How to check if you've been catfished, what it means, how to get help and how to help yourself
And how to prevent it ever happening again
Never heard of being catfished before?
You're not the only one!
Unless you're a fan of the MTV show or you've watched the movie (see below), you're unlikely to be aware that we're talking about a significant online relationship problem.
In this article I'll be covering what it means, and how to get over being catfished. I'll also give you my very best tips for online dating to prevent you from ever being caught out (again)!
What does 'to be catfished' mean?
Being 'catfished' means you are the victim of someone with a fake identity on Facebook (or other social media platform) who set out to trick you into a romantic relationship, i.e. a 'catfish'.
You may have heard of the movie 'Catfish' - a documentary film about a guy who developed a relationship with a woman, who subsequently turned out to have told many a lie.
There's also the MTV reality show - 'Catfish: The TV Show' with presenters Nev Schulman and Max Joseph (who co-hosted the show for the last time on 22/8/2018).
The show details the stories of people who have fallen prey to online malingers with phony avatars. They use someone else's photos and pretend to be them.
Why is it called "Catfish"?
I can't explain why it is called "Catfish" it any better than Max Joseph does in this video...
Have you been catfished?
Oh the pain, the pain when you find out you've been catfished. Know that it is completely understandable if feel embarrassed and ashamed when you discover you've been taken for a ride by someone you thought really loved you.
Your reactions will depend somewhat on how you found out - whether the truth slowly began to emerge or you found out suddenly.
Here's how you might feel:
- shocked - the extent of which is dependent on your prior suspicions
- hurt for the loss of your relationship
- depressed, empty and hopeless
- embarrassed - you may have talked endlessly to your friends about how lucky you are to have found this great catch. It can be even worse if the other person was of a different gender than they pretended to be!
- ashamed - you never thought anything like that could happen to you
- anxious and irritable - 'normal' things seem a burden
If you already had your suspicions and you were being controlled by this catfish, you may also feel a sense of relief that you've finally discovered the truth.
Don't worry - these reactions are all very normal and you will get over them - I promise!
Not sure you're being catfished?
If you've been catfished you'll no doubt want to talk it through with someone you can trust.
How to find out if you're being catfished
How you are being seduced when you're being catfished
You met someone online - on a social network. He or she led you to believe that they're the most wonderful, responsive, kind, responsible, loving partner you could have ever wished for.
He or she soothes and comforts you, is always there for you. You fall in love and they make sure you're convinced that they are deeply in love with you.
The two of you talk about being together and spending the rest of your live together.
When you're completely smitten, you're in a trance state. You have a narrow focus of attention and your capacity to see things in context is diminished. You don't notice things that simply don't add up, you miss all the red flags. You can't help it!
All of your attention needs are being met. You therefore desperately want to believe what you're being told. And this can cause you to throw all caution to the wind.
You become mentally disconnected from your immediate surroundings and situation... and you become much more open to suggestion. It's easy for someone to take advantage of you when you're in that state.
No wonder you missed the cues that someone was taking you for a ride and that it all sounded too good to be true.
Their caring messages, their calls, their responsiveness makes you feel on top of the world and, crucially very willing to help him or her out!
And now you probably feel you're falling of the edge of a cliff!
Also, you may have 'helped' that person out numerous times. You have perhaps sent money - maybe even numerous times - for all kinds of reasons. And now you're beginning to get the feeling you may have been duped, because promises have not been kept.
How to tell if you're being catfished
Are you having doubts about your online partner?
Do you suspect now that he or she has a fake profile on one of your social networks?
11 vital online dating background checks to discover if you're being catfished
If you landed here with the question: "Am I being catfished?", I wonder how much do you really know about your 'partner'?
Could you be dealing with someone with a fake social media profile, stolen from a real person?
To discover if you've been catfished, be sure to answer all of the following questions:
Do you have a clear history of the person and evidence to show for it? What did they do precisely when and where?
Have you done an image search to check for multiple profiles?
3. Their age
Have you seen photos taken at various ages, in a variety of situations?
4. FB friends
Do they have a reasonable number of friends on Facebook? Or just a few?
5. Family and friends
Have you seen photos of his or her family and friends at a variety of functions - birthdays, parties, outings, at home doing ordinary things, etc?
6. Names and profiles
Do you know their full names and do you have access to their profiles?
7. Social media connections
Are you 'friends' on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites with 'friends' of their family?
8. Qualifications and work history
Have you checked out their qualifications, places of work and addresses, where that's at all possible?
9. Face-to-face contact
Have you 'met' them on Skype or Facetime? What was their attitude to video-chatting?
10. Physical address
Do you have any 'real-life' contact details and have you checked them?
Have you taken note of your own niggling doubts however small?
Hopefully, you'll now have a clearer idea of whether or not you are indeed being catfished.
My hope for you is, of course, that you have indeed found true love, someone you can trust.
There are more victims!
You would have to feel terribly angry in your situation. This 'stranger' has let you down badly by pretending to be someone else.
And they have more victims:
- The person whose photo - and possibly bio - they used is sure to feel violated too.
- The catfish's partner - I can assure you that the discovery of the online (emotional) affair would be hugely painful for them too.
- Family members - yours and theirs.
- They may also be part of a network of people with false identities set up purely to steel as much money as they can from someone
But, don't let your anger stand in the way of your recovery. You need all your energy to heal.
Whatever has happened and however bad the damage - do forgive yourself! We can all be taken in by spontaneously and perhaps naively trusting people (or not) or just by being totally seduced.
Be kind to yourself, we all make mistakes. I really want you to value and take care of yourself.
When you need help
What about the catfish themselves?
Whilst this catfish may have led you to believe they were a real 'catch' - with great photos and stories to match - they are human too and therefore fallible. I'm not saying that's an excuse, but it is what it is.
Often the relationship the two of you established would have been very important to them, as they...
- were able to have their essential emotional need for attention met
- no longer felt lonely
- felt truly important and loved - maybe even for the first time ever
- were able to live out their fantasy ideal relationship (possibly even with a partner of a different gender)
- were (perhaps unbelievably to you) able to be true to themselves without the fear of being rejected because of their looks
They often feel split - hating themselves for doing this to you, yet fearing they might lose you if they tell you the truth.
It's very likely that once the relationship was established they found it almost impossible to extract themselves because of all that.
Guard your privacy to prevent yourself becoming the victim of a catfish
Privacy is a problem online and it's often all too easy to discover the contact details of someone.
This may be particularly easy for those who routinely have access to databases with people's details, who may then resort to stalking.
Here's the minimum you need to do:
- Update and secure your privacy settings on all your accounts.
- Close/delete accounts if you need to.
- 'Friend' people on Facebook (or other social media sites) only if you can verify their profile (see above) (see also my article on social media problems).
- Don't give away too much, too soon. Be guarded about your personal life, your relationship history and your daily business.
- Be suspicious if someone else seems to tell all there is early on
You'll never want to be catfished again. But do remember: you need to give yourself a chance to build up your self-esteem, confidence and trust in other people as well.
Be sure to also visit my advice pages on online relationships to help you get an even better insight into internet relationships.
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"Catfish, the TV Show." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.