The Long-term Financial Implications of Abusive Parents
Early Age Abuse Survivors Start At A Financial Disadvantage
This is a little insight into the darkest points of my life. It’s about surviving abusive parents and how the experience formed my views on money and years of negative self-worth. If you are uncomfortable with a man talking about the abuse he’s faced, please don’t read on.
My concern is that putting something that is this personal out there for everyone to read is that I’ll be judged. Why that concerns me, I’m not sure? This is simply an aspect of my life that I don’t discuss and even now, decades later, it still affects me to this day through my own behaviors, especially with money.
Though, the truth is, I rarely think about the things I endured as a child. I choose not to dwell and already have a good understanding of how my past experiences have shaped my present life. I even have a decent relationship with my parents, specifically my stepfather now, because I chose in my mid-twenties, to forgive.
Here are a few personal stories that highlight why I’ve treated money the way I have.
My father was a hitter, verbal abuser and enjoyed playing psychological games in which he would lie in order to get me to lie and fess up to things I’d never done, or use tactics meant to embarrass or degrade me.
The physical abuse was always the same. He was smart enough to never hit me in the face, he couldn’t risk leaving a mark that would expose his ways. No, it would be a kick here, a punch there, grab the spatula and whip me with it, he enjoyed making switches from branches. I still have a scar on my upper right thigh, though it has faded considerably over the years, from where he woke me up with a crack of his belt because he thought I’d slept in.
I was a bed-wetter as a young man. For whatever reason, occasionally I’d have accidents at night, this lasted until I was maybe 11 or 12 years old. Each accident was met with swift and harsh punishment. Aside from the physical beating that I would get, without fail, he would also have me parade my wet sheets around the courtyard of the apartments we lived in.
I would do their shopping for them at the grocery store below our apartments. I was always given orders to bring back the specific amount of change or else I would be in trouble. Oh, and here’s how time has changed. They used to send me with a signed note that I could pick up cartons of cigarettes for them, and this major chain still standing to this day, would accept that note and send me off with some smokes. That, my friends, would never fly today! So, my stepfather sends me down to the store, mind you, it's raining like cats and dogs outside, with his typical get this, bring back every cent orders and I’m on my way. On the way to the store I find a Nestle Crunch wrapper, all wet and soggy from the rain puddle it was laying in, and I picked it up (back then Nestle and other candy bars were always running ‘look in the wrapper to see if you’ve won’ type promotions) an sure enough, the wrapper was a winner. It was my lucky day!
Well, I get his grocery order and instead of cash the wrapper in for my free candy bar, I decided to bring it home and show it to my parents. My stepfather insisted that I must’ve bought it with his money. He is livid and then starts claiming the change I brought him was a dime or fifteen cents short. He was relentless in trying to get me to say I stole his money. I wouldn’t budge, why would I?
Here’s how messed up the situation turned. This was in the summertime, so I would be home alone while they worked. About a week or so after the candy bar incident, he comes home early. He begins to question me, but now he says he talked to the cashier at the store and they told him I bought the candy bar. I still wouldn’t give in. I knew he was lying. I was a skinny, sub-90-pound child well into my double digits. Muscular but light. My stepfather stripped my close off of me, held me by my ankle, in the shower, with it on which I can assume was to drown out my screams. He whipped the bottom of my feet with what I recall was the spatula, again it was his favorite tool until I couldn’t scream anymore (that and his promises of it being worse if I did continue) and I relented. I lied, I told him I bought the damned candy bar, one that I never got in the first place. I was then grounded for 6 months. That is not an exaggeration, it was literally a six-month grounding. I now wonder if part of that was to allow for the bruises to heal and time to pass. Either way, my summer was gone.
My mom wasn’t abusive. She didn’t hit. Never called me names like my stepfather did. She simply did nothing. Either he was really good at hiding it or she was too weak-willed to do anything. He never hit her and they rarely yelled at each other until I was in my teens.
One night my stepfather wakes me up around one or two in the morning. He’s frantic, telling me my mom is missing and that he’s already called the police, the coroner and all family and friends. He tells me to get in the car. My first thought was great, he’s gone crazy and now he’s going to kill me. He had a crazed look in his eyes. I did what I was told. He drives out to a tribal casino and tells me to wait in the car. Maybe 20 minutes later a side door to the casino opens and he’s dragging my mom out. He knew what she was doing, and had to display it to me and wrap me into their mess. Gambling apparently was an issue with my mother and as an adult, I’ve learned of the thousands upon thousands of dollars that she’d squandered. She relapsed about a decade ago but seems to have been able to kick the gambling habit by attending GA (Gamblers Anonymous) meetings regularly.
My stepfather had always told me that I must earn my way. That there are no free rides and there will be no handouts. He had me working at age 12 in various fields picking whatever needed harvesting. He had me lie about my age so that I could work in a machinist shop at 15, my social security statement still looks funny to this day. He always promised that I was kicked out at 18. I beat him to the punch and left on my 16th birthday and refused to look back for years. I have not missed working a day since I was a child.
Why I’m Certain My Early Experiences Shaped My View Towards Money
I was smart, if I had one thing going for me is that I was off the charts smart. I was placed in advanced or what everyone called the ‘genius classes’ level in school. I was one of two students that were selected from my school to attend this program. It likely saved my life and helped me not become the monster my stepfather was.
I share these harsh details to express that I know why I started off slow financially and why I used to treat money like it was worthless. It was used against me, it was kept from me, and aside from the candy bar instance or my mom's gambling issues, it wasn’t discussed.
I’m not writing this for attention, in fact, I don’t really want to put this out there. As a man, there is a certain stigma that follows us. We must be tough, always tougher. Just swallow it down. That’s exactly what I did, until in my mid to late twenties when I started realizing that I wasn’t well. I had a panic attack at work, though I thought it was a heart attack until the doctor told me otherwise and recommended that I find someone to talk to. He gave me a referral to a counselor. I only went to eight sessions, it was all my insurance would cover, but those eight sessions helped immensely. While the counselor and I worked through some solutions to manage my limbic system, the topic of finances never came up, and why would it.
As I’m nearing 40 I am living evidence of the long term ramifications of child abuse, especially in regards to how we develop relationships with money. I am not alone in this area, there are countless stories similar to mine. I’m not unique or special. My childhood happened the way it did and I still have a house, overlooking a lake, with a family I love and who loves me tremendously. What I can safely summarize is that I know much of my melancholy towards money has been from my early experiences with it. It was made into a horrible family eating monster. It’s taking me years to recognize this. Though for me, money will always be a tool, or a resource to gain security, I refuse to deify it put it on a pedestal.
If you’ve experienced trauma in your childhood, please always remember that it’s okay to get help. Sometimes talking it through with a professional can help you move forward with your life. While I strongly believe we can’t live like victims, and I personally refuse to do so, we can learn from our past experiences and make ourselves that much stronger going forward.
If you’re abusive, whether it be physical, verbally, sexually or psychologically, or simply treat others improperly and less than what you’d treat yourself, you need to stop and seek help for yourself. Your selfish actions will likely have long term ramifications. You’re better walking away from a relationship or people you abuse and getting help rather than continuing to subject them to your ways.