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Are You Experiencing Economic or Financial Abuse?

Gaslighters and narcissists may use money as a way to gain power and control.

Key points

  • The more an abuser can limit their partner's options — such as job access or a support network — the more control they have.
  • Tactics of economic abuse include prohibiting a partner from working, or forcing them to work for the family business with no pay.
  • Economic abuse is on par with emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. 
Negative Space/StockSnap
Economic abuse is just as serious as other forms of abuse.
Source: Negative Space/StockSnap

If you are in a relationship with a gaslighter or narcissist, in addition to emotional abuse and physical abuse, you may be experiencing economic abuse. Economic abuse, also known as financial abuse, is a way that gaslighters or narcissists gain power and control over their partners (Sarkis, 2018).

Economic abuse is viewed as a "hidden" form of abuse, because many people that are victims of it may not realize it is a form of abuse. The nature of economic abuse is for the gaslighter or narcissist to limit your options for leaving, so this type of abuse tends to be underreported. In addition, gaslighters or narcissists make sure they lie to you by telling you that you are the real issue, not them. Let me be clear: You are in an abusive relationship. Your partner is 100 percent responsible for his or her behavior.

Signs of Economic Abuse

You may be experiencing economic abuse if your partner does any of the following:

  • Prohibits you from working
  • Forces you to turn over your paycheck to them
  • Forces you to take an "allowance"
  • Refuses to share financial information with you
  • Takes credit cards out or opens accounts in your name
  • Forces you to add his or her name on to your accounts or property
  • Sells or gives away your expensive or sentimental items without your knowledge, or as a way to get "even" after an argument
  • Hides your valuable or sentimental possessions
  • Forces you to work for the family business for no pay
  • Forces you to justify any expenses
  • Withholds money from you or your children for your needs
  • Prohibits you from spending your own money
  • Accesses your online accounts without your permission
  • Forces you into prostitution
  • Threatens your employer
  • Forces you to sell your car
  • Takes away any of your cash
  • Tells you that he or she has a right to look through your phone, "because I bought it"
  • Forces you to steal money
  • Spends your money without your permission
  • Sabotages your job by hiding your keys, deleting files on your laptop, or causing a car malfunction
  • Controls all household expenses
  • Demands that he or she purchases your clothes
  • Uses funds from your children's savings accounts without consulting with you
  • Ruins your credit
  • Does not include you in financial decision-making
  • Destroys or hides your important financial papers
  • Spends on expensive items without consulting with you
  • Threatens to harm you, your family, or your pets if you do not comply with any of his or her demands

Why Do Abusers Use These Tactics?

If you lack access to finances or a job, a gaslighter or narcissist knows you will be less likely to leave. Having money and a job allows you to exercise more control over your life circumstances. The more a gaslighter or narcissist limits your options, the more you rely on him or her. The more the gaslighter or narcissist tells you that you are "crazy," or that you "deserve" to be treated this way, the more isolated you become. The gaslighter or narcissist knows you are less likely to seek outside help from friends, family, or an attorney when you have limited means or resources.

What Can You Do?

If you find you are in a relationship where you are subject to economic abuse, realize that it is just as abusive as emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. With all these forms of abuse, the ultimate goal is power and control. Be aware that relationships with abuse tend to only get worse. Rarely do they improve. By being in a relationship with economic abuse (or any type of abuse), your life, your children's lives, and your pets' lives are at risk. While your partner may promise that things will get better after a big blowup, pay attention to his or her behavior. You will usually find that the words ring hollow. There is no action behind those words—for example, no attempt from your partner to seek counseling, even when you have said that is a condition of you staying in the relationship. There will be another big blowup. That is the continuing cycle of an abusive relationship. And the cycle gets worse each time.

Seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at or 1-800-799-7233. Also, contact your local domestic violence shelter. Your life (and the lives of your children and pets) are at stake. Many attorneys offer pro bono (free of charge) services to victims and survivors of domestic violence. You can find your area on The National Domestic Violence Directory. Be aware that options such as opening your own account and putting money away for your exit, if discovered by the gaslighter or narcissist, can trigger his or her abusive behavior. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when you are planning to leave or have left. The resources listed above can help you find the safest way to build up your resources and exit an abusive relationship.

For more information on economic/financial abuse and how to break free, see this episode of my podcast Talking Brains below.

Copyright 2019 Sarkis Media


Sarkis, S. (2018). Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People and Break Free. New York: Da Capo.

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