About OwnYourWorth

Advocate for victims of domestic financial abuse. The only way to end domestic violence is to have the courage to break the silence and take a stand. Together we can make a difference!

Feeling Guilty Everyday

Today is my son’s 15th birthday.  Although it should be a day filled with celebration, it is also a reminder that he will soon start college without his savings fund.  I live with the guilt everyday that I allowed SJC into our lives and turn it upside down with his empty promises and false hopes. My son did not and does not deserve to be collateral damage but that is exactly what is happening.  The financial abuse I experienced in the relationship was a part of the short term effect with the ultimate impact affecting my son who will not have money for college since SJC is refusing to pay back the loan.

Through my journey, I felt very isolated and on some level, blamed myself for the abuse.  I now know that I am not alone in feeling this shame.  Victims of abuse struggle with feelings of worthlessness, embarrassment and guilt.  If this sounds familiar, please know that you are not at fault and remind yourself, that abuse should never be tolerated.

At present, I am still a work in progress.  I am trying to move past this chapter and “forgive” myself.  What helped me was that I finally decided to make that courageous and scary first step in the right direction to break away from the abuse.  If I can do it, so can you.

The Need for Control and Power

Although I am no longer in a relationship with SJC, I realize that on many levels, he is still trying to control me.  It is this need for control and power that drives abusers like SJC to continue to abuse.  Not only can financial abuse be present throughout and towards the end of a relationship but shockingly, it also can exist when a victim has already left the relationship. I didn’t realize this was still happening to me until I started to move pass my own personal feelings of embarrassment and shame.

As I started to openly discuss my experience with others, I was reminded that through his subsequent actions, SJC was allowing his own behavior to speak volumes about his character. As a master manipulator, he was still trying to control me using financial means as his weapon of choice. Case(s) in point:

  1. In my civil matter against him alleging fraud, SJC refuses to acknowledge the money was a loan and instead claims it was an investment into his failed bottled water venture. To date, SJC hasn’t made any payments towards this loan.
  2. Later, SJC files for bankruptcy adding both me and my son as creditors. Curiously, he also adds his girlfriend, mom, uncle and grandparents as creditors as well to distract from his true motivation to write off the debt he owes to us.
  3. SJC alleges he has no money in his bankruptcy filing but yet in every court case against him, he has legal representation.
  4. When we were dating and prior to that, SJC made well over $100,000 but now asserts in family court to making a fraction of that to reduce his child support obligations. He goes from claiming he is self-employed and not making any money to saying he was unable to get employment as a result of the email I sent. However, what he failed to advise the Court was that he was arrested for DUI and had his license suspended for a year which I am sure affected his mode of transportation for work.
  5. In previous positions, SJC has held high paying jobs. Now he is claiming to work in a mid-level position for a company owned by a friend.

It seems that at every turn, SJC is choosing to throw up pretentious road blocks to mask the real truth but karma will catch up with him. Since I am a strong believer in everything happens for a reason, I am trying to make sense out of my journey. If through sharing my story, I am able to help others or even just one person realize that they are in an abusive relationship and want help in getting out, then I will feel something good has come out of my experience. I am still a work in progress and working my way back to finding myself.

What is Financial Abuse?

In coming forward with my own personal experience with financial abuse, I am grateful for a new campaign called Purple Purse which is helping to raise awareness for this type of domestic violence.  As I was doing research on this, I realized there is little information out there to help victims despite the staggering statistic that financial abuse happens in 98% of all cases of domestic violence* .

So what exactly is domestic financial abuse?  It is a tactic used by abusers to gain control and power in a relationship and in doing so, traps their partners into staying in the relationship.  This abuse is usually subtle and not quite as direct as physical abuse but also has devastating short and long term consequences.  The following list was taken directly from the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) which describes how abusers gain financial control over their victims.

