Once upon a time, there was a moment where I thought that I was wrong. But as it turns out, I was mistaken.
It has been incredibly terrifying for me to watch as tens of millions of Americans double down in their belief of the lies and insanity that were being sold to them by the Christian Conservative Republicans.
Of course, some will suggest you can’t talk about that without talking about the person who lead the charge, starting with lies about Obama’s birth certificate, and who ended up telling many multiple lies per day while holding the title of “president.”
But I am going to do that, because I don’t have to say a monster’s name to talk about the damage, pain, and destruction that they have caused.
One big question might be, “Why won’t they just accept that they were lied to, that they were wrong, and move on?”
While I do not believe any of the lies that are sold by politicians, I have a few thoughts on this. Others might be fooled by politicians and religious leaders, but I was very easily fooled by people who either claimed to be my friend or that they loved me.
If you have been through this, or if you’re going through it right now, then know that I am not going to be pointing my finger at you, calling you names, or being otherwise aggressive. Instead, I’ll talk about myself and my own similar experiences, with the hope that you will then draw a parallel to your own situation.
Because, in the end, being fooled is being fooled, no matter who fools you.
Why do they double down?
Before I go any further, I must stress that I am NOT a professional. I am not a therapist or psychologist. Rather, I am just someone who has been through this on a personal level more than once, who has struggled to find answers and peace.
MY OWN ANECDOTE FOR BEING FOOLED
This will be the Reader’s Digest version of the long and complicated story. And for the sake of emphasis, I will format all red flags or important points of issue like this.
I had a “friend” on Facebook, and I knew her for three years. By “knew,” I mean that I interacted with her on the site, she belonged to a private group I had created, and we messaged a few times.
One day, she sent me a message asking if she could call me. I sent her my number, as it was not uncommon for “friends” in my group to want to call me.
She cried on the phone about how she had been diagnosed with cancer. Her issues were that she had no insurance and did not have money. She told me that her friends at home were not helpful, as they sent prayers instead of cash.
Side-Bar: Her crying was an obvious form of manipulation. As for her friends “sending prayers,” she had three years to study my Facebook profile, and knew that I was an Atheist who was annoyed by prayers. She effectively learned about me, and then used it against me.
I started sending her money.
At the time, my life was complicated by a project I was working on with another “friend,” where we were building a recording studio. I was investing money and effort, as well as installing my own music gear into the facility.
Rumors started to spread that my friend was a cancer scammer. She would pre-emptively give me excuses for stories I’d have yet to hear, which presented in a way that appeared to be honesty.
Side-Bar: her pre-emptive stories were presented in a way that was mostly lies with a tiny bit of truth inside somewhere. She told the same story as those who were telling me that she was a scammer, but she got to spin it before they did. Besides, at this point, I was a member of her club, so to speak, and the leader of the club gets more reverence than outsiders.
When the studio scammer realized that he was losing control of my finances and my time, he yelled at me, changed the locks, and kept everything that was mine. But this wasn’t enough, for he started to spread rumors that I was “in on it” with my “friend” who said she had cancer.
With that, dozens upon dozens of “friends” and former co-workers began to attack me viciously before writing me off. By this point, I had sent her roughly $8,000 to $10,000.
Since she was a Malignant Narcissist and a drug addict [just like the studio scammer], her mode of operation had three phases, just like his:
- Love-Bomb: Telling me that I’m the greatest thing ever.
- De-Value: Nothing I did was right, and everything I liked was stupid.
- Discard: An aggressive and sometimes violent and abrupt end to the relationship.
By the time I got to the De-Value stage, I was very well invested, both emotionally and financially. I had put my all into it.
The leader of one of my bands called to fire me, saying that he didn’t want to be associated with the controversy. He asked me if this was what I really wanted to do with my life, and I said YES, because I felt as if my life had some solid purpose, beyond myself.
Side-Bar: Although I was living my life, I wasn’t feeling much in the way of purpose. My son was grown up, and I needed a purpose, much in the same way that the presidential followers felt.
The thing about the De-Value stage was that I was so hooked and invested into the situation that anything she did to try to hurt me did not matter. She would tell me that I was a problem, that I wasn’t helping enough, and would do other hurtful things. I wrote it off as her suffering from her treatments, and carried on.
