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What is Economic Abuse and How to Recover

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Last Updated on August 24, 2020 by Daniella

This week’s new post is a special treat from a reader of ours, Emily.

Take it away, Emily!


I used to believe that because I had not been physically or sexually abused, that I was therefore not experiencing abuse of any kind, and that the way my family operated was “normal.” And yet, I could not make sense of why I was so deeply afraid of my dad, why I struggled with depression and panic attacks, and why I felt completely unable to explain the severity of my silent suffering at home. 

It was not until college, in one of my many psychology classes, that a guest speaker passed out a flyer with an infographic entitled “What is Domestic Violence?” that I began to understand my experience. 

On the handout was a wheel with not one or two, but eight different types of abuses of power and control in relationships. 

This was the first time I actually had a visual representation of what I was experiencing. I could have cried right there in that classroom with pure relief that I wasn’t crazy. 

A close up of a logo

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The 8 areas of abuses of power and control are these: 

  1. Using coercion and threats
  2. Using intimidation
  3. Using emotional abuse
  4. Using isolation
  5. Minimizing, denying, and blaming
  6. Using children
  7. Using male privilege
  8. Using economic abuse

Woah. 

If you identify with any one, or multiple, of these experiences, know that you are seen. 

If this infographic made it in the hands of my undergraduate psychology class, know that these abuses are real, they are powerful, they are not a reflection of you as a person, and you are not alone. 

Believe me, I could (and probably will one day) write essays upon essays about each of these areas of abuse, but you are visiting the illustrious “I Like to Dabble” blog, which means we’re going to dive deep into the slice of the wheel known as Economic abuse. 

Yay! 

(Please excuse my seemingly inappropriate excitement, I am always ready and willing to shine a light on icky things so we can all grow. And also, heavy topics are heavy, so adding in exclamation points makes me feel like we can tackle them with ease!)

What is Economic Abuse?

The Domestic Abuse Intervention Project defines economic abuse as, “Preventing her from getting or keeping a job, making her ask for money, giving her an allowance, taking her money, not letting her know about or have access to family income.” 

Sidenote: If you are reading this and potentially feel excluded by the word “her,” know that it was written this way because the abuses described are most often committed against women, but this is definitely not exclusive to the female experience. 

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, financial abuse also includes the abuser demanding receipts for your purchases, depositing your paycheck in their bank account and denying you access to your money, preventing you from accessing your bank accounts (changing passwords, etc.), limiting the hours you can work, stealing money from you, maxing out credit cards in your name or not paying the bills on joint cards and hurting your credit, living in your home but refusing to contribute financially to home expenses or shared expenses such as food and utilities, using funds from your children’s savings accounts without your permission, and demanding access to your tax returns. 

I would also assert that the “emotional abuse” and “minimizing/ denying/ blaming” slices of this wheel play a significant role in economic abuse. 

If your partner or family member has made you feel guilty or bad for wanting money, for taking a job that makes more money than them, or for taking a job that makes little money, has put you down for having financial goals and aspirations, or minimized or belittled your desires for growth and independence, these emotional and psychological abuses are also deeply entangled with economic abuse. 

In other words, in the Venn diagram of crappy and inexcusable human behavior, economic abuse and emotional abuse overlap like it’s nobody’s business. 

And guess what. 

We all need money. 

Rent and food and car payments and higher education are far from free, and needing money is simply a fact of life on planet Earth. 

What makes economic abuse, and all forms of abuse, so corrosive to our sense of self, is that we all need a healthy financial outlook in order to live well. We need love, touch, acceptance, connection with others, food and water, as well as a healthy relationship with our finances. 

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: You are not making up or fabricating your lived experience, and all forms of abuse are damaging. 

The Signs of a Negative Financial Mindset

Now that we’ve named something that can be so sneaky and pervasive, let’s outline how exactly economic abuse, or even simply an unhealthy experience with money, might be affecting you. 

  1. You have a scarcity mindset. You have internalized the belief that your capabilities and resources are limited, and you live in a state of near constant stress, maybe even despite holding a steady job. 
  1. You feel guilty for wanting money. You feel resistant to interviewing for that high-paying job or negotiating for a higher salary, but can’t seem to identify why (or maybe you can).
  1. You have a negative view of money in general, and fantasize about moving off the grid and saying “au revoir” to the sins of the dollar. 
  1. You find yourself passing significant judgement on people you perceive to have lots of money (Well, except billionaires. You are allowed to judge billionaires as harshly as you’d like because they are a reflection of everything that is wrong with the world – that is all). 
  1. You are afraid to spend money, even when investing in yourself, and deprive yourself in the name of greater financial security or a sense of undeserving. 
  1. You check your bank account often. And not like, in an appropriate way to review any potential weird charges, but as reassurance of your worth or a sense of security. 
  1. You attach yourself to people you perceive as having financial security, even if you don’t even really like them (or worse, they are abusive), for fear of not being able to take care of yourself financially.
  1. You adopt an “I-hate-money-and-it’s-too-overwhelming-to-figure-out-so-I’m-just-not-going-to-care” mindset, and potentially rack up a ton of debt. 

