Most of the women who have written to me about my ex talk about lending money to him and never getting it back. Believing in him and ultimately paying a big price. I certainly did this very thing, and more. My parents did. Ex-clients of his did. And the list goes on.
Author and activist, Shannon Thomas, talks about the little known epidemic of financial abuse that comes with narcissistic abuse in her book, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon. I'm so glad someone is talking about it!
When I was knee-deep in it, I didn't even fully realize it was happening. I thought I was investing in our future. To add insult to injury, not only were we together personally, we teamed up professionally. I was spending money on building his brand. A mistake I will forever regret and one that cost me dearly. Climbing out of financial abuse is pretty much like climbing out of the Grand Canyon without shoes on. It could have been worse for me, I realize. But it also could have been better if I had recognized the signs and listened to my intuition.
Sign #1: "Let me help steer your company. Together, we can conquer the world." I remember where I was sitting when he suggested I name him president of Mod Mom. I was on a plane back home, high on the drug that I now know is trauma bonding. My immediate gut reaction was wait, what?!? I wanted him to help but I was thinking consultant. So what did I do? I made him president. And I listened to his advice about the industry and what we should do to grow the Mod Mom brand. I poured money into marketing, trade shows, and travel. Naively, I believed that if we grew his brand (cleverly disguised as a co-brand—Mod Life— a take on the Mod Mom name), we could then build up Mod Mom. Typing this makes me cringe—I was so far in I didn't see it for what it was. BUT my gut knew immediately it was a bad idea and I felt it physically.
Sign #2: "You're not doing enough for Mod Life." -- says man who napped during the day and blamed everyone else for his money issues. At one point in the journey, I'd all but abandoned Mod Mom to continue to try to grow Mod Life. Hell, even my Dad jumped in to help at a trade show with promises from my ex of a great part-time gig helping sell Mod Life. Pretty early on, I was being groomed to give and give, and gaslighted to believe I wasn't giving enough. The scoldings that included lines like, "You're just not focused on Mod Life and our life" fell out of his mouth like he was reciting lines from a play. Knowing what I know now, he likely used a similar line on his exes. I remember working a full time job and coming home to do more work—press releases, marketing, graphic design, etc—and nothing was ever good enough. One time, I got up early before my job at the university to do some social media for Mod Life and I got scolded for sharing a post without asking him first. He was the head of Mod Life, ya know. When he needed my help or money, we were a team. When he had all of that, Mod Life was his and I wasn't to mess with his plan. There were many rules like not replying to emails within a 24 hour time span. And when I did, I would get told I was wrong. This might not seem like it relates to financial abuse, but the more I believed I really wasn't doing enough or wasn't doing it "right," the more guilty I felt and the more I volunteered to pony up the piggy bank. I knew that giving financially (even when I couldn't afford it) was "proof" I was truly helping.
There was a brief moment where I considered moving half-time to North Carolina, where the Mod Life furniture manufacturer was located at the time. Now that I know tactic number one with narcissistic abuse is isolation and control, I look back and think how lucky I am that I actually followed my intuition on that one. And he did his damndest to make me feel guilty for not committing to us like he was by moving to NC. (He never did, by the way.) Even in the state of mind I was in, which was always trying to figure which way was up, I knew that living part-time in another state away from my children meant that if his wife (separated) and kids in Pennsylvania needed money that month, that's where the money would always go. Getting myself back to Flagstaff to be with my kids would fall to the bottom of the priority list and there was a very good chance I'd be trapped. I thank God every day I didn't go down that path, and instead got a job in Flagstaff. He would make me feel as if I wasn't giving as much as he was when I would say that I wasn't going to live in NC full-time but I'd travel back and forth. At one point, I felt like I was just steps away from losing everything including my soul. Listening to my heart and my gut was what saved me from an endless cycle of abuse in NC.
Sign #3 "I'll pay you back." Um, yeah. That never happened. Whether it was me paying for his parking ticket, plane tickets because of last minute change of plan for him, or sending money to help his wife and kids, it was never paid back.
Recovering from financial abuse goes hand in hand, most times, with recovering from the emotional and verbal abuse. They seem to be like peanut butter and jelly, only they both taste horrible and leave you feeling exhausted, drained, and hopeless, at times.
I've vowed to take care of debts that aren't mine, but that are there because someone I care for trusted me. And therefore, trusted him. I've worked a lot of jobs over the past few years. Full-time, freelance, contract work—you name it, I do it.
I thank God every day I have a partner like Scott who is as far from abusive on any level as they come. He's paid debts that were caused by my ex as I cried into his shoulder all the while saying, "Kiers, we've got this...it will be OK."
Not everyone has a Scott. Not everyone has the opportunities or strength to work many jobs that can help dig out of the hole left by falling into an abusive relationship. I've always been a doer, working many jobs through college and then multiple jobs when we needed it. (I credit my parents for instilling that work ethic in me.) I've said many times that I feel lucky having endured what I did that I didn't spend time in a abuse treatment center. I know many who recover from this kind of abuse spiral further or decide to check out all together. Finding yourself again while fighting financial battles is not an easy road but it's doable!
If you are in a relationship where you're constantly feeling you have to prop your partner up financially (and they are gaslighting you all the while), find a way to walk away. The most important thing I learned is that the gut punch feeling is real. The one I felt right before I went and made him president of my company was my big, fat, flashing red sign.
There are always signs, some you just can't see in the moment.
But most of the time, you can FEEL them.
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