Financial strain can be stressful for many people.
But for complex trauma survivors, financial stress can be a particular kind of trigger.
In our culture, money isn’t just money.
Money is often the thing that stands between us and danger.
Money is supposedly the thing that ensures safe, stable housing. Money is the thing that supposedly ensures that we’ll have food to eat and feed our pets.
When money is uncertain, our safety is uncertain.
On top of that, our culture attaches all sorts of moral connotations to money.
We live in a culture that often implicitly— or even explicitly— tells us that hard working, virtuous people make money. That “hard work pays off,” and people who have a sufficient work ethic don’t have to worry about money.
When our income is insufficient or uncertain, many trauma survivors tend to process that fact through a shame-bound lens. It connects RIGHT to our trauma-based beliefs that we are not good enough…and the “proof” of that belief is right in front of our eyes, in our lack of funds.
Again: it’s not news that money can be an overwhelming source of stress for many people.
In my view, we don’t pay NEAR enough attention to how seemingly unsolvable financial problems contribute to emotional and behavioral struggles with addiction and suicidality.
Our culture has been loath to acknowledge that poverty by itself can be a traumatic stressor, even if abuse or other widely acknowledged traumatic stressors aren’t involved.
Even therapists get a little “crazy” around money, in my experience.
I have always had a personal struggle charging people for my services as a therapist. It’s my experience that the people I most want to work with, the people who I feel can benefit most from my skills and experience, are usually the least able to pay the gong rate for my time.
Thus, over the years, I built up a large caseload of people I saw either for free or steeply discounted rates.
When I would try to talk about my conundrum with other therapists, I would frequently get an odd response: they told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty for “charging what I’m worth.”
Over and over again I was told that my problem was a self-esteem issue— and that if I worked on my own issues, I’d feel better about charging people for therapy.
Don’t get me wrong— I’m sure my own trauma baggage does play a certain role in my beliefs and feelings about money. But this response— again, mostly from other therapists— always seemed to miss the point of WHY I struggled to charge my patients.
The reason I’m telling you this story in this blog post is because I find it really interesting how quickly, even among therapists, money comes to represent something bigger than just the means by which we pay for resources.
It becomes about self-esteem, self-worth…and the fact that I’m still reluctant to charge my patients seems to, at least for some people, boil down to the idea that there’s a piece of m own personal development work that I’ve been reluctant to do.
Yeah. Money’s a big deal, emotionally. And a PARTICULARLY big deal when our history includes abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma.
Do not shame yourself for getting a little— or a lot— triggered when money is an issue.
We cannot escape having to deal with money in our culture— which means we cannot escape having to confront our feelings about or memories involving money, either.
In the end, we need to remember that money is just like any subject that we’re going to encounter in our trauma recovery: a subject that is potentially loaded with meaning, and one around which we need to remember our tools and skills.
Do NOT fall into the trap of overidentfying with your bank balance.
Do NOT fall into the trap of letting your financial struggles reinforce your shame-bound trauma beliefs.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re going to have some seasons where money is tight, and other seasons where it’s relatively secure in your experience.
Remember that nothing is permanent— and that’s the good news.
You are not weird, wrong, or weak because money triggers you. It triggers a LOT of people.
Breathe; blink; focus.
And handle today, today.