My mother was abusive, and I replaced her in marriage. She followed me across the country and made good friends with my ex-husband, who drinks a lot and goes Jekyll and Hyde. I made the mistake of moving on too quickly as I tried to escape the abuse when I was pregnant again and fell right into the arms of another abuser. As I tied to extricate myself again, I went no contact with my ex and mom, not knowing that the new man was stirring the pot to hide his addiction to drugs. For years I tried to escape, and they ganged up on me because I cried abuse/help, stop hurting me. The addict didn’t want to work or be homeless, and he defended his status with me viciously, all while messing things in the house, stealing, and withholding affection. The addict hit me. I was bruised badly, so I called the police, and he and scratched his arm slightly and convinced the police to arrest me, saying my daughter said she witnessed it.
I didn’t see my oldest daughter for a year, not knowing why she had lied about it. Later I found conflicting records he had given, proof he had lied. My ex-husband told everyone I knew and didn’t know embellished versions of the gaslight, and the stories got more intense as he drank. It was horrible because I was forced to take care of an addict who couldn’t parent and wouldn’t leave. Addict was out of control, and I demanded he goes and he brought kids to the mom who put a restraining order on me for coming over to get my kids because I had called the police to collect them, and she grabbed the phone and said I was trying to kill her. I didn’t see kids for a couple months, but I had time to collect evidence. I found medical records that showed the addict had sent suicide messages from my phone After Mom kept it. She never apologized to me; I just wanted to tell sensational stories to the family because she had always told them I was crazy and made up stories about people hitting me since I was 3. It took a couple years more for me to gather enough evidence and uncover his drug stashes before I could get him out, but my relationships with my friends and family were all but destroyed. I even defended myself on my own in court against a lawyer and came out not owing to a dime and getting half time, but the damage has been done. There were times I was so alone because they isolated me from hundreds of contacts to keep me quiet about their abuses.
I used to hang with my family a lot, and she got jealous they stayed with me instead of her and devised a plan to make herself the center of attention again by cutting me out of the picture. That was my punishment, to shut me up. So now I don’t drink, date, do recreational anything, and quietly collect evidence every time I communicate. I carry bags of evidence around me in case I get gaslighted again. I record everything I can. The scariest times now are when my ex is drunk and abusive, and I try to protect my child because he lashes out and accuses me of what he does. He smokes pot with a kid and tells my mom I do that, and she says I am projecting my lousy behavior on him and really doing the things I accuse others over.
I have even taken voluntary random drug tests multiple times to prove I do nothing, but the results don’t change their twisted stories. My mom even called my doctors and told them I was a psychopath, which seeds doubt in their minds. Had to leave two doctors. Mom/ex use Facebook like a weapon to hurt me. I went no contact with all my family except for my children.
Some nights, like right now, I feel I can barely go on, but I know I’m so fortunate to have survived, and I now live on my own. A domestic violence survivor who had been gaslighted horribly and put through the court system coached me every step of the way and saved my life by challenging me to take responsibility for my life and stop giving my information away, stop explaining, to stop reacting to abuse, and to protect myself and my children without involving toxic people who could hurt me. If your parents/spouse abused you, be cautious of choosing because sometimes people can gravitate to what they know. If you haven’t healed, you can be attractive bait to a narcissist. I’ve been battered, beaten, and blamed for trying to do the right thing, and I feel like it nearly killed me, but now I’m stronger and a better person. Although I often feel deep pain, it is starting to subside, and the little things in life, like holding my child’s hand, give me great joy, and I no longer have to live day by day under abuse feeling life my brain is scrambled.
by Rick Dougherty
When I started volunteering for Break The Silence Against Domestic Violence, one of the ideas I pitched was delving heavily into ways that survivors face tangible economic struggles beyond those normally mentioned in such conversations. That piece is coming, but I often see anecdotal examples of this in my own life.
When Values Hit Your Pocket Book
My main source of employment comes in the world of sales. This job was drastically hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has only been in recent months that many of my colleagues and I have been able to start working our ways out of the hole of the last year-and-a-half. Anything that might help bring in more sales and more potential clients is welcome at this time.
With that in mind, my boss managed to pull off something really big. He put together a virtual event to which all of us could invite clients, potential clients, and friends. This was going to be the biggest push yet towards helping us all snap out of the slump.
As a survivor of abuse, sales have been a little bit of a struggle for me. While I am very personable and knowledgeable about what I am selling, rejection is not easy for many survivors. Rejection is, however, a constant in the world of sales. Still, I have powered through that discomfort to try and succeed in this job that I absolutely love.
