It is widespread for survivors of psychological abuse to blame themselves. The abuser blamed all the relationship issues on the survivor, and it is very easy to come into agreement with a false narrative about ourselves. When someone berates us by highlighting our character defects, and we know we are a flawed human being, it is easy to slowly begin taking the blame and letting the abuser entirely off the hook for their toxic behaviors.
What does it look like when a survivor of abuse blames themselves? They say things like, “I did make mistakes in the relationship” or “I know I am not easy to get along with.” These statements might be accurate, but we have to look at the context and environment of the relationship.
Abusers push their targets to behave in ways that are abnormal to the target’s personality.
In the case of childhood abuse, toxic parents push children and teens to an emotional and physical breaking point. As adults, the same goes for toxic partners, family members, co-workers, and religious leaders.
Each abuser revels in their ability to get the target to fall apart or lash out.
When a survivor has either of these emotional responses and everything in between, the abuser feels validated in their complaints against the victim. The spotlight of responsibility has shifted, and it lands squarely on the survivor.
Blaming ourselves is a normal stage that I believe all survivors must address at some point in their recovery. Telling ourselves how stupid we were for falling for a toxic person doesn’t help our healing. Words are powerful, and our inner dialogue will either help or hinder our recovery progress.
As tempting as it is to want to focus on what you did wrong in the relationship, I am going to ask that we hold off on that discussion until you’ve reached Stage Five: Restoration in my book Healing from Hidden Abuse.
Looking at your part too early in the recovery journey is harmful to your healing. That may seem counterintuitive, but trust me when I say that early in the process, any self-reflection is going to be tainted by the abuser’s voice, words, judgments of you, and their lies about your value. In my counseling practice as a trauma therapist, I have seen this play out time and time again. My clients know that I push this particular self-reflection conversation away from our early work and leave it for later in the healing process. I do this so any false guilt and shame from the abuser have already been adequately addressed and deprogrammed.
To recap, victims of psychological abuse blame themselves because the abuser pushed all responsibility onto the victim, and it’s easy to take on lies about ourselves when it’s directed at us by someone we once trusted.
Keep Dreaming Big!
One of the most common misconceptions I see online in the abuse recovery community are people posting that psychological abusers are just wounded people who don’t know any better. Victims to their childhood abuse who went on to hurt people similarly. You know the saying, “wounded people, wound people.” As a certified trauma therapist, I find this assumption to be false about psychological abusers and would like to unpack the topic a little more than can be done in an Instagram comment section.
I want to make it clear that both forms of abuse, emotional and psychological, are damaging to the victims, create life chaos, and are unacceptable in any relationship whether that be in a family, romantic relationship, among peers, at work, or in a place of worship.
The driving motivations behind emotional and psychological abuse are where the two topics split from one another and victims need to be well-versed in the underlying reason for the behaviors.
Can someone be both an emotional and psychological abuser? For me, the clinical answer is no. It is one or the other and depends on why the individual is behaving in harmful ways.
Let’s look at the differences.
Emotional abusers react out of their core wounds that have never been healed. They can trace back where they learned maladaptive coping skills and are continuing to hold on to them into adulthood.
Emotional abusers are authentically remorseful for their actions. They know something is wrong in the way they react to every day stressful situations. They are truly embarrassed by their behaviors.
It’s not that emotional abusers don’t know any better. They don’t know how to do any better. There is a huge difference between these two.
Emotional abusers hold a deep sense of shame about their brokenness and how it manifests in their life and those who are close to them. They know they are perhaps repeating verbal abuse patterns they loathed while growing up in an unstable home.
Emotional abusers may have an untreated, or poorly regulated, mental health diagnoses that can make maintaining stable moods a true challenge. I do not include personality disorders in this criteria. Diagnoses such as bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, or major depressive disorder can cause someone to have unregulated emotions that can cross over into unintentional emotionally abusive behaviors.
Emotional abuse is a common byproduct of addiction and chemical dependency. The addict’s life focus is on feeding their addiction and can become incredibly emotionally abusive in the singular pursuit of their drug of choice.
Emotional abusers often have chaos in many areas of life functioning. Maintaining a stable, calm existence is a challenge for many people who are also emotionally abusive.
Emotional abusers can change.
They can learn new coping skills that give them the tools to stop themselves before lashing out verbally. They can go to addiction treatment and live a peaceful life, clean and sober. They can do the daily work to maintain their mental health in a way that keeps them emotionally stable and regulated. I will say it again for emphasis, emotional abusers can and do permanently change for the better.
Psychological abusers never change.
Psychological abusers believe their assessment of you, and everyone else around them, is correct. They are not open to learning new coping skills and why would they? In their assessments, they are as close to perfect as someone can be and it is everyone else who needs the help.
Psychological abusers will pretend to be remorseful for some of their abusive behaviors, but no lasting change ever comes. They always return to their toxic baseline. Their “regret” is a façade to keep the victim in the relationship and available for more abuse.
Psychological abuses blame other people for their actions. They rarely give an authentic apology for being abusive because to do so would be to admit they are flawed just like everyone else.
Psychological abusers enjoy the game of making people frustrated. They create chaos on purpose because they find it entertaining to watch those around them react.
Psychological abuse is rooted in power and control of those around them.
Psychological abusers do not have other true mental health or addiction issues that could be the cause of some of their abusive behaviors. They choose to harm out of their free-will. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is not the same diagnosis category as bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD, or major depressive disorder. NPD is not a true mental health, biochemically-based, condition. It is a personality disorder. I believe NPD is not a brain-based malfunction, but repeatedly choosing not to express empathy for others. If trauma can change brain function, not living in an empathetic manner could, and does, as well.