If you read any of these and said, “Oh crap, I definitely do that/ feel that way,” know that you are not flying solo on this journey, friend. *commence virtual hug*

The reason that we have podcasts, blogs, video tutorials, tip sheets, online classes, and whole fields about money is because of two things. 1: Money can feel icky to talk about with people and 2: We need to talk about it. 

Your finances can be intimidating regardless of your financial history, and it can seem like an especially big mountain to climb when you are untangling experiences of economic abuse from your money concept as well. 

What Even is a Healthy Financial Mindset?

This will likely be different for everyone, but my ideal relationship with money looks like this: I want to set and strive toward big money goals, spend money with a mindset of abundance, and live confidently knowing that I can meet my needs and uphold my boundaries when facing behavior I will no longer allow.”

That is my dream, and it’s my dream for you, too!

You can rebuild a foundation of powerful self-reliance, even if it was previously crumbling under the weight of abuse. 

You can outline big goals and firm boundaries that allow you to grow, while accepting only things that serve you. 

Once I finally had the words, outlined in a seemingly insignificant handout, to name what I was experiencing, I felt able to design a new experience for myself. 

I had witnessed abusers wave their paychecks in the air and insist they had more worth than their wives. Spoiler alert! – They did not. I had heard the fear in the voice of women who felt like they couldn’t leave a bad situation, because their partner had control of the credit cards or had racked up significant debt in their names. I had heard my own father sneer “get a job” to my mother, who worked herself into the ground to care for her two daughters and denied herself the opportunity to go back to school (for a second degree, mind you) to do so. 

I still feel like I need to stand up and shake off some layers after recounting these stories. People can be evil, and people are resilient. 

You are resilient. Write that down and believe it!

When money gets tangled up and used abusively, it can shape our perceptions of our available choices and our very sense of self

Let me be clear. 

You can have $0 in your bank account, or not have a bank account at all, and you are deserving of your dreams. 

Of course, some situations are more difficult to wrestle free from than others, but know that there is never a point in your life in which starting over isn’t an option. 

You are capable of overcoming unimaginable obstacles, and now maybe you have the words to better decipher your experience and move forward in the direction of your dreams. 

How to Recover from Economic Abuse

Statistics indicate that an overwhelming number of those who experience domestic violence of any kind, experience some form of economic abuse – a staggering 94 – 99%. Many also lose their jobs for reasons stemming from abuse, such as stalking or harassment at work. 

It can feel immeasurably overwhelming to separate oneself from an abuser, heal mentally and emotionally from abuse, and work toward the daunting task of structured financial recovery. 

Below is a list of some incredible resources for recovery from economic abuse, and ideas for steps forward out of debt and toward healthy finances: 

  • Open a Post Office (P.O.) Box and use this address to safely access your mail without fear of it being confiscated or seen by the abuser.
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report regularly and dispute any funky charges or fraud.
  • Ask your bank to issue new credit and/or debit cards, with new expiration dates and security codes (this may be a better option than canceling cards, which may affect your credit score). 
  • Access free education services to learn steps to repair your credit, build assets, and create budgeting strategies to help achieve your money goals. 
  • Change the passwords on your online banking accounts, email accounts, and change your PIN code on your debit card(s) to secure these accounts from the abuser. 
  • Find a therapist, and get to work uncovering the reasons why you may feel the way you do – about money, relationships, you name it. This was the single best thing I ever did, and do, for myself. Ask if the therapist offers a sliding scale fee if you are struggling with financial recovery and need a lower rate. 
  • Build a sustainable self care routine and follow it. Life can be stressful, and navigating finances can be stressful times a million. Taking care of your body and brain is a nonnegotiable!

Resources for Overcoming Economic Abuse

For those of you who are struggling with economic abuse, I have put together a list of organizations and targeted resources that may be additionally helpful. 

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline #1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), www.ndvh.org

If you want to read more about naming the things that keep us small, or finding a way forward, check out my blog missmagnoliasays.com 

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