Why Should Anyone Care About Financial Abuse?

With the release of the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series, Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, I have innocently been asked why this an important topic to cover. It’s a good question but one that, honestly, took me by surprise a little bit each time I was asked.

Why wouldn’t any discussions of calling out abuse be significant and why does this specific one need a qualifier of why it’s important?

After I had been asked this question several times and heard my own reply, I realized that the topic of financial exploitation and abuse really does have a long way to go before it is seen as a “legitimate” form of domestic violence and doesn’t require an explanation of why someone would write a book about it. I am beginning to realize why very few books are currently published on the topic of financial abuse within personal relationships. Sure, there are books on elder abuse and ponzi schemes. but I have found very little research or published works on this particular genre. Part of my motivation for writing Exposing Financial Abuse was to fill the gap in published information.

We would never ask authors who write about physical abuse why it is an important topic to cover.  It would actually be an offensive question. Financial abuse should be no different. The lasting impact on the survivor and society as a whole are enormous. How? Let’s take a look and maybe people will no longer have a reason to ask why financial abuse is an important topic to cover, and see it in the same dangerous light as physical harm perpetrated by an abuser.

I live in a world of therapy and recovery where harm done to others is enough reason to educate oneself on the topic. The devastation itself doesn’t have to walk up to our own front door and barge in to make it something that is concerning to me and my colleagues in the field of trauma-informed care. However, the larger world around us needs to know why financial abuse happening to someone else should be of importance to them personally. If we don’t experience it, sometimes we have a hard time caring that others do.

Financial abuse leads to poverty

Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse, raw and unedited survivor stories are the main focus and serve as the foundation of the book. During the research prep stage, I read close to 2000 individual experiences of financial abuse, and then protection and restoration. That’s a lot of data on this topic and I learned so much.

One common theme among the survivors who participated in the research project was the complete financial devastation that took place when an abuser overtly or covertly gained control over the victim’s finances. This often leads to living at or below what would be considered the poverty level. When basic needs become scarce, survivors do what they must to take care of themselves and their children. That often includes needing temporary government assistance, the help of local community food banks, loans from family members, and the use of payday loans that have spiked interest rates. In the Chapter titled Basic Needs, I cover story after story of exactly how financial abuse leads to living at poverty levels; even when the family income does not warrant it.

Financial abuse leads to debt accumulation

Targets of financial exploitation have had their names and personal data used to open accounts where the debt balance was run up and the abuser disappeared when the bill arrived. On the other side of the coin, survivors of economic exploitation sometimes will turn to their credit cards to help fill the gap financially where the abuser left a damaging hole. Personal debt to income ratios not only impact the individual but unpaid debt that must be taken at a loss by the company can have a snowball impact on the economy as a whole.

Financial abuse often includes criminal behaviors

Within Exposing Financial Abuse, a whole chapter is devoted to the illegal and fraudulent activities perpetrated by abusers who use money as a weapon. If financial abuse happening to someone else really isn’t of interest to some people, I certainly hope crimes being committed within our neighborhoods and among friend groups is enough to get the attention of many people.

A society that looks the other way regarding personal financial crimes runs the risk of becoming numb to other crimes. This is a very dangerous path to be headed down.

Financial abuse is rampant within the Family Court system and kids are suffering because of it. 

Right now, today, some parents are hiding their true income and assets so that it will not be included in the calculations for child support payments and they can pay the least amount each month. That is disgraceful and should not be tolerated within our communities. When deadbeat parents refuse to pay their legal, ethical share to the care and support of their children, it leads to the responsible parent having the full financial burden. Often, it is more than one person can manage and debt begins to accumulate and families inch closer to the poverty line. This takes place even when the responsible parent is working full-time. It is very expensive to just maintain adequate food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and medical care. Those are basics needs to raise children. Never mind any added wants or desires.

I have barely tipped the iceberg of why relational financial abuse is an important topic to cover. I hope others with greater specialized education will pick the ball up and run with it. We need a collective approach to addressing this hidden abuse that has devastating consequences for us all; even if our lives have never been directly touched by this form of harm. It does frame how we function as a society.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon

New Book Release!

Exposing Financial Abuse - Shannon Thomas, LCSW

I am very excited to share the second book in the Healing from Hidden Abuse series has been released!

Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon is now available on Amazon (paperback, Kindle, and Audio Book).

Within the pages of Exposing Financial Abuse: When Money is a Weapon, you will be given the opportunity to pull the curtain back and see into the lives of those who have been financially harmed by someone close to them. Being able to take a closer look at this hidden world is a unique gift that cannot be taken lightly or without honor for those who have chosen to allow us to peek into the most personal aspects of their lives.

Test yourself. How would you describe financial abuse? It is quietly happening all around us and is hidden within our neighborhoods and communities. You probably know someone who lives within a financially abusive household and you don’t even know it.

What is financial abuse?

Has your spouse or parent taken out lines of credit in your name without your consent?

Does your ex-spouse suddenly stop paying child support as a means of furthering their abuse and control over your life?

Has your partner moved money from your joint account to a secret individual account without your prior knowledge or consent?

Do your parents use financial gifts as an open door to demand future compliance on your part?

Are you blamed for creating financial stress, but are not the one who overspends?

Did your ex-spouse hide his or her income from being included in the calculations for child and/or spousal support?

Have your religious leaders said that you must give to the church first, even if that means you cannot provide for your household’s basic needs?

Do you carry the full burden of making enough money for your household because your partner refuses to maintain steady employment?

To order: Amazon

Podcast: It Takes A Village

“Daily Mom Pressures, It’s Never Too Late & The Power to Change”

I had a fantastic time laughing with It Takes A Village host, Ashley Carroll, about the challenges of motherhood, finding our way through jealousy and becoming comfortable in who we are as women – Shannon

To the show: http://theashcarroll.com/podcasts/065

Four Levels of Change

People are unique and strangely similar all at the same time. By this, I mean that although no two people are identical, the way that individuals handle certain aspects of life are very similar to other people. There seem to be patterns and clusters of ways people respond to life. I especially see this with personal growth.

Having been working with individuals and families since 2000 and in private practice since 2007, I’ve had the opportunity to observe how people respond to and live through life events. I’ve noticed that people are either givers or takers and that people either get better or bitter from significant stress.

It always fascinates me as to why someone can go through horrendous things yet come out of the experience as a vastly improved version of themselves. They shine from having walked through the desert. On the flip side, someone else goes through what would be perceived as less traumatic and they seem to have gained little to no personal growth from the experience. Why do some people pull themselves up by their boot straps and others lay down on the ground in defeat next to their boots? I think it has to do with the four levels of willingness to change that I’ve noticed in all people.

First Level: “Nothing is wrong with me.”

It’s exceptionally hard to change what we don’t see as an issue. People at this first level might come into counseling for just a few sessions because a loved one externally motivated them to or it was court ordered. These types of folks are a counseling nightmare. They have no true interest in changing much, if anything, about themselves. They might throw out a few things they could see that they need to work on but quickly rationalize away any need for personal growth. The extreme end of this level are the psycho/sociopaths and narcissists. They can’t change because they don’t authentically see anything in themselves to change. In their own minds, they are the personification of perfection. I know, it’s startling to think that people actually roam the earth with this much arrogance. But trust me, they are out there. A few have landed in my office, and heads up, I’m kindly blunt. At least with me, first level folks never stay in counseling long. They might stay slightly longer with a counselor who is willing to do their perfection dance with them, but eventually all counselors need to see actual growth. That’s when these first level folks tap out of counseling.

Second Level: “I know I have some issues, but I won’t actually do anything to fix them. Ever.”

These people are not necessarily narcissists, but rather see and talk about areas of change yet won’t actually do any work to change. You’ll hear them say things like, “I need therapy” and “I want to master my thoughts and actions better” but then also say, “I’m exceptionally lazy.” In their laziness or lack of motivation to improve their lives, second level individuals live the same way today as they did 10 years ago. The seasons change, the calendar changes, but second level folks do not. The saddest part is they know they need to improve their lot in life. They’re keenly aware, and at times painfully aware, that healthy steps are needed, but make no physical advancement towards doing anything about it. My heart goes out to the second level folks the most because it’s a lot like being in a cell with the door open. They just won’t stand up and start to walk out.