  • Forbidding the victim to work
  • Sabotaging work or employment opportunities by stalking or harassing the victim at the workplace or causing the victim to lose her job by physically battering prior to important meetings or interviews
  • Controlling how all of the money is spent
  • Not allowing the victim access to bank accounts
  • Withholding money or giving “an allowance”
  • Not including the victim in investment or banking decisions
  • Forbidding the victim from attending job training or advancement opportunities
  • Forcing the victim to write bad checks or file fraudulent tax returns
  • Running up large amounts of debt on joint accounts
  • Refusing to work or contribute to the family income
  • Withholding funds for the victim or children to obtain basic needs such as food and medicine
  • Hiding assets
  • Stealing the victim’s identity, property or inheritance
  • Forcing the victim to work in a family business without pay
  • Refusing to pay bills and ruining the victims’ credit score
  • Forcing the victim to turn over public benefits or threatening to turn the victim in for “cheating or misusing benefits”
  • Filing false insurance claims
  • Refusing to pay or evading child support or manipulating the divorce process by drawing it out by hiding or not disclosing assets

If you can relate to any of the above situations and want help to break free from an abusive relationship, please take that first brave step and reach out for help by telling someone.  Do not continue to be a silent statistic.  If you do not have anyone you can trust, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 for support.

At present, a majority of people do not realize that financial abuse is a form of domestic violence.  The Allstate Foundation with the help of actress Kerry Washington are hoping to change this with a recent public service announcement video about financial abuse.  I applaud both for their admirable efforts and hope that together we can make a difference in ending domestic violence.

* purplepurse.com/the-inside

 

It Can Happen to You

When we think about domestic violence, we immediately think about physical abuse.  Keep in mind though, there are varying variables and degrees of domestic violence all of which are impactful.  The Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”  The abuse can be overt and obvious.  At the same time, it can be subtle and slowly happen over time.  Domestic violence does not discriminate.  It can happen to anyone, it happened to me and it can happen to you.  The key warning sign to look out for in an abusive relationship is the need for power and control.  Abusers share in common this characteristic trait.

If you told me years before that I would find myself in an abusive relationship, I would have scoffed at you.  I was a smart, strong, independent woman.  I would never allow myself to be with a someone who was abusive to me.  Like many, since the abuse wasn’t blatantly physical in nature, I didn’t realize I was in a abusive relationship.  However I soon realized that financial (economic) abuse is a form of domestic violence!  In my situation, the financial abuse was gradual.  It was not as immediate or direct like a physical assault but it did have devastating consequences which resulted in losing our family home to foreclosure, filing for bankruptcy protection and destroying my credit.  With that said, the abuse not only affected me but also my children.  Although I suffered financially, I am glad I made the decision to get out.

If you are ready to receive help but do not have anyone to call, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-SAFE (7233).  Breaking the cycle and taking a stand starts with just one phone call.

Freedom of Speech

So I bet you are wondering how the First Amendment made its way into my blog about domestic financial abuse.  Well let’s just say, SJC’s need for control extended to my inalienable right to freedom of speech as well since abusers like to exert power over their victims.  Yes that is right, you read that sentence correctly.  SJC wanted to prevent me from exercising free speech.  Where was the ACLU when I needed them?

It all began in March 2013, when I found out that my civil case against SJC for the money he still owed came to a screeching halt after he subsequently filed for bankruptcy listing me (and my son) as creditors!  In careful review of his bankruptcy filing, SJC curiously listed his girlfriend, mother, uncle and both maternal grandparents as creditors as well in an attempt to hide his deliberate motivation to eliminate the debt he owed to us.  In a desperate plea for help, I sent an email to mutual colleagues and friends asking for assistance in getting SJC to do the honorable thing.  Since I felt that the legal system was failing me, I was hoping to appeal to people’s sense of compassion and empathy.

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In response to my email, SJC had the bold audacity to file a domestic violence restraining order against me.  My abuser was now accusing me of domestic violence!  He wanted to prevent me from speaking out and breaking the silence of abuse.  In open court, his attorney feebly argued that my emails have affected SJC’s work and personal reputation and that they want the Court to order me to stop.  Later, when it came time for me to speak (since I could not afford legal representation), I counter argued that it was not my email communications which have impacted SJC’s reputation but that in fact it was a direct result of his own actions and behavior.  Rather than take ownership or accountability for ensuing events, SJC tried to squarely place blame on me.  Needless to say, the Judge rightfully dismissed the domestic violence restraining order against me on the legal basis for freedom of speech.  Although it was a small battle that was won, it made me feel a sense of empowered self worth that I haven’t felt in years.  This time the justice system prevailed and speaking out in defense of my rights proved to be successful!

