Money, it turned out, was exactly like sex, you think of nothing else if you didn’t have it and thought of other things if you did. - James Balwin
Many of our cultural beliefs about money are confusing and conflicted. In addition to cultural pressures, we have familial beliefs, that are unexamined, “hand me downs.” In “The Road Less Traveled”, Scott Peck wrote about our parents giving us a second hand God to worship, a God in keeping with their beliefs and practices. We are as young children, sponges that absorb the parents God, without curiosity or questions. Peck said as adults, it is our responsibility to examine our relationship with God, to see if it is truly right for us. We are encouraged to examine beliefs and myths passed to us through a church affiliation or from our parents. In other words it’s our responsibility to change it, if it is not what is right for us.
Money is another area where powerful beliefs, and myths are passed down. How many times have you heard-well in our family we do it this way, or we do such and such, as if it were the only way, with no room allowed for diverse ideas. When we start absorbing such beliefs, we are young without personal power, may be unable to verbalize a rebuttal. Even if we are older, most families do not encourage questioning.
We long for money, we sacrifice for it, we fight with those we love for more of it. Money is worshipped, a false god it may be, but a god nevertheless. People use money to boost a weak self image, inflate a low self esteem, and control others dependent on their largess.
Money is a symbol of transformation and power, with the inherent power to turn one thing into something else. As money is exchanged, it is turned into food, clothing, shelter, and after the basics, pleasure, status and other symbols of financial success. We have many hidden and forbidden feelings and beliefs about money. We don’t talk about how much we have; and become uneasy if we are asked. I was at a gathering recently, when a successful realtor, aggressively asked a man new to the business, how much he cleared on a high profile sale. All of a sudden the room became ghostly quiet, as if everybody started eavesdropping hoping to get a juicy bit of information regarding the mans financial status. The man turned red and coughed and I don’t know what he said, but I’m guessing he’d rather have answered a question about his sexual fantasies, than the one posed. Often those who have a lot of money feel uneasy or guilty. On the other hand people who have too little are likely to have shame. It’s as if less money makes them feel less adequate.
It’s not a mystery that our relationship with money is a mixed bag of core beliefs from our culture and our families. Then there is the illusion of what we should have, from, Madison Avenue, filling us with wants and desires. My early experience with money is strange, in that I don’t remember any currency. I remember exchange and bartering and I’m sure there was money but I didn’t see any until much later. I lived my first eight years on a small island, in the Atlantic, off the east coast of Newfoundland. My father died at 33, when I was eight, and my mother took the six of us children to the mainland, however many of my beliefs were already rooted!
During his life, my father provided for his family, by going from May until early September, to the Grand Banks to fish for cod. They went in schooners that were not equipped for the fierce storms they encountered, and many crews and schooners were lost over the years. When they returned they prepared the catch by salting and drying the cod on flakes, until it was cured enough to take to the mainland, St John’s to be paid. Depending on the size of the catch each person were paid their share, which they then bartered for supplies. The supplies they brought back included everything from barrels of flour, molasses other basic food stuffs, as well as clothing, especially for the cold weather. In addition to the basic supplies, the men hunted caribou, etc, as well as raised sheep, goats and pigs. The women sheared the sheep, and knit woolen outer wear, as well as grew whatever berries and vegetables the harsh climate would allow.
It was a curious but interesting juxaposition. On the one hand there was poverty, and on the other there was an abundance of good food. The harbor froze in the winter and the only contact with the outside world was a sea plane, that landed on the ice with mail, occasionally. There was no theatre, no TV, no flashing pictures from the outside, reminding us of how poor we were and what we were doing without. There was no electricity, cars, or running water. The center of social activity was the Catholic Church which handed down a rigid an Irish take, on sin, hell, purgatory as well as other pronouncements. Mixed in there somewhere, like other young impressionable church goers, I believed in the difficulties of the rich man getting into heaven. I accepted their “second hand God” and absorbed a variety of unexamined beliefs such as “money is the root of all evil.”
