Money plays such a personal role in our lives that most people learn early on to keep their financial affairs a secret. These shadows promote many different varieties of financial pathologies and distress. Only by reaching into your past can you really make peace with your money.
All behavioral pathologies are responses to earlier wounds. One woman I spoke with had a father experience a great business disaster late in life that eventually led to bankruptcy and rapidly declining health. This woman now limits her investments to banks accounts that are FDIC insured.
Another person defers all financial decisions to her spouse. This unhealthy money avoidance has its roots in her childhood years where parents focused too little on their children and too much on their net worth. She’s afraid she will repeat this pattern with her own children and copes with this fear by avoiding any interest in household economics.
These psychological forces that lead to defeating and destructive financial behaviors aren’t driven by our rational minds. They stem from forces that lie inside our conscious awareness with roots that run deep into our past. Our money mentality is something we bring with us from much earlier but formative years. Until you are transformed, you will continue to transmit your own fear, shame, and stress onto others.
Some of these wounds are so profound that psychological counseling is required. You need someone who will be dedicated to peeling back the many layers that have developed to protect those old wounds. Increasing numbers of mental health practitioners are specializing in the field of financial therapy. Like other psychologists and psychiatrists, these counselors identify and help their clients find healing for the triggers that lead to unhealthy behaviors.
Other people may benefit from joining a small group to discuss the intersection of finances with their personal life. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU) offers a faith-based group-learning approach to developing a healthy money mentality. Visit the daveramsey.com website to find a FPU class closest to you.
Still others will want to work on these issues in a more personal way. Begin by writing an autobiography that focuses on your relationship to money and the beliefs you have acquired. You have been shaped by experiences with money, and most of this formation was picked up through observing the adults around you.
If you are like me, you may want to list bullet points, or you may prefer to compose several paragraphs. Some people end up writing a small book! What events have shaped your thinking? My own biography focuses on the formative middle school and high school years when my father was beginning a small business and we as a family were asked to tighten our belts.
What fears do you have about money? What voices remain inside your head? For example, “I don’t want to act like my Uncle Ralph who . . .” Some voices will be helpful and others not so much; be sure to name them all.
This exercise can be most powerful when shared with others. It could be your spouse, a close friend, or family member. As you share these stories with each other and ask questions to understand more deeply, you are developing much needed communication skills about a subject that is both very intimate and traditionally unspoken.
For those of you who take the time to write your money autobiography and are willing to share about the experience, please let us know what you gained from the process (there is a place for your comments below). Did you have any revelations? How would you describe the conversation about this topic? Did you learn something about your soon-to-be spouse that you did not know before?
Life is too short to carry these financial pathologies with us or transmit unhealthy behaviors to the next generation. What is your way to make peace with your money past?
Subscribe to Marotta On Money and receive free access to the presentation: Ten Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor.