by Soraya Grant
Attachment to Photos, Web Pages, and Other Places or Objects
Healing from a scam can be a different experience than healing from other forms of emotional trauma. While they share many similarities, there are a few experiences that seem to be fairly unique to those who are recovering from an online romance scam.
Attachment to Photos, Web Pages, and Other Places or Objects
Scammers craft elaborate backstories for the characters they play during the course of their scams. They may steal photos or claim to look like famous people, send addresses or titles of web pages for fake, or occasionally real, workplaces, and talk extensively about a place they live or are pretending to live. Many scammers send small gifts to their victims in order to make the character seem real, and as a way to verify the victim's address. As they weave you deeper into their web, the scammer will keep you in place with elaborate plans for vacations, future homes, weddings, or other life events that may lead you to do a great deal of research and planning. Once the scam is uncovered, of course you know that the person you were really talking to does not live in San Diego, or look like an attractive celebrity or model. You also know that there never were any plans for a romantic vacation, wedding, or new career and home for you.
Despite knowing that the relationship, the plans, and the majority of the stories the scammer told you were not real, you may find yourself clinging to the gifts, photos, web sites, or other tangible items or places you associate with the scam. If you were lead to believe you and your beloved had a song, you may not be able to stop listening to it. One victim of an American scammer kept visiting the web site of the scammer's hometown, even though she knew she never had a boyfriend who lived there and would never visit, never mind move to, this town.
This behavior is not healthy, but it is normal. Do everything you can to get rid of all of the things you are clinging to. Remove any gifts from your home immediately. Delete all photos, emails, and internet bookmarks. You may need to leave the web site where you met the scammer, at least for a period of time. Your longing for these locations and things will lessen as your healing progresses.
Moments or Periods of Confusion Over Whether the Scammer is Real
This can range in intensity from spending days worrying that you made a horrible mistake in thinking the person was a scammer and lost the love of your life, to occasionally catching yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The best way to move through this is to set mental reminders for yourself any time the thoughts pop up. When you begin to doubt that it was a scam, you might want to say, "This person pretended to love me in order to get my money (or assistance in illegal reshipping or banking or to hurt me for revenge). Even if everything else they told me was real, that alone makes it a scam." Or sit down and privately list all of the red flags that made you realize it was a scam and tell yourself, "this person displayed all of these red flags. Any situation with this many signs of a scam is definitely a scam." If you find yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex, or even as a friend, take a moment and gently correct yourself. The thought "my ex girlfriend Carrie used to love red velvet cake too" would become "the scammer found out I loved red velvet cake and used that detail to make the situation seem real." Note the use of the word "gently." The goal here is to guide your mind back to reality, not beat yourself up.
Confusion Over What Is You and What is the Result of the Scam
Scammers tend to craft a character that is perfect or nearly perfect for each victim, so it is unlikely that you would have changed your religious beliefs, political opinions or affiliations (or lack thereof), general field of work, or lifestyle for the scammer. At the same time, scammers do give their victims little challenges and projects that serve as both tests to see how compliant the victim is, and as tactics to keep the victim enmeshed in the story the scammer has woven. They may convince you to look for a new house for the two of you to live in and encourage you to plan to decorate it any way you want it, train or go back to school for a slightly different job in your field so that you can have a fresh start or a higher salary when the two of you are finally together, plan a dream wedding, research vacations, or learn a new hobby so that the two of you can participate in activities together. Scammers may also encourage you to make changes in your style of dress, eating habits, entertainment choices, appearance, or schedule. Once you realize the situation was a scam, you also realize there was never a woman who wanted you to learn more about opera so the two of you could go together and encouraged you to get that promotion at work instead of going back to school to qualify to teach like you planned....or a man who thought you would look gorgeous with red highlights and kept encouraging you to take up morning yoga and enroll in online business classes. But now you're not sure which of those things really are enjoyable to you or something you might want to do, and which of those things you just convinced yourself you wanted under the mind control of the scammer.
Fight this confusion by starting with the most trivial detail the scammer altered and adding more elements to the process after you have examined and resolved each one. Suppose you have slowly begun to realize that the scammer talked you into coloring your hair and buying a new aftershave (or makeup set) as a test of compliance, convinced you to redecorate your living room to further test your willingness to do what they wished, and pushed you to enroll in an online degree program in order to keep you wrapped up in their story and too busy to question them. Decide whether or not you like the cosmetic items first, then examine the changes you made to your home, and then re-examine your career goals. Tackling a tiny challenge successfully will give you a little glimmer of hope that you can take charge of your life again. Use that energy to work your way up to the bigger ones.