I was watching some more Dr. Phil this past week about something called “Catfishing”. Catfishing is when someone presents themselves as something they are not in order to scam someone. Usually they are looking for money.
It seems impossibly absurd. How in the world could someone meet someone on-line and send them their life savings? Why would they do that? What could make them do that?
There are so many answers as to what could make a person vulnerable. Gullibility, greed, loneliness, isolation, fear, need, co-dependency, lack of confidence….these are some.
When someone gets into a relationship….and I use that term even though there is likely an imbalance of power as well as dysfunction…but when there is an interaction between two people which may be perceived as a relationship by one of the people…there is something that draws that person into the web.
Cult members, people in abusive relationships they can’t seem to escape, people abused by those in power over them, people in dead-end relationships with emotionally and physically unavailable people, and people who end up being conned all have things in common. They didn’t start out in the middle of the web.
I’ve read that everyone is susceptible to gaslighting and brainwashing. Everyone. That’s scary. So if you have a charming individual with an agenda and a trusting or lonely person in need of being attached to someone or in need of being needed by someone, or in need of belonging to something or a part of something, or a grieving person in need of comfort…the spinning of the web could begin without it being noticed.
No, these particular people are not being abused by clergy, but there is something similar going on here.
People who set out to con other people can’t have a sense of caring or at least see their victims as human beings who are being hurt. They want to gain something at that person’s expense. And they use emotional manipulation in order to get what they want.
They fish pretty much literally as most predators do. Cast the line and test the water and see who takes the bait. And they learn what to look for and what to say to pull someone further into their trap.
Much like a priestly predator, their true face is not shown to their victim. Usually images and pictures are stolen from accounts so that the person being targeted thinks they know who they are talking to. They begin to form a connection with their new friend, and slowly and patiently as they get to know the person’s weaknesses, the new friend will begin to turn things around and use what they know to become more than a friend. Soon there will be promises and talk of love. The person who is lonely and looking for a human connection or comfort or belonging will let down their guard…as one is supposed to when they are in love….and they will begin to let go of reason.
Even when a red flag pops up, it is ignored because only the good is seen. Excuses are made for things that are rather not seen and acknowledged or questioned. Many times, the con artist will use a belief in God as proof of their kindness and genuine feelings and ability to be trusted.
So convinced are people that this person is who they say they are and so willing they become to remain connected and loved, that they will make sacrifices and give to their beloved without question. They do not want to lose this person’s approval. They will turn against family or friends who try to get them to see what is going on. That is how convinced they are of the reality they have created with this imagined illusion of love. But in reality, they are caught in a web of deception.
I’ve heard a couple of times from people who don’t understand how adults can be abused. I got an email once that said “they should know better”. And another that said “it is probably easier for an adult to get over what happens to them”.
Like the people who are catfished, nobody is stupid here. Red flags are seen but gaslighted away so that self-doubt and a feeling that you are a bad person for questioning anything surfaces. The victim may have an altered version of what love should be or is used to accepting crumbs from the people they have been in relationships with. Crumbs are often accepted instead of the whole cookie because we don’t believe we deserve the whole cookie or that anyone else would think we were worth the whole cookie. That and crumbs are usually intense and intended to make a person forget anything that seems off. Crumbs keep people hanging onto dead end relationships. People don’t want to starve emotionally and they depend upon other people to feed them.
Emotional abuse and control and manipulation is not something that is solid. It waxes and wanes. If I’m losing you, I will be extra wonderful…I will “change”. And we accept that because we get used to the flow. We get used to the abuse until it becomes “normal”.
You don’t get it, we think. I know this person loves me. You just don’t understand. I need them. They need me.
So far into the web that we can’t see the spider guarding the exit. Or perhaps we do. Perhaps the mask has come off and it’s no longer a need for love but a need to live in the hell in which we are trapped.
Getting back to Dr. Phil, he told the victims of the scam artists that it was not their fault as they had done nothing wrong. They were vulnerable. They were hit up by predators.
And they needed to grieve and to let go because to them, the relationship was real. So they needed to grieve the loss of what they perceived as a real person in their life. I think we can relate to that.
There will always be people who will take advantage of other people for their own benefit…and there will always be people whose heart will unfold with their goodness when they believe someone who they have feelings for. Whether that person is someone unknown on a computer, a manipulative relative willing to do what they need for money, a person who misrepresents themselves to use someone, or a priest who gets off on coercive control being a part of their sexual satisfaction.
Good hearted adults, lonely adults, grieving adults….they are all vulnerable adults. And just like catfishing, when a priest uses his power to con someone emotionally to get something from them, it is a crime.
Be good, stay well and please take this week’s poll.