One of the most widely adopted and foundational parts of the work I’ve been involved in around money and emotions is the concept of money scripts. This term, coined by my co-authors Ted Klontz and Brad Klontz, is now widely used.
Money scripts are the unconscious beliefs we hold about money. They typically form in childhood in response to events and experiences related to money. They are created by internal parts of ourselves, with good intentions, to help us make sense of the world or cope with financial trauma. Most of us have maybe 50 to 200 money scripts that impact every financial decision we make. As we mature and our circumstances change, our money scripts don’t adapt or change, so many of them no longer serve us well.
A key to modifying our harmful money behavior is modifying our money scripts. How can we begin to do that?
At times, becoming aware of the money script can be enough to create an “aha moment” and shift our behavior. But most of the time a money script is so deeply anchored from trauma in unfinished business and difficult emotions that awareness is not enough to change it. My best recommendation at that point would be financial therapy.
I have also developed a tool that may help you start a dialog of exploration with the parts of yourself that hold these deep money scripts. It is an internal interview to begin the process of understanding where a money script comes from and what the good intention was behind it. This can be a first step in taking in some new information and modifying the money script.
This is a form of guided meditation to help you focus, so it’s best to practice it when you are alone and have some uninterrupted time. Make yourself comfortable, preferably sitting in a relaxed way. You can do this internal conversation in your mind, or you can write it out.
First, just think about a money script you have that seems absolutely true to you. An example I helped someone work with recently was, “I always have to keep a certain amount (say $5000) in an emergency fund.” For someone like me who is money vigilant, that script certainly makes sense. How could it possibly not be true? Find one of your money scripts that rings true in this way. Hold it in your mind, repeat it slowly, over and over. Close your eyes if you like; let everything else go and focus on that money script.
You may begin to notice parts of yourself that question the money script, that don’t fully accept it as true or even argue against it. Ask those critical parts to relax and suspend judgment. Or, if this money script is absolute truth to you, there may not be any internal questioning, just the resolute belief in its validity.
As you ponder the money script, I would invite you to become curious. Be open to examining it and learning more about how this money script got in there.
As you do this, see if you can separate yourself from the money script. Realize that you are not this belief. It is not a part of who you are. There is just an internal part of you that believes this money script. You can ask that part of you to step back a little bit to help you recognize that it is not you but is one part of you.
Focus on this part. Notice whether there is a particular part of your body associated with the part. Notice any physical sensations (such as tightness, heat, cold, discomfort) associated with it. Notice any emotions (such as fear, anger, sadness) that come up. Are there any images that come to mind? Whatever comes up, stay with that for a moment. Extend your curiosity to this part of yourself. Allow it to share its emotions with you around this money script.
Just let all of this develop. When you’re ready, ask the part of you about this money script it believes. What were the circumstances when it first appeared? How long has the part believed this money script? Who in your past did it learn the money script from? The part may not know all the answers; that’s okay. Just hang out with that part of you and let it tell you the story of how this money script was formed. The intent is to have a gentle conversation rather than an interrogation.
Maybe ask the part what it’s like to believe this money script. Has it been easy? Has it been hard?
When you’re ready, ask this part what it hoped for with this money script. What did it hope to accomplish? What did it hope would happen? What was the good intention behind this money script? Keep the dialog going. Search for that good intention. Our money scripts are always adopted to protect against pain and vulnerability, with the best intention of a good outcome.
Then, when you’re ready, ask the part about its fears. What is it afraid would happen if this money script wasn’t true or wasn’t followed? What is its fear if the opposite of this money script were true? Keep drilling down. As the part responds with a fear, ask follow-up questions like, “If that happens, what are you afraid would result?” Really get to know the fears around this money script.
You might then ask the part what would happen for it if the money script were not true. Ask if it is tired of enforcing this money script. And finally, ask this part if there is anything else it would like to tell you, anything else that you need to know about this money script.
When you are ready, thank the part for everything that it shared with you. Thank it for its good intentions. Then say goodbye and close the conversation.
This is a condensed version of an exercise that I have used with my financial therapy clients. It is something you can do multiple times with multiple money scripts. I have found that most people learn something about their money scripts after doing this exercise that they were never aware of before. This can begin a process of modifying a money script to help your internal system start functioning more wholly and helpfully around money.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.