The Heart of Money: Breaking Free of the Money Taboo An excerpt from "The Heart of Money" by Deborah L. Price explains where our money taboos come from and how couples can begin to break free. BY DEBORAH L. PRICE
Photo courtesy: New World Library
An excerpt from The Heart of Money by Deborah L. Price.
“ 58 percent of those surveyed reported that they hid money or purchases from their spouse...”
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a taboo is "something that is avoided or forbidden for religious or social reasons," and therefore, talking about a taboo subject is often considered wrong or distasteful. In the past sixty years, we’ve opened the door to exploring many historically taboo subjects, such as sex, ethnicity, religion, and politics; and in doing so, we have expanded and evolved both our individual and our collective consciousness. As a reward for these efforts, we have all witnessed and experienced greater openness, acceptance, and tolerance in the world at large.
Yet somehow, money has remained a vastly unexplored taboo, and there is more than sufficient evidence to show that this taboo is simply not serving us. The emotional and financial pain and consequences that couples experience are taking a toll and costing them far too much. It is time to break free of the money taboo and heal our collective money issues.
Facing the Money Shadow
Any area of our lives that remains off-limits to talk about openly, honestly, and without fear can become a "shadow" part of our being. In Jungian psychology, the shadow or shadow aspect represents a part of our unconscious mind that contains repressed aspects of ourselves. Carl Jung wrote that "everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is." In monetary terms, the shadow represents unconscious money patterns or behaviors we may possess that are harmful to ourselves or to others.
One example of this is when a person secretly invests a large sum of money without the knowledge of his or her partner and then loses the money, creating an extreme financial loss and feelings of betrayal. This has happened with many of the couples in my practice, and in each case, shadow influences were present in the partner who had secretly invested. In one couple, the shadow aspect of the husband had to do with unacknowledged anger toward his wife. Rather than learning how to address and communicate his anger, he acted out his feelings through secret behavior that ultimately sabotaged their finances and their relationship. Fortunately, they were able to heal and resolve this betrayal, but sadly, it doesn’t always work out favorably. Many marriages fail due to the shadow influences in one or both spouses that manifest in negative behaviors, secrecy, and betrayal.
Let these stories be a cautionary tale for us all, because to the extent that we are unwilling to move beyond the money taboo, we all stand to carry a part of this shadow inside us. Every day, we hear news about some individual (or corporation — they have their own shadow aspects) who committed an act that no one saw coming or was, by all accounts, not in keeping with his or her core personality. This is always followed by statements like, "But he was such a nice guy; what happened?" from those who knew the person. Our shadow aspects are generally hidden deep within us. Most of us work hard to overcome these tendencies, but we often discover the money shadow in others only when we get hit between the eyes.
In relationships, the money shadow can show up in a number of ways, but perhaps one of the most common is financial infidelity. According to a survey conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education, over 58 percent of those surveyed reported that they hid money or purchases from their spouse. Over 34 percent indicated that they had previously lied to their spouse about their earnings, debt, or finances. What makes us do this? Our own unexplored money shadows. How can we change this? Let’s start by getting out of the money closet, which is the first step to breaking free of the money taboo. We have everything to gain by doing this and increasingly more to lose if we continue to keep the deadbolt locked on the door. Can we really afford to lose any more? I don’t think so. Today, with millions of people reaching their financial breaking point, the stakes are getting higher and the consequences are far greater than ever before. Financial planning will never be an adequate solution for the money issues that cause financial conflict, self-sabotage, and disharmony in relationships.
Humans have had a rather precarious relationship with money since it was first created. Historically, whenever we have lost our way with money, becoming increasingly greedy, overconsuming, and overindebted, we have experienced major economic challenges. Couples would be advised, as an ounce of prevention, to use this book as an opportunity to do some inner work and reflection. Given our individual and global economic challenges, this is not a good time in history to live in denial or, worse, arrogance. The spiritual and physical laws of the universe are such that great imbalances seldom are tolerated without consequence.
Whenever the doorway to any subject or issue is closed or off-limits, we remain trapped on the other side, without access to what might be possible, including solutions, understanding, and healing. Taboos are the breeding ground for fear, limitation, misunderstanding, and pain. Until we pry open the door and begin to explore the taboo subject of money, we remain imprisoned in systems that keep us stuck, fearful, and contracted. Once it’s opened, we can begin to explore and discover new possibilities. We can learn new ways of being that are more expansive and allow us to feel safe enough to reflect and respond in healthier, more life-affirming ways.
