.
A relationship doesn’t have to be sexual or in-the-flesh to be intimate. All it takes is for someone to reach out enough to you.
Love bombing: The Psychology Of Bombarding You Romantically
And you don’t realise how frequent it is, soon they are messaging you every morning. Perhaps that ‘good morning’ is what you live for; pouring out your heart, seeing all the things you have in common, that makes you feel less alone. Connected, wanted, loved.
Because you don’t meet this person, and you know others would disapprove, all the more you are invested to making it work. What if you were the exception to the rule? Our minds are great at tricking us.
And the frequency of connecting— even random emojis and lame memes— is real to you. Your body feels it, your brain comes alive, and your heart flutters. What you don’t know is you are being bombarded with so much that you don’t have time and space to reflect. This is what’s called love bombing. It takes you away from yourself, and the more energy you put in, the more you need to make it work. Because what are the odds of this magical connection?
By the time they speak of money matters, you are actually subtly invited to ask them. They don’t go “Let me tell you about my scheme”. They tell you how happy or excited they are, and you ask. This tricks your brain into thinking, you are the one who started it.
And of course, you trust this person. The stakes are tiny, you put your money in, and you get more back. This is what we call foot-in-the-door technique, warming you up, and gaining your trust not only intimately but in money matters.
When you put more in, you are further invested. And you would never believe this person is out to hurt you. Because they know you, they care for you, they understand.
When your brain works against you
By the time it feels urgent, scary and desperate. . you are still trusting them. Because they are your only lighthouse in this unknown outer planet your money has gone to. And confirmation bias means we keep evidence that aligns with what we believe (“This person has my back”) and discard evidence contrary to that (“This person is out to cheat me”).
You are told don’t be silly, don’t worry, don’t be sensitive, do you not trust them? And this is what we call ‘gaslighting’— when someone screws with your sense of reality intentionally. And of course you don’t expect that they are screwing with your head, that black becomes white and white becomes black.
Even if your gut is saying. . run!, the only way to continue in this relationship where so much of your money is at stake, is to disconnect from your own intuition.
The more you invest— your money, heart, future, time, energy— the more you need to it deliver. Maybe you stop sleeping, eating, going out, working— and the more vulnerable you become.
Because people are irrational
Forget what you read about rationality.
Humans are fundamentally irrational creatures, our brains programmed to more biases than you would ever imagine. .because we underestimate our wisdom.
In her book Quit, professional poker player Annie Duke cites numerous research studies and real-life scenarios on how people are fundamentally terrible at quitting even if we are playing the losing game. We double down, like desperate players at the poker table. . thinking ‘next one, and things will turn around’.
And so you put in more money hoping to recover.
Shame, anxiety, paralysis— the trifecta of doom
There is shame— how could you be so stupid, especially if you are educated and have a great career. There is anxiety— what will happen to your future, especially if someone finds out? There is numbness at times, because your body goes into freeze mode, paralysed from overwhelm.
And there is trauma. Trauma that is your body’s response to something horrifying that’s happened to you, where you feel you don’t have the emotional or physical resources to cope. Where you start getting fearful of life.
Because when a bad thing happens, our world of assumptions shatters. We used to think ‘the world is a benevolent place, bad things don’t happen to me, and the future is good’. But because you have been broken, you think:—
‘The world is a dangerous place. Bad things happen to me. The future is dim’.
And trauma isn’t something you talk or mantra away. Lie to yourself, trick yourself you are brave when you are shaking from fear, and things will get worse. Trauma is how your body experiences and re-experiences something bad that happened to you, over and over again.
You relive it, down to what you might be smelling. In real life, it might be 2024, but you might be smelling something from 1970. It isn’t just in your nightmares, it is in your present moment. And in all those moments when you fear them descending upon you.
You have forgotten what peace and hope looks like.
Because trauma is compound interest that works against you— think at exorbitant lone shark rates. If you get tired carrying a weight for 2 hours, imagine what it’s like for 2 months or 2 years.
In that state, you lose yourself. You think less clearly. You isolate yourself.
What do you do?
At that point, Google may have brought you to GASO to understand what’s going on. You might have watched a documentary and realised you are not alone, you are but a victim.
And yet it is real for you.
Maybe there are ways to recover the money, working with specialists.
But what is also equally important is taking care of you.
I know, you probably think you deserve nothing of that. You probably punish yourself even more.
First, it is not your fault. You were vulnerable, you were hoodwinked into walking into a spider’s web. Your friend who may not have been tricked— they have other weaknesses and shortcomings too. Keep reminding yourself it is not your fault.
Second, awareness comes with a responsibility to heal. Maybe you won’t do it for you— then do it for your younger self because they didn’t have anyone to teach them better. Do it for someone else who might be in the same boat, so they know there is hope. Going beyond yourself can be a powerful motivator to show up.
Third, work with a professional. Just because you have trauma doesn’t mean you won’t recover. There is a big field of research on post-traumatic growth, that people grow because of bad things that have happened to them.
The phrase 既来之则安之 comes to mind— it has happened, accept it, and do something about it. You can’t change the past and wind back the clock, but you can certainly collaborate with reality.
Part of this means you make sense of what has happened— when your brain has a coherent story, oxytocin is released. This is powerful. Not only does it help stabilise your sex hormones and cycle in women, it also helps to keep your stress hormone cortisol in check. A story means we get closure; otherwise we keep getting hooked into similar stories— maybe not a pig-butchering scheme but a narcissist at work or in real life— and it feels like a bad magic spell you are cursed towards.
Another part of this is healing your body. Here we work alot with the vagus nerve, to help your body know you are safe, to teach the clock in your brain that ‘then is not now’. You learn to design the environment around you not just to heal, but to optimise your life.
There is an ancient Japanese practice where broken pieces of ceramic are joined together with gold. They become even more beautiful, and you can say they are antifragile. That goes beyond resilience.
When you take care of you, you close the past.
You are in charge of your story instead of being a victim to your shame. If you can’t own your story, someone else will tell it for you, and you will not like it.
Instead, commit to grow from what’s happened to you, and let your past pay dividends from you.
Because, phoenixes rise from the ashes. Cats have nine lives.
Yours is not over yet.