Feeling financially gaslit? Here’s how you can take control

By: Finance Coach Jeannie Dougherty 

Everybody’s financial situation is different. 

Whether that’s your family, friends, or even coworkers, each person’s income and budget varies, and that’s okay. But have you ever felt like someone close to you is gaslighting you regarding money? You are not alone. 

But first, let’s break down what it means to be financially gaslit. Health experts say gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse. When it comes to finances, those doing the gaslighting can make you feel greedy or like you are making a wrong business decision. They cause you to question yourself and your motives when they are truly in the wrong. 

Say you are at dinner or happy hour with a coworker you know makes more money than you. They order the most expensive things on the menu, perhaps even ordering more drinks, and then they expect you to split the bill 50/50 with them. That seems unfair, especially when you only spent a fraction of what the actual bill costs. The coworker can even take it a step further and ask you to pay the bill now, and then they will pay you back later. But that payment never comes your way, and instead, you are forking out hundreds of dollars for a “friend.” 

As their friend, you might think this was unintentional, and they forgot, but it’s also important to stand up for yourself and make sure you are getting paid what you are owed. This tactic is a type of exploitation, but there are ways to take back control over the situation without ruining the relationship if that is what you desire. 

The best way to overcome this hurdle and regain power over the relationship is to redraw your money boundaries. Boundaries are essential in any relationship, especially when discussing money. 

In the above scenario with your coworker, you must first decide how much this relationship means to you. Can you let it dissolve, or is it something worth fighting for? If you continue with the relationship, you might have to adjust. For example, you can tell your coworker that it’s a “you” problem and that you need separate checks because you are working on maintaining a budget. You can discuss how you have a financial advisor and need to re-prioritize your spending. This shows your coworkers that you don’t have a problem with them but that you are practicing healthy spending habits, and they should respect that boundary. 

The most significant advice with this is to choose your battles wisely. Money evokes emotion in many people, and research shows that 62% of people do not talk about it because they believe it is taboo. Because finances are a touchy subject for many, you must take the emotion out of it and be firm in your boundaries. I have seen folks lose friendships at work, and that caused them additional stress, sleepless nights, and other issues at work. You may have to work with this coworker on boundaries for a while. Changes might not be immediate, but if they mean this much to you, you must be persistent. This will help increase your emotional and mental energy. 

Redrawing your boundaries because of financial gaslighting can be taxing. Being the victim of a gaslighting incident, especially with money, can lead to poor mental health and cause you to doubt yourself. You are not the problem, but it’s essential not to let the person gaslighting you have control over you. Draw your boundaries and hold them accountable. Relationships with family, friends, or even coworkers, where money is a problem, can be challenging. It is your job to think about the positives in the relationship honestly and if you can overcome these financial barriers that have strained your growth.