While much has been written about managing money, we are on our own when we try to manage the emotions that money generates. We can improve our relationship to money by considering how to manage these money-related emotions more wisely.
One draining emotion that money evokes is the fear of losing it. To combat this fear, we try to acquire more and more, as if somehow large quantities will protect us from our own emotions. But if we are predisposed to fear, we will feel it no matter how rich we are. We can more appropriately deal with fear by becoming wiser about our own emotions. Fighting fear requires sublime courage. We need to cultivate hope, trust, a strong social network and belief in a generous world. If we grew up around money fears, it might take years to build emotional poise in the face of powerful memories.
Throughout history, wise people have been warning us against the dangers of greed. Nowadays, we are fascinated by large quantities of money, and may feel annoyed that anyone would interfere with our right to accumulate as much as we want. While the dangers of greed seem to be a quaint remnant of bygone times, these ethical concerns contain a kernel of wisdom about the human condition. Greed narrows hardens our heart and narrows the range of emotions we can enjoy. We live life on the surface, plunging in only where money is involved. And we don’t pay much attention to other human needs, reducing the warmth of our relationships.
One reason we may strive so passionately towards accumulating money is the sense of pride it offers. We are trained to think that receiving money or valuable stuff is evidence that we are good, worthwhile people. While money is a part of the story, there are many other parts. Our value can also be gauged by other features of our life such as the love and support we share with others, and our talents and accomplishments to name a few. And independent of any external factors, we need to know that all human beings have worth. If low self-esteem is founded in childhood wounds, no amount of money or shopping will heal it. We must directly attend to this healing so that we can become whole.
We may use impractical methods to obtain money, for example by running up credit card debt. We may also seek seemingly free money from the lottery and other forms of gambling. No matter how much money we put in the slots, when the jackpot hits, it shores up our shaky self esteem and lets us feel good about the world. This apparent “gift” can be intoxicating, letting us overlook the fact that we will need to pay it back in the future. Getting immediate gratification and then worrying about the consequences later might make sense for children, but such behavior causes many problems for adults.
To have enough money later we need to save some, putting off our satisfaction today for our comfort tomorrow. This ability to delay gratification is not something that babies are born with. It is one of the basic skills we learn as we mature into adults. With our mental machinery fully engaged, we use reasoning to counterbalance the infantile insistence on getting what we want when we want it. If we have reached adulthood without having the skill to delay gratification, we should focus on developing this ability now, to reduce money-related problems throughout our life.
Money inherited from a parent is loaded with emotions. It feels strange receiving a gift from someone who is no longer here. And it is the last gift they will ever give. Now that they are gone, we are instantly elevated to a new position in the generations. This transition often stirs up tension among siblings who feel that they deserve more. The inheritance may become the focal point of frustrations and rivalries that have been simmering under the surface for years. Siblings of any age can find themselves struggling with feelings that were important to them as small children. When we experience turmoil around inheritance, we should look for peace by exploring the underlying influences of childhood. We may also need to explore our emotions about mortality.
For most of us, money is associated with work. Working for money gets us out of bed in the morning, and can energize us and move us forward. As we strive for excellence we hope that more money will flow. The striving helps us stay vibrant and alive, but placing too much emphasis on financial rewards can limit our options, potentially even preventing us from working without a paycheck. Such a money-centric attitude can blind us to wonderful opportunities to serve and grow, and can turn unemployment and retirement into helpless despair.
There are many powerful and rewarding accomplishments in life that are not related to money. Helping a friend or family member in need, or volunteering to help a stranger can bring sublime rewards that fulfill us to the core. We may savor a job well done. And some of life’s most rewarding activities, such as creativity, athletics and spirituality rarely earn a paycheck. Honoring these dimensions of satisfaction helps us stay rounded and grounded.
Some of the emotions around money can be destructive. We might jealously turn against someone who has more than we do. Or we might use money to control others, thus creating superficial and controlling relationships. Couples are especially vulnerable to money-related conflicts. One wants to spend more, one less. One believes that money is the most important contribution to the relationship, the other believes that emotional and home making services are most important. Errors in calculation may be seen as a sign of weakness and “stupidity.” Money woes may be a smokescreen that hides the complex issues of intimacy.
A business deal gone sour or a loan not repaid can be emotionally traumatic and undermine our faith in people. We can’t turn the clock back to change past events. And revenge or justice only goes so far in restoring our trust. To heal, we need to deal directly with the complex and painful mix of emotions, for example by coping with the old wounds that are awakened by this incident, turning towards our social support network, grieving our loss, and building new reservoirs of faith. We also can tackle our feelings by examining our beliefs about the world. We already knew that life is a mix of good and bad, and just because something bad happened to us doesn’t make all the good go away.
Sometimes we are suspicious of the power of money, and are so afraid that touching money will turn into the excesses of greed that we turn against money, and think it is dirty. That can also be a trap. Running away from money can seem romantic or even spiritual, but it can also make us poor. And we may be missing out on money-related opportunities that could be uplifting and rewarding. A balanced approach towards money allows us to see that it can cause pleasure or pain, depending on how good we are at integrating it into our emotional and spiritual goals.
Just understanding the complex emotions around money doesn’t make them go away or get better. But it is a start. As we recognize all the feelings that come along with money, we can start teasing them out. When we take our emotions into account, our insight helps us make better decisions. Because money is so present in so many areas of life, having a healthy balanced attitude towards it can promote our emotional health, as well as promoting the health and mutual supportiveness of our social network.