What is Financial Abuse?

Financial abuse is a common tactic used by abusers to gain power and control in a relationship.  The forms of financial abuse may be subtle or overt but in in general, include tactics to limit the partner’s access to assets or conceal information and accessibility to the family finances.   Financial abuse along with emotional, physical and sexual abuse, manipulation, intimidation and threats are all intentional tactics used by an abuser aimed at keeping the partner in the relationship.  In some abusive relationships, financial abuse is present throughout the relationship and in other cases financial abuse becomes present when the survivor is attempting to leave or has left the relationship.

Financial abuse, while less commonly understood, is one of the most powerful methods of keeping a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship and deeply diminishes her ability to stay safe after leaving an abusive relationship.   Research indicates that financial abuse is experienced in 98% of abusive relationships  and surveys of survivors reflect that concerns over their ability to provide financially for themselves and their children was one of the top reason for staying in or returning to a battering relationship. As with all forms of abuse, it occurs across all socio-economic, educational and racial and ethnic groups.

Forms of Financial Abuse

As with other forms of abuse, financial abuse may begin subtly and progress over time. It may even look like love initially as abusers have the capacity to appear very charming and are masterful at manipulation. For example, the abuser may make statements such as “I know you’re under a lot of stress right now so why  don’t you just let me take care of the finances and I’ll give you money each week to take care of what you need.” Under these circumstances, the victim may believe that she should or can trust the partner she is in love with and may willingly give over control of the money and how it is spent. This scenario commonly leads to the batterer giving the victim less and less in “allowance” and by the time she decides she wants to take back control of the finances, she discovers that the accounts have all been moved or she no longer has knowledge or access to the family funds.

In other cases, the financial abuse may be much more overt.  Batterers commonly use violence or threats of violence and intimidation to keep the victim from working or having access to the family funds.  Whether subtle or overt, there are common methods that batterers use to gain financial control over their partner.  These include:

  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace orcausing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay  or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

The Impact of Financial Abuse

The short and long term effects of financial abuse can be devastating. In the short term, access to assets is imperative to staying safe. Without assets, survivors are often unable to obtain safe and affordable housing or the funds to provide for themselves or their children. With realistic fears of homelessness, it is little wonder that survivors sometimes return to the battering relationship.

For those who manage to escape the abuse and survive initially, they often face overwhelming odds in obtaining long term security and safety. Ruined credit scores, sporadic employment histories and legal issues caused by the battering make it extremely difficult to gain independence, safety and long term security.

When Pain Seems to Make You Feel Better

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When people self-harm they  often see it as a  way of coping with problems. It may help you express feelings you can’t put into words, distract you from your life, or release emotional pain. Afterwards, you may  feel better  for a little while.  However  the painful feelings  usually return, and you  may feel the urge to hurt yourself again. If you want to stop but don’t know how, remember this: you deserve to feel better, and you can get there without hurting yourself.

Understanding cutting and self-harm

Self-harm is often a way  of expressing and dealing with deep  emotional pain. As strange as it may sound to those on the outside, hurting yourself can make you feel better. Injuring yourself may be  the only way you know how to cope with feelings like sadness, self-loathing, emptiness, guilt, and rage.

The problem is that the relief that comes from self-harming doesn’t last very long. It’s like putting on a Band-Aid when what you really need are stitches. It may temporarily stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t fix the underlying injury.

If you’re like most people who self-injure, you probably try to keep what you’re doing secret. Maybe you feel ashamed or maybe you just think that no one would understand.  Ultimately, the secrecy and guilt affects your relationships with your friends and family members and the way you feel about yourself. It can make you feel even more lonely, worthless, and trapped.

Myths and facts about cutting and self-harm

 

Myth: People who cut and self-injure are trying to get attention.
Fact: The truth is that people who self-harm generally harm themselves in secret. They aren’t trying to manipulate others or draw attention to themselves.  Actually shame and fear can make it very difficult to come forward and ask for help.

Myth: People who self-injure are crazy and/or dangerous.
Fact: It is true that many people who self-harm suffer from anxiety, depression, or a previous trauma—just like millions of others in the general population, but that doesn’t make them “crazy or dangerous”. Self-injury is how they cope. Sticking a label like “crazy” or “dangerous” on a person is not  accurate or helpful.

Myth: People who self-injure want to die.
Fact: People who self-injure usually do not want to die. When they self-harm, they are not trying to commit suicide —they are trying to cope with their problems and pain.   They often feel that  self-injury may be a way of helping themselves go on living. However, in the long-term, people who self-injure have a much higher risk of suicide, which is why it’s important to seek help.

 

Signs and symptoms of cutting and self-harm

Self-harm includes anything you do to intentionally injure yourself. Some of the more common ways include:

  • cutting or severely scratching your skin
  • burning or scalding yourself
  • hitting yourself or banging your head
  • punching things or throwing your body against walls and hard objects
  • sticking objects into your skin
  • intentionally preventing wounds from healing
  • swallowing poisonous substances or inappropriate objects

Self-harm can also include less obvious ways of hurting yourself or putting yourself in danger, such as driving recklessly, binge drinking, taking too many drugs, and having unsafe sex.

