Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Have You Ever Been Gullible? Preventive Strategies

Few people consider themselves gullible.

On close consideration, however, most of us would admit to making a financial investment that cost more than it promised, being pressured into a vacation timeshare or large purchase too good to pass up, or even fooled by a romantic partner we thought we could trust.volkswagon

How does this happen?

According to Stephen Greenspan, author of Annals of Gullibility, any of us can be vulnerable to the “ con” given the convergence of a number of factors:

The Situation – The expertise of the person intending to get us to do something that benefits them at our cost. We are unsuspecting and they have the script and the answers ready.

Our Cognitive Grasp or Vigilance

  • We are often fooled by the belief that others know more than us in a particular topic or we are influenced by the endorsement of people we respect as in the rush to investments before 2008 or most shockingly the influential people who trusted and believed in Bernie Madoff.
  • Sometimes our own expertise makes us less vigilant than we might be. The belief that we know more and don’t need the details because we are psychologists, accountants, physicians, contractors etc…. may actually put us at risk.


Sometimes judgment is offset by the desire to please, to be liked, or difficulty saying ‘NO.’ Sometimes low self-esteem or an arrogant assumption that people want to please us clouds our decision.

State of Being

Our vulnerability to a con greatly increases when we are tired, inebriated, infatuated, rushed, or emotionally excited. The more emotionally involved, the less we can bring “thinking” to the situation.

If you consider the times you may have been ‘taken in’ it is likely that some of these factors played a role.

  • When you are at a resort having a great time, you are emotionally in a great position to “ buy” the pitch of the salesperson who says, “With a little money down now, you can own this piece of heaven”.
  • In the immediate break-up of a relationship, you are more likely to consider signing up to a dating service for too much money and too few guarantees.
  • Most advertisements for eternal beauty and fitness items flash on after midnight when sitting with a bowl of ice cream in a semi-sleep state they seem to be exactly what you need.
  • When money seems to be flying into the hands of friends and family who are all investing in a plan that may close at any moment, the urgency to be one of the winners is very seductive.

If we draw upon a growth mindset and recognize that mistakes made are valuable lessons learned, then we may be able to avoid these factors and prevent being taken in by a “ con” in the future.

Prevention Strategies:

Buy Time

Whether you are about to make a big or small decision, consider that time can serve as a very important asset. The antidote to the fear-based or impulsive decision that someone is pushing you to make when they say, “There are other people interested”  or A deal this good won’t last” is to take you time.

Sleep on it. Discuss it with others. Give yourself time to process. It is amazing how differently we think and feel 24 hours later when we are rested and less emotional.

One man reports that by postponing anything he considers buying online for a day–he has been surprised at what he even considered.

Use Intuition

  • A valuable tool for preventing someone from taking advantage of us is our intuition.
  • Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, describes intuition as the journey from A to Z without stopping at another letter. “It is knowing without knowing why.”
  • He suggests that too often we deny our valuable intuition because we can’t immediately back up intuition with logic.
  • You might consider, for example, that if a deal feels too good to be true or a person online sounds too perfect to be real—You are probably right.
  • Using your intuition, however, doesn’t mean making a snap refusal. It means using your intuition as a prompt for curiosity, a reason to gather more information.
  •  Follow-up of intuition with more information may validate a good deal worth taking or spare you the risk of losing money on a deal that was too good to be true–a win either way.

Be Skeptical vs. Cynical

  • There is a big difference between being skeptical and being cynical as a way to protect yourself.
  • As Greenspan describes, cynics believe nothing and trust no one. Their blind doubt of everyone actually leaves them in a world that must feel unsafe all the time.
  • Being skeptical, on the other hand, is having an open mind but needing to know more before committing oneself.
  • It doesn’t preclude trust—it precludes blind trust. It means willingness to reach for help, ask for consult, and trust that others may have information that could be crucial to your decision.

Be Self-Forgiving

Given that self-esteem and positive self-regard are buffers to being gullible, it is important to self-forgive and move on if and when you find that you have been cheated, lied to or betrayed.

This is most difficult and most important in matters of love.

  • Over the years I have seen some of the finest and smartest men and women suffer a betrayal. In a sense, it is human to miss details or to trust too much because you are in love. You are emotionally involved, to love is to trust and to deny anything incompatible with being mutually loved is human.
  • When it finally happens, however, that you stop believing or trusting, when you follow your intuition or gut feeling that something is wrong and uncover the truth, you can feel vindicated and heartbroken at the same time.
  • Regardless of how bad it feels at the beginning and what decision is made, if you can by-pass self-blame for not knowing, self-reflect and trust yourself through the break-up or make-up, you will develop a wiser, caring sense of self that won’t be easily fooled again.

                             The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.

                                                                                                                                             ~John Powell