man stressed on the phone with advisor

Are You Financially Dependent on Your Advisor?

Last week I talked about financial dependency, one of the disordered behaviors around money. What happens when someone who is financially dependent gets into a relationship with a financial advisor?

Those with financial dependency have difficulty making everyday financial decisions without a lot of advice and reassurance from others. They need others to assume responsibility for the financial aspects of their lives. They find it hard to express financial disagreement with others because of fear of losing support or approval if there’s conflict. They have difficulty initiating financial actions or doing financial tasks on their own. They go to excessive lengths to obtain financial reinforcement and support from others. This goes beyond needing the kind of support that is important and valuable for all of us; it stems from anxiety and exaggerated fears of being alone or unable to financially care for themselves.

Like other financial behaviors, financial dependency always makes perfect sense when we look deeper into a person’s financial history, childhood wounding, and foundational beliefs/money scripts.

Research shows that people with dependent personality disorder tend to be drawn to people whose personalities are narcissistic, histrionic, borderline, or antisocial. People with these personality types (classified as “Cluster B” disorders in the DSM-V) tend to be dramatic, need to be in charge, and crave praise and high regard.

Let’s imagine this scenario: A person who is financially dependent, who really wants someone to be in charge and to take care of them financially, is looking for a financial advisor. They find an advisor who fits into the Cluster B category. Is it a match made in heaven?

Maybe—for a while.

Advisors who are narcissistic and histrionic are likely to see themselves as financial gurus who have all the answers for their clients. At the extreme, they may have almost a cult following. They can be charismatic, and they typically demand loyalty and compliance with their recommendations. They offer an unlimited supply of advice and reassurance, and they are totally willing to take charge of their clients’ financial lives.

Financially dependent clients love this because it takes away their anxiety and fears. All they need to do in return is to give the advisor complete compliance, adoration, and attention. So all is well—until the client ever questions any recommendation or fails to follow through on advice from the advisor.

When someone with a Cluster B personality type is questioned or challenged, they often respond with attacks, blaming, or manipulation. If the client responds and gets back into line, the relationship may go back to its previous state. But if a client doesn’t fall into line and the advisor feels they are losing control of the relationship, they may go into a rage. This could be an outburst or a more passive/aggressive type of manipulation, followed by even more erratic behavior. 

This, of course, can be really upsetting to the financially dependent client and increase their anxiety. Often the outcome is that the advisor drops the client, typically labeling them “non-compliant.” The client will likely not get any closure or understanding from the advisor on what went wrong. Even so, the ending of the relationship is actually the best outcome for the client. It is especially good news if it happens because the client begins recovering from financial dependency.

When an advisor/client relationship ends, a client who is still in the throes of their financial dependency will urgently search for a new cluster B advisor, beginning the cycle of dependency all over again. Breaking that cycle requires the person to get some help and begin to address the underlying money scripts, motivations, and wounding behind the dependency.

If you have recognized yourself or someone you care about in all of this, probably the best option is to seek out a financial therapist who can help you begin to understand what is going on. And I want to emphasize again that financial dependency, like other problematic money patterns and behaviors, comes from wounding and is driven by parts that have good intentions. At one time, the behavior worked to protect you from additional pain. As you and your circumstances have changed, the behavior is no longer protective. Exploring, understanding, and modifying it will support your present and future wellbeing.

    Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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