In most families, when we are relatively young, money is established as a system of punishment and reward. This is where some of our money patterns and flawed beliefs take root. At the core of this is the gradual forming of an underlying belief that only if and when we are "good" are we worthy of receiving money. In sharp contrast, when we are "not good" or perhaps even told that we are "bad," we can develop the flawed belief that we must be unworthy of having or receiving money. I believe that people keep an unconscious tab of the things they’ve done wrong in their life that serve as evidence of why they have not experienced more money, success, or happiness. This unconscious checks-and-balances system is deeply flawed, simply because, as human beings, we are always worthy. If you are here, you were given the gift of life for a reason, and therefore you must be worthy of all life’s possible expressions, including money.
When money (not unlike food, one of our other addictions) becomes a bargaining chip that parents use to get their children to behave and conform to their needs and desires, much can go wrong. This form of parenting can create a pattern of contradiction and confusion that is challenging for a child to understand and integrate. Another unpleasant side effect of this unconscious and seemingly benign form of manipulation is that those children may grow up to become adults who easily confuse their self-worth with their net worth. They may come to expect and believe that they get what they "deserve" or "do not deserve," which is a direct reflection of their value and self-esteem. Virginia Satir, one of the leading pioneers of family therapy, wrote, "Every word, facial expression, gesture, or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth."
The person we grow into as an adult is largely shaped by what is referred to in money coaching as the unconscious inheritance — the money patterns of our family of origin, which are often fraught with conflict and contradictory behaviors.
We all need, require, and deserve food, shelter, love, and, yes, even money, to feel secure, grow, and thrive. These basic needs should never be given or withheld conditionally. When money (or food, shelter, or safety) is conditionally given to us or withdrawn, we can begin to believe that we are somehow not enough or are unworthy, which can damage our core self-esteem. It is critical to understand that while most parents don’t intend to harm their children in this manner, unconscious parenting does often produce a harmful result. I see signs of this every day in my practice, and know too many adults who feel unworthy of having money or can have only just "enough" because their self-esteem will not allow them to imagine the possibility of more. This is the main reason why poverty is so deeply entrenched and difficult to overcome. Many people simply do not possess the container for a greater financial reality. Most people clearly want more money. Unfortunately, many do not possess the belief that they are worthy of it. This may explain why nine out of ten lottery winners spend or lose all their winnings within five years. For people with these unconscious money patterns, acquiring a great deal of money only serves to make matters worse.
By the time we reach adulthood, form relationships, and marry, our personal and financial self-esteem is already completely formed. Whatever modeling or messages we may have received have become hardwired patterns in the brain that are habitual and unconscious. We don’t know much about this aspect of ourselves or our mates until we marry or live with each other and begin to share and experience money together. Imagine this scenario: You’re a newlywed wife and have just spent a fortune on your wedding, the happiest day of your life. In fact, you’ve just returned from a marvelous honeymoon in Hawaii. The two of you couldn’t be happier. A week later, the bills for your wedding and honeymoon arrive, and your dear husband hits the ceiling over unanticipated expenses. He becomes irate and blames you for not paying attention and overspending. He tells you, "I guess it’s going to have to be me who handles the money from now on because you clearly are not capable! You’re out to lunch when it comes to money! What do think — we’re made of money?" You are startled and confused. You’ve never seen your man act like this! You feel ashamed and also angry. What is he so mad about? you wonder. It’s only money, and we have more than enough! You feel very wounded and unsafe. From that day forward, you begin to hide your spending out of fear of your husband’s anger and reactivity. And poof — there goes the intimacy! Both of you have become defensive, and now there is an invisible distance between you that grows larger with each secret purchase you make.
So what happened? With barely a blink, your husband unconsciously took on the role of his father ("I have to be the man and control the ship!"). And guess what? It’s beginning to feel like the good old days, back at home with your father, the money tyrant who gave and withheld money and love based on whether or not you were good! Suddenly you have become the compliant wife on the outside and a rebellious teenager on the inside. Déjà vu? No, you both just became triggered by past wounds and unconsciously slipped into prescribed roles and money patterns with each other. The foundations of your patterns were laid long ago. They were silently and opportunistically waiting to meet up again in holy matrimony, where all of our deepest issues become triggered. Fortunately, there is help and hope for every couple willing to do the work.
Deborah L. Price is the author of "The Heart of Money and Money Magic." She is the founder and CEO of the Money Coaching Institute, providing coaching to individuals, couples, and corporations. Visit her online at www.moneycoachinginstitute.com.