Q: I am a man from Bangalore. I came here alone 15 years ago when I was 20 to study computer science. In the ’90s I got used to making a very high salary with stocks options. Recently, my income has dropped considerably, yet I can’t seem to stop spending. Now I am in debt and will have to get a loan to pay it off. What can I do about my problem?
A: When you have a lot of financial success rapidly, and at a young age, you believe it will always continue. It feels as though you have an unlimited supply of money. Making a lot of money makes you feel important and powerful. Now the reality of the dot-com crash and the economic downturn is hitting you and it’s hard to face it. Continuing to spend helps you avoid facing the feelings of anger or sadness and everything it means to earn less. How do you feel about yourself now that your income has dropped? Have you let the truth sink in?
Money is simply a tool or energy to live our lives. Material possessions cannot fulfill us; they simply make our lives function better. Our value isn’t based on our income. Real fulfillment comes from doing what we really enjoy, getting to know ourselves and others more authentically, and serving to create a better society. Begin to respond to your needs more directly and bring balance into your life and you will transform your relationship to money.
Q: Ever since I was a young girl in Nepal, I worried whether our family would be financially stable. My parents always struggled to make ends meet. Things are a lot different here for me in Texas. We make plenty of money and own a large home and expensive cars and have other assets worth almost 2 million. Yet, every day I worry about money. I hoard cash, jewelry, and even food. I bargain a lot, don’t tip much, always suspect that someone will take my cash, wallet, or jewelry. My family sees me fighting over money and thinks I am cheap and miserable. I am finally willing to admit this.
A: It is a big step to accept our destructive patterns. You obviously grew up with a lot of insecurity and the deep fears of having nothing are still with you. This level of distrust and attachment to money is rooted in emotional fears. What was it like for you to grow up in your family? Did you feel comfortable, safe, and trusting of your parents emotionally? Was there any particular abuse or trauma? Do you take what’s not yours and then suspect that others are doing the same to you? You need to seriously explore this and may need some professional help in doing so.
Being very tight with money is a form of control. The need to control is rooted in fear and insecurity. You now know that flaunting diamonds and living on expensive real estate doesn’t change the way you really feel inside. You’re still very afraid and unhappy. Real power and security is never found in controlling money, people, or our environment. It is found in feeling good about ourselves and making our life support and reflect our inner sense of worth and well-being.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D. is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666. www.wholenesstherapy.com