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5 Ways My Mother Used Financial Abuse to Control and Ridicule Me

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Growing up, people would’ve called me “spoiled” purely on the basis of how often my parents gifted me with new stuff. I didn’t act spoiled, though, at least to the best of my knowledge; in fact, I overly worry now that I don’t appear grateful for gifts (even small gifts, like a candy bar) and go overboard in showing my appreciation. No, I believe I was always appreciative, even when the Christmas presents were large and extravagant. My dad worked hard for us, and my mother would often ask if I wanted a new video game or CD just because they were at the store.

You’re probably reading this thinking, “Wow, what a good mother,” right? On the surface, sure; my mother in particular couldn’t stop showering me with gifts, but hidden beneath that generosity there was darkness from which I’ve only recently broken way.

I’ve written often about the realization that my mother was emotionally abusive, so I won’t rehash the backstory here. It’s only when I was in therapy, though, that I came to realize how she would use gifts as a weapon in her abuse. Here are just some of the things she did.

1. Treating her children differently.

She made a difference between my half-sister and me to the point where my half-sister believes, even now, that I am a spoiled brat who got everything from our mother while she had nothing. It’s not that my mother didn’t give her anything, but she certainly showered me in more “love” and “attention” than my half-sister ever got. In case there’s any doubt, this is one of the many signs of an abusive parent.

2. Withholding finances as punishment.

There was a point in recent years, not long before I decided to go no-contact with my mother, that I saw through the behavior I’d grown to expect from her. I was having some serious financial trouble and she was generously helping out, but at a cost. If I was unable to do something for her for a legitimate reason, she’d withhold the money or, more than once, reduce the amount she was able to support in retaliation. If I did anything she disapproved of, she would threaten to stop supporting me. I came to expect this emotional yo-yo so much that I feared the support would be stripped away at any moment.

3. Ridiculing purchases.

I have a vivid memory of being around 6 years old and, before school, being given some money to walk to the neighborhood store and buy some potato chips. Instead, I came home with a little plastic trashcan filled with sugary sweets in the shape of assorted trash. I’d seen it and thought it was super cool. What kind of 6-year-old wouldn’t? But my mother screamed at me for it, ridiculed that I’d “wasted money” on this until I was crying. She could’ve handled this so differently but instead, she gave me a memory I’ve never been able to shake.

It was just one of many such examples. As a teenager, she gave me a shocking amount of money to go to the city and buy myself something, then ridiculed and picked apart every purchase and call me “stupid with money.” She reminded me often that I “couldn’t be trusted with money” to the point that I feared her judgment for any little purchase. I started to hide the legitimate things I bought. I started to fear spending money on myself to the point where, even now in my mid-30s, I struggle to buy anything or to check my finances without feeling utterly sick and asking for “permission” and help from my partner. If I do buy anything, the guilt eats me alive — it’s like I don’t deserve it.

4. Gaslighting.

Another side to withholding gifts was her use of gaslighting. She made promises to buy something only to withdraw it if I did something she didn’t like, pretending she never made such a promise, that I was lying, or that I was misremembering. It was classic gaslighting behavior, making me doubt my own reality to the point that I felt the need to record her as proof, just so I could play her own words back to her. I never did. I knew she’d just ridicule me for that too. The emotional reactions this would trigger probably looked spoiled, but I wasn’t; I just wanted the truth. I just wanted to escape from under her control.

5. Reminding me of her generosity.

I didn’t notice the true nature of this until others pointed it out to me. When given half a chance, she paraded the things she bought me as proof that she was a wonderful mother. She told others about the many things she bought me, or the degree she paid for, in a way that begged them to pay attention and validate how generous she was. Perhaps that’s a sign of some hidden insecurity, but it was awkward and sickening to have her make me complicit as she performed the role of a “good mother” for all to see.


For my mother, gifts and financial support were about control, her status as a “good mother,” and the only way she knew to show love when, really, the emotional neglect and ridicule I was experiencing did more damage to me than anything else.

There was an idiom she repeated over and over with religious fervor: “Money can’t buy you love.”

And yet, she certainly tried. Only, she did so at the cost of the support I really needed. Perhaps her excuse for allowing me to be sexually abused — by the same man who had twice abused her other son — should come as no surprise. When I asked her why she kept working for that man when she knew what he was capable of, she told me “the money was good.”

It was money we didn’t need in order to live comfortably, and in truth, I would gladly burn every gift she ever gave me if it would take away the emotional, financial, and sexual abuse that seethed at the core of her apparent generosity.

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

Originally published: July 6, 2022
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