THE BIG DISCARD
Close to nine months, and over $30,000 later, we got into an argument. Apparently, she was tired of playing the game and had gotten enough money. So when I confronted her about some things that were going on, she had a straight-on response for me.
Side-Bar: She got right to the point and brought it to an abrupt end. The former president could do this, but he refuses to give up, and so the situation persists.
Those two words dropped the curtain.
There I was, alone in my shock, with the realization that I had been scammed by a “friend” who had lied about having cancer.
This was followed by messages via Facebook, text, voicemail, and even USPS, where the overall sentiments involved “I told you so,” followed in some cases with death threats.
The big discard happened in mid-2014. The damage this situation caused was very expensive, with regard to money.
However, the biggest cost for me was that I lost myself in all of it. I had made helping her and rescuing her a major part of my identity. I was going to be the guy who saved another person’s life by giving away all of the extra money that he wasn’t using to help a person in need. More about this later.
Side-Bar: My identity as a rescuer of a cancer victim is on-par with those who make their membership in the president’s club, but they take it way further, with hats, flags, and a host of ideologies.
HOW I GOT PULLED IN
She had put it out there on Facebook that she needed financial help with her cancer, in the form of a GoFundMe page.
This move divides people into two camps: Those who will donate, and those who will not. I donated, thereby identifying myself as a target.
It’s akin to a presidential candidate saying horrific racist things about Mexican people, and then seeing who is still around.
THE 419 SCAM
The 419 scam is called this because 419 is the number in the criminal code in Nigeria that outlawed this scam.
It’s the email you get from the Nigerian prince who has $25 million in the bank, but he somehow can’t get to it without YOUR specific help. He usually wants $5,000, and promises in exchange to share this larger amount with you.
These emails are written with very poor spelling and grammar, and also include religious messages and blessings. This is not an accident. They do this to figure out who will be their marks. A person like me will dismiss it because of the spelling and grammar issues, as well as the religious sentiment.
These scammers don’t want educated people. They want those who have a lower education level and who also subscribe to magical superstitious mythological religious beliefs.
In my case, the cancer scammer predator was looking for people who are overly-empathetic and/or who want to be helpful.
THE SUNKEN COST FALLACY
By the time we hit the Discard phase, I had so much money and emotional energy invested in rescuing this “friend” that there was no way I would ever quit.
Those who follow the former president do the exact same thing.
In my situation, some friends made some semi-valid points. However, most of them failed miserably in making adequate and effective points. Most just viciously attacked me.
Some even made my situation worse, when what they told me would turn out to be untrue. The best example is a “friend” who called me and told me that the cancer scammer was going to be indicted in January . She suggested that I call the DA’s office, because they would “tell me everything I need to know.”
I had no further contact with this friend. What she doesn’t know is that I called the DA’s office right after we hung up. I told them my name, the situation, and what I was told by this friend.
Their reply was that indictments are sealed; however, they could check the calendar for January and see if her name was on it.
Her name was not on it. January passed with no indictment, then February, then March. In fact, the indictment that this friend told me about in such a confident tone NEVER HAPPENED.
This only got me sunken in deeper.
The Sunken Cost Fallacy affects those who voted for and support the previous president because they have made being on his team a major part of their personal identity. Just like me, they had a hole in their lives that needed to be filled. Someone filled it adequately, and any issues beyond that are meaningless, because this hole must remain filled AT ALL COSTS.
THE POINT OF INFINITE PAIN
After my cancer scammer “friend” told me off and dropped the charade, it was a major punch in the gut. My stomach literally hurt as if I had been kicked so hard that all of the air was knocked out of me and I was struggling to get even a little breath back in.
I cried for days on end. I would throw up at least once every other day. I had persistent headaches. I developed a fear of people and a mistrust of my own judgment. Concentrating at work was nearly impossible. I was easily startled and paranoid that someone was going to get me, mostly thanks to all of the death threats I received.
Keep in mind that all of this happened roughly 3.5 years before I learned that I had High-Functioning Autism.
CAN YOU INSPIRE A PERSON TO QUIT?
When I was deep into the delusion that I was saving someone’s life, there was seemingly nothing that anyone could say that would get me to change my mind and change my ways. I was dedicated, deeply invested, and working to save her life had become a major part of my identity.
