How unconscious “money memories” may shape our behavior

Posted by Manisha Thakor.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” - Karl Jung

When good advice goes to waste

We all have that friend who’s constantly asking for advice—with no real intention of acting on it. I experience this with some clients; they’ll agree with me wholeheartedly about the need to save more, spend less—knowing it will improve their quality of their life.
Then comes the act of self-sabotage, something along the lines of: But I’ve always been bad with money—or: I’ll never be financially secure!
When I dig deeper, I sometimes find an underlying sense of hopelessness. A fatalistic sense that no advice can ever really stick, because once a spendthrift, always a spendthrift. Like it’s an innate part of who they are—akin to eye color or height.
And that recently got me thinking: Do we inherit bad money behaviors? And if we properly examine those dubious inheritances, can we loosen the pernicious grip they have on us?

How unconscious memories can wreak havoc

When it comes to money mindsets, our behavior is often directed by unconscious assumptions, formed in childhood, and unless we make an effort to retrieve those memories—and process them on a conscious level—they can go on wreaking havoc. After all, it’s those money memories that form the blueprint for the myriad financial decisions we make later on.

Are you a rebel?

Natural temperament plays a part. I’ve known (fraternal) twins who were exposed to the same parental attitudes, where one went on to emulate Mom’s thriftiness while the other rejected it.
A lot of us are unconsciously rebelling against the values bequeathed to us, like an heiress who spurns the family fortune. Many of us rebel without even knowing it; without stopping to consider what we are doing. You see that in the wider society. Many boomers spurned the Depression-era mindset of their parents with a spirit of rampant materialism, while others of their generation chose to emulate that frugality that was borne out of pre-War scarcity.
I’ve noticed the pendulum seems to have swung back again, with the children of boomers becoming frugal after watching their parents delay retirement, and by having to work through the Great Recession.
Rebel or conformist, our parents’ attitudes shape us in ways we don’t always care to admit. Many of us fail to connect the dots and process this on the conscious level.

Next time money evokes a strong reaction

When a problematic financial situation next arises, think back and recall your earliest money memories, to see if the situation is connected to your past. Think about how your parents shaped your relationship to money, either directly or inadvertently. The way your mom teased you for being stingy. The time your dad rebuked you for spending all your pocket money on candy. How do these voices from the past influence your current thinking and behavior?
Though we like to think of ourselves as rational agents, making conscious decisions, the fact is we are partly motivated by unconscious drives. I came to the painful realization that a lot of what I was doing was driven by a desire for my father’s approval. If I look deep enough, I can still hear a paternal voice saying “time is money,” encouraging me not to slack off when I could be doing something productive.
So, before you decide to buy that pricey handbag, or ignore that credit card statement, investigate how much of that perverse behavior is in fact being directed by a money memory, something a parent did or said—and how much is authentically your own.
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October 23, 2017