Third Level: “I’m going to see change in my life and I’m excited! Until it gets hard.”

Third level people are willing to invest their time and resources into counseling and will see aspects of growth, which can be very exciting. Unfortunately, this level is where some people retreat and return to the second level. No one said change was easy. Third level people often get hung up on fears, inconveniences and social pressures that tell them that change will cost them greatly in some area of life. For instance, I see clients who really want to improve their physical health and lose significant amounts of weight, but as they start walking towards their personal goal, people close to them start sabotaging their growth. The client has a dilemma to face and must decide to keep walking towards health or succumb and slip back into old habits. I also see this with those who want healthier relationships. They might be willing to make radical changes if the people around them don’t treat them better or engage in the relationship. Third level people see glimmers of personal growth but it doesn’t last. Weight may be lost but it’s put back on, and relationships don’t improve so they settle for the present or another version of throwing in the towel on reaching their hopes and dreams.

However, don’t lose hope yet. Some third level people do fluctuate from second to third and back to second but sometimes, they jump up to the fourth level!

Fourth Level: Lasting Change!!!

Now, this the level that as a therapist I see as the most rewarding. It’s where people go from the second level to the third, and then ultimately reach the fourth. If we look back on our own personal growth, we can see that we were probably at all the levels at some point, including the dreaded level one. We’ve all been in denial about ourselves and the need for change (first level), we’ve wanted change but didn’t make the effort to make it happen (second level), we’ve tried a few things to change but didn’t see it happen quick enough or gave up at some point (third level), but then we miraculously started over and eventually made it to the fourth level of seeing real, significant personal growth in ourselves. It’s so exciting when that happens! But believe me, it doesn’t come without a cost. All change requires us to give up things. It’s just a fact. Hopefully what we are gaining with reaching level four will be far more valuable than anything we’ve stuck out in the past.

Take some time and reflect on these four levels of personal growth. Be honest with yourself. Today, where are you? Are you happy with your level? If not, what are you planning to do about it? I truly believe in small, incremental steps toward reaching goals. Some of you know that my life story includes overcoming some major obstacles and I promise you that one step at a time truly does work. Today is a great day to get started towards your own hopes and dreams. I know you can do it if you want it bad enough!

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon

Sunshine and Rain

In each life, there will be sunshine and rain. In Texas, sometimes these two weather events happen at the exact same moment. I have taken my fair share of pictures with sunshine in the near distance and dark thunderstorm clouds overhead. Life is often like Texas weather; we can be experiencing happiness and pain all at the same time.

As we get ready for Thanksgiving, it seemed like a good time to sit down and send a message to you. In each of our lives, there are bound to be areas of sunshine and rain. The rain, or painful situations, can make showing up emotionally and/or physically for Thanksgiving difficult. The sunshine, or reasons to be grateful, will put a pep in our step for the holiday. Often people will have two parallel tracks going in life. No life is all good or all bad. It is a mixture of both in the same picture.

Regardless of where our lives fall on the spectrum of joyful or difficult, we can enjoy Thanksgiving in our own ways. If it involves a quiet day by yourself or a small group of folks, take in the calm that can be present. Pause and enjoy that you are in control of all your own decisions for the day. Learn to see solitude as a gift and a time to enjoy your own companionship or that of a few other people. As the day goes on, collect five (5) things that happened (or didn’t happen) that you can be grateful for.

If Thanksgiving will have you spending it in a large group, I suggest pausing to take in the five (5) senses. What are you seeing, what are hearing, what are you tasting, what are you smelling and what are you touching? In the blur of a busy holiday crowd, tensions can sometimes come up or we find ourselves drawn in different directions that can be overwhelming. Choosing to be purposeful in staying present in the moment can help us enjoy our surroundings more.

As for me, my day will be on the quieter side spent with my small immediate family. It will include food, football and maybe a mimosa or two. Having a day to relax is a treat and even though life is never “perfect” for anyone, there is so much to be celebrated. Thanksgiving is one day when we can choose to focus on the things in our lives that bring us comfort and the warm fuzzies.

Thank you so much for being a part of the blessings in my life. It has been an incredible year and I am thrilled to get to share the journey with you.

Keep Dreaming Big!

Shannon