In a nutshell, financial abuse is control through money. This can involve things like restricting access to it or taking it away. It can also involve interfering with how we earn it or what we do with it. Although often discussed in the context of domestic abuse, parents have many ways that they can and do control their kids through money.
Generosity as Manipulation
This can take the form of being generous with money when they want something from us. There’s an unwritten deal where we do what they want and they give us money or things in return. This is especially disturbing when we’re in a financial bind and have asked for a loan. It can leave us feeling dirty because we’re trading money for favors.
Some abusive parents use money as a substitute for unconditional love, support, and respect. Being with them essentially revolves around them buying us things. There’s something regressive about this, as if they can’t relate to us as adults but only as children who need their parents to give them things or money to get us to love them. Since it’s pleasing to receive gifts and it clearly makes them happy, it can be really difficult to put a stop to it. If we don’t, it leaves us with an empty feeling regarding the relationship.
Abusers may also make us grateful for everything they buy us, which is a form of financial abuse. They get a high from their generosity, and we feel obligated to them, possibly even wondering if we deserve such generosity. They buy us expensive birthday and holiday gifts that they know we can’t afford ourselves. It can make us feel like we’re stuck in a bad financial situation when our financial situation may not be bad at all.
Financially abusive parents can interfere with our ability and desire to work. Work is one sign that you’re an adult. Some parents are so desperate to retain their controlling parental role in their children’s lives that they don’t want to let us do it. They might discourage us every time we try to apply for a job or make us believe we’re not qualified for any job.
Abusers can also interfere with our performance at work with constant calls, emails, or text messages. This is a form of financial abuse because it interferes with our ability to earn a living. Emotional abusers may also cause frequent absences because of their demands for attention. Someone with a parent who’s constantly complaining about medical problems, for instance, may demand that their son or daughter take time off of work to take them to the doctor.
According to the website Out of the Fog, which focuses on dealing with people with personality disorders (who are almost always, incidentally, emotional abusers), domestic theft is
[c]onsuming or taking control of a resource or asset belonging to (or shared with) a family member, partner or spouse without first obtaining their approval.
There’s a sense of entitlement that abusive parents have to their children’s money and things. They may genuinely believe that this promotes good family relationships when in reality it demonstrates lack of respect for their children.
This may happen more often in enmeshed families. Such families set up a dynamic where family members aren’t autonomous. They’re simply one part in this dehumanized thing called The Family. Psychologically, these enmeshed parents consider their children’s money and things as their money and things. If their children protest, they may tell them they’re being selfish, which again denies their right to have their money and things respected.
For instance, my brother and sister were embroiled in a domestic theft issue involving a loan that my parents received from my brother. They were paying the loan back out of rental property they had. When my sister lost a source of income, they decided to use the money that had been paying back the loan to support her. One could say that the rental property funds belonged to my brother until the large sum of money he loaned them was paid off. He certainly saw it that way. Neither child was consulted on this decision. They were simply told that they had to accept it. My parents essentially viewed money owed to my brother as belonging to them, which is a form of domestic theft.
Financial abuse is a subtype of emotional abuse. The intent is to cripple us emotionally. Dependence is the easiest way for abusers to get us to do what they want, and limiting our access to material things or the ability to get material things for ourselves is an effective way to do that.