Verbal Abuse, Brainwashing and Personal Finance

by Sandy L on August 26, 2010

I figure I’ll write a few posts on my dad, as he taught me many lessons in all the worst ways.

A little background. My dad was not a very nice person. To top it off, he was a lazy, racist, manipulative, gambling alcoholic.

Yup, he's drunk

Here’s a photo of us when I was born. You might be wondering why I picked this particular one as he’s obviously drunk. Well, the reason is that all the photos I have of him are like this. He was drunk most of the time.  As a result, he was out of work A LOT.

Yet, he had a mantra that he would repeat to my mother on an almost a daily basis.


He repeated that mantra to her for over a decade. When I hit my teen years, I started to see her spirit break. That kooky little old lady who’d randomly talk to strangers at Walmart whether they wanted to talk or not changed.  She was tired of the fighting and she lost all her will to fight back and stand up for herself. The scariest thing of all was that she was starting to believe him.

Meanwhile, I stood in the sidelines in disbelief. How could he take all the credit for where we were today? He hardly ever worked, he didn’t do anything around the house and regularly blew a bunch of money on the lottery and drinking. It was madness. The valuable lesson I learned is if someone tells you something long enough, you’ll eventually start believing it is true.

Many years later, when he was long dead and things were jolly again, my mom gave me this marriage advice:

“Don’t rush to get married. I waited 40 years and I still married a loser. It’s better to have one horse pulling the cart forward than to have two horses, one pulling forward and the other in reverse.”

For a while there, I thought I’d never get married. Independence seemed an awful lot better than being a slave to some deadbeat.

So why would anyone reading a PF blog care about this story?

Well, first off, pick a partner that’s going to be pulling the apple cart forward and not in reverse.  Every once in a while, there’s a debate that tackles the question: Does picking a life partner that shares your financial goals make you shallow? I say, hell no!  I’d rather be alone than have to share my money with some guy who’s spending it on scratch tickets at the 7-11.  It’s way better being single than being with someone who makes you miserable.  Just because it doesn’t match some cookie cutter version of someone’s ideal life doesn’t mean being single is bad.

If you have  a friend, relative or partner that repeats something that you know not to be true, go find a person who’s more positive to spend time with. In fact, for me the #1 worst offender is that person staring back at me in the mirror.  Have you ever caught yourself saying “Things never go my way” or “I’ll never lose that last 5 pounds.” Are you verbally abusing yourself? If so, shame on you! Instead, replace it with “I can get to my goal if I have a plan.” “Setbacks are just part of life but I’m still moving forward, slowly but surely.”  Or my personal favorite “Everything happens for a reason. What can I take away from this experience?”

I know that negative brainwashing works, so I’m 100% convinced that positive brainwashing also works. So go out there and tell yourself and all your loved ones that they have what it takes to be successful and reach their goals. Say it and say it often. Brainwash those bozos until they believe it.

Has anyone ever tried to brainwash you at work, in a relationship, or anywhere else? I can think of quite a few peer pressure examples in school. I wonder how we can help shield our kids from some of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Everyday Tips August 27, 2010 at 9:17 AM

What an honest and fantastic post. So many people live with abuse, and it is so sad. I knew many people that married the wrong person just to get out of the abuse in their own home, only to suffer in their marriage. It is such a vicious cycle, and sometimes it just takes maturity to see it.

I grew up in a pretty poor town, and poor choices were made everywhere. I don’t know what made me be absolutely driven to just get out and not repeat the past. Some people get out, some people don’t. I think a lot has to do with self-esteem. I believed in myself and I refused to settle. I paid for college and knew what I wanted. Others thought getting a low paying job and getting a car after graduation was what they wanted, and they made their choices.

I always thought that once you were adult, you could just leave childhood behind and start over. That is not true for many because the wounds are too deep. I totally agree that someone can be their own worst enemy, and I think it takes a great support network to start to break out of being self-deprecating and appreciating who you are.

I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing. I am sorry your dad was the person he was because nobody deserves that.


Nicole August 27, 2010 at 10:07 AM

That’s so sad. It is impressive that you came out of that so functional.

Regarding your question, we had a jar on the job market in graduate school called the “Negativity tax.” Any time we felt down and started the negative self-talk, we had to put a quarter in. It helped a lot. In the end we only had a couple of dollars.


Cassandra August 27, 2010 at 10:54 AM

Wow that reminds my of my father. My mom eventually left him when I was 12 and it did me and my brother a world of good.

I am all for positive brain wash and positive self talk. I tell myself I have money for everything I need/want, that I’m a millionaire and I am the master of my own life.

Love the post 🙂 Thank you for sharing!


Sandy L August 27, 2010 at 5:00 PM

Everyday tips. I often question the same did I get out when so many others did not? I think the answer is Hope and Perseverance.

Nicole. No need to feel bad. It’s no longer sad as it’s in the past. So much time has passed that it’s like writing about someone else’s life, not my own. I like that you call me functional, not normal. 🙂 I have gotten caught up in the negative talk a few times (complaining about work or life). It does absolutely no good. It only makes things worse.

Cassandra..your mom rocks. Actually most moms rock.


Molly On Money August 27, 2010 at 6:45 PM

Lovely post.
You obviously see your Dad for who he was and don’t make up fantasies that he was someone else. I recently had a friend tell me that as a kid she would tell people her Dad was dead rather then that he ran off not to be heard from for almost 10years.


Money Reasons August 27, 2010 at 9:30 PM

My best friend married the wrong woman.

He was a nice kid, played the trombone in high school, got a great job while he was still a teenager (it even had a 401K plan), excelled in college, became a MR. GQ by pumping weights and dressing snazzy. Then he met his wife. She was exciting and brash. He had so much excitement with her that he married her. He continued to be successful at work and she spent it all. She lied, beat their kids and neglected their kids. She actually told her kids that my friend didn’t love them because he wasn’t with them at a particular moment in time when 1 of the kids got hurt at the park (that time was when he was at work). She cheaped on him, and basically brainwashed him to think her way. It was pathetic, and I know I’m not providing much details, but it was a nightmare.

They finally got a divorce, but I don’t want my kids playing with his because I know they are mirrors (or at least know too much) of their mom. So this woman destroy my friend and their children.

On the other hand, I see a lot of couples where one horse is pulling the cart, and the other horse is riding on the cart. This is better than going opposite ways, but it’s a burden on the one person to be everything in the relationship.

I guess the moral of the story is to find the perfect mate, date for at least a year or 2… Too bad love is blind…


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 30, 2010 at 4:06 PM

I’m glad you knew better even when it was happening. Butt-wipe. My mom left a useless man (my bio-dad) when I was a baby and remarried when I was 8 to a fantastic guy I’m proud to call Dad.

I couldn’t agree more that choosing a financially compatible partner is the opposite of shallow. It seems dang smart. I love my husband because of his sense of humor, his soft kisses, his a$$, and the fact that he would never surprise me with $30,000 of hidden credit card debt. I don’t know why that shouldn’t be just as important. 🙂

This post really touched me and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate some “real” in this online world I love so much. Have a great week!


Squirrelers August 30, 2010 at 4:46 PM

This is a very good post, very open and sharing. It seems like you have dealt with enough stuff, and had the sense to take a different path. Sometimes, people can get used to what most think are bad situations, but it looks like you didn’t get comfortable but you got out. Good for you!

I have seen abusive relationships as well. One guy who I’ve known since childhood, a great guy, married someone who had the belief that his salary was to take care of the family, and hers was for herself. His money was all spent. He then lost his job, yet she kept her salary for herself and wouldn’t support him. Then told him he was lazy and a real man wouldn’t rely on his wife for any help, and that he was selfish for expecting her to lift a finger for him, and so on.
Needless to say, it was verbally and financially abusive and he eventually summoned up the courage to take off.

I know another case where a couple I knew seemed like a great fit, but after a few years the guy started to drink more and more, and just got out of control with his behavior. I heard him say things to her that I just couldn’t fathom a husband saying to a wife. The wife was physician, a smart woman who was nice and humble, at least in my interactions with her. Needless to say, she got out. I don’t keep in touch with either person anymore.

There is no need to be abused by anyone. If you’re stuck dealing with people who are bad, then try to ignore their criticisms, lest you believe what they try to say. If you can avoid such people, do so. That’s the best way to handle it!

There’s a saying I heard once, and it goes something like this: “It’s hard to smell like a rose when you’re rolling in a dunghill”.

Gross, but it makes the point!


Funny about Money September 4, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Wow, what an incredible post! If there were a contest for best blog post of the year, this one would win hands-down.

Sometimes the line between abuse and what is normal, expected behavior in a given place and time is fuzzy. In your father’s case, that’s not so…this was a clear and present sh!thead. In my father’s case…meh. He probably was doing what he thought was right when it came to bringing up a kid. At least he wasn’t drunk; not often anyway.

One person’s verbal abuse is another’s rendition of reality. And what feels like abuse might stimulate the target to prove the abuser wrong. One reason I got a Ph.D. is that my father appeared to think I was stupid. LOL! Years later, I finally realized that far from convincing him that I wasn’t weird and stupid, getting a doctorate in English literature and publishing my dissertation as the first of several books through prestigious houses simply confirmed his suspicions.

It takes a long time to break free of the kind of thinking abuse induces, especially when the abuse is subtle.


Kevin@InvestItWisely September 4, 2010 at 10:13 AM

This is a really great post. Unfortunately, I can relate! Without going into details, suffice it to say that my own experience was similar to yours, except there was less alcohol involved and both horses tried to go backwards!

I still sometimes catch myself in those negative patterns, and kick myself to get out of it 😉 Somehow I think that those of us that make it through these experiences in one piece tend to get a better appreciation for what’s good out there in the world; what do you think?


Sandy L September 4, 2010 at 9:35 PM

Money Reasons,
I definitely know some cart riders as well. Sometimes though people like to be the cart pullers. It gives them a sense of importance to take charge and do everything.

Sir Squirrel,
It is great to know that many people eventually come to their senses. The last straw is different for each person, but it’s good that many do get out.

Funny about Money,
Good point. My second child is way more challenging than the first. I need to be more careful not to label him as the “bad one.” I wouldn’t willingly try to label him but I might do things that are construed that way.

I certainly think having a little perspective is key to appreciating the simple things in life. If you’re exposed to too much bad stuff for too long though, you start to wonder if there’s any good left. I started to feel like that dealing with my mom’s tenants. My outlook on the human race greatly improved when I no longer had to deal with people trying to take advantage at every turn.


frugalcheapskate September 5, 2010 at 5:31 PM

A fine post! And “right on” about picking the ones that move in the forward direction, not the opposite.

I can relate to many things in your post. One being that I too waited until 40 yrs. to get married, and for the same reasons (for the most part, without my details, etc.). Altho’, I did marry a wonderful, loving person. I never thought I was worthy of such. You’ve survived, and you’re here. 🙂

I’m shaking my head up and down that you are correct, negative feedback works … and so does the positive. (ever hear of Psycho-Cybernetics? re: Maxwell Maltz?)

As evidence to the “state of family” many have “grown up” in …. we are not alone. And we don’t have to believe the BS. We don’t have to believe we are not worthy of wealth, happiness, and more. Just believe in ourselves, and that there’s something better out there just waiting for us,a dn go get our piece of it. Surrounded by those who care (not the other way around). We’re human and we make mistakes based on past negative “habits” or reinforcements. How does one break a habit they aren’t fond of … IS very similar to changing our life and livelihood (finances, personal life, profession job, and more).

To quote a movie line … “If you want a miracle, BE the miracle.” You are the miracle and your post proves it. The average norm it seems is to just accept negativity and “follow along.” You can see it in others. I’ve never been much of a follower. Sometimes, it’s the worst moments in ones past that give us the most strength today. And our guidance into the future.

Carry On! We’re all rising stars! One way or the other. 🙂


Jonathan December 5, 2010 at 1:51 PM

For the past 3-5 years, I knew that negative brainwashing was very possible. I come from a family torn apart from devastatingly high credit card debt, and witnessed it destroy my family, just out of high school. All the stress of the debt made my family extremely negative.

But over the past year, I realized the only way to fight it. Through positive brainwashing. Maybe a better way to put it is positive reinforcement. Telling someone that they are a wonderful person, when they are beating themselves up, is one of the most important things you can do.


Sandy L December 5, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Frugalcheapskate – Well Said..every word.

Jonathan – Hope springs eternal and one must believe that things will get better. It’s easy for those negative nellies to pull you down into despair with them, but it’s so much nicer if you can pull someone out of the darkness. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


Ardes April 8, 2011 at 3:05 PM

Ex-husband the control freak attempting to isolate me from the world: “All your friends are losers, failures, and people you can dominate. You’re the Patron Saint of Assholes!” (he had his moments….) 30 years later, I still have the same loyal, strong friends. Dumped Ex long ago.


Yes, I Am Cheap July 4, 2011 at 1:59 PM

You’ve given me something to think about here. BF and I have been together FOREVER but we are so pulling in opposite directions. Babci wouldn’t be happy with me.


Bret @ Hope to Prosper July 4, 2011 at 6:41 PM


This is such a positive story in the way you overcame your Dad’s abuse and stood by your Mom. It’s a petty and small-minded person who has to make themselves feel important by tearing down others. I’m sure you learned a lot from this experience for your own role as a Mom.

I was the beneficiary of awesome parenting. My Dad was quick with the discipline, but never abusive or uncaring. Four of the five kids were boys and we were a handful. So, the discicpline was more of a necessity than a problem. And, he was a solid provider and a responsible family man. That probably came from his own experience of being abandoned by his father and being raised by his step-dad.

I guess the negatives can always be turned into a positive. It may just take a generation.



Practical Parsimony October 12, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Thanks for the email telling me of your post today. I never knew why my mother did not leave my physically abusive father. She made me so angry for not leaving him like she said she would after my younger brother left high school. He was blackmailing her for something she did. She did not want any of us to know. He presented himself as a single man, got her pregnant with me, finally divorced his wife who had his first five children. I remember times she tried to get away with us and something he threatened to tell. But, I was 60 yrs old before I realized what he did to her besides the physical abuse I witnessed and all the verbal violence, threats to kill us all, and financial hardship he could inflict.


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