TRIGGER ALERT: This article is one of many that I will be doing on the subject of abuse. I want to let the reader know that is ultimately the topic being handled here, so if they have any triggers related to it they would not be caught off guard and make the choice to read it or not. I am not a professional, I am only speaking from my own experience. In my life, I have survived child molestation, sexual harassment, a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, spousal abuse (including emotional, mental, sexual, and financial abuse), and sexual assault.
Recently, I collected questions others have concerning abuse. The subject I will be addressing here, is financial abuse. Financial abuse is not as widely known or understood as the other forms of abuse, but it is just as much of a mindfu– uuuhhh, I mean, just as painful and degrading as the other forms of manipulation and abuse. Even more importantly, one of the main reasons a victim will return or stay with an abuser. It is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding, empathizing, and aiding a victim.
Essentially, the abuser takes control of the other’s access to economic resources, so they can prevent the other person from leaving and maintain power in the relationship. This control over finances and withholding of money from the victim engenders the fear in them that they will not be able to provide for themselves or their children (if they have any) making them feel trapped. As with most abuse, this is slow and subte. No one really notices they’re being brainwashed when they’re in an abusive relationship, that’s why it’s so effective.
In the beginning, the concept will probably be introduced as a positive favor to you, as if they’re helping in some capacity, and slowly financial freedom will be whittled away until there is none.
I had, as many young adults do, run up a bit of credit card debt before I had even met my ex. Doing the accounting was presented, initially, as a service to me. He just wanted to help me, so I wouldn’t worry about it or run the risk of messing it up. This was for US, so WE could get out of debt. As time passed, we never missed a payment. He obviously had things under control, I had no reason to fight him on any of it and, in those early stages of the set-up, I didn’t see any reason to check the accounts. I had no reason not to trust him.
Slowly, the money was regulated more and more. My ex-husband’s line was, “You’re bad with money, so…” fill in the blank. I was bad with money, so I couldn’t be trusted to spend it freely. I was bad with money, so I had to ask every time I wanted to spend a dime. I was bad with money, that’s why we couldn’t afford for me to finish college, get a degree, so I could get a better job. Our financial situation was all my fault and he was simply trying to get us out of my mess, I should be grateful.
The reality was that he didn’t want me to see the finances because then I would know all of the things he was getting up to. I would be on to his lies and he wouldn’t have me as a financial resource to feed off of. This was also a method of control, along with the physical isolation. Convincing me that we were too poor for me to get a coffee with someone from work meant I couldn’t build relationships outside of his influence. He didn’t want anyone else in my ear telling me the truth about me. All classic manipulation/abuse tactics.
Financial abuse developed a fear in me that made it very hard to leave. I know some people who want to help others wonder about this, wonder why it is so hard for victims to “just leave”. It’s not a simple answer, but this is certainly part of it.
After I left, I, a grown, intelligent, rational woman, had a panic attack EVERY time I spent more than $20. It didn’t matter if it was necessary or budgeted. My brain had been told for two years it was bad with money and it was terrified to spend it, terrified to make a mistake because then? He’d be right. And if he was right about that, what else was he right about?
But he was wrong. I was capable. Am I a financial genius rolling in money? Nah. But I’m not broke. And while getting away left me broke initially, I wasn’t penniless for long. I had a job in two weeks of being in a new state. Within months, I was enrolled in college and I eventually obtained two degrees in two years, despite working through a lot of emotional trauma.
He. Was. Wrong.
Now, my second husband and I are a team, he trusts me to helm the finances for the day to day as we live out the financial plan we agreed to together. There is a respect, trust, and comfort. We have been through some tough times, financially, but we got through them together. I say all of this to encourage anyone as uncertain as I was about their own strength and capability. Whether you’re in this situation yourself or getting out of it, know that you are able. It won’t be easy, but you are worth fighting for, even if the only person fighting for you is you.