Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is It Me?: A Journaling Exercise to Counter The Scammer's Manipulation

by Soraya Grant

Scammers may begin their crafted persona with details from other victims, random stories they heard, television shows, and bits of their own life, but they soon focus intensely on learning about you and incorporating parts of your personality, tastes, and quirks into the fake person they've created. The scammer realizes you love fancy restaurants so they pretend to come up with the idea of taking you to a place you've only seen on television before. Or they notice your dating site or social networking site page has a lot about football, so they spin tales of the Sundays you're going to spend watching the game together.

As they work on this, the scammer will also add some differences. This is done to make the character more realistic and to give you little projects that keep you too busy to focus on their suspicious behaviors. The scammer might present himself as an avid photographer and encourage you to start learning to take pictures so the two of you can go on nature walk photo shoots someday. Or they might try to get you interested in a genre of music you've never really thought about before.

This manipulation tactic is carried out in such subtle and sneaky ways, you never realize you're being brainwashed. It just feels like you're growing and learning from the relationship the way you would with many friendships or romantic relationships.

Once you discover that the entire situation was a scam, it becomes clear that the scammer had ulterior motives for encouraging you to spend your evenings researching and planning a trip to Italy or learning the history of Jazz music.

What may not be so clear immediately following a scam is what is truly you and needs to be embraced once again and what is the result of the scammer's mind control tactics and should be removed from your life.

It may feel confusing at first, but you are not doomed to spend your life worrying if every new idea is something from the scam. Journaling exercises can help clear up some of the confusion, and may even generate some ideas so new you have no doubt they belong to you.

Begin By Focusing On One Area Of Your Life At A Time
One woman's scammer realized she was considering a second career. He used this to his advantage by talking her into applying to and planning to enroll at the online campus of a school located near the area where the two of them were supposedly going to make a home together. He didn't truly care where she went to school or if she liked her jobs, he just wanted her to spend so much time and energy planning for school she didn't have time to sit back and ask why he was hinting that he needed money instead of applying for a second job himself, or where he was when he disappeared from the chat for long periods of time. Once the scam ended, she was left picking over these plans, struggling to differentiate which parts reflected her real interests and which parts were planted in her mind by the scammer. Her first topic for journaling was "Academic and Career Plans." Yours does not need to be similar. Choose anything that is causing you confusion or weighing on your mind. Don't worry about what anyone else would think about your topic. If you can't eat comfortably in a restaurant anymore because you're struggling to get scammer conversations about recipes and food out of your head, make your first journal project "Favorite Foods."

Create a Pin Board About Your Topic
This board can take any form you want. You might want to purchase an inexpensive cork board and a box of thumb tacks from a store and collect magazines or web page printouts to use for images. If you would like to use your computer instead, the web site "Pinterest" allows users to create online pin boards. Just remember that unless you create a secret board on this site, your board will be visible to other people, so keep public boards to things you wouldn't mind other people seeing. If you would like to use words instead of pictures, make your offline pin board a single dry erase board or sheet of poster-board pinned to the wall (or taped to the table or floor) or use an online journal site.

Begin With a Brainstorm
The first step is to add almost anything you can think of that fits with your topic to your pinboard. Don't add anything that you are certain is from the scammer, but go ahead and include anything you are unsure of. If your board is "Places I'd Like to Go" and you know you're only thinking "Texas" because that's where the scammer lives (or pretended to live) avoid pinning anything Texas related to the board. But if you're doing a "Favorite Foods" board and you remember talking about red velvet cake with the scammer, but also remember loving red velvet cake back in college, go ahead and pin it.

Sit Back and Examine Your Board
Once you grow tired of your brainstorm, sit back and look at what you have. Which words or images bring back positive memories from your life before the scam? Does anything have a particularly strong positive emotional pull? These are going to be the items that reflect the real you. Keep them as a guide. Is there anything on the board that only reminds you of the scammer? For example, suppose you are doing an online visual board called "What I Want In My House" and you see you have selected several beach themed guest bedroom photos. When you look at these photos, you cannot remember a single instance before the scam when you wanted any room in your house decorated in a beach theme, and are only reminded of scammer conversations about beach vacations. Delete these immediately. Repeat this process until everything on your board comes from your life before the scam. Don't worry if you also discussed it with the scammer. Remember, scammers take a lot of your real details and use them to manipulate you. As long as you have some association with the item that has nothing to do with the scam, it is coming from your real life.

Replace The Deleted, Unpinned, or Erased Items By Asking Yourself Further Questions or Looking Around
Suppose you started a board called "Hobbies" but as soon as you sat back and tried to think of memories and associations with each activity you chose, all you could think of were scammer chats about everything you put up. Don't panic. Your real interests are still around. Take some time and explore a few things you remember having fleeting interest in or are just curious about. Read web pages or magazines about these topics. When you find some activities that hold your interest, add them to your board.

Repeat The Process For Other Areas Of Your Life As Needed
Once you have your first collection of images or words that you know are from you, repeat the process with other areas of your life that feel "taken over" by the scammer. There is no time limit on this journaling exercise. You may finish it an afternoon or two or you can work on it for a few minutes a day for an entire month. If you decide to use Pinterest for this journaling exercise, you can even work on several boards at once.




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