How does cutting and self-harm help?

It’s important to acknowledge that self-harm helps you—otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Some of the ways cutting and self-harming can help include:

  • Expressing feelings you can’t put into words
  • Releasing the pain and tension you feel inside
  • Helping you feel in control
  • Distracting you from overwhelming emotions or difficult life circumstances
  • Relieving guilt and punishing yourself
  • Making you feel alive, or simply feel something,instead of feeling numb

Once you better understand why you self-harm, you can learn ways to stop self-harming, and find resources that can support you through this struggle.

If self-harm helps, why stop?

Although self-harm and cutting can give you temporary relief,  in the long term, it causes far more problems than it solves.

  • The relief is short lived, and is quickly followed by other feelings like shame and guilt.
  • Keeping the secret of self-harm from friends and family members is difficult and lonely.
  • You can hurt yourself badly, even if you don’t mean to. It’s easy to misjudge the depth of a cut or end up with an infected wound.
  • If you don’t learn other ways to deal with emotional pain, it puts you at risk for other  problems,  including major depression, drug and alcohol addiction, and suicide.
  • Self-harm can become addictive. It may start off as an impulse or something you do to feel more in control, but soon it feels like the cutting or self-harming is controlling you. It often turns into a compulsive behavior that seems impossible to stop.

Self-harm and cutting don’t help you with the issues that made you want to hurt yourself in the first place. There are  other ways that the underlying issues that are driving the self harm can be managed.

Help for cutting and self-harm

 Confide in someone

If you’re ready to get help for cutting or self-harm, the first step is to confide in another person. It can be scary to talk about the very thing you have worked so hard to hide, but it can also be a huge relief to finally let go of your secret and share what you’re going through.

 

Tips for talking about cutting and self-harm

  • Focus on your feelings. Instead of sharing detailed accounts of your self-harm behavior focus on the feelings or situations that lead to it. This can help the person you’re confiding in better understand where you’re coming from. It also helps to let the person know why you’re telling them.
  • Communicate in whatever way you feel most comfortable. If you’re too nervous to talk in person, consider starting off the conversation with an email or letter Don’t feel pressured into sharing things you’re not ready to talk about. You don’t have to show the person your injuries or answer any questions you don’t feel comfortable answering.
  • Give the person time to process what you tell them. As difficult as it is for you to open up, it may also be difficult for the person you tell—especially if it’s a close friend or family member. Sometimes, you may not like the way the person reacts. Try to remember that reactions such as shock, anger, and fear come out of concern for you.

Talking about self-harm can bring up a lot of emotions. Don’t be discouraged if the situation feels worse for a short time right after sharing your secret. It’s uncomfortable to confront and change long-standing habits. But once you get past these initial challenges, you’ll start to feel better.

Figure out why you cut

Understanding why you cut or self-harm is a vital first step toward your recovery. If you can figure out what function your self-injury serves, you can learn other ways to get those needs met—which in turn can reduce your desire to hurt yourself.

Identify your self-harm triggers

Remember, self-harm is most often a way of dealing with emotional pain. Once you learn to recognize the feelings that trigger your need to self-injure, you can start developing healthier alternatives.

Get in touch with your feelings

If you’re having a hard time pinpointing the feelings that trigger your urge to cut, you may need to work on your emotional awareness.  Emotional awareness means the ability to identify and express what you are feeling from moment to moment and to understand the connection between your feelings and your actions. Feelings are important pieces of information that our bodies give to us, but they do not have to result in actions like cutting or other self-harming.

The idea of paying attention to your feelings—rather than numbing them or releasing them through self-harm—may sound frightening to you. You may be afraid that you’ll get overwhelmed or be stuck with the pain, however emotions quickly come and go if you let them. If you don’t try to fight, judge, or beat yourself up over the feeling, you’ll find that it soon fades, replaced by another emotion. It’s only when you obsess over the feeling that it persists.

Find new coping techniques

Self-harm is your way of dealing with feelings and difficult situations. So if you’re going to stop, you need to have alternative ways of coping in place so you can respond differently when you start to feel like cutting or hurting yourself.

If you cut to express pain and intense emotions

  • Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
  • Express your feelings in a journal
  • Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
  • Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling

If you cut to calm and soothe yourself

  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet
  • Listen to calming music

If you cut because you feel disconnected and numb

  • Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
  • Take a cold shower
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers or  peppermint

If you cut to release tension or vent anger

  • Exercise —run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
  • Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
  • Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
  • Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)

Substitutes for the cutting sensation

  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
  • Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
  • Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs, and snap them instead of cutting or hitting

 

Professional treatment for cutting and self-harm

You will probably also need the help and support of a trained professional as you work to overcome the self-harm habit.   A therapist can help you develop new coping techniques and strategies to stop self-harming, while also helping you get to the root of why you cut or hurt yourself.

Self harm is  an outward expression of inner pain—pain that often has its roots in early life. There is often a connection between self-harm and childhood trauma.

Self-harm may be your way of coping with feelings related to past abuse, flashbacks, negative feelings about your body, or other traumatic memories. This may be the case even if you’re not consciously aware of the connection.

If you or someone you know is self harming, please reach out to someone for help.

Help for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Statistics state that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men have been the victims of sexual abuse as a child or adolescent.  The rate is most likely higher since many people do not report or tell others that they have been sexually abused.  It’s very important for survivors to get help in order to heal from the abuse which they suffered in their past.

Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Many survivors do not  understand the connection between their childhood trauma  and their adult experience.  Generally, the abuse has either been accepted by the survivor as “normal” or is viewed as something that is better left in the past.  In some cases, the abuse may not be remembered.  Therefore,  the significance of symptoms and problems arising from the abuse is not always  recognized.

Many adult survivors may have the following symptoms:

  • Find it difficult to develop or maintain close personal relationships.
  • Have a strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
  • Endure physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
  • Experience feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem overwhelming.
  • Undergo panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or have suicidal thoughts.
  • Find themselves depending on alcohol,  drugs, or may develop eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-esteem.
  • Experience problems like low self-esteem, avoidance of sex, promiscuity, or inability to experience orgasms or erections.
  • Exhibit signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.

Most of these symptoms are due to the disruption of a healthy psychological development.  An abusive childhood situation interferes with the child’s natural movement toward growth.

As a result of having limited opportunities to naturally develop healthy coping skills, survivors sometimes  develop  complex coping mechanisms in their attempts to appear “normal.”  As a child, the survivor may have learned the importance of “pretending that nothing is wrong.”  This coping mechanism allows them to function in society in ways that never allow anyone to guess that they struggle with  pain on the inside.

Some survivors compensate for their feelings of shame or inadequacy by becoming “over-achievers.”  They frequently mask their pain or feelings of fragility so successfully that it becomes all the more important to the survivors that others around them do not discover that they are not really who they appear to be.    Having not been given appropriate levels of love, care, or attention when they were their true selves as children, they might feel that they will not be given love, care, and attention if they allow their true selves to be seen as adults.

Sexual abuse usually takes place in secret and is kept secret.  Denial of sexual abuse is much stronger than denial of physical or emotional abuse.  Because of the silence surrounding most sexual abuse, children are forced to endure the abuse and it’s effects alone.  As adults, survivors often continue to feel alone and isolated.  They fear exposing the shame, rage, and hurt connected to their childhood experiences.  They tend to blame themselves for the abuse.    They usually feel ashamed by the fact that they could not stop the abuse.   Adult survivors sometimes  report childhood blackouts in which large chunks of time are forgotten.

Survivors deal with the sexual abuse in different  ways.  Some become over-responsible, believing that they are accountable for everything and must take care of others, often meeting the needs of others before their own.  On the other hand, they may act out against others in manipulative or abusive ways, especially if that is the only way they have learned to get their needs met.   Many  survivors may have developed self-destructive behaviors (substance abuse, eating disorders, acting out sexually, self-mutilation, etc.) as ways to escape from or as attempts to gain control over the pain that stems from the abuse.  Survivors who did not have the resources or opportunities to work through the trauma they experienced are frequently prone to self-hate, self-destructiveness, and feelings of hopelessness.  With proper treatment, many adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  who have come to some sort of resolution with the trauma lead happy, healthy, fulfilled lives.

Consistent, patient, and caring effort is needed by both the survivor and those who are aiding in this healing process.  While it is difficult and often painful to work towards recovery from childhood abuse, healing is possible when survivors have access to a support network that can provide them with nurturance, assistance, and  care.

 

 

When Words Hurt

When we think of domestic  abuse, we often think of someone being physically beaten but verbal abuse happens just as often. Unlike physical abuse, the participants in the relationship may not realize they’re harming each other– they may even find some transgressions to be “normal”.   Emotional abuse can happen between parent and child, romantic partners, among relatives and between friends.

In my  therapy practice, I’ve worked with many people who are being emotionally and verbally abused.  Many don’t realize they’re being abused and are hesitant to call what they’re experiencing abuse.  However as we talk and process the behavior of the other person and how it makes them feel it’s as if a light bulb goes off and they realize that yes it’s abusive and no one should be  treated this way.

If your answer is yes to these questions, you are most likely in an abusive relationship.

Does anyone regularly ridicule, dismiss, disregard your opinions, thoughts and feelings?

Does anyone make fun of you or put you down in front of others?

Does someone treat you as if you’re inferior to them?

Does someone make you feel that they are always right?

Does someone call you names and label you?

Do they blame you for their problems or unhappiness?

If you ever feel that you’re being emotionally or verbally abused, seeing a therapist may be very helpful for you.  Therapy can help you to understand the impact of an emotionally abusive relationship.   It can also help you to learn healthier ways of relating to others and caring for your own needs.  Remember no one deserves to be abused.