I have been a psychologist for 23 years now. I have sat with people of all walks of life, I have worked with men in prisons, middle schoolers, preschool parent groups. I have worked with individuals or couples over years of their development and sat in deep crisis sessions at crime scenes. I have watched my clients children grow up and been along the side of individuals transitioning to their true gender identity. I have heard and held seemingly every nuanced experience of human existence. Affairs, divorce, marriage, abuse, career advances and collapse, political ruin, athletic dreams crashed, babies, coming of age, death, grief, loss, joy, becoming parents and leaving our parents. Finding religion, changing religion, breaking up with religion. I hear about the dreams in our hearts, the voices in our heads and the ghosts in our closets. But there is one thing that almost no one wants to talk about. Even in therapy.
Even that word, I bet you had a little twinge of something, right?
It’s exquisitely intertwined with almost every aspect of our life. Just try to think of something that isn’t twisted up in money. Getting it, giving it, needing it. Spending it, saving it. It is a lifeline to all the things we need or think we need. It is almost impossible, I might even say actually impossible, to live in our world without having to negotiate our relationships with it.
And yet, no one talks about it in in therapy. Occasionally couples will say that we “need to talk about it.” And they never do. It remains the avoided topic in the session with the content quickly shifting to something more palatable, like affairs. It remains the “money-talk” homework that we all know we will never actually do. But it remains there, on our therapy plate, like untouched broccoli, pushed around growing colder and colder.
Bring it to mind and it immediately conjures anxiety in most of us. But not just your every day anxiety (that we love to talk about). No, this is complex anxiety. It’s anxiety layered with shame and despair. It’s a churning anxiety that has flavors of scarcity and envy. Dig a little deeper and we can find embarrassment, entitlement, fear.
And the sticky bit is that there is a myth that if I just have ENOUGH money, I will stop feeling all these things. I have these feelings because I just don’t have enough. I am not enough.
If that were true, if ENOUGH was the solution then I believe people would talk more about it in therapy. It would be clear, understandable. There is a number that equals ENOUGH and if I get there I no longer have these feelings. I have these feelings because I don’t have that number. Boom. Okay, that makes sense. We can work with that.
But there is no number that releases us from the complex relationship that we have with money. Money is a cruel abusive partner that we are obligated to stay in relationship with. This partnership is deeply embedded in our cells. In our family history, in our culture, in our world. It extends back in time generations with epigenetic magic literally leaving imprints in our DNA. The scarcity feeling is human history that emerges every day when we pay a bill, or buy milk, or give our kid 20 dollars or agonize over whether to buy that car or this car. We are grappling with all of it.
Healing our relationship with money will never be about the quantity of money we have or don’t have. It is so much more than having a good money management system and a budget, although that is certainly part of it. It is about understanding our own history, coming face to face with the deeply embedded feelings and beliefs, the unconscious myths that propel us in our handling money. It is about having compassion and tenderness for ourselves. And then it is about taking ownership of this boat. Taking the wheel away from the ghosts who have been steering and defining ourselves in relationship to money in a whole new way.
Its not about ENOUGH or amounts. It is about our hearts. Our identities. Our ability to empower ourselves to have money be a tool in our lives. Like running shoes or food. It is fuel, it is necessary, it can make our lives better. When we understand our separateness from money then we can build our relationships with it. We can build our philosophy, our guiding principals, our boundaries. We can, and always will want it. We can, and always will need it. But we don’t have to be bound to it.
Want to dive into this deeper? Check out the Women and Our Wealth Weekend Retreat coming up soon.