Money on the Couch
Money is ubiquitous and yet rarely spoken about in safe, honest, and open terms. Money and finances are unsurprisingly common sources of stress and conflict. Many of us grow up having a troubled relationship with money. Very often, money is shrouded in mystery, questions shushed, and bank balances guarded. At the same time, we are bombarded with financial information that we MUST know– be it "a good deal," investments, profits, tax-planning, etc.
Some adults have the experience of growing up feeling responsible for money matters right from childhood. They have had to bear age-inappropriate worries and decisions about financial situations. In total contrast, others have had little or no contact with money matters as if money had a strict 'Adult certificate' issued to it. Thus, we are influenced by the messages we receive in our growing up years, both covert and overt. Was money over-emphasized where each rupee was spent prudently and accounted for in a detailed way or underemphasized where it remained unspoken despite financial distress or excess? Such experiences haven't equipped us to have a healthy relationship with money.
Money can stir up intense feelings. For some, not having enough money has brought them humiliation and ridicule. Others experience shame and guilt associated with having money, where one finds it difficult to own one's privilege. There could also be a strong sense of shame in aspiring for better financial status, as we fear being judged as greedy or avaricious. Money could also bring up huge trust issues- as it is a contract between two parties that they each must honor. And when it is not honored, we are thrown into feelings of betrayal and hurt. Most of our conversations around money have this complex layer of our associations, meanings, and the memories and emotions it evokes. But sadly, these remain unaddressed and unexplored.
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One of the popular ways of understanding our relationship with money is to check whether we have a 'Scarcity mindset' or an 'Abundance mindset.' A scarcity mindset is a belief that there are only pre-determined & finite rewards, a zero-sum game. Therefore, it evokes a sense of failure when opportunities are missed. Whereas those with an abundance mindset believe there are infinite opportunities & rewards to satisfy all desires.
We could also develop insight into our relationship with money by seeing it via the lens of Attachment Theory. Attachment style is an internal working model established in early childhood experiences and carries through into our relationships in adulthood. Money unarguably has a considerable presence and impact on life's journey from the cradle to the grave, much like people. While therapists often use Attachment theory to understand our relationship with other people, it could also be used to comprehend how we relate to money.
'Secure Attachment' with money would translate into feeling protected and safe at the core despite external fluctuations. Individuals who have this attachment style to money believe that money will show up, and they will be taken care of. They find it comfortable to speak about money. They are also likely to maintain healthy money-related boundaries such as who to discuss money matters with, whom to loan money to etc. They have ease around money hygiene issues such as keeping accounts or financial planning.
An 'Anxious- Preoccupied Attachment' style to money may manifest in feeling jittery fearful, constant worry, and insecurity. People with this attachment style to money may mistake a temporary absence or change in the monetary situation as a permanent debacle. They tend to shame and blame themselves for any money related turmoil.
People who have a 'Dismissive Avoidant Attachment' to money withdraw and shut down when there's monetary tension. They avoid conversing about money and may have difficulty maintaining good monetary hygiene. People around them are most likely to discover dealings such as gambling, debts, mortgage, etc.
Those who have a 'Fearful Avoidant Attachment' to money may try to make money and resist it. The constant internal tug of war may create a lot of emotional anguish. Their actions in money matters may be unpredictable because of this ambivalence. Individuals who have this kind of attachment style with money may engage in self-shaming and experience fear and caution of others.
Simply put, "money matters." Let's shake off the taboo and explore this complex issue in therapy.
How can therapy ease your relationship with money?
• A therapist could help develop a compassionate lens toward money scripts and evaluate your relationship with money. The therapist could explore the values behind the money-related decisions.
• A therapist could facilitate breaking the harmful internalized link between net-worth and self-worth and help find your sense of meaning and worth beyond money.
• In therapy, one could learn communicating healthily about money matters, such as speaking using "I" statements to prevent a conflict from escalating.
• The therapist could help you notice that fights about money may, in reality, be fights about intimacy, life goals, values, etc.
Bringing this topic into the therapy room, understanding it, and resolving inner conflicts, could help lead a better life.