money behaviors

Money Disorders and Problematic Money Behaviors

Just look around at your circle of friends and family, and you can likely spot a slew of problematic money behaviors. Overspending. Miserliness. Workaholism. Compulsive gambling. Inability to save. Financial enabling. Financial dependency. These result in emotional pain, financial stress, relationship problems, and other forms of damage that are clearly detrimental to someone’s life and wellbeing. So why are these behaviors so hard to change?

Because they are rooted in trauma—typically in painful events from childhood, which may or may not be financial in nature. These may be major disasters or a series of smaller occurrences that over time create chronic trauma. Typically, these traumas result in shame, hurt, sadness, and grