One of the first things my ex did when things were going downhill was to take my laptop and sell my DSLR camera.
I just thought it was a strange thing to do at the time. He said he took my laptop as punishment for being bad and bluffed something about needing the money for the camera, and seeing as we were always in crippling debt despite his extraordinarily high earning capacity, I took his word for it.
It was only months later when he’d gone and I was suddenly in charge of providing for two adolescent children that I realized he had been very specific about taking my two tools of trade from me. As a trained journalist and photographer, these were the things I needed to make money. He also made a big deal of letting the family Adobe subscription lapse, meaning I could no longer take in graphic design work as I’d done in the past.
When I mentioned it offhand to my counsellor friend, she told me that it was just a part of his financial abuse. Keeping women in financial turmoil and creating reliance on the man was a very common abuse tactic, she said. Taking away any ability she had to create her own living was essential to keeping the door of the cage locked.
Financial abuse. I didn’t even know it was a thing, let alone been perpetrated on me. Suddenly, images of me scaling garden walls to steal vegetables to feed my children flooded in, crying because he’d thrown away hundreds of thousands of dollars on a vanity business rather than keep our house and feed our kids, paralysed in frustration when he’d erratically stop working but also knowing that if I reacted, he’d do it for longer in order to teach me a spiritual lesson about “attachment to money.” It was deeply physically painful and psychologically damaging to be so worried about eviction and providing for my children all the time, and in my case, I wasn’t even allowed to flinch.
Turns out, this silent tormentor of women is very common. Financial abuse underpins almost all cases of regular abuse — 98 percent in fact. Financial abuse is how he keeps you crawling back to him. And if you can’t leave, then he can pretty much do what he likes to you.
Which leads me to suspect that the actual incidence of financial abuse might be much higher in otherwise normal relationships, as it is only being reported after the abuse has accelerated to the more blatant forms of abuse.
What is financial abuse and how does it affect me?
Abuse is the use of a power discrepancy to hurt you, and in our society, money is power.
In short, financial abuse is when your abuser uses money to manipulate and torment you. If you are in a constant state of anxiety about where your basic needs are coming from and you are beholden to your partner’s financial whims, you are probably being financially abused. If you don’t have control of your resources, or any ability to fix a bad situation through your own efforts, but your partner does, that’s a red flag that you’re being abused.
How can I recognize if I’m being financially abused?
There are many ways someone can manipulate your financial situation to your constant disadvantage.
- Your partner can prevent you from working by simply keeping you pregnant and looking after children, severely diminishing your time and focus on work and ability to take advantage of career opportunities.
- Your partner can constantly spend all the money available and max out your credit on things you don’t want, or don’t know about, thus keeping you in a state of hand-to-mouth.
- Your partner can be erratic in their employment, quitting jobs at random and creating anxiety in the financial chaos.
- Your partner could be working you hard, but only for their benefit, whether that be their career, their reputation, creating their dream business etc., and you never benefit from the fruits of your labor.
There are countless other ways money can manipulate, but they all rest on one person being deliberately manipulated and abused by their financial disadvantage.
It’s not romantic, but if several of these things are happening you are almost certainly being financially abused:
- If you came into the relationship with more resources than you have now.
- If you came into the relationship with more ability to help yourself out of a difficult financial situation than you have now.
- You feel out of control and stressed out by your finances with little or no ability to correct it on your own steam.
- Your partner demands financial transparency from you, but you yourself feel confused about what they’re doing with the money.
- Your career and reputation is rapidly declining while theirs is ascending, thus leaving you beholden to them and their success.
- You are working for them for free, and you feel guilty about spending “their” money.
- The ongoing anxiety is causing you long-term damage physically and/or mentally, and you are less healthy because of it.
“It’s a tactic to maintain power and control over somebody,” Nathaniel Fields told Forbes, president and CEO of the Urban Resource Institute provider of services to victims of domestic violence. “It’s another form of abuse and domestic violence — when one person in a relationship takes control of another person’s economic resources to control that person.”
In short, there must be a power discrepancy that you are limited by or helpless to change, and that power discrepancy must be being used to your disadvantage. Our patriarchal family structure can confuse that somewhat, though, because women are naturally disadvantaged. For example, you may be stuck at home with the babies on a single wage and financial tension might be high, but that’s not domestic abuse if your partner is collaborating with you and your contribution is honored. Just having that considerable power advantage is not domestic abuse in and of itself.
So to be clear, yes, you are being abused, but by the patriarchy. It’s not your partner’s fault. Until female work is recognized and recompensed adequately, all women are being financially abused when they have children. But that’s another story for another time.
In interpersonal relationships, it is when that overall power dynamic is being mined and manipulated to create unnecessary anxiety and make you feel powerless and trapped — that’s when personal financial abuse is occurring.
What can you do?
It might be as simple as bringing awareness to your situation with your partner and having him change, but if the symptoms of abuse continue, then look into getting help. Ginger Dean of Girls Just Want To Have Funds in Huffington Post suggests the following.
- Starting an online course to improve your chances of employment when you leave,
- Creating a secret account for yourself and squirrelling away any money you can skim until you have enough to leave,
- Asking trusted friends and family for help to leave, whether that be a place to stay while you recover and find work, or actual money as a donation or a loan,
- Taking an extra job that you can hide like walking dogs or online work and saving the money separately,
- Finding out what government benefits you are eligible for now, and can be eligible for if you leave.
As a woman, financial abuse can have severe effects on your health, sexuality, creativity, ambition, problem-solving abilities, and well-being. Deliberately creating and maintaining anxiety in someone makes them easier to manipulate in other areas, too. Women seem especially vulnerable to financial anxiety.
“It was pointed out that my sudden increase in energy and optimism today is most likely related to the fact that my bank transfer finally came through and I have accessible funds again. He said, “Money always affects you like that.” But I think it is not the money so much as the stress incurred by not having it…the stress of paying one’s bills with empty pockets…the stress of worrying about feeding your pets because you can live off of noodles and zucchini for a few days but they have special diets…and so on and so forth. Once I know that my basics are covered (rent, car insurance, gas, food), that’s when I can turn my focus to better and more productive things. Otherwise I get stuck in my head trying to solve an answer-less puzzle. Now that I see the correlation, I can do something about it.” — J Haley Phillips, Facebook User.
That’s a fairly natural animal reaction for females to have. In a nomadic tribal situation, if there was not enough food to last us, our sexuality would cut out because we would intuitively not want to have babies until there was more surety of abundance. Our bodies would be screaming at us to move to a more abundant area, and our bodily functions would shut down to help us move quickly.
Men seem either less attuned to lack, or have more ability to dissociate, or simply enjoy the privilege of being more sure they could find more work and fix the situation, so they are in the perfect position to lean back and be calm and abuse the woman further. “Oh look, she’s freaking out, look at her, she’s crazy,” and if they are particularly sadistic, they can deliberately spend more money just to watch their woman freak out.
Men, generally, can just disappear when times are tough because they’re not stuck in the camp. And they do. Often.
According to the recent Congressional Research Service report on “Child Support,” in 2013, almost 83 percent of children were left with the mothers, and only 40 percent of custodial parents receive the child support they were due. Billions of dollars are left unpaid in child support each year, and the government has to pick up the tab for these fathers, with most of those women having to take welfare payments to support their children.
In short, it’s not so-called welfare queens that are the problem; it’s deadbeat dads who won’t support their own children.
Financial abuse can be used as the bars of the prison cell for domestic abuse. It’s easily manipulated to ensure a partner is trapped. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of financial abuse, and through efforts by people like Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein to force money into rewarding the valuable contribution of female work, we may be able to emancipate a whole generation of women who will have full access to their creativity, their sexuality, their energy, problem-solving abilities, and their physical health.
A world full of awake, alive, and creative women? It’s an exciting, world-changing prospect.
[Featured Image via Shutterstock]