Plus, let’s face it, quitting would have meant admitting that I was wrong, and the human ego does not like doing this.
Here’s a difficult question for you: How would you get someone close to you to stop believing in god? Because this is essentially where the former president’s followers are currently residing in their heads.
FINDING PROBLEMS BEFORE SOLUTIONS
What problems did I have that allowed me to be drawn into this scammer’s world? The spoiler I am considering right now is that the issues I had that left me open are very close to the same as those who join cults, like the one the former president has started years ago.
Let’s find out.
- A need for meaning. My life at that time had become somewhat boring. My best bands had either broken up or stopped playing shows. I was in another performance band, and it was fine, but it just wasn’t nearly so satisfactory. My job had become boring, and life had become stale. My son had graduated high school and he wasn’t coming over to sleep over the weekends anymore.
- Constant contact. Much like the former president’s daily addresses to his followers, my cancer scammer “friend” would call me several times per day. She would also text or send messages via Facebook. Not a day went by where we weren’t talking. We talked from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. The same was true of the studio scammer “friend,” who had me over to his house every day after work. His mail was still being sent to my apartment, which he had lived in previously, and I was hand-delivering his mail daily.
- Arrogance. There is no other way to label this. The biggest thing that left me open to being manipulated and getting scammed was my own belief that I was simply too smart to be fooled. I was above it all, and getting tricked is exclusively for stupid people.
Now that we have established a few problems, I am going to bring some clarity and additional context to the issues.
- A need for meaning. When search for meaning, or even when they want to talk to their god, they make the mistake of searching externally for that which they seek. Whether it’s a god or a heightened sense of purpose and meaning, the only true and valid source comes from within. Raising my son gave me purpose, but that sense of purpose did NOT come from him. That’s the illusion that I suffered. It was inside me all along.
- Constant contact. Constant contact is the way in which those in control maintain their control. It’s why you’re encouraged to go to church at least once per week, and do not skip! Not only are there financial concerns, but there is also the concern that you’ll cool off and leave. A person who has to have contact with you multiple times per day is suspect, even if they are on television.
- Arrogance. When I believed that I was too smart and above it all, I effectively let my guard down and got lazy.
Now that we’ve covered some of the high-level issues and have clarified them a bit, let’s look at some potential solutions. This will be a bit more complicated, so I won’t be using numbers in order to have this more reader-friendly via paragraphs.
A NEED FOR MEANING
One solution for this is something that I have mentioned in an earlier post, and it revolves around taking an inventory of your current situation and position in life.
As I noted earlier, assigning meaning to an external being or situation is a bad idea. I equate a need for meaning with seeking a source for your own personal power in life.
This is something that is used quite frequently in a great number of movies and other stories. I’ll give you a few examples.
In the Netflix movie The Christmas Chronicles, Santa loses his hat and all of his magical powers along with it. In the sequel to this, The Christmas Chronicles 2, there is a scene where a boy is given magical cookies for surviving a mission, and he can’t remember which one does what. And in the blacksploitation comedy Pootie Tang, Pootie loses a belt that he inherited from his father that gives him magical powers.
In all three of these stories, we learn near the end that the external object actually has no power at all, and that the power was within all along. In all stories like these, the external item has its appeal and it gets treated like a lucky rabbit’s foot [which wasn’t so lucky for the rabbit].
This is true, even for those who believe in a god. While I am an Atheist, I have an understanding of how these things work. So many will turn to a church, a pastor, the bible, or whatever else. This distracts them from the point that their god lives within them. Because when it comes down to it, everyone who declares belief in a god converse with themselves.
It is not shocking that everyone has a “personal relationship” with a god who agrees with them on 100% of all issues, questions, and answers at all times!
Seeking an external solution, be it religious or secular, sets a person up for exploitation by others, or by institutions.
This one can be complex, as the issue is deeper than a person making contact with another person.
Sometimes the person being exploited voluntarily engages the contact. This goes beyond answering the phone, and can extend to social networking, email, texts, watching television, listening to talk radio, or being glued to YouTube videos all day long.
It gets worse when a confirmation bias feedback loop is in play. This happens when people join groups online, and they get feedback that they’re on the right track on a 24/7 basis from countless sources in the group.
Getting away from this stimuli is essential. If you can get the other person away from this stimuli by encouraging them to do other things, or inviting them to do thing with you, that would be optimal.
