In this economic climate, everybody wants to know how to get more money. Self help books and money gurus are popping up everywhere with promises that if you just follow a few easy steps, you too can have all the abundance you could ever desire. The gurus and books can generally be split into two categories: The Prosperity Teachers & The Financial Disciplinarians. The prosperity teachers suggest that your economic flow is connected to your spiritual energy. They say that what you have to do to acquire wealth is to give to the universal flow (or the church) with the understanding that this money will be returned to you by virtue of spiritual law. The financial disciplinarians are a bit more pragmatic. Their vantage point is that you can have more money over time if you watch every coin, save all your pennies, and get rid of ( or over-use) your lines of credit.
There are extremely useful tools in both schools of thought. There are also some things that are harmful in both as well. One thing that both often fail to realize is that in addition to the spiritual and logistical nature of our relationships to money, each of us also has an emotional connection to money.
We each have a history of hurt feelings, wounds and trauma around money that inform how we relate to it, the choices we make, and the narratives we tell ourselves. A large part of this emotional relationship is created in our early stages of life by our caregivers and those around us. We often inherent the anxieties and narratives our primary caregivers have about money unconsciously. It comes from what we heard about money, what we were told when we asked about it, and what we saw people do for it and with it.
It is my belief that these feelings and patterns, unexamined in our own income histories must be taken into account if we are to help ourselves and our communities heal economically, develop different ways of relating to and supporting each other economically or even just stay afloat in these hard times. To illustrate this point, I am going to take three economic statements that many of us who grew up in working class households often hear as children. Using myself as an example, I am going to show how they can impact us emotionally and affect our relationship to money.
1. “Don’t Ask Me About No Damn Money!”: For me, whenever I asked about money, this was often the response. Many of us are familiar with this statement in some shape or form. Mind you, my family was dealing with a lot of stress around economic woes, but as a little person this taught me to shut up and never ask people things related to income. It taught me that if you did ask people about money it would make them angry. That shame carried unconsciously, showed up in my inability to ask questions about fiscal matters in my own life. Because of this belief I suffered in my relationships to banks and credit card companies. Why? I was afraid to ask too many questions. Many of us have suffered due to the same thing from signing dangerous loans or applying for credit cards with astronomical interest rates. The fear and of asking questions either cause we feel we may “look dumb” about money is something that has impacted a lot of African Americans.
2, “We Ain’t Got No Money”: Growing up almost everyone in my family said this. It was a casual statement spoken sharply and angrily. When it was said, you could feel the tinge of shame and hurt that we didn’t have money. Somehow in my mind it communicated that we weren’t worthy of money; or that we had done something wrong to not have any money. In addition, the fact was very rarely did we not have any money at all; we always had something. It may have been a very little, from a few hundred dollars till next month or even less than that, but we had something.
As an adult when I would say that I would feel remnants of that guilt and shame. These emotions would lead me to a “who cares” attitude with the little income I had which in turn led to very unwise decisions. I would be like; hell I ain’t got no money anyway, who cares? I had to realize later in my life that even if I had two cents or two dollars, I had some money and that not acknowledging or being grateful for what money I had wasn’t helping my attitude or my wallet. It was just beating myself up and making myself feel worse. Feeling worse helped nothing; it just built more shame and sadness and depression, preventing me from thinking critically and seeking support to aleviate the situation.
3. “There Is Never Enough”: I can remember specifically hearing adults say this all the time when I was growing up. As an adult I always just believed this to be true. Holding on to this concept, I just shrugged my shoulders at my bank account and said “there’s just never enough”. This attitude prevented me from realizing that many times I had the privilege of having my needs met; but instead it was my wants that I flustered over. Perhaps I didn’t have enough to spend sixty dollars on drinks or thirty dollars on a taxis; but I always had the privilege of having enough money to eat and meet basic needs.
Yet thinking that there was just never enough prevented me from even looking that deep into myself. I also had to wonder, is there really not enough money? Is that really just the way money is? All of my spiritual teachings from the prosperity folks said abundance was our right, but how can I say there is abundance when people are starving? We live in one of the wealthiest nations ( well, at least it was at point) in the world, yet everyday people go without basic needs for survival and nourishment. I had to think, maybe there really is not enough! But then I realized something.
The economic system that we live in helps to perpetuate poverty; it is not the fundamental state of reality. According to the World Institute of the United Nations, in the year 2000 the top 1 percent of the world captured 40% of the world’s wealth. We ourselves have created and participate in this economic system that creates this kind of disparity. So the question becomes, “Is it that their is not enough or that we have created systems that make “not enough” for the other 99% of the planet a reality?” I also had to look at myself and how I was using my money. There were times when, in trying to keep up with the consumption culture of America, I would go along and go out and spend money that I knew It was unwise for me to spend. For me, like our world community, the question was not that “was there enough?” but was I using what I had wisely and was my system productive for my well being.
I believe In order to change our relationship to money, we have to do more than just make more money. We need to examine our own family patterns and emotional relationships towards money. We need to see how the things we heard and saw impacted us then and are affecting us today. We have to learn to forgive our caregivers and release the economic patterns of our past. Healing these patterns can help free up energy for us to learn how to use what we have more wisely and help to create economic systems that are more equitable within our own communities whether they are systems of bartering, shared “pots” of income, or more. But these things for many are increasingly difficult if our “stuff” around money is under examined. We don’t have to perpetuate cyclical patterns of scarcity. What we can do is take a look back on the pain of the past and transform it into tools for economic healing in the present.
In the Spirit of Love, Healing and Peace