I have decided to buy a new truck. And this is very difficult for me. You see, in my 60 years on this planet I’ve never purchased a new vehicle. I’ve prided myself on my frugality and practicality of owning used cars that are a “better value.” I think there is some goodness in that but that pride has also been a cover for shame (a belief that I don’t deserve really nice things) and fear (that others will judge me as self-centered). I’ve been able to shore up my self-esteem with such prideful thoughts as: “I’m not wasteful like that guy who drives a Lexus” or “I’m saving my money for really important things, like retirement.” Then I can turn the money in my IRA into a god which promises a safe and secure future. Lots of people jumped out of tall buildings in the stock-market crash of 1929 who had that vision of security.
Our relationship to money is important. Money represents the “sweat of our brow.” Money provides for our basic needs, cares for our family’s important needs, and creates opportunity for choices. Money can be used to help improve people’s lives and futures. (I recently read an article in the “Habitat for Humanity” magazine about a little girl moving into her new Habitat house, running from room to room, yelling “We’re rich! We’re rich!” This little girl went on to become a Fulbright Scholar.) But we can also have very unhealthy attitudes and behaviors around money. The MWASI (Money and Work Adaptive Style Index) identifies 11 unhealthy patterns around money including deprivation (like my example above), gambling, debting, compulsive spending, money aversion, money obsession, and codependent giving. The scale’s developer, Bonnie Dendooven, explains that dysfunctional relationships with money often reflect dysfunctional relationship patterns in the person’s family of origin. Money is often used to compensate for what wasn’t received from parents or as a repetition of the pattern of neglect. Madison Avenue bombards us with lies about what money can do for us.
As I witness clients living into the fullness of their lives I often see them overcome their unhealthy relationships with money. Clients often express their fears that their friends will “find out their dark secrets.” As they learn to develop friendships in recovery that are based in mutual self-disclosure and support, they learn that the acceptance experienced in this deeper-type of friendship provides them an experience of connection and belonging. We call this secure attachment. When people learn to be securely attached to other people then money becomes something to be used to live life fully, instead of money being a “friend to rely on.” This growth usually includes a spiritual dimension of developing a greater trust in God to supply the ultimate meaning and security in life. Jesus said to some fishermen, “Leave your nets and follow me.” He invited people into relationships of love. Let’s do that for each other. Let’s make our “loved ones” more important than money. Now that will piss off Madison Avenue!