Remember, domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior that involves power, isolation and control.  Abusers have the “ability to fool themselves and others. They are artists in their ability to find ways to blame other people or events for their inappropriate behavior”.  For more profile information about abusers, please click on this link.  To get out of an abusive relationship, break the cycle by breaking the silence!  Help cannot find its way to you unless you tell someone about the abuse.

The Abuse Continues

If this isn’t a story about my life, I would think the next chapter was intentionally written to add more drama because what happens next definitely seems like a plot twist.

As previously mentioned, SJC continued to harass and stalk me after our break up. I began receiving a barrage of text messages from him which ranged from apologetic and remorseful to hateful and unkind in an instant. One text message SJC sent hit a disgusting new low and was very telling about his true character. When it became apparent to SJC that he was no longer in control, it caused him to unravel even more.

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A few days later after receiving this text message, I found out I was pregnant. That’s right, I was with child! I was so conflicted with what to do next and needed time to think.  When SJC first found out, he welcomed the news but that quickly changed since he was now casting doubt that the baby is his given his unfounded accusations that I was cheating.  In true contradictory fashion, SJC went from not believing the baby was his to then wanting me to have an abortion.  Since it was my body, my choice, SJC did not have any perceived control so he decided to once again violate my right to privacy by telling my friends and family that I was pregnant before I was ready and willing to say anything.  It was especially frustrating since at that time, I was not sure what direction I was going to take.  But after careful consideration and much thought (not to mention receiving divine signs), I decided to keep my baby. After telling SJC of this, he ultimately decided not to be involved and went about his life in Malibu while selfishly ignoring any moral obligation to his unborn child as well as financial commitment in paying back the loan.

Meanwhile, my life took on a different path. Here I was a pregnant single mom with no job. Talk about being a tragic cliché. I never thought I would be alone and pregnant at almost 40!  I was embarrassed and scared at the same time, but I didn’t have time to feel frightened.  I went into auto-pilot and started to look for work which I luckily found. Things were starting to look positive as I was struggling to get my head above water for my family. There were some adjustments to our family life but my son and I pulled through and were there for each other. At first, he wasn’t overly enthused about having a sibling since for 12 years, it was just us. Also given the situation, he was definitely confused but as the weeks and months progressed, he started to accept the impending new addition to our family and became my rock!

Although going through my pregnancy alone was emotionally and financially devastating, I feel that my unborn child gave me added strength to move forward.  When it came time to deliver my baby, I reached out to SJC to give him the opportunity to welcome his daughter into the world.  He chose not to be there.  All in all, although she was not planned, my daughter is truly a blessing!  In looking at her, I see a lot of my former self in her.  She is strong, independent and fearless.  Plus, it doesn’t hurt that everyone tells me she looks EXACTLY like me.  After the abuse, I continue to this day to find myself again.  It helps that both my kids remind me about my inner strength and self worth.

Surviving abuse is difficult and challenging since domestic violence knows no boundaries.  Physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse does not discriminate and can happen to both men and women, young and old, rich and poor regardless of race or color.  It will take strength, support and determination but the important first step is to break the silence and ask for help.  It took me a long time to reach out for help and I would strongly encourage that if you want out of an abusive relationship to start by telling at least one person.

My Story…

My story began in 2008. I was in a relationship with a man who I will refer to as “SJC”. At that time, I was a single mother to an 8 year old boy. SJC came into our lives promising us a storybook life that had all the makings of ending “happily ever after”. Based on my love and trust in him and his promise of a brighter future for us including my son, I foolishly lent SJC money despite knowing the adage that money and friends don’t mix. But to me, he wasn’t just a mere friend.  SJC had me believing that we were family and explained that the loan was going to be used to secure a lucrative business deal that would pave the way for our lifetime together. To add to this convincing promise, SJC suggested that I not work and instead stay home to care for “our son”. Little did I know at that time, in giving up my financial independence, I gave SJC complete control of our lives.

Over the next few months I became increasingly worried about the loan but since SJC was the sole provider for my son and me, I did not press him as assertively as I should have. As you can imagine, tension started mounting in our relationship and every time we would fight, SJC would charismatically apologize and I would fall into the pattern of forgiving him. This set the tone for the subtle abuse which would soon enough become overt abuse.  In knowing he had full financial control over us, SJC took advantage of this power which made it easy for him to escalate to emotional and mental abuse.  Many examples of this included occasions when SJC would force me to listen to his verbal attacks by preventing me from leaving the room since he would use his body to block the doorway. Or times when I went to reach for the phone, SJC would wrestle the phone away so that I could not call for help. After some of our fights, SJC would take away my cell phone as well as cut off my credit card. Once on vacation, SJC abandoned my son and I but not before taking cash out of my wallet then once again canceling my credit card so that I did not have access to money. This repeated pattern of abuse was his way of reminding me that he was in control.

Despite all of this, I continued to love this man since at this point, the abuse clouded my reality and I lost myself in the process. I second guessed myself, my choices and my worth. I hated myself for lending SJC the money and lived with this guilt every day. I hated myself for allowing SJC to have such a strong hold over me and my son that soon I found myself in a hole I was unable to emotionally come back from so I attempted suicide. This isn’t something I particularly want to relive but I feel it’s important to share since during this dark time, I did not seek help. I was too embarrassed to ask for assistance. I did not want to be judged for my mistakes. I kept quiet and allowed the shame and self-loathing to consume me.

In 2011, our relationship deteriorated beyond repair. SJC became increasingly abusive and paranoid. Inexplicably, he constantly was accusing me of cheating on him. One night as I slept, SJC came home and raced upstairs to the master bedroom because he thought he heard voices belonging to me and a mystery stranger. After turning on the lights and checking our bedroom, he then proceeded to inspect every room in the house even going so far as checking my son’s bedroom while he slept. I demanded to know why he was acting so crazy. In typical SJC fashion, he expertly turned the question back on me and said I should ask myself what I did to cause him to behave this way. During this narcissist rant, he ended up admitting to me that he placed digital voice recorders around our home to “catch me cheating”. I was so taken aback by his admission that I wasn’t sure what and how to feel. There was a mix bag of varying emotions from being indignant to frustrated and at times, frightened because he clearly was not mentally or emotionally stable. In the past, SJC has invaded my right to privacy by going into my computer files and personal records without my knowledge and consent but I forgave him since he somehow manipulated me into believing that we should share everything about ourselves in order to be in a true and honest relationship. This time however the voice recorders and going into my son’s room was inexcusable. Just as abusers fall into patterns of repeated behaviors, their victims also are complicit with allowing it to happen over and over again so although I was angry, confused and hurt, I forgave him once more.

However weeks later after giving myself time to fully reconcile his volatility and the constant abuse of power and control I endured during the relationship, I finally found the courage and strength to break things off with SJC.  Additionally, I had enough of the cheating accusations and I wanted to break free.  However, the abuse did not simply end there.

Days later, SJC continued harassing me with constant text messages. What’s worse was when he sent my son a text message accusing me of stealing from him.  Needless to say, it wasn’t very fun to explain to my young son that SJC was being petty and vengeful by demanding I return all gift items he gave me.

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Since I did not respond to this text, SJC decided to come to my house without warning to personally make his demand for the gift items. To get rid of him since my son was also home at that time, I packed everything he bought me and threw it over the balcony into the front patio so that I would not have to open the front door to let him in. I wish at that time I filed a restraining order against SJC but in the back of my mind, I was afraid if I got him too angry he will continue to withhold the money he still owed. As they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I will never make this same mistake again.