Psychological abusers know when to turn on and off their abusive behaviors. They are always trying to fly under the radar so no one can pinpoint their actions and accurately accuse them of being an abuser.
Psychological abusers are in control of their actions. Their lives tend to be high-functioning, or at least normal functioning. They can manipulate people around them into meeting their needs, while selfishly not being concerned by the needs of others.
These are but just a few of the differences between emotional and psychological abuse. The motivation of behaviors should help victims better understand what they are facing and make life choices that are right for them.
There are no excuses for any abusive behaviors going untreated or unchanged.
Remember, keep dreaming big!
With the release of my second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I’ve received many questions about what exactly qualifies as economic exploitation and abuse. Little is written and even less is published on the specific topic of financial abuse, so I understand the confusion that currently exists.
Where is the line between normal struggles with money within a marriage or family, and when does it become exploitative and abusive? Why is addressing financial abuse an important topic to highlight? Why haven’t more authors tackled this subject sooner and shed light on behaviors that impact so many people around the world on a daily basis?
Why does there seem to be an almost apathetic attitude about financial abuse, as if it’s just a norm that can’t be fixed within an unhealthy relationship?
These are questions that we need to address head-on so that the individuals and families being harmed by a financial abuser can get the help they need and deserve. A new path is being forged in this area and defining exactly how economic control works is at the heart of why I wrote Exposing Financial Abuse.
It’s very important to remember that there’s a wide range of behaviors that should be considered toxic when it comes to money and how it’s used within relationships. As the understanding around financial abuse increases, so will the conversations about it. For now, I want to highlight three key components of economic harm.
Family Court Fraud
Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life? Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support? Does your ex-spouse use the family court system as a tool of threats and further harassment?
Within the family court system, lies are being accepted without any consequences. Toxic ex-spouses are able to hide money, lie about their actions related to the couple’s joint money, and use the court system as a means of control against the victim spouse.
Rarely does a financial abuser within the family court system receive legal or economic punishment for not following the Court’s orders related to money. Abusers go on and on with their toxic agendas and drag the victim spouse along for the very expensive ride.
Why is exposing financial abuse important? Ask anyone who has been the target of family court fraud how it impacted not only their financial stability, but their emotional and physical health as well. As a trauma therapist, I can tell you that some of the most devastated clients I’ve worked with have been those who endured an intense legal battle with an economic abuser.
Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment? Are you blamed for creating financial stress but are not the one who overspends? Were or are your finances impacted by someone who used hidden ways to sabotage your financial stability?
Covert control is one of the most surprising ways financial exploitation takes place.
Most people who have read Exposing Financial Abuse have shared that they were shocked by how many different ways someone can cause hidden harm to household finances. Passive control looks like someone intentionally causing debt to keep the family budget so tight, the victim partner doesn’t have enough money to leave the toxic relationship. Hidden abuse in the form of economic control happens when a spouse hops from job to job and it’s always someone else’s fault. They take no responsibility for being chronically unemployed or under-employed for what’s needed to meet the family budget. Sabotage is often at the heart of a covert economic abuser. They try to ensure that their victim can’t gain financial stability. Their actions may be hard at first to pinpoint as abusive, but over time, the pattern can clearly be seen and is usually the financial wreckage they leave behind.
Were lines of credit taken out in your name without your consent? Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent? Were or are you denied access to bank accounts by your abusive partner?
The aggressive financial abuser is what we’ve come to think of as the stereotype – the person who holds all the access to the family money and decides how it’s spent. Overt control can include withholding normal items like clothing for children that fit properly or basic needs even though the family budget is more than enough to cover these things.
Dominance in the form of controlling money creates a very unhappy world for the target, which is precisely the goal of most overt economic abusers.
They want to be the ones who pull the strings as the puppet-master to those closest to them. We don’t have to understand why they find entertainment out of this power, we just have to recognize it to be true. A smirk or an ugly laugh often gives their abusive intentions away.
We’re on the cusp of a breakthrough in knowledge and exposure surrounding the hidden world of economic control and abuse. Please join me in writing about this topic, speaking up if you’ve been a victim of this form of abuse, share quotes on social media, and talk to your co-workers about financial abuse and how it impacts its victims. Do what you can in your circle of influence to expand the awareness of this hidden world and help break down the apathy that currently keeps its victims in the shadows.
Keep dreaming big!
I am very excited to share the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series has been released!
Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon is now available on Amazon (paperback, Kindle, and Audio Book).
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, you will be given the opportunity to pull the curtain back and see into the lives of those who have been financially harmed by someone close to them. Being able to take a closer look at this hidden world is a unique gift that cannot be taken lightly or without honor for those who have chosen to allow us to peek into the most personal aspects of their lives.
Test yourself. How would you describe financial abuse? It is quietly happening all around us and is hidden within our neighborhoods and communities. You probably know someone who lives within a financially abusive household and you don’t even know it.
What is financial abuse?
Has your spouse or parent taken out lines of credit in your name without your consent?
Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life?
Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent?
Do your parents use financial gifts as an open door to demand future compliance on your part?
Are you blamed for creating financial stress, but are not the one who overspends?
Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support?
Have your religious leaders said that you must give to the church first, even if that means you cannot provide for your household’s basic needs?
Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment?
To order: Amazon
With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.
Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?
After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.
We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover. It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.
I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.
Financial abuse leads to poverty
Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.
One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.
Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation
Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.
Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors
Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.
A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.
Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it.
Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.
I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.
Keep Dreaming Big!