This event was going to be perfect. We weren’t going to pressure anybody to buy anything. We were just going to have a fun night that was going to make potential clients feel like friends. It was just going to remind them that we are here. It should have been a great opportunity for someone who doesn’t ever want to be pushy. I couldn’t wait to start inviting my friends, family, and potential clients.
Finally, my boss announced everything that was going to be happening at this virtual event. There it was…the major focus of the event. He had secured a musician who is very popular in our industry to serve as the headliner of this virtual event. This was someone extremely popular in our small community. Our clients would know him, and many of them are probably fans of his work.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been a boon. I have friends who have literally posted on Facebook about their fandom for this performer. This event had the potential to supply me with goodwill from friends; contacts from potential clients who, by sheer knowledge of this performer, are the exact type of people who would spend a lot of money with us; and would have made a good impression on my boss. The fact that he went to all of this trouble to get this performer was a big deal for him.
The only problem was that this performer also had multiple, credible accusations of sexual harassment leveled against him.
If You Don’t Stand for Something, You’ll Fall for Anything
At that point, I had to make an important decision that I believe all survivors deal with in one way or another. I had to decide whether I would move forward with being a part of an event that would undoubtedly have helped my career, but would also have tested my morals.
Our ideals are always solid when they are just theories. When we are tempted, especially with potential financial gain, it really tests those values. As survivors, we always seem to face the path of most resistance. Most of us had to experience that resistance on a daily basis for years. Nothing was ever easy. Simple household chores could lead to explosive outbursts of anger, violence, and shame. I think a lot of my fellow survivors would have given me a pass for just taking the path of least resistance this one time…especially for a little personal gain.
There were a lot of things to consider. Not only would turning down this opportunity potentially cost me sales that I desperately needed, but I would have to handle any withdrawal very carefully to not anger my boss. Let’s be honest, survivors are always worried about being the ones who are “no fun.” People tend not to think that they support abuse, and when you suggest that they may be supporting it in a particular instance, they aren’t likely to appreciate it.
Speaking out would also have the potential to serve as a big trigger in my own personal healing. I have never met a survivor who hasn’t heard someone give their abuser the benefit of the doubt. We have all had our stories questioned by those who don’t want to deal with the gravity of these situations. The thought that my boss (although I have no reason to believe he would do this) would try to defend this man, or minimize the trauma of his victims, was not something I was prepared to put myself through in this circumstance.
In all actuality, there was never any question. I was going to do the right thing. It didn’t seem like a place where I should alienate my coworkers and boss by making a scene about it. They have all shown support for me as a survivor. These are potential allies in other situations. I decided that I would find an excuse that would make it seem like I just wasn’t able to be there for the virtual event. This allowed me to keep my personal dignity, without putting myself through the awkward situation of distancing myself over my values.
I am not sure if I did the right thing, sometimes. It makes me wonder if I could have made more people aware of these credible allegations. Maybe if everybody knew the details that his victims discussed, they would support me in having him removed from the event. In the end, I did what I thought was the best for my mental health, while also holding the line that I would not make any money off of a predator.
These are the small financial hits that do not show up in research papers on the effects Domestic Violence plays on finances. Many of my coworkers who did not make the same moral decision I made were able to make a lot of money off of that virtual event. They benefited financially from someone they were most likely aware was a sexual predator. In the long run, we have to live with ourselves. Had I racked up the sales after attending that event, I never would have been able to forgive myself. I couldn’t take the blood money.
This was just an anecdote. There was no research. That research will show up in my future work on the financial impact of Domestic Violence. With this story, I hoped to remind you of similar situations in your own lives. Maybe you had to make a similar decision, and nobody gave you that proverbial pat-on-the-back. It would be great if you could see, through this piece, that many of us have made similar sacrifices, and we appreciate you. If you faced a similar situation and decided not to rock the boat, I hope you read this and can understand how close I came to making that same choice. There is nothing wrong with doing that.
As survivors, we often hold ourselves to higher moral standards. It is inevitable that we will do that. Still, it should not be expected of us. We are allowed to make mistakes, and we shouldn’t be forced to hold ourselves to a higher standard of integrity.
Even after we have healed, we must see all of the ways that our past abuse can hinder our future growth. The very act of healing can hinder you, as a matter of fact. The only thing we can do is reach out to other survivors when needed and do our best.
Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely challenging. More and more online and nationwide in-person programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse. However, as the adage goes, knowledge is power! Let’s talk about money and begin your financial education journey today.
What does financial abuse look like?
Financial abuse is a red flag that can escalate to other types of violence, such as physical abuse, between partners.
