One of the most insidious aspects of abuse is manipulation through money and gift-giving. People often wonder how women are lured into abusive relationships and why they stay so long. Gifts and money play a huge part. Abusers often use physical things as substitutes for true emotion and genuine caring. They initially shower their partner with what seems to be generosity and adoration–buying dinner, flowers or going on trips. When the abuse starts to surface and they begin breaking their partner down, the gifts become intermittent and usually come with apologies for mistreatment.
Sometimes, an abuser will create dependency in the relationship by “helping” their partner to pay for life’s necessities. These “favors” come with no explicit price and may even be presented as gifts. “I just want to help out.” The abuser will not reveal their price until they need it. Even then, the price is often vague and only hinted at in terms of “showing gratitude.” Payment can be any amount and repayment can be drawn out for any amount of time, giving the abuser complete control. Playing off of their victim’s sense of guilt and fairness is readily employed.
By “helping” and “gifting,” abusers gain the upper hand and keep their victims indebted to them. Victims are enslaved by guilt and fear and most of all–manipulation. In the abuser’s twisted mind, they might see themselves as benevolent benefactors, philanthropists even. And to the public, they seem generous and caring. Their partners carry the weight of their debt which only grows heavier when outsiders gush about how lucky they are to have such a generous partner. To contradict such comments is to appear ungrateful, greedy, or selfish.
A good example of this type of behavior can be seen in movies about organized crime. Mafia or gang bosses will give lavish gifts, loans, or “help” only to ask for a “favor” when the time comes. These favors usually involve some sort of moral compromise and might even cause injury or prove fatal. Whether it be organized crime, romantic relationships or family relationships–the tactics and the goals are the same.
Being subject to this type of abuse has deeply diminished my trust in others. It has also impacted my self-esteem in that it’s made me feel selfish and low–first for ever needing help, then for not showing my gratitude enough or in the right way. Most of all, it’s caused me to accept more abuse. When I’ve asked for kindness, respect or compassion, I hear, “After all I’ve done for you!..I’ve never heard a thank you…When is it ever enough for you?” Then, on top of feeling slighted, I also feel selfish and less-than.
I contemplated different ways to escape my last relationship. I attempted to run away only to be followed and brought back. I even managed to leave a couple of times, only to be lured back. One of the hardest parts about leaving is you have to have some place to go–not just physically, but in your heart. There has to be a piece of you that loves you more. Leaving almost killed me. And when I left, I thought I was done for good. I was taken in by another ex who wasn’t much better than the last. As we were packing my things, my roommate reminded me of all he’d done for me and how ungrateful I was. I wanted to hit him and spit in his face.
Tomorrow I will move to a new town an hour away. I have a new job and live ten minutes away from a good friend. My roommate previously told me I wouldn’t owe him anything once I’d left but later decided he would “appreciate it” if I’d pay him back. I thought about giving him some of my art (my most valued possessions) and telling him to sell them. I’ve also thought about just leaving him a bunch of bloody tampons or taking a crap on his doorstep.