Why your reactions to being 'catfished' are normal and how to deal with it all

Category: Better Relationships | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 07-04-2014 | Modified: 01-12-2017

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)!

I want to upfront with you - I may earn a commission from BetterHelp - You pay the same fee, regardless. This is how I earn an honest income, whilst giving away tons of free information throughout my site. 

What does being 'catfished' mean?

Being 'catfished' means you are the victim of someone with a fake identity on Facebook 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', which details the stories of people who have fallen prey to online malingers with phony avatars.

Screenshot of MTV reality show CatfishHave you been involved with someone who betrayed you?

Have you been catfished?

Oh the pain, the pain - and the embarrassment of finding out that you've been singled out and taken for a ride. 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!

How you are/were being seduced

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. 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 control and direct you when you're in that state - it's a hypnotic state.

Now, that's not great when you're putting all your trust in someone you don't really know! You're in danger of missing any cues that someone is taking advantage of you.

5 steps to get over having been used

  1. Don't give yourself a hard time. You can see from my explanation on trance states that our brains can play tricks on us. We go in and out of trance states all day long and some of them are better for us than others. Use an expert hypnosis download to reverse the effect. It's so much easier and so much more useful than spending your time being angry, worrying and/or hurting!
  2. Accept that it's going to take some time for you to recover from this - it's unlikely to be a matter of weeks!
  3. Explore my pages on recovering your self-esteem, getting over a breakdown and depression. Find out what the best course of action is for you personally.
  4. Repeat to yourself whenever you need to: "This too will pass."
  5. Take the steps outlined further down to prevent it from happening again.

The only online dating tip: don't set yourself up to have your heart broken (again)

We can all be taken in by spontaneously and perhaps naively trusting people (or not) or just by being totally seduced.

I personally like to give people the benefit of the doubt straight away. However, when you're investing in an online relationship you owe it to yourself to be on your guard from the beginning.

You may have expectations with the hope of a long-term commitment, but I really want you to value and take care of yourself. Don't set yourself up right from the start to have your heart broken - that is the only online dating tip that really matters.

Praise (received by email)

I just want to thank you for your recent article on catfishing.  I was just catfished for $8000 and a broken heart.  I read your article today and posted it on my facebook page.  It means a lot to me that you have helped and are taking the time to write about this horrible victimization.  Your article has given me some more hope that i will recover from this mess.

- Katie

How to prevent ever being taken for a ride again

Are you having doubts about your present online partner? Have you landed here to find out how to uncover the truth? Then have a look at the list below.

If you already know you've been catfished you won't need convincing that you need to take some simple steps to prevent it ever happening again. You want to be sure that you invest in a decent background check - or at the very least do some background checks yourself...

Whether you're starting or you're already well-involved in an online relationship, my advice is to carefully go through these questions.

11 vital online dating background checks to prevent you from being catfished

  1. Do you have a clear history of the person and evidence to show for it?
  2. Have you done an image search to check for multiple profiles?
  3. Have you seen photos taken at various ages, in a variety of situations?
  4. Do they have a reasonable number of friends on Facebook?
  5. Have you seen photos of his or her family and friends at a variety of functions?
  6. Do you know their names and do you have access to their profiles?
  7. Are you 'friends' on social media sites with 'friends' of their family?
  8. Have you taken note of your own niggling doubts? However small?
  9. Have you checked out their qualifications, places of work and addresses, where that's at all possible?
  10. Have you 'met' them on Skype or Facetime? 
  11. Do you have any 'real-life' contact details and have you checked them?

How many of these background checks have you done so far to avoid you ever becoming the victim of a catfish?

Now take action! I'd hate to think that you've left yourself vulnerable.

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.

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 actually have been very important to them, as they...

  • were able to have their essential emotional need for attention met
  • felt truly important and loved - maybe even for the first time ever
  • were able to live out their fantasy ideal relationship
  • 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

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)
  • Don't give away too much, too soon
  • 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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Related articles

Trustworthy Relationship Advice
Facebook Problems

How to (re)build self-esteem
Symptoms of a nervous breakdown
Getting over a relationship
Getting over a breakup and forget


"Catfish, the TV Show." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.

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