So many clients admit to me that they cannot shake anxiety about money. Financial anxiety is an affliction that spreads its roots wide and suffers no social distinction. There is no correlation between the levels of anxiety and net worth or standard of living, that I see in my work. Even those in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people, sometimes suffer from anxiety.
Anxiety manifests in many different forms – compulsive hoarding of money or assets beyond what’s necessary, aggression towards those standing in the way of achieving your money goals, the inability to make money decisions or the avoidance of money issues.
Anxiety about money, if not rooted in reality, can be traced to your money beliefs. Perhaps you experienced a lack of money as a child, or you saw your parents fight about money frequently or you were ashamed of your father’s car? These experiences breed beliefs such as money is scarce which typically translate into actions like hoarding your money so you can eliminate the fear of scarcity, or believing that money hoarding will bring you status and so eliminate the shame.
You may be aware of the beliefs that you have consciously adopted or rejected but you may be completely unaware of the beliefs which drive your anxiety. What are your beliefs about money? How are your beliefs working for you and how are they affecting the most important relationships in your life? Consider whether your money anxiety is causing strain on your marriage or whether it is preventing you from fully experiencing life.
Our beliefs grow like trees. The seeds are sown when we’re very young, frequently as the result of a traumatic event, and we then form lenses which confirm our belief. I always use the example of growing up in the Karoo where everything was scarce. I remember as a little girl picking up on the worry of my parents about the lack of rain and resources, which through its repetition became my belief. The tree grows as the belief is reinforced by repeated events. Eventually, we begin to see the world through that lens, cutting out other experiences and reinforcing our beliefs further. The tree grows into a strong specimen and eventually bears the fruit, the behaviours, produced by the beliefs.
Unless we understand the root of the tree, we can’t deal with the behaviour. This isn’t as easy as recognising the behaviour, tracing the roots and cutting down the tree. A belief, which has grown for decades cannot simply be uprooted in an instant. Recently the big oak tree in our garden had to be chopped down after it had died. It took days of cutting and chopping for that tree to be brought down.
It can take time to reprogram beliefs and it will take years to grow a new tree. Just as repetition fed the tree of your beliefs, so too will repetition of the opposing and healthy message grow a new tree.
Awareness is the first step towards recognising the root of your money anxiety. This week consider your behaviour around money: when you swipe your credit card, when you decide not to spend money, when you review your investments or when you calculate your tax. What belief is driving your behaviour?