The abuser will attempt to and perhaps succeed in controlling and/or stealing their partner’s finances and information. They can also stalk them at their workplace or prevent them from having a job. Victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable after leaving their abuser. Escaping is a financial burden in and of itself; it may mean single parenthood or difficulties finding a stable home and job. Victims may lack the financial knowledge to (re)gain control over their economic situation.
According to Judy Postmus, director of the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at Rutgers University’s School of Social Work, when explaining why it can be challenging to leave abusers, survivors complain about their lack of access to financial resources and knowledge of money management. Undoubtedly, survivors of domestic violence have unique financial needs. For example, they may require information on how to separate joint accounts, improve credit scores that their abuser damaged, budget as a single parent, and draft financial safety plans.
Financial empowerment refers to, among other aspects, employment, budgeting, housing, debt, and assets, but here, when talking about financial empowerment, we’ll focus on three things – knowledge, personal savings, and separate credit – as well as how victims and survivors can use these to their benefit.
Talk About Money Knowledge
The first step for both victims trying to escape their abuser and survivors of domestic violence is to build strong financial and money management knowledge and confidence. Knowledge is power! Fortunately, there is a growing list of financial literacy resources available online tailored to victims and survivors. Here are some you may find helpful:
- National Coalition against domestic violence: https://ncadv.org/financial-education
- National Endowment for Financial Education: www.nefe.org (Click on Multimedia Access and then on the financial education clearinghouse at the top of the page.)
- Allstate Foundation: https://allstatefoundation.org/what-we-do/end-domestic-violence/
- Women’s Institute for Financial Education: www.wife.org.
- The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO): www.microenterpriseworks.org.
- Your Money Matters: Tax Information for Survivors of Domestic Abuse: www.irs.gov (look for publication #3865)
- Social Security Administration’s Website for Women: www.ssa.gov/women/
- National Association of Commissions for Women: https://www.nacw.org/womens-finances.html
- Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement: www.wiserwomen.org/resources/fact-sheets/
- Heinz Family Philanthropies and Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER): www.womensretirement.org
- WomensLaw.org’s National Network To End Domestic Violence program: https://www.womenslaw.org/
The next steps include listing out all your IDs, debit and credit cards, birth certificates, personal accounts, assets, and debts, which may require a lot of research and digging if your abuser has hidden these documents and information from you. Make a note of what financial resources and documentation you have and don’t have. Ask yourself: Is the abuser keeping the documents and financial resources you’re lacking? Is there a way you can get them back, cancelled, or re-issued? If you’ve never held these documents and financial instruments, what’s stopping your access? Is this something you can get around or get help with?
Keeping Your Personal Info Safe
Remember to keep all your IDs and your Social Security number, and any other personal information safe. Avoid sharing any personal details and passwords with others unless required. It may be a good idea not to store passwords on your computer or phone. These steps will ensure your identity is protected and that the abuser cannot steal it.
As a safeguard, be wary of any requests for your personal information and passwords over text or e-mail, especially soon after you leave your abuser, even if they appear to be coming from your bank or any legal authorities.
If possible, always keep some savings under your name, perhaps by regularly putting some of your paychecks into a separate account or under a close friend’s name and address, to keep it hidden from your abuser. Victims leaving an abusive relationship should try to take at least half of the money from all the accounts they own jointly with their abuser. Keep in mind that abusers may attempt to drain jointly owned accounts after their victims leave.
Check out Domesticshelters.org, an online searchable database of domestic violence shelters around the country, which can assist with housing after abuse.
If possible, have your credit card and (bank) accounts to ensure you can build a credit history in your name and that you are not left with a bad credit score or unmanageable amounts of debt after escaping your abuser.
Rebuilding financial security and confidence after domestic abuse can be extremely draining and challenging. Financial concerns can also keep victims in abusive relationships and postpone their escape. More and more online and nationwide in-person resources and programs have started teaching survivors the financial skills necessary to recover from abuse, however. There is a lot of power and hope in knowledge. Click on some of the links referenced here to further or begin your financial education journey and reap the benefits.
After leaving a violent or abusive relationship, focusing on yourself can be a hard adjustment. You’ve spent so much of your time and energy focused on your partner’s mood, and letting that go to take care of yourself can be a bit of an internal battle. Deciding to leave the situation is the first step in making things right with yourself and for yourself. Now begins your new journey of self-discovery and healing. A good place to start is by learning the ways you can invest in yourself after leaving the abuse behind physically.
Begin Working Through Your Emotions
Physically leaving behind an abusive relationship is liberating. The emotional aspect, however, can be a little more difficult to leave in your past. This is a time that it is imperative to focus on you.
One of the harder things to work through is feeling at fault, even partially, for the way you were treated in your relationship. It is important for you to remember that no one deserves or asks to be abused. To move forward, you need to re-learn to love yourself before you can progress further in life.
Investing in yourself starts with knowing your emotions, who you are as an individual, and what you deserve in life. Abuse is a lot to cope with, however, it can be done and you can begin to feel like yourself again.
Reconnect with People
Being in an abusive relationship can be isolating. Whether your partner is responsible for those you were once close to alienating you, or you felt ashamed by the way you were treated, it can be hard to face people after experiencing abuse.
However, connecting is a major step toward becoming and investing in yourself again. If there are people who were in your life before or during your abusive relationship that you miss, don’t be afraid to reconnect with them. It’s important to be honest about why the connection broke in the first place, but people who truly care about you will always be there and understand in the end.
It’s also important for you to make new good friends after an abusive relationship. These people won’t know your past unless and until you feel comfortable telling them about it. They are people you can truly be yourself around without feeling analyzed and can help you work toward reclaiming your identity.
Look Toward Coping Mechanisms
A great way to reinvent yourself is by taking up new hobbies. Thankfully, many hobbies also double as coping mechanisms for dealing with the trauma inflicted upon you during the relationship you left.
Look for hobbies and coping mechanisms that allow for some form of self-expression. Many people find healing through art or even writing about their experience and hopes for the future. Working in this way can lead you to discover a hidden talent, get your feelings out in a creative way, and can even develop into a new passion.
Remember to be doing this for you though. This has to be something that you enjoy and find value in, otherwise, it will end up being something you resent and will no longer be helpful to your progress.
Become Financially Independent
When you think about investing in yourself, finances are likely one of the first things that come to mind. After leaving an abusive relationship, it is extremely important for you to establish yourself financially. This is especially true if part of your abuse included being financially restrained or reliant on your abuser.
Financial independence begins with developing a plan to help you navigate your personal finances after leaving. Once you have a plan in place, you can begin to execute it and work toward living life on your own terms.
If you require some financial education because you’re not accustomed to managing the funds, ask your bank for an appointment to help walk you through the basics or seek advice from a registered shelter or organization with education programs for survivors.
Restart Your Career With Fresh Eyes
To help you invest in yourself, you need to rediscover your passions and career. It is common for abuse survivors to be lower in confidence and feelings of self-worth. However, those feelings are often not a true indicator of your potential.
If you already have a career that you love, use it as an outlet to work through the changes happening in your life. Your career can be your constant in the midst of everything else changing, which is something that you can hold onto and be grateful for as you begin to invest in yourself and change as a person for the better.
Sometimes being in an abusive relationship can cause your career to take a backseat. Use this as a time to invest in yourself by working on your professional development and making sure that your career is working for you. If it isn’t, there’s no time like the present to explore your options and find something that you’re passionate about.
Make Your Own Home
Now that you’re independent, it’s time for you to make your own space and claim it as yours. The best way to do this is by creating your own home that you can feel comfortable and safe in.
If you are ready and in a good enough place financially, then it’s time to discover your options. For example, you may have racked up some credit card debt in the process of reclaiming your life or you might be working on building up your credit score, but that doesn’t mean you can’t own your own home. Should either of those describe your situation, then researching a FHA loan would be a good option for you to consider.
Having a place to retreat to and independently make your own space is a liberating feeling. It is also something that can make you feel like you’ve truly overcome the abuse you once faced. Reclaiming a home for yourself is perhaps the best investment you can make both emotionally and financially.
Although focusing on yourself can be a tough adjustment after leaving an abusive relationship, it is a necessary step. By investing in yourself, you are telling yourself that things will get better, and you are taking the steps to create that reality. There will undoubtedly be hard times, however, by creating that base investment, you’re setting yourself up to be able to overcome anything else that comes your way.
We have all heard the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
As survivors of domestic violence, this saying can be hard to grasp. It can leave you wounded, with both visible and invisible scars. It can sometimes be hard to imagine you will ever recover from the trauma you faced, let alone come back stronger.
However, as much as it doesn’t feel like growth is occurring, data states otherwise. Studies show that about 71% of interpersonal violence survivors experience some type of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) . Thousands of survivors have learned not just to survive but to thrive. They have used the pain inflicted by their trauma as an avenue to find new meaning in their life.
From Trauma to Opportunity
In short, PTG is a positive transformation that occurs in the life of many survivors of intense trauma.
People who experience PTG do not merely bypass the negative consequences of trauma. Instead, the emotional battle is what challenges survivors to reevaluate their perception of life. This new perception works as a catalyst for positive growth .
In other words, the aftermath of trauma can change your mindset (in a good way). It can alter the lens through which you view the world. It is like a photographer who adjusts their lens and angle to see the most powerful possible shot. People experiencing PTG choose to react to their trauma in a way that allows them to see the best in their situation.
According to the Post Traumatic Growth Inventory, people typically experience PTG in one or more of the following ways.
- A new, enhanced appreciation for life.
- Improved social relationships and an increase in positive emotions derived from the relationships.
- An openness to new possibilities/opportunities in life.
- An increase in mental resilience and personal strength.
- Spiritual connection.
The Journey of Post Traumatic Growth
There is no timeline for coping, healing, or growth. Every survivor’s experience is different, and that’s okay. PTG usually occurs naturally, and unfortunately, not everyone experiences it.
However, there are five evidence-based ways to help facilitate growth:
Growth after trauma requires some serious self-reflection. You may not be the same person you were before the trauma, and you have to face the reality of determining your new identity. Also, many of your perceptions about life have likely changed.
The first thing to facilitate growth is to acknowledge these changes and understand that your situation will require you to view your circumstances in a new, positive way. You need to try to change your mindset while at the same time, allow compassion for yourself and your trauma.
Talking about trauma can feel like a release. It can also help you make sense and find meaning in the trauma. There are many different ways you can talk through and process your trauma. You can try counseling, venting with family/friends, joining a support group, sharing your story on a blog/domestic abuse network, or starting a journal. You could even record yourself or talk to yourself in an empty room.
Helping others has profound benefits for your mental health and healing. To add, it can give you a sense of self-worth, accomplishment, and gratitude. It can also aid in finding meaning in your trauma.
Consider doing service directly with causes associated with the trauma you went through—such as being a domestic violence advocate or starting a blog about your grief and growth.
Regulating the intense emotions you feel after a traumatic event can be difficult; but, trying to experience PTG when surrounded by negative emotions is impossible. You should refrain from dwelling on your negative emotions– try your best to frame things positively. Instead of focusing on your situation’s negatives, consider what you have gained through your experience– perspective, a fresh start, an opportunity to learn and grow.
Another practice that can assist with emotional regulation is breathing, mediation, and acknowledging/observing emotions while you are experiencing them.
You are solely in charge of deciding what your story will be and what your trauma means. It is an individual choice to focus on the negatives and talk about everything you lost from the abuse or grief. You can also acknowledge those losses while choosing to focus on the positive things you learned from the trauma and the growth you experienced.
Lessons from a Broken Cup
The Japanese have a tradition called kintsugi, which means “golden repair.” It is the ancient art of putting broken pottery dishes back together using gold  causing the pottery to be more beautiful and worthy than before it suffered the break.
Likewise, you can use the trauma you endured as a way to recreate yourself in a beautiful, strong way. You can experience post-traumatic growth.
Viewing the World Through a New Lens
“Thoughts could leave deeper scars than almost anything else.”J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix
It’s essential to recognize that you are not defined or controlled by your traumas.
Unfortunately, no one can take away the trauma or pain you endured, but you can choose how to react to what the world has handed you. It is up to you to change your mindset and decide to frame your life experiences positively.
Remember, broken things can transform into something even more beautiful. And you–survivors and Legacy Families— can thrive after trauma.
A Note From The Author:
Let this serve as an inspiration. None of this is to say that the abuse you experienced or the loved one you lost to an abusive relationship ended up being a blessing in disguise. Anyone who experiences post-traumatic growth realizes the cost. Most likely, most would happily give up all the growth if they could change the truth of their trauma.
Not everyone experiences growth after trauma, and that’s okay. It does not mean you are not a survivor, and it does not mean you will not thrive.
The growth you experience does not make your suffering any less valid.
- Elderton, A., Berry, A., & Chan, C. (2017). A Systematic Review of Posttraumatic Growth in Survivors of Interpersonal Violence in Adulthood. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 18(2), 223-236. doi:10.2307/26638176
- Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), 455–471. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02103658
- Tedeschi, R. G. (2020). Growth after trauma. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/07/growth-after-trauma#:~:text=Although%20posttraumatic%20growth%20often%20happens,%2C%20narrative%20development%2C%20and%20service.
- Mantovani, A. (2019). Kintsugi and the art of repair: life is what makes us. Medium. https://medium.com/@andreamantovani/kintsugi-and-the-art-of-repair-life-is-what-makes-us-b4af13a39921
- Rowling, J. K. (2014). Harry Potter and the order of the phoenix. Bloomsbury Childrens Books.