What IS a Healthy Relationship with Money?

When I tell someone that I’m a financial therapist, the first thing they say to me is “OMG, I totally need that.” Many of us know that we have hang-ups about money. It can be one of the most difficult things to talk about in a relationship since the subject of money and our conversations about it are often riddled with judgment, shame and guilt.

How people relate with money is dynamic and complicated. The changes we seek don’t happen overnight. And my experience with clients shows me that, individually and collectively, we have a lot of work to do on our emotional intelligence in relation to money. So, it’s no wonder that people get so worked up over money that they may avoid talking about it.

In fact, money—and how we deal with it psychologically, emotionally and socially—is one of the last frontiers to be breached as we seek to empower ourselves and create peace and justice in our world. On the whole, we are more willing to explore our childhood trauma and body issues than our “money stuff.” Money is still relatively taboo.

The way we are with money does not make logical sense. But it does make emotional sense. When we are able to understand the full effect that money has on us, we are deeply empowered and less likely to be manipulated.

However, the drug of “more is better” is intoxicating. We are bombarded with marketing every day that tells us how we should spend. We are told: This outfit, this gadget, this experience will make your life better.

Our brains are wired from a very young age to believe that having more and buying things create joy and happiness. Television, movies, social media and advertising of all kinds train our brains to default to retail therapy to alleviate discomfort. We bribe our kids with toys, sweets and money. We soothe our distress with shopping.

The marketing machine lights up the centres in our brain that emphasize what is missing rather than what we already have. Advertising intends to make us feel less-than, to breed scarcity, because its systems have all been created for profit.

Our money systems are built on a troubled framework. It is not news that Wall Street runs the show and the very few at the top of the money system manipulate value and distribution for their own advancement. We know that this top-down approach is not designed to support us as a global community. It enslaves many to work for very little so that others may gain. It is used to shift political agendas in the favour of more profit. At this time, we have few options but to work hard, make more money and consume.

The machine that moves the markets has enormous power. It has shaped our base desires, and many of us are completely unaware of the effects the system itself is having on us as a whole. It seems we have little power to change it. It’s overwhelming, and so what most people focus on is their personal situations: jobs, family, investments and retirement. That is where the conversation about money ends.

The cultural narrative in North America is this: If you have enough money to retire happily, you are doing well. But, what if our work around money ran much deeper and had a more powerful lasting impact on this Earth we share? Things are changing rapidly, and our present financial paradigm is unsustainable for our planet.

I am not saying that we have to live in poverty or without the comforts and joys that this physical world has to offer us. I just think we need to approach our relationship to money differently.

What if there was another way? What if confronting and exploring your relationship with money could give you a sense of peace and joy that no one could take away from you? What if you had a level of confidence and financial acumen that allowed you to lead with certainty and alignment?

We are not taught about money in school, and few people know the history of how money became so important in our lives. Ignorance is the drug that keeps this economic machine running. However, we cannot avoid addressing financial matters—it does not seem like money will go away any time soon.

Perhaps the most productive use of our efforts to improve our money situations is to explore the cognitive, motivational and behavioural consequences of money in our lives. The more aware we are of money’s influence over us, the more equipped we become to navigate healthier interactions with it.

Working in this profession for almost a decade, it is clear that everyone has a different idea of what a healthy relationship with money looks like. In truth, most people have no idea what it could look like.

This is what I have discovered: A healthy relationship with money has nothing to do with how much money you have. The truest test of a healthy relationship with money lies in the balance (or upset) you would feel if you lost all your money. Your response would reveal how the deepest elements of worth and value that are woven into our cultural indoctrinations around money are also woven into you.

A healthy relationship with money runs very deep and has the potential to affect, not only our personal happiness, but also the communities we share.

There are three distinct areas with money that need to be strong and balanced in order for us to feel safe, healthy and strong financially. Strengthening these three pillars takes time and work, but when all three are strong, money is no longer a private and insular experience; it can become a place for connection with others. Then you can have a healthy relationship with money because you have rewired the primitive brain, which unconsciously chooses separation from others, and linked it to the more evolved centres in the brain that desire intimate connection and compassionate action.

The three pillars of a healthy relationship with money are peace, joy and confidence, and they are available to each of us.

Peace with money is when we are fully awake to the “money machine.” We feel our instinctual generosity and naturally act on it. Scarcity consciousness no longer leads our decisions. We lead with wisdom and compassion, both in our spending and how we act in our communities.

Joy with money is enjoying the beautiful, delicious and life-affirming elements around us. We make a point of understanding how what we buy and consume are made. We ask, “Do they violate anyone’s human rights? Are they destroying the earth we live on?” True joy with money cannot take from another.

Confidence with money is becoming financially literate: understanding how the markets work, how the banks work, how to navigate the jargon of the elusive financial industry. When you are confident with money, you know how much you make and how to save and spend it wisely. You have the confidence to talk about money and ask questions when something is unclear. You feel competent to negotiate your wage, your mortgage, your life. Confidence with money means becoming a leader with money.

I am humbled daily by the work that each one of my clients does with their money. They are true pioneers. From the single mom that learns to lead her family and educate her children on the deeper aspects of money … to the couple that begins a dialogue and aligns their dreams of a better life together … to the entrepreneur that deepens their financial relationship to their local community … Each one of them is stepping into a totally different and vastly transformative way of being with money.

Money could be one of the vehicles that we use to create more connections in our communities and happier relationships within our families. It may have more potential for good than we could ever have imagined.

Brenda St Louis- Financial Therapist

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