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What is Financial Abuse?

Updated on March 29, 2020
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.

Many people think if someone is not hitting them or calling their names, they're not being abused. This is not correct. There are several different types of abuse: physical, verbal, emotional or psychological and financial - among others.

Physical abuse involves things like physical violence, physical intimidation, throwing things, threats and other things like that.

Verbal abuse involves things like name-calling, insults, put-downs, nasty sarcasm and other ways a person can use words to hurt someone.

Emotional abuse (or psychological abuse, as it is sometimes called) often occurs with verbal abuse and physical abuse, and it involves things like manipulation, using guilt, fear or anger to control someone, emotional strong-arming and blackmail, threats of self-harm or suicide, gaslighting, threats to abandon the relationship if you don't do what they say and many other tactics we're all very familiar with.

Financial abuse involves things like cutting off financial support, stopping you from working, stealing from you, controlling or taking your money, controlling joint or family money unfairly, spending money to create crisis or punish others, refusing to follow a budget and other things where money is used to control, hurt or punish others.

Financial abuse is very common in narcissistic relationships. It's usually part and parcel of the overall controlling, abusive climate of life with a narcissist. Financial abuse is another way to control and diminish the other person or people in the relationship. Finances and money are an important part of security and independence in our culture. If you have no money or no access to money, it's hard to feel secure. If you have no money or no access to money, you may become stuck in a situation with no way to leave. Financial abuse is often one of the key ways that abusers attempt to keep people in the relationship or situation. If you have no money, it's harder to leave. This is one of the biggest reasons we hear that people cannot exit the relationship: they either don't have the money, they don't have access to the money or they have others that are financially dependent on them, such as children.

It's important to remember, too, that financial abuse doesn't just involve controlling, taking, or stopping others from earning money. It can also be refusing to share expenses, support themselves or contribute to the finances in general. It can be insisting that others are required to care for them financially. It can involve taking money from others without permission and insisting that it's not stealing. It can be spending recklessly, borrowing money, taking out loans or otherwise creating financial crises and catastrophes for the whole family or everyone involved. It can involve harassing, bullying, manipulating, guilting, threatening, terrorizing or throwing tantrums to try to force people to give them money or buy them things... Any situation where money, access to money or control of money is used to hurt, punish and/or undermine someone's security is a situation of financial abuse.

Many narcissistic people are very blatant about financial abuse. They may proclaim that no one else is smart enough, responsible enough, savvy enough or whatever else and that is why they need to control the money. They may be vicious about controlling it, taking pleasure in creating situations where people are forced to ask or even beg for money for basic things. They may offer money or support if (and only if) they can control the person receiving the money. For example, a parent who will only pay for college if the child follows the exact career path the parent wants them to follow. Some blatantly refuse to pay bills or refuse to allow their victimized spouse or family member to pay them. They may constantly talk about how much they do for others financially, or about how much everyone owes them.

Others are more subtle or passive-aggressive. For example, if the narcissist spends recklessly and creates a situation where there is not enough money for the bills, they may attack the victim or victims as selfish and cruelly withholding for being upset or angry about the narcissist's actions. They may insist that too much is being made of their spending, that it isn't that big of a deal, that they're being treated unfairly, or that they don't matter or are being abused because others are refusing to spend any money on them. The fact that they've created a serious problem doesn't matter and is not addressed. They may insist that others are being over-dramatic just to hurt them or that there is other money hidden somewhere and people are just being mean for the sake of being mean.

Pathologically narcissistic people engage in financially abusive behavior not just because they are controlling and power-seeking, but also because they are so often childish, selfish, irresponsible and inconsiderate. They are prone to magical thinking. They believe there is enough money, or that there is more money somewhere, or that something will happen to make everything all right because they want these things to be true - and for no other reason. When this magical thing does not happen to make everything OK in spite of their selfishness, withholding, incompetence or irresponsibility - as it often doesn't - they don't seem to realize or care that the problem was anything they did wrong. They look around for something or someone else to blame it on - and they can usually find what they are looking for. Often, this someone to blame is the victim. Because they view people as objects and extensions of themselves, they see no reason they should have to share anything that's theirs or ask for anything that isn't.

Living with financial abuse can be extremely demoralizing and traumatic. The victim is abused, then gaslighted and told that what they are experiencing is not abuse while simultaneously being blamed for the abuse that they are being told is not happening. There may also be multiple situations where someone is humiliated by financial abuse. For example, not having enough money at the grocery store, being forced to beg the abuser or perform tasks in order to get money to buy food for the family, needing to borrow from others because of the abuser's reckless spending or withholding, having to call utility companies and try to persuade them not to turn the utilities off. There can be financial catastrophes that the abuser hides or tries to keep a secret, and when these things are finally unable to be hidden any longer, they come as a huge shock. For example, if the abuser has lost their job but does not alert the family, or loses all of the savings in a bad investment or while gambling. Maybe they pretended to pay the rent but weren't really doing so. When the eviction comes, the rest of the family is not just shocked but completely unprepared and worse, has nowhere to go.

We often find that these situations continue to happen over and over again. The family may have just dug themselves out of a financial hole, only to find that the abuser's reckless, selfish or controlling ways have pushed them right back in again. Or a person may just be starting to feel secure and stable again only to find that the narcissist has become angry with them and cut off access to their own money once more. The abuser may have bought them a reliable car as a gift so they can get to work and then constantly threaten to have it repossessed or even do so as a punishment for not doing exactly what was wanted. The abuser may insist they don't have to pay rent or contribute to the household because "they've paid enough" by dealing with the supposed horrific mistreatment of them. They may create situations so that the victim cannot work or do things that get them fired. They may repeatedly sabotage their own employment. The list goes on and on. There are many, many ways financial abuse can manifest.

People living with financial abuse often develop chronic food, shelter or general financial insecurity, where they constantly fear that there will not be enough or that it will be taken away somehow. They may develop extreme anxiety in this area, and even thinking about money or finances can become a trigger for them. Their basic sense of security or stability has often been completely undermined, to the point where they cannot relax. This kind of abuse is insidious and destructive; not only does it create chronic financial insecurities and rob people of feeling safe, but it often creates situations where the victim themselves can become extremely controlling regarding the money in a desperate attempt to stop the narcissist from using it as a weapon.

They may deny the narcissist access to bank accounts, take their names off of bank accounts, take debit cards away or do other things to try and restrict spending in an effort to stop the narcissist from creating these financial catastrophes or stop them from withholding. This can lead to confusion for others about who the abuser actually is in the relationship, which is devastating for the victim who is already continuously being blamed for everything.

The truth is, if someone does not treat you as an equal person with equal access to the funds, or if you feel that you have to restrict their access to the funds like a child, this is not a healthy relationship. If someone harasses you for hours or even days for money, if they refuse to contribute their fair share to the household, if someone takes your money without asking, if they use guilt, manipulation or terrorizes you to get you to give them money or get out of contributing their fair share, if someone uses money to hurt, punish or control you in any way, this is not a healthy relationship. Our partners and family members are not responsible for taking care of us as adults and we are not responsible for them, but when we enter into an agreement or a partnership with someone, such as marriage, sharing finances or sharing a home, they are required to hold up their end of a fair bargain. When they don't do that, it's not OK.

If you find yourself in this situation, it can be extremely difficult to get out. However, you deserve to be treated as an adult and an equal person in the relationship - whether it's a marriage, a romantic relationship, a family situation or a friendship. You deserve to feel safe, secure and to be free from harassment, bullying and being terrorized. You deserve better. You really do.

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