By Sherry Lutz
Statistically, if a woman is being abused, whether physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually, there is as a high probability that she is also enduring financial abuse. Abuse, after all, is about control and manipulation. What better way to control and manipulate someone than to control their financial resources?
What I keep pondering is “how do all these strong, amazing, beautiful women end up living these lives of terror and financial control?”
I keep coming back to self-esteem and self-confidence. If we lose either or both of those it’s hard to stay in our power and fight back, leave, or disentangle ourselves from an abusive partner.
Let’s start with the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Per a recent article in Psychology Today by Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.
“Confidence comes from the Latin word fidere which means to trust; in other words, self-confidence means we trust our knowledge, skills, and abilities. Esteem comes from the Latin word aestimare, which means to appraise, value, rate, weigh, or estimate; in other words, self-esteem is how we appraise or value our self-worth.” (1)
The easiest way to think about the difference is that self-confidence is what you project to the outside world. You appear well put together, know what you’re doing and are in charge of your own life.
Self-esteem on the other hand is how you feel inside. What you say to yourself and what you believe about yourself.
You can have one without the other and they can waver back and forth. Both are important and building one can build the other. What you present to the outside world may be very different from what you’re feeling inside. Especially if you’re living in an abusive household and being controlled or are afraid for your safety and well-being.
Abusers undermine your self-esteem and your self-confidence.
You may start a relationship feeling strong and confident. Knowing you are a badass who owns her worth. However, abusers tear you down and make you question your own value. Sometimes it’s more aggressive and starts out fierce, taking you down fast. Other times it’s a slow drip and you don’t even realize it’s happened until you’re nothing but a shell of your former self.
With financial abuse, it can be as direct as a husband taking total control over the joint finances from the get-go. Making all the decisions, shutting the wife down when she tries to voice an opinion or question what he’s doing, insisting she no longer works, or any number of overt tactics.
Or it could be much more subtle. Starting with him encouraging her to stay home with the kids and promising to take good care of the family only to slowly start reducing the funds she’s allowed to use for the household, taking away her credit cards, refusing to spend money on her and the kids while making extravagant purchases himself.
Whether it’s a fast, deep, cut or a slow turning up of the flame, doesn’t matter. Either way, the woman being abused ends up questioning herself over and over. Not knowing who she is anymore, not able to stand up for herself, not understanding what’s going on or how to fix things. She loses both her self-esteem and her self-confidence.
Having someone cut you down makes you question yourself.
If your partner is telling you that you’re stupid and therefore can’t understand money so he must handle everything, it gets to you. You start to wonder if he’s right. He’ll point out your mistakes and make you wonder whether you aren’t better off letting him take control.
Once you start questioning yourself, or give up control, then you may well lose your self-confidence in handling that particular task. Once you lose your self-confidence, your self-esteem may quickly follow as you start to questions if you have any value at all. If you can’t handle this area of your life, perhaps you aren’t worthwhile. Maybe you start to feel like a bad person and start beating up on yourself, further undermining your self-esteem.
It can also happen in the reverse. If you’re being told all the time that you’re stupid and worthless, then you will start feeling that way inside. Once you turn on yourself, that voice inside your head will question everything you do and soon you won’t believe you can manage the finances even if you always have done so successfully in the past.
Either way, you spiral downward.
Berating yourself for your lack of skill, devaluing yourself inside.
Your self-confidence plummets, your self-esteem nosedives. And you no longer question the abuse because you start to think you deserve it. Or you don’t realize that it is abuse and don’t fight back.
The challenge is to turn everything around and build yourself back up.
If you can see that you have been undermined and your self-worth damaged, then you can understand that you are not broken, flawed, or incapable. It’s a tough challenge, believe me, it doesn’t happen overnight. Finding a thread to pull to start to turn around the damage that has been done is the key. Looking for small wins. Taking small steps. Beginning to crawl your way out of that dark, lonely, scary place isn’t easy and it isn’t quick but it’s the only way out.
Learning to hold your head up, even if it’s a bit of “faking it till you make it” will start to change your belief in yourself.
If you can build either your self-esteem or your self-confidence, then you can start to find the strength to change your situation.
Sometimes, finding your self-confidence; learning to manage the household budget, getting a job or starting a business, stepping up on handling more of the financial oversight can help you begin to believe in yourself. Once you begin to believe in yourself, then your self-esteem starts to rise. When you shut down that inner critic and begin to love yourself again, then you can find small ways to build your self-confidence.
Building one helps build the other and if you can continue to strengthen both you can change your life.
It’s not easy, and I do recommend not trying to do it alone, but it is critical to you changing your life. No one is going to do this for you, it’s personal. It’s inside you therefore you must be the one to stand up and fight for yourself. Taking small steps, reaching out for professional help, and holding your head up will change your life for the better. You will find your swagger and realize that you have always been a strong, amazing, beautiful woman.