Each January, when the Holiday shopping is over, money regrets figure into many New Year’s resolutions. When the tax season arrives money stress again rears its head, as new promises are made. However, it is not so easy to change money habits or even get a handle on what drives them. The cultural context most of us deal with is both materially obsessed and non-reflective. Even in psychotherapy, the subject of money is often more closely guarded than other taboos.
Yet, as any divorce or estate attorney has witnessed, money can make otherwise sane people act crazy. It seems to unconsciously represent so many things it is not: power, control, freedom, sex, intelligence, worthiness, and even love.
When these unconscious desires are projected on money in relationships it becomes the source of conflict and sometimes multi-generational power struggles. The good news is, anything that causes this much trouble contains strong medicine, and money is no exception. Using money issues as a line of inquiry exposes emotional wounds, insights, and hidden resources.
When one wants to change something about their money life there are some easy ways to begin. Taking a look at how money is experienced, including any current, observable patterns is a good first step. This may include compulsive spending, self-deprivation, binging, or other tendencies. Feelings attached to any of these behaviors are important to note as well as any beliefs they contain.
Consider the developmental influence of parents, religion, community, and historical contexts. Childhood messages are a big influence and it’s not surprising how many people unconsciously replicate their parents’ patterns. Including money matters in Genogram work is enlightening.
Journaling is another powerful way to examine money relationships. For example, having a conversation with one’s money or writing therapeutic letters to release historical binds often facilitates getting unstuck. Recognizing what money really means and how it symbolizes what it is not supports free choice.
Certainly, not all money issues are psychological. Everyone needs enough money to meet basic needs. In the current economy, we all know people who are suffering in very immediate ways because they lack money. These conditions reflect the soul of the community. Part of what is often valuable about understanding money’s personal meaning is opening our hearts to previously unseen connections. In truth, money, as common as it appears, offers a rich psychological and spiritual window into our lives.