Let me ask you two questions. One, would you like to have more money—a higher income or greater net worth? Two, how do you feel about the rich?
Financial success is part of what we think of as achieving “the American dream.” At the same time, there is research (you can read about one study here) showing that many Americans have negative views about the rich. It’s possible for a person to hold these contradictory beliefs at the same time, because many of us have polarized money scripts.
As an example, suppose a part of you holds a money script that “You must work hard to build wealth.” At the same time, another part of you has a money script that “Wealthy people are dishonest.” These contradictory money scripts set up an internal moral dilemma. If I work hard, I can become wealthy, but wealthy people are dishonest. So do I dare work hard to make money if it means I’ll have to compromise my values to acquire it? This inner conflict is likely to leave you stuck. No wonder that a negative belief about the rich can keep someone poor.
If you’re among those that think negatively about the rich, you can take steps to modify your money scripts. Remember, money scripts are contextual; sometimes true and sometimes false. The goal is not to label a money script as “wrong” or “bad” and get rid of it. The goal is to bring some flexibility to it. For the polarized money scripts in the example above, this would mean becoming open to considering other possibilities, such as that hard work does not always lead to wealth or that wealth can be obtained honestly.
There are various ways to do this, some of which I have talked about in other episodes. One method I have not previously discussed is based on the work of Byron Katie, who developed four questions to apply to a strong belief that is not serving us well. I suggest you do this in writing, considering one money script at a time.
Let’s use the example, “Wealthy people are dishonest.” Write that down, and then ask yourself the first question: “Is this true?” Don’t overthink this. You’re looking for a simple yes or no answer that rises from within you as your first response.
If your answer is yes, then ask the second question: “Can you absolutely know that this is true?” And I would add “in all cases.” (If your answer is no, go to the third question.) Take an opportunity to reflect, to shine a flashlight on this money script and see what it reveals. When you really look at the absoluteness of that statement, there’s a chance you may conclude no, it’s not absolutely true in every case.
Whether your answer is yes or no, move on to the third question: “How do you react, what happens when you believe that money script?” Close your eyes and just be aware of the feelings in your body, the sensations, the behaviors that you might see when you believe that the rich get their money dishonestly. What images and emotions come up? How do you or did you treat somebody who was rich? How do you treat yourself when you hold that belief? Write whatever comes up. Try not to censor yourself.
Then move on to the fourth question: “Who would you be without that money script?” Close your eyes and reflect. Flip that money script around. If you believed that at least some wealthy people obtained their money honestly, how would you see the rich? How would you feel about the rich? Dropping all your judgements, try on the opposite of that money script and notice what’s revealed within you.
You might notice that, with the money script that the wealthy are dishonest, you feel anger toward the rich. Or that you would feel ashamed to be rich. That you don’t want to become rich because you don’t want to sacrifice your values.
As you consider how you might be if you held the alternative belief that the wealthy are honest, you might notice less judgment. You might feel more accepting of the possibility of being wealthy. You might see working hard to build wealth as an opportunity or as something you might enjoy if you could do so honestly.
The goal here is not to adopt the polar opposite of the money script. The idea is to try on new beliefs and become open to alternatives. This can help you begin to shift those money scripts away from being absolute and entrenched, instead bringing in some flexibility. As you do this, you may even begin to change your financial trajectory in ways that will support your financial and emotional wellbeing.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.