The Kenwood Press
: 12/01/2014

Defining who you are

Donna Colfer

Your relationship with money has very little to do with how much or how little you have. You can still feel vague, confused, and frustrated with money, or you can have abundance, peace, and more balance. But if you don’t understand how you’re relating to money, you can’t transform or heal it. It is the core underlying issues of betrayal, resentment, and powerlessness that can continue to run your life, leaving you no clue why. Without your awareness of the underlying issues, you’ll continue to waste your time and precious energy. This is especially true if you own a business.

I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter whether my clients are wealthy or trying to find ways to make ends meet each month; they share many challenging feelings around money. I work with happy people who have very little and the anxiety-ridden who have millions.

Here’s an example of someone who grew up in an affluent family. Let’s call him Lewis. Growing up, all Lewis had to do was ask for money and his parents gave it to him. His mother was a highly paid accountant and his father a corporate executive. Both parents came from wealthy families as well. So money was never an issue, always available, but never discussed. Lewis was taught not to talk about money; it was inappropriate.

When he was 10 years old, his mother opened a checking account for Lewis and taught him how to balance it. He liked seeing the numbers grow when he received monetary gifts from his grandparents, which wasn’t unusual and came in large deposits. He felt as if he was on top of the world. Of course, the accumulation was wisely invested by his parents.

By the time Lewis was in high school he recognized his wealth and privilege, and realized he was better off than most. Although many of his friends had jobs, having one himself never crossed his mind. After a while, Lewis began to feel uncomfortable about the “money issue.” He began to downplay money. He ruminated about feelings of not fitting in.

Lewis attended college which was “prepaid” by his parents. Afterwards, he landed a well-paying job and made friends with people of all economic backgrounds. He met the girl he would marry, and fell in love. She came from a family who had financial difficulties all their lives. She was well educated but had trouble staying in one job. When they married, Lewis was the main breadwinner and his wife contributed financially to the household, but they found themselves continually withdrawing from his investments. They were living beyond their means every month. They continued Lewis’ habitual pattern of buying whatever he wanted.

In 2008’s dramatic economic downturn, Lewis lost a good portion of his investments. Even though he still had plenty, the loss hit him so hard that he was deeply depressed for almost a year! He was so accustomed to having anything and everything he wanted, that the change in available cash sent him into an emotional tailspin. Complicating his losses was the shame and irresponsibility he felt toward his parents. He felt he hadn’t been a good steward of the money he’d been given, even though it wasn’t his fault the market declined. Since that time, Lewis recovered his losses in the market and is back on track with millions in investments, but still has difficulty with serious anxiety about money issues.

Even though Lewis’ mother taught him how to balance a checking account, money was never explained. He never had experience with budgeting or understanding what the numbers represented in value. He had no sense of what things cost. He’s learning now. He’s learning how much his lifestyle actually costs him every month. Luckily he’s passionate about his work in the world and earns a good salary. Looking at the details of his financial situation, he’s less likely to withdraw from his investments and he feels better when he does decide to do so. He knows he’s making more informed decisions, which in turn helps him to feel less anxious and more empowered.

Financial happiness really does have less to do with how much you have and more about understanding how you think and feel about money. Even though you can’t always control what happens on the outside – the stock market falling, for instance – you do the best you can. Place your attention and focus on what you can control, and include being grateful for all that you do have. What works in your life? Focus on that!

If you have love, family, friends, and community, you’re already rich. None of those elements can be taken from you. This holy season is a wonderful time to reflect on what truly matters. Try not to let what you have or don’t have define who you are!