We've learned that domestic violence victims typically stay in abusive relationships for two reasons: fear and finances. And before most suffer physical abuse, they'll find themselves suffering from financial abuse without even realizing it.
In a romantic relationship, financial abuse might look like the abuser telling you what you can or cannot buy. It might look like forcing you to share a joint bank account, but then limiting your access to the account or even taking out loans or lines of credit using your name and social security number without you knowing.
At the hands of your mate, someone you love and trust, it's sickening. It's despicable. But it's also not the only way women and men are abused financially.
Like romantic relationships, financial abuse can creep into the picture very subtlety with close friends and family members. It can happen when they lead you to believe that without your constant and consistent help and support, they'll suffer some unimaginable fate. Or, it can happen when you won't allow the other party to be an adult and support themselves.
Answer "yes" or "no" to the following questions, to see if you may be a part of a financially abusive relationship.
1. Ever feel manipulated by this person to lend money but ignore your feelings?
2. Constantly find yourself having to bail out grown and able-bodied adults? (If you're a parent and your "baby" is above college age, yes, they count as an adult.)
3. Financially support anyone whose neediness is purely derived out of their own laziness?
4. Find yourself afraid for this person, or convinced that he/she can't handle basic life situations without falling apart?
5. Excuse this person's behavior as being a result of the economy, stress, misunderstanding, or difficulty coping, even when the behavior hurts or inconveniences you?
6. Feel protective of this person, even though he/she is an adult and is capable of taking care of his/her life?
7. Wish others in this person's life would change their behavior or attitudes to make things easier for this person?
8. Make yourself available to this person at the expense of your own financial obligations, energy, or time?
9. Hear from others that you're too close to this person or the situation?
10. Tell the few people who actually offer to pay you back not to worry about it?
You may have gently referred to this behavior as "helping out" or being a "good person," but in reality, if you thought "yes," committed a shy nod, bit your lower lip, or rested your chin in the palm of your hand and leaned forward, then more than likely you, my friend, are in a financially abusive relationship in one form or another.
It's one thing to assist someone who finds himself or herself in a bind from time to time, but it's another to add their needs to your monthly expenses. Not only is this form of "helping them" actually hurting them, it can be hurting you, as well.
Is assisting family members and friends the "noble" thing to do? It might be if it weren't for the fact that this kind of nobility can often create an inability in those being "helped" to figure real life and adulthood out on their own. Financially speaking, "it" can be a number of things from how to earn their own income and manage their own money wisely to how to distinguish between their wants and needs.
Here's how you can stop financially abusing yourself and those you claim to love.
1. STOP ENABLING AND START EMPOWERING. There's an old, yet relevant Chinese proverb which says, "Give a man a fish, and you'll feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you'll feed him for a lifetime." Don't take away a person's ability to hustle. The fact of the matter is that you won't always be around to go fishing for them. If you keep enabling them, they'll starve once they have to go it on their own. Do you really want to leave someone you care about without basic money survival skills? Remember, real need inspires real motivation. People will not learn to be responsible as long as they know they'll always have you as a backup plan.
2. INSTEAD OF REACHING IN YOUR WALLET, REFER THOSE IN NEED TO COMMUNITY RESOURCES AND SERVICES. Your constant helping tells them, "I support your self-destructive and negative behavior so much I'm going to give you more money, so you can keep it going." Actions speak louder than words. You can give the inspirational "get your life together" speeches all day, you can get angry and swear before the Almighty that this is the last time you'll help, until the cows come home, but what you do is always speaking so much more loudly than what you say.
3. TAKE YOU OUT OF THEIR PROBLEMS. This is not about you being an awesome person. This is not about you doing your good deed so you can make it through those biblical pearly gates. In fact, this isn't about you at all. This is about each person figuring out life on their own. If nothing else, remember that the money you continue to dole out to irresponsible friends and family members could be used to get yourself out of debt, buy your first home, or save for your retirement. There's nothing selfish about considering yourself every once in a while. After all, the folks you're enabling definitely don't care about you or your future, and believe me, when your money runs out and you have nothing else to give, they'll just move on to the next overly generous enabler.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.