We Need to Talk More About Financial Abuse

By Rachel Puryear

I got some great feedback after a couple of recent posts in which I discussed situations where people encounter serious but avoidable financial problems, because they were taken advantage of financially. (See here and here for past posts on this subject.) The type of behavior involved in such scenarios is common, destructive, and is often financial abuse.

Based upon the responses I received about this subject, it seems people are interested in learning more about this subject matter – and I’m delighted to see that. Financial abuse is a very important subject, and one that people don’t talk about or recognize nearly enough. It’s a subject that I’m trying to constantly learn more about myself, and have a lot of experience in dealing with professionally.

Accordingly, I will continue to write more about the subject of financial abuse on this blog, and build upon it in future posts. There will be more later on about how people can empower and protect themselves against people who might otherwise try and take advantage of them.

This post will first, however, give an introduction to financial abuse. More posts in the shorter term will continue to establish basics.

Open wallet with the words “Financial abuse” written on a yellow post-it note, with several cash bills lying around it.

A Brief Introduction to Financial Abuse

Over the past several decades, our society has gradually come to understand more about the complex realities behind abusive and toxic relationships. For the purposes of discussing this subject; I’m including – and focusing on – close interpersonal relationships: romantic, friendship, and familial; which are abusive or otherwise toxic.

One important thing to know about abuse generally is that it can take many forms. Abuse can be physical, it can be sexual, it can be emotional and psychological – the latter of which is less well understood than the others. Abuse can also be financial. Financial abuse is also not well understood by many people. Where financial abuse is present, emotional and psychological abuse quite often accompany it.

What is financial abuse? In a nutshell: Financial abuse means that someone uses manipulation, intimidation, and other dishonest and/or pressure tactics to harm someone else financially. The behavior is often intended to financially benefit the abuser, but not necessarily – there can be other motives, such as controlling the victim. Financial abuse can take many forms, and more specific examples will be examined in detail in future posts.

Financial Abuse and Domestic Violence Advocacy

Domestic violence advocacy circles deserve a lot of credit for shedding light on some of the kinds of financial abuse that commonly occur in abusive romantic relationships. However, in these same contexts, financial abuse also tends to be overshadowed by the more graphic abuses directed against mind and body – nonetheless, financial abuse also casts a long shadow over a life, even long after a destructive relationship has ended. It can also make it more difficult to get out of an abusive relationship, which is often the point.

In domestic violence terms, financial abuse is usually defined specifically as one romantic partner preventing the other from earning income, in order to keep a partner financially dependent; as well as one partner controlling all of the finances to in order to control the other partner. While these are both certainly financially abusive behaviors, and very harmful; there are other financially abusive behaviors which are common, too – in abusive romantic relationships, as well as in other close but abusive relationships.

This discussion is not intended to criticize these advocates for focusing on a narrowed definition of financial abuse (they have their reasons), but rather to expand the discussion and demonstrate a broader picture of financial abuse in various kinds of close relationships. Future posts will cover more of these, and in depth.

People who use financially harmful tactics against loved ones may be called “abusers”, and that term is accurate. At times, I have also called people who take financial advantage of others for their own benefit “moochers”. Depending upon context, I may use either of these terms – but for the purposes of financial abuse discussions, these terms both refer to people who intentionally harm loved ones and close ones financially.

An abuser may take a victim’s earnings and resources from them, or abuse a victim’s credit for the abuser’s own benefit, or limit a victim’s financial opportunities in order to keep the victim financially dependent – these are a few common examples. Generally; behavior which harms someone financially, and which happens within the context of a generally abusive and/or one-sided relationship where emotional manipulation underlies the financial exploitation, is financially abusive.

Factors Commonly Underlying Financial Abuse

Where a relationship is close, and where one person genuinely cares for the other and feels obligated help them when they are in need, an abusive person can take advantage of this for their own personal gain.

Financially abusive behaviors are very common. We have all seen them happen, if not actually experienced them ourselves. Most people instinctively recognize such behaviors as wrong – however, what is less well understood is how abusers are able to get away with such behavior. People tend to blame the victim and believe them to be foolish or irresponsible, but such situations are much more complex than many people appreciate at first glance.

Contrary to popular belief, victims of financial abuse do not necessarily lack in intelligence and common sense, nor are they always naïve. Instead, beneath financial abuse usually underlies some kind of emotional abuse and manipulation, and/or an abuser taking advantage of an unequal relationship and/or a vulnerable person. Victims of financial abuse often feel an undue sense of obligation to their abusers, lack emotional awareness to realize when something is wrong, and typically lack the assertiveness to say “no”.

Both in my professional and personal life, I have witnessed a great deal of financial abuse between people. During the years that I practiced law, I saw that a huge portion of civil lawsuits arise out of financially abusive behaviors of some kind. As a writer and life coach now, I help people learn skills to break destructive cycles of unhealthy relationships, unlearn financial patterns that keep them poorer, and relearn relationship and financial mindsets that will help them towards a more fulfilled, and more prosperous life.

Financial abuse can occur in a variety of close relationships. It can occur in romantic relationships. It can occur between other family members, between friends, and between members of tightly knit communities.

Anyone can be a victim of financial abuse. At the same time, some people may be at a greater risk than others. A person’s risk of experiencing financial abuse, and/or what type of financial abuse they might be most at risk for; may vary depending on their age, gender, cultural and community expectations, family dynamics, and a person’s own temperament and emotional state. For the latter, that includes, particularly; having poor boundaries, low self-confidence, being a people pleaser, and generally being susceptible to emotional abuse and manipulation.

Stay tuned to more future posts – for more about financial abuse, including developing all of these basic points into further detail and explanation.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to recognizing and also empowering oneself against financial and other abuse.

If there is something you would like to see addressed on this blog, please reach out to me here to ask. If you want to see more content like this and you don’t already subscribe, click here to get the Free Range Life and Work newsletter 2x a month!


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