I once interviewed a woman who was experiencing a lot of stress in her marriage about money. She and her husband were having a hard time talking about money and integrating their money – they even filed separate tax returns–but their finances had taken a turn for the worst. She realized their inability to communicate about their financial life was taking a toll on the marriage, and wanted help.
Things really came to a head when the couple was asked to disclose their assets and financial statements to a financial planner. The couple both knew that the wife had higher income – she was a lawyer, he was an artist, but her reluctance, and near refusal to share her finances were clearly being driven by something deeper.
The planner, who also had training in psychology and therapy, was savvy enough to start asking questions about how the couple saw their parents behave with money.
It turns out that the woman’s father would always yell at the mother, sometimes threatening violence about her spending. In order to avoid these brutal confrontations, her mother would buy things and not tell the father, hide new purchases in the car, for example, often enlisting her daughter’s help.
The child fell into the ‘hide money’ mode as an adult, and it felt perfectly natural to her. Once she became aware of this pattern, however, it no longer ran the show. She could call herself out when the feelings and tendencies surfaced. Now that she and her husband knew what was really happening, he could provide compassion and support when she needed it, and she could redirect her energy towards her true goal, which was creating the financial foundation she and her husband needed to achieve their goals.
“We simply filter information through the mechanisms we developed as a child,” says financial advisor Susan Galvan. “Those deep imprints influence every decision we make, and we use them as a reference point. If we don’t go back and look at those operating systems, we will fail. We will remain at that level of understanding if it is not revisited,” she adds.
Don’t Blame Mom & Dad
Chances are, your parents or primary caregivers didn’t realize that their unspoken words and unexamined actions were speaking volumes. And you certainly didn’t have the presence of mind to tell them, “your behavior and patterns are literally programming my brain in ways that will hurt me financially as an adult.” I definitely want to hear from you if you did!
Most important, remember that the people who raised you were dealing with their own conditioning about money from the people who raised them and the environments they were raised in. Think about that for a moment.
“This conversation is not about blaming mom and dad. It’s really about discovering the messages that you got, some recognizable and some unspoken, that have formed you now,” says Marty Carter, a family counselor specializing in financial behavior and licensed clinical social worker.
“If they’re good, you want to keep them. If not, instead of blaming mom and dad, see what you can do differently.”
A Look Inside
The point where you are bound is also the point where you will be set free. Think about the following questions 5 questions and see where you may need to rewrite your early scripting about money.
- What was your family’s attitude about the following: saving, spending, debt, and investing? Are their beliefs having an impact on your choices today?
- Did you see healthy discussions about money, or was there stress around money in your household when you were growing up?
- What do you admire most about your primary caregiver’s financial behavior? Why?
- What do you consider your primary caregiver’s greatest limitation when it comes to money? How do you think this has affected them?
- Imagine yourself achieving your goals. Which of your childhood money scripts would need to be re-written? What would the new messages be?
As you examine the role your childhood conditioning is playing out in your finances today, come up with 3 things you can do to step away from those early scripts and act in ways that are consistent with your goals.
For example, if you see that your early scripting has not helped you become a good saver, set up automatic deductions: have an amount that is within your budget taken out of your paycheck and automatically deposited into a savings account each month. Pick a date to start the process.
While conditioning, like those imprints we take from our role models, is powerful, it is no match for your superpowers. Instinct, intuition, the ability to change your mind, for example, are skills you were born with – skills that will light the way on your road to abundance.