I’ve spent decades working through the assorted beliefs and conflicts, sorting them out, putting new or wiser beliefs in place. I realize because of the lack of exposure on island, I did not grow up hearing, we can’t afford, we just didn’t ask, and didn’t know we lived in poverity. It’s interesting to this day having an abundance of food, is more important to me, than an up to date TV etc.
What are your beliefs about money. Trace your story. What beliefs did you buy without question around money issues? From whom? How did it influence you them? How does it influence you now? Are your current beliefs around the amount of money you have negative and limiting, or positive and expansive. What you say is not as powerful, as how you live. Do you live with a philosophy of enoughness, and gratitude, or one of unworthness, and limitation. Where does money beliefs have you by the scruff of the neck.
I know a man who has become a millionaire, several times over in his life to date. He however is not able to hold on to his money. He’s a smart man, and at times has a generous spirit. Other times he squirrels things away, as if he cannot rely on himself, to be a resourceful, if the need arises. He had several emotional losses when he was very young. His mother and older sister were killed in a car crash, when he was about three years of age. His father in grief, and in ignorance of his son’s needs often left him with extended family. As a toddler he suppressed his feelings, took on a role in the family of being a “good boy” who was quite self-sufficient for his age and never any trouble. The role he adapted pleased his father, so he didn’t get what he really needed to resolve his emotional pain, of losses and insecurities. Developmently he didn’t gradually build his foundation, so he was not prepared to function with balance in the world at large. We have to own and process our feelings, not deny them. This little boy blocked out his confusion, hurts, suppressing his bad feelings. He then acted “as if” he were older and was less needy. At some level he knew this role he adapted, made things easier for his father. (Many children rescue their parents). All of this gets lodged in the unconscious, it doesn’t go away. We are the sum total of all our experiences.
So you ask what does this young boy experience have to do with his adult relationship to money, making it and losing it. Consciously he can set a goal and make a lot of money. Unconsciously he acts out of the scared confused little boy who has an imprint of losing what he loves. When this man is flushed, he feels self love, and loved by others but it scares him and he sabotages his happiness. His anxiety pushes him to make unwise, bad investment decisions, leaving him feeling bewildered, confused, unhappy, unloved but there is a familiarity to it. His right hand doesn’t seem to know what the left hand is doing. He alternates between spending unwisely, until he loses, then clings to what is left with a sense of desperation until it’s gone. So he has given money a power to fill needs, that it can’t possibly do.
I know of a woman who was abandoned by her father at an early age. She grew up with her mother who never planned to work outside of the house. Not having much in the way of skills, her mother did waitress work. It was hard work, with long hours. The mother constantly worried about tomorrow, the bills, and what she couldn’t afford. She bombarded her daughter to become financially secure, to never depend on a man. The daughter strove to do things differently from her mother. She worked, often more than one job, didn’t take time to date and never married. She is now fifty six years old with retirement due her from two careers, one in the military, and another post military. She continues to worry about having enough, money and is afraid to retire. She talks of wanting to travel, one day, but fear of not having enough keeps her from planning a trip. Whose life is she compensating for? How much money will be enough for her to feel secure. Money problems often are a smoke screen for the real problems, however it can have a tightfisted grip, keeping the real fears from becoming conscious.
Look closely at your money story, ignorance is not bliss, denial doesn’t help, avoidance doesn’t help. Although most of us know that money doesn’t guarantee happiness, we know if there is lack, or we are not managing what we have, we can experience a lot of misery. You can, if you do not like your money story change, it and have financial success. If we want to have more money in our lives, we must become aware of the negative, or limiting beliefs, we have about it and increase the positive or expansive beliefs we want to have.
Next time: I’ll start by identifying the most damaging beliefs we have in our culture and families. I’ll give you some tools to shift the negative and to incooperate more positive, abundant thoughts, so that you may have if you desire, financial abundance and freedom.