Breaking the constant contact, even a little, can be helpful.
When I was wrapped up with my cancer scammer “friend,” I sincerely believed that I was above it all when it came to being scammed. Nobody can fool me! I’m just too smart! This was my flawed thought process.
But the arrogance did not stop there. I also believed that I was saving a person’s life, in the face of incredible odds, which exist only if a person actually has cancer.
I knew better than others.
ANOTHER ISSUE: TRIBAL CULT THINK
A tribe or cult of two can exist, and I definitely feel that I was in that camp with my cancer scammer “friend.”
Churches sell the idea of others, as did the former president.
“Othering” is where you, your group, and the leadership have identified a different group that is deemed to be lesser, or maybe even not human!
For me, the others were the nay-sayers who were aggressively warning me that she was a cancer scammer, most times in very bumbling ways that were ineffective. In my situation, the others were people who either hated her, or they were incapable of getting the point.
For a church, the others are people who belong to “the wrong churches,” those who believe differently, and those who do not believe at all. The world is literally against them, in their eyes. To them, the others are sinners, evil, wrong, or less-than-human entities who should be killed.
And for the former president, the others were Democrats [ who are Americans, by the way], anyone with different religious beliefs, anyone with different skin color, and anyone who was not American. Their others are also mortal enemies who must be beaten in elections, or killed. There is evidence that they literally wanted to kill very specific people, as well as Democrats in general.
In all three cases, it’s you and your small group against the rest of the world.
This makes a person feel very important. But it also gives them a sense of ironic vulnerability, which gives them unshakable inspiration to stay close to the tribe, to never cross or disagree with the tribe, and to continue membership in the tribe.
Religion and politics are highly divisive control mechanisms. The motive for the control is typically related to money.
To maintain this control of you, your behaviors, and your money, they have to tell you thinks to keep you in line. Fear is a big motivator. Republican politicians and most churches function EXCLUSIVELY on fear.
In my situation, the fear motivator was simply that my “friend” was going to die if I did not help her. My biggest fear was that I would run out of money, not be able to help her, and she would die because of my situation.
Fear can be a very powerful motivator.
ANOTHER SOLUTION: THE SOCRATIC METHOD
When a person uses The Socratic Method is an approach where you don’t give the other person direct answers.
Yes, I am giving you some direct answers here, because I do not feel that anyone reading this is in a position where I am speaking directly to them in an effort to help them out.
In lieu of direct answers, the helper addressing the person in distress will give them other questions, which they must answer for themselves.
The purpose of this is to inspire critical thought that bears potential ideas or solutions. It may even present more than one solution.
These questions involve probing implications and consequences, questions about viewpoints and and perspectives, investigation of reason and evidence, investigation of assumptions, clarification of statements, or even questions about the question.
In my opinion, the best Socratic Method questions are the ones where the person receiving the question must provide an answer to themselves.
I am thinking of a few examples from my post-cancer scammer pain. I had talked to one of my neighbors after everything fell apart and the truth came out. After I was done telling her the story, she asked me:
“Who made this your problem?”
Hmmmm. Wow. I did. Shit. It was me. I made it important.
That was a good example, because it was very concise and it was really in my face. It was almost as concise as the cancer scammer’s reveal of the situation [“Fuck off.”].
But there are bad examples, too. One person I talked to had a question for me that was in the style of The Socratic Method. His question revolved around a false rumor that was being spread about me.
In this instance, the question did not work at all because it was based on a false premise. The suggestion that I was helping her in exchange for sex couldn’t be further from the truth. Akin with this rumor was the idea that she was giving me sex in exchange for this money. Considering the fact that we lived about 2,000 miles apart, this would be rather difficult to achieve.
Bad questions only serve to make the situation first, so be sure that you investigate the situation fully and have an accurate understanding before engaging.
In my two bad examples, two separate friends attempted a type of statement or storytelling that seemed Socratic, but they were based on false information.
One friend wrote to me and said that she stole a joke that I wrote, but she did it because she needed to make a house payment. Her brother is a very famous comedian. I later surmised that she was attempting to teach me that stealing is wrong. She believed that I was stealing, and also believed that I did not know stealing was wrong. It was a very naive and insulting approach.
The other friend told me a story.
