Why We Use Money to Feel Bad About Ourselves

Our attitudes about money have deep roots in our past. By the time we become financially independent ourselves, most of us have already had a significant number of tension-causing encounters with money. Whether it was watching our parents argue over spending, seeing a loved one lose a job, or worrying over where our next meal would come from, stressful experiences surrounding money are entrenched in our memories. It’s no surprise then, that as adults, these memories shape our attitudes toward ourselves and others in relation to finances. Regardless of economic status, almost every person I’ve met has, at one point or another, used money to feel bad about themselves and to worry and distract them from more meaningful facets of their lives.

Because money is tied to deep (even subconscious) feelings from our past, people are often irrational when it comes to money, both in the long and short term. The “critical inner voice” is a negative thought process we adopt from early life experiences. It represents destructive and critical attitudes we’re exposed to that we’ve then take on as our own point of view. For example, a child who grows up with a stingy parent, who induces guilt over anything the child asks for, may grow up feeling stingy toward him or herself. Children who are spoiled, rewarded with gifts as a means to soothe them or keep them from throwing a fit, may grow up never feeling satisfied, always wanting more, yet feeling unworthy of what they receive.

Just as it wreaks havoc with many areas of your life, your critical inner voice can heavily complicate your relationship with money. The “voice” may tell you that you’re worthless if you can’t reach a certain income level. It may induce extreme guilt, anxiety or rigidity when it comes to spending. It may entice you to splurge, “Go ahead, buy that pair of shoes. It will make you feel better, and it’s just what you need after the day you’ve had.” It will then beat you up for your actions, “What is wrong with you? You’re so irresponsible. There you go wasting all your money. Now, you’re really gonna be in trouble.” This particular type of thinking can have serious consequences, fueling destructive or addictive behavior, such as compulsive shopping or erratic spending.

The critical inner voice often creates conflict between couples when it comes to money. For instance, it may tell you that it means something significant if you spend money on one another, feeding you thoughts like “You should buy her something nice. It’s the only way to really earn her love,” or “He didn’t get you anything for our anniversary. He must not really love you.” The critical inner voice will also create paranoia between a couple: “She thinks I spend too much. I better not let her know what I bought this weekend” or “Does he think I’m made of money? He can’t just expect me to support the two of us!”

The critical inner voice can cloud your judgment when it comes to money, because you are no longer making choices based on real, practical information. Instead, you are acting on emotionally-charged advice from an inner critic. This voice affects people at all stages of wealth and at all spending levels. It’s therefore very valuable to ask yourself: Whose voice are you hearing when it comes to your finances? What childhood dynamics play into your point of view toward money?




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