By Christine Murray, See the Triumph Co-Founder
All this month, our focus at See the Triumph for Domestic Violence Awareness Month has been on the financial impacts of intimate partner violence for victims and survivors. As we’ve discussed throughout the month, the financial costs of abuse are often substantial, and these can add a lot of challenges and complexity to the recovery process in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Whether these financial impacts come in the form of impaired career advancement, legal costs in family court, and/or the costs of physical or mental health care, the toll on survivors can be huge, especially as they work to rebuild their financial lives while also working on their physical and emotional recovery.
All of these financial challenges can be overwhelming. However, overcoming them is possible. As we wrap up our Financial Recovery series today, today’s blog post will offer some suggestions for survivors of abuse to use to take control of their finances, and ultimately to take control back over their lives. If you or someone you know is struggling with financial challenges as part of the process of recovering from abuse, consider the following strategies:
1. First, be patient and gentle with yourself. You may feel overwhelmed and afraid by the financial challenges you face. Depending on the extent to which your abuser financially abused you, the financial toll of the abuse may indeed be major. If this feels like an overwhelming issue to address, reassure yourself that recovery will take some time, but it is possible. Consider writing affirming messages to yourself in a place where you’ll look at them often. Whenever you feel overwhelmed, practice self-care and use your coping strategies to manage the stress in healthy ways.
2. Take stock of your overall financial picture and the financial impacts of abuse. Although it may be tempting to put off or avoid looking at your financial situation, you can only begin to plan how to address it once you’ve done a thorough assessment of where your finances stand today. Set aside time when you can spend a few hours to list all of your accounts, assets, debts, potential future expenses, and any other financial details of your life currently. As best you can, try to organize this information without worrying about it. It may help if you think about your financial situation like a business, and you are the manager. Take your time to really understand your financial starting point, so you’ll have a clear picture of where things stand today.
3. Think of one small change you could make in the near future to begin to improve your financial situation. Before you start dreaming big about your financial future, it’s a good idea to set yourself up for some small successes along the way. Once you’ve taken stock of your financial picture, try to identify one small change you could make to begin taking control of your finances. For example, perhaps you have a small debt that you could pay off with your next paycheck. Or, maybe you could start using a written budget to help organize your income and expenses for the month. By starting to focus on small, realistic financial goals that you can accomplish quickly, you’ll begin to notice a change in how you feel when you realize that you can take control of your finances. You may not be able to change everything overnight, but at this stage, it’s more important to simply start building momentum and feeling like you have more control over your finances.
4. Start dreaming big about your financial and career future. Once you’ve started gaining a little momentum for improving your finances, it’s time to step back and think about what your ideal vision for our economic future would look like. Do you have any goals or dreams for your career or education that you had to put on hold due to your abuser’s control of you? If you think of your life when you reach retirement age, what impact would you liked to have made on the world around you? What financial goals do you have for yourself? Perhaps you dream of owning your own home or taking your children on a nice vacation. Give yourself time to think through what you’d like for your future life and career. This may be a very difficult step, especially if your abuser told you things like, “You can’t do anything right,” or “You’ll never be successful.” Acknowledge that these statements have impacted you in the past, but remind yourself that they don’t have to define your future. Trust that you have unique skills, talents, and contributions to offer the world, and allow yourself the time and opportunity to figure out how you’d like to make that impact.
5. Map out a plan to get from your starting point to your vision for your financial and career future. Once you’ve dreamed big about what your life could be, it’s time to start working on a plan to get you from where you are now to where you want your life to go. This stage might involve adjusting your dreams to make them more feasible. For example, in your big dreams, you may have wished you could become a doctor. Although you know you’re smart enough for that path, you may decide that you want to find a career path that will not require as long of a schooling process, so you begin exploring other career paths in the medical field. This stage also should involve doing some research to understand the steps that you’ll need to take as you move toward your career and financial goals. You may find it useful to start using a specific financial planning process, such as the 7 Baby Steps proposed by financial guru, Dave Ramsey. If it’s a career goal you’re exploring, this research might involve talking to professionals already working in that field or learning about relevant educational programs. As much as possible, map out a very specific set of steps you’ll need to take to move toward your financial and career goals. The more concrete steps that you identify, the more you’ll be able to track your progress along the way.
6. Build a strong network of supportive people and resources. You don’t have to go through this journey on your own. Surround yourself with people who you can depend on to encourage and support you along the way. If there are people in your life who can’t or won’t support you in your goals, set boundaries with these people to limit their impact on you. Instead, focus your time and energy on connecting with others who will be there for you and will cheer you on as you reach your goals, and even when you face setbacks along the way. In addition, connect with resources that can help support you in achieving your goals. This could be a career counselor, a financial advisor, a community agency, and credible online resources for financial information. These positive sources of support will be invaluable to you on your journey toward financial recovery.
Financial recovery from abuse can be a long, complicated process. In many ways, your financial recovery is closely linked to other aspects of recovery, such as your emotional recovery and your process of reconnecting with a support network. One of the greatest aspects of financial recovery is that it offers tangible opportunities for you to feel success. Other aspects of recovery can feel a lot more fuzzy than financial recovery. It can be harder to track your emotional recovery process than it is to track the numbers involved in your financial recovery process. In that way, financial recovery offers tangible successes that can help to increase your confidence in yourself. Each big and small financial goal you achieve offers you a chance to feel successful and empowered by the control you are taking back from your abuser.
By taking control over your finances and believing that you can work toward positive goals for your life and your money, you have the chance to rewrite the script for your future. This process may be difficult, but it is well worth it!