“I was at this store, when this very attractive younger woman approached me and started talking to me. She asked me out. I told her that I felt flattered, but that I was taken, and I thanked her before moving on.
His story functioned under the false assumption that the cancer scammer had offered me sex, that I took it, and that money later entered the picture. This is just about as far from the reality of the situation as one can get.
I won’t get into any religious questions, as that can get complicated. But I can address it with regard to the former president and his followers.
For example, a follower of the former president will say something like this:
“He has done so much good for the country.”
With a statement like this, you can ask, “Can you give me a few examples of what he has done?” If the person seems agitated by this, you can tack on another statement, “…because I don’t trust the media.” This will put the person receiving your questions at ease, as they’ll suspect that maybe you’re either on their side or moving that direction.
If it’s someone you care about, then you are on their side. Just not in the way that they believe.
You can drill down deeper. For example, if they reference “jobs,” you can ask which ones or request more detail. Play stupid if you want. Just be aware that you are not making them suspicious. They will always be suspicious of anyone if they believe that person is attempting to change their mind.
In a final example, suppose you have a friend who belongs to some pro-former-president groups, where people are angry all of the time. I know too many people who spend too much of their time online in groups like this, instead of with friends who care about them.
I would be inspired to ask them, “What is it that you get from spending a great deal of time in a group where you agree with everyone constantly, yet are also perpetually angry?”
OH, THE PAIN… THE PAIN!
The final and most complex piece of this puzzle is the very real physical pain that comes from realizing that you’ve been had.
Let’s suppose that you’re talking with a loved one who has been roped into some kind of a scam. You’re trying out some of the ideas and methods noted above, when suddenly they start to crack. In fact, consider that they begin to break down and cry from the physical pain.
There are important things that you can do. However, it is also important to know what NOT to do. For example, do not mock them. Do not tell them that they were stupid. Never tell them, “I told you so!” Do not engage them in this manner, as it might very well end up ruining any progress that has been made up to that point.
The most important thing you can do is be assuring.
- I’ve been there. I know what it’s like.
- It’s a serious issue.
- You’re not alone in this.
- It’s not a matter of being smart or stupid. It’s about vulnerability.
- You were victimized by a professional.
- I am your friend, and I’m here to help.
Be there for your friend or loved one. Once the ice cracks and their Humanity is starting to return, they will actually have the sensation that they are stupid. Left unchecked, this will turn into a sincere and destructive belief about the self.
Keep in mind that this revelation is literally life-shattering. There are so many people out there who have made their politics or religious beliefs the whole of their identity. I can tell you first-hand that when you lose your identity, you begin to lose yourself very quickly. It’s a dark pit of despair, loneliness, and self-hatred.
It lands a person in a place where they must look upward, way up, and may even need binoculars so that they can see the underbelly of that thing everyone calls “rock bottom.”
It’s no joke.
Of course, those of us who see loved ones getting taken by a scammer, a church, or a politician will have a great deal of contempt for them. It is only natural to despise that which harms those we love.
Do NOT engage in bashing. The risk that comes with this is substantial, to the point that it may drive them right back where they came from. They feel comfort in the mess, which is why they stay in the first place.
Make it all about THEIR feelings and how they feel.
Also be ready to contact a professional. Help them find help if they ask. Be happy to take on this task, for it’s getting you closer to getting your friend or loved one back from the Abyss.
A person who realizes that they’ve been scammed or otherwise taken for a ride will be extremely raw, emotionally speaking. Do not force them to talk if they are not ready.
Best case, be there for them. Worst case, let them know that you’ll be there for them when they are ready. Let them know that you care and that your door is open, so to speak.
IN THE END
We all have our human frailties, weaknesses, and issues. Sometimes others will work to exploit those things so that they can get something from us. In almost every case, we open the door and invite them in ourselves.
It is not a matter of intelligence, or a lack thereof. Rather, it’s about being a flawed human who has emotions and needs, but no clear path on how to fulfill those personal issues.
Dealing with this issue requires a great deal of patience and understanding. More than likely, it will also require the services of a mental health professional, to help them cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of the abuse they have endured.
Indeed, it IS abuse!
I would be interested in reading any questions that anyone may have about any of this, as I would like to challenge some of my ideas to make sure they’re solid in general, instead of being things that just happened to work for me.