Updated September 2019
Have you ever had a narcissist tell you that he or she “knows you better than you know yourself?” How about being told that your feelings and thoughts aren’t real or legitimate? Maybe you’ve been treated like a child or as though you just weren’t good enough. And depending on the point in your life in which you met the narcissist and the intensity of his/her manipulation, you might even believe him. Why do they do this?
It’s all part of a common, but complicated and convoluted, manipulation technique called gaslighting. But sometimes, the abuse can come through a kind of surprising place – one that many people don’t consider when they ask you why you won’t just leave the narcissist if it’s so bad: your money – your financial “situation.”
What is financial abuse?
If you feel stuck in your relationship because you don’t have any access to money (whether you work outside the home or not) you may be dealing with this pervasive kind of domestic abuse that we call “financial abuse.” It is a form of domestic abuse that allows a narcissist to control and manipulate you with money, in one way or another. Some examples include not allowing you to access your money (or family money), stealing or hiding money from your shared account, controlling your money or family money (even restricting your ability to purchase basic needs such as food and personal hygiene items).
How does a narcissist abuse and control a person with money?
Unfortunately, financial abuse is a common tactic that abusers of all types will use to control their victims – and while it’s not exclusive to narcissists, it is often a factor in varying degrees when you’re involved in relationships with narcissists.
According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), “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 is right there with other forms of abuse, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse, manipulation, intimidation and threats.
NNEDV says these are all “intentional tactics used by an abuser aimed at entrapping the partner in the relationship.”
And, depending on the situation, some abusers will use this from day one in a relationship, while others will wait until the “victim” tries to leave before enacting financial control.
Did You Know? 5 Shocking Financial Abuse Facts
- Financial abuse is one of the most powerful ways to keep a survivor trapped in an abusive relationship with a narcissist.
- It makes it very difficult to stay safe if you’ve left an abuser – and makes it far less likely you’ll leave in the first place. In fact, surveys of survivors indicate that their finances are one of the top reasons they stay or return to an abusive relationship.
- In a study, researchers found that 98 percent of abusive relationship involve some kind of financial abuse.
- This is especially true when children are involved, and many people are more likely to tolerate abuse “for the sake of the children.”
- Financial abuse is not socioeconomically, educationally or racially exclusive – it happens across the board.
How Financial Abuse Begins
Just like other forms of narcissistic abuse, such as gaslighting, financial abuse often begins subtly at first, and to the victim, might feel a lot like love, concern and “being taken care of,” something a lot of victims report they haven’t experienced before.
Often, the abuser will offer to “handle” the finances at first, sometimes even giving the victim an allowance to “take care of her needs.”
Again, at first, the victim feels a sense of relief at first, and may even believe she can trust her partner. After all – she’s in love, and maybe she doesn’t want to deal with the stress of it all.
But this turns dark when, typically, the narcissist will give his victim less and less money for “allowance,” and become increasingly controlling of how it’s spent.
And, when she tries to take control of her own money again one day, she discovers that the money is “moved” or that she no longer has the ability to access the family’s money.
16 Signs You Might Be Experiencing Financial Abuse by a Narcissist
There are more obvious and direct ways that narcissists will control your finances in order to control you, and in some cases, the situation gets pretty dire – and if you’re a victim in one of these situations, there are some common financial abuse practices you should watch for, including (but not limited to) the following.
- You’re not allowed to work.
- Your narcissist has sabotaged your job opportunities or your actual job by harassing or stalking you at work, and you may have actually lost a job as a result.
- Your family money is controlled entirely by the narcissist.
- You have no access to your bank account.
- You’re not included in financial decisions, including banking and investments.
- You’re not allowed or encouraged to get job training or seek any kind of schooling or training opportunities.
- You’ve had to write bad checks or even to commit financial fraud.
- Your abuser has run up large amounts of debt and some of it in your name – and you have no say-so about it. You may not even know it at first.
- In some cases, the narcissist may even REFUSE TO WORK himself, forcing his victim to support him. And in some cases, he won’t even facilitate her working by taking care of the kids or other household responsibilities.
- Your abuser has helped to ruin your credit score.
- You have been forced to skip paying bills in order to indulge some desire of the narcissist.
- The narcissist has stolen your identity, property or inheritance.
- You’ve been forced to give up any public benefits you’ve had or you’ve been accused of “cheating” the system.
- You’ve been struggling financially and your ex (or soon-to-be ex) has refused to pay child support.
- The narcissist threatens to leave you or throw you out into the street if you don’t comply with his requests, which you do because you know that you can’t make it without him – and he’s all too happy to remind you.
- He tells you you’re not “pulling your weight,” even if you’re working full-time and taking care of the house, kids, cars and yard – there’s still something you’re just not getting done to his satisfaction.
How to Deal With Financial Abuse
So, how do you deal with this stuff? The experts have varying opinions, but the following tips seem to ring true for most.
1. First, get organized and informed. So, you’ll want to gather up all important documents (order copies if you need to) and keep them in a safe place.
These might include items such as:
- birth certificates and social security cards
- bank statements
- marriage certificates
- documents related to your professional accomplishments or degrees
- statements for mortgage, credit card, etc.
- personal documents and family info
2. Next, start saving any extra money that you can, whether it’s cash you stash and store at a trusted friend’s house, or you have a secret bank account somewhere. You’ll use it when you leave the abuser.
TIP: You can earn a little extra money on the side by taking on freelance work, babysitting, cleaning houses or even just getting a part-time job outside the house. Or, use a tip I heard from Oprah’s financial guru, Suze Orman, back in the late 90s – and it’s one that works shockingly well.
ONLY Spend Paper Money — Just never, ever spend change. Save all of your change – even if something costs 3 cents, always pay with paper money and save the change. You’d be shocked at how quickly this can add up.
For example, after my divorce from my first husband back in 1998, I realized that without getting the court-ordered child support I was due for the son I had with him, it might be tough to give my baby the Christmas morning he deserved. So, I heard this little tip from Suze a few months before the shopping season, and started trying it.
By the time I needed to go out and buy his presents, I’d saved nearly $200 – which, to me at the time, was a lot – and it was plenty to make his holiday super-special.
3. Check out your credit report and make sure there aren’t any fraudulent charges on it. If there are, now is the time to dispute them. You will need to have your credit as in-order as possible, if at all possible, before you leave.
4. Create a budget. Figure out how much stuff costs, and create a budget that is realistic and sustainable. So, don’t think to yourself, “well, I’ll just eat less and sew all my own clothes,” because that isn’t realistic, most likely – but figuring out where you can cut expenses when you’re on your own will help.
For example, maybe you can touch up your own roots in order to stretch out the time between salon visits, or you could stop donating your clothes every season and start keeping the pieces that might be repeatable. Or, you can learn to DIY more, and make cutting costs a game. (Personally, I still shop like I’m gaming. One time, I found a pair of silver kitten heels on sale for $1.69 at a going out of business sale – I took a photo of them with the receipt and proudly posted it on Facebook. Yeah, I’m that kind of nerd – but I digress).
5. Change your pin numbers, access codes and passwords. If the narcissist knows your passwords and pin numbers, be sure to change them or use different ones when you create new accounts so he can’t keep track of you (or worse, steal from you).
6. Be resourceful and don’t feel bad asking for help. Look into all available options if the situation doesn’t allow you to wait around. If you are being physically or sexually abused, you have to get out immediately – check out this emergency resources page for help and ideas on what’s next.
- You can also look into getting food stamps or other forms of government assistance. They even have housing programs for those who needs it.
- Often, churches and other community groups have assistance available for people who are leaving abusive relationships, so if you can, try to learn about the ones in your area.
7. Seek transitional housing. For example, find a trusted friend or family member who might be willing to facilitate your exit by providing a safe place for you (and your kids, if you have any) to stay while you transition from the abusive narcissist’s home to a new one of your own. If necessary, look into local shelters and women’s programs.
8. Start thinking about building your credit. If you can, get a secured card and keep it somewhere safe. Use it to make small purchases and keep it paid on time. This will help you to build your credit while you fly under the radar.
Helpful Videos for Understanding and Dealing with Financial Abuse
More Useful Resources for Financial Abuse Victims
Do you think you’re experiencing financial abuse? Have you experienced it in the past?