Financial abuse is more common than you think.
"The truth is 95% of interpersonal violence cases have a financial component because it's a way to restrict the survivor of abuse from leaving," explains Megan McCoy, Ph.D., LMFT, AFC, CFT-I. Financial abuse happens when one partner in an intimate relationship controls the other partner's access to money.
Some examples of financially abusive behavior are:
McCoy adds that financial abuse sometimes starts out unintentionally. "Maybe one person is more assertive than the other in the partnership, or maybe one person makes more than the other so they feel like they have more control," she says. Regardless of intention, the harm caused by financial abuse is very real.
Here are four under-the-radar behaviors of people who have survived, or are currently surviving, financial abuse.
McCoy says one of the biggest signs someone has experienced, or is currently experiencing, financial abuse is not trusting themselves with their own money. "When your control and autonomy has been taken away, it takes a while to rebuild your faith that you can manage on your own," she says.
Survivors tend to ask for money advice over and over again, to try to feel better about their financial decisions. Sometimes, she says, survivors resort to "people-pleasing" — compulsively doing whatever others want even if they don't want to do it — to try to get others to manage their money for them.
"Hoarding is a sign of any kind of abuse, in general," says McCoy. "You could be hoarding finances or objects to make yourself feel safer."
According to Psychology Today, abuse survivors hoard because it fills an emotional void left by the painful experiences from the past. For people who experienced emotional and financial abuse in particular, hoarding may be a way to create physical proof that the abuse happened.
Financial abuse survivors may overspend their money all at once. If an abusive partner has controlled the way that a survivor spends money for a long time, spending money on whatever they want in that moment can feel like sweet relief.
"Money feels like power for the first time," explains McCoy, "so survivors just bleed money because it feels good to be able to make those decisions again."
McCoy says that financial abuse survivors have the tendency to dissociate from their finances altogether. Dissociation is a trauma response where the person doesn't want anything to do with what happened.
Sometimes, financial abuse survivors unintentionally repeat a toxic pattern of letting an unsafe partner handle their finances completely simply because they don't want to face what happened.
There's no right or wrong way to react in such a traumatic situation, but there are resources available to help survivors heal.
If you or anyone you know has experienced, or is currently experiencing financial abuse, contact the following organizations: