Psychological and Economic Abuse: The elephant in the room

When I read articles discussing society’s increasing awareness of psychological and economic abuse in domestic situations, I seriously want to gag.

My instinct to gag does not stem from disbelief that psychological and economic abuse exist and are harmful to the victim, it comes from knowing exactly how far society is from being aware of these forms of abuse. It stems from knowledge I gained by living through it; the understanding that this issue is a big elephant in the room for people to philosophize and ponder about while they are in the room with it, only to forget about it once they leave the room.

As someone who was physically and psychologically abused as a child, sexually assaulted in one intimate relationship, and then recently psychologically and economically abused in my former marriage; I know the system is stacked against those of us who want to leave physically abusive relationships and live our lives in relative peace. Now I know the system is even more stacked against those of us who want to leave a psychologically and economically abusive situation unscathed.

I own my mistake, I married an abusive man; however, I should not have to pay for that mistake emotionally, physically, mentally, and financially for the rest of my life. Research indicates that the physical and emotional ramifications could last a lifetime; however, the good news is that the financial impact it has on me will take about five years, or less, to be resolved.

Psychological Abuse Defined

Before we go into the consequences of the psychological abuse I endured, let’s discuss what psychological abuse is as defined by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

Psychological abuse involves trauma to the victim caused by verbal abuse, acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics. Perpetrators use psychological abuse to control, terrorize, and denigrate their victims. It frequently occurs prior to or concurrently with physical or sexual abuse.

Now that we have a nice, objective definition of psychological abuse, let me give you my definition:

Psychological abuse is mind-fuc#ing a person using name calling, threats of physical violence, guilt, humiliation, telling the victim that s/he is the abuser, isolation, questioning the victim’s reasoning, withholding necessities like clothing or medicine, using the victim’s PTSD or other pre-existing conditions as a means to manipulate the victim, becoming charming towards the victim when aggressive behavior doesn’t work, and denying the victim access to transportation.

There’s a lot more that could go into that definition, but my definition really highlights my recent experience.

What really sucks about psychological abuse is that it is hard to prove. More often than not, the abuser gaslighted (or gaslit, I’m not too sure which wording is correct) the victim into believing that the victim was a willing participant in the actions that led to the situation; such as isolation from family, no access to transportation, or the victim being fired or leaving her/his job. As a result, the victim is going around and exonerating the abuser so, when the shit really hits the fan, the victim has absolutely no credibility because everyone believes s/he was a willing participant.

Economic Abuse

In my experience, psychological and economic abuse are linked. An important point to remember about abuse is that it is all about controlling the victim by any means necessary. This means that you will generally find other forms of abuse present in an abusive relationship. For instance, it’s common to find psychological and economic abuse in physically abusive situations.

The the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines economic abuse as:

When an abuser takes control of or limits access to shared or individual assets or limits the current or future earning potential of the victim as a strategy of power and control, that is economic abuse. In economic abuse the abuser separates the victim from their own resources, rights and choices, isolating the victim financially and creating a forced dependency for the victim and other family members.

My definition of economic abuse is similar to the one above:

Economic abuse is a situation in which the abuser finds ways to keep the victim from earning an income so that the victim becomes dependent on the abuser for basic necessities. This includes: forcing the victim to find jobs in which s/he makes less than the abuser, preventing the victim from finding work, draining the victim’s accounts/assets, maxing the victim’s credit card(s), and using quid pro quo to force the victim to perform actions in order to acquire basic necessities.

In my experience, economic abuse has one purpose: to put the victim in a situation where s/he feels there is no way out of the abusive situation.

As with psychological abuse, economic abuse can be difficult to prove. The abuser manipulates the victim into believing that s/he is dependent on the abuser, or that draining/maxing out accounts or assets was the victim’s idea.

The victim may also drain or max out her/his accounts to pay bills for housing, utilities, doctor’s visits, or medication because the abuser has spent the money on items for himself/herself. The abuser’s behavior is often dismissed by outsiders as impulsive, immature, or selfish. These consistent patterns of behavior are usually not noted by outsiders, which hurts the victim’s credibility when s/he openly discusses it.

While my current situation is unfortunate, it is not as horrific as it could have been. I maintained contact with one friend who saw the situation unfolding and who refused to allow me to isolate myself from him. When I started realizing that the more effective I became at communicating, the more irrational my ex became, I wondered when my ex’s behavior would escalate to physical violence. Even though I didn’t want to believe it, I knew that the odds weren’t in my favor. My friend and I formulated an exit strategy and, when the opportunity presented itself, he helped me to implement it.

When all is said and done, I don’t really consider myself lucky. I noticed the escalation in aggression, I planned a way out, and got out before the abuse became physical. It was a rational and decently well-thought out plan, something that I am very proud of achieving.

However, don’t think that for one minute that because I got out without any physical scars that I don’t carry scars from that relationship. I do, and only time will tell exactly how deep those scars go.