Money can be hard to talk about.
A 2021 report from researchers at George Washington University showed that 50% of American adults surveyed felt stressed when discussing their personal finances, and 60% experienced anxiety just thinking about their finances.
This is often true even for high earners or people who have earned a stable salary for decades now. And according to Ed Coambs, a couples therapist who specializes in financial therapy, there’s a psychological explanation for this: Your anxiety about money is often deeply tied to your childhood experiences with financial stability.
Further, Coambs adds: What you think you can achieve as an adult is often directly influenced by the amount of money your parents earned when you were a child. And your brain might not be able to let go of that idea, which means that when you succeed, you might unconsciously sabotage yourself back to a place of financial familiarity.
Here’s why and what you can do to get out of this mindset:
How Your Brain Could Be Sabotaging Your Financial or Career Success
Think for a second about what you will realistically be able to accomplish for the rest of your career. What kind of job could you one day have? How much money could you earn?
Chances are your answer is pretty close to the level of success your parents or guardians had when you were a child. “Psychologically… you have to overcome [that] to see that you can make a difference,” Coambs told CNBC Make It.
The phenomenon has fascinating implications. If your parents worked standard day jobs when you were a kid, for example, you might have a harder time making the leap to starting a side hustle or turning it into a full-time gig. Or, if you grew up in a lower- or middle-class household, you might struggle to envision a direct path to greater wealth as an adult.
If you grew up in a wealthy family, you might be just as limited by the social expectations of your family and your peers, says Preston Cherry, assistant professor of personal financial planning at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay. For example, you might feel attracted to a small school or community college that particularly excels in an area you want to study, but your social upbringing might turn you away.
“Community college is frowned upon in some social circles, but that’s what your environment has told you,” Cherry says, adding that making choices based on how they’ll be perceived socially can lead you to start ” forget your own well-being, your own goals”. and your own practicality.”
Ultimately, says Coambs, a deeply held belief that you’re capable of a limited amount can lead to a lot of self-sabotage.
“People will increase their level of success, financially or in terms of social status, but it will feel so unfamiliar to them that they will subconsciously begin to revert to a level that feels more psychologically familiar to them,” he says. .
3 symptoms to watch out for
Cherry says there are three main symptoms associated with this type of financial or professional self-sabotage:
- Keeping excess money because of fear
- Not looking for new lucrative opportunities because you don’t feel you can handle them
- Be less likely to take financial risks than those around you
“If you grew up in a house where money is scarce, you can keep it until you are an adult. You cannot seek abundance of money because you may not think you have it. worth it,” says Cherry.
If you fail to see your true worth and self-esteem, you’ll find it hard to believe you can negotiate a raise or fight for a promotion, says Cherry. And if you don’t believe you can, he adds, you almost certainly won’t believe in your own ability to start a successful side hustle or entrepreneurial venture.
So what can you do about it?
How to solve the problem: “It takes a community”
The first step, as cliché as it sounds, is acceptance.
Coambs says you need to recognize that this phenomenon really affects you and mourn the opportunities you’ve missed over the years. Then, through conversations with a trusted, empathetic person like a therapist, you can figure out exactly how these types of thoughts are affecting you and start working to change them, he says.
“One of those big changes brought about by the lens of therapy is that it’s less about telling people how they should feel, and more about inviting people into a process of self-reflection,” says Coambs. “That way they start coming to their own conclusions, and that change comes on their own.”
Friends who support you can also help you: surround yourself with people who encourage you to believe in yourself.
“Making these external validations become an internal reality,” says Coambs. “So if you don’t have people in your life telling you that you’re capable of doing more, then you have to develop that within yourself, and despite what some people might think, it’s a lot harder to do. .”
Cherry also recommends investing time in financial literacy: the more you learn about how money works, the less likely you are to over-stress about it. He notes that personal finance education in schools could be a particularly useful way to nip this phenomenon in the bud for today’s children, giving them a potentially more positive relationship with money from their earliest years. younger age.
“You can’t do it yourself. Bootstrapping is a myth, as far as self-upliftment goes. It takes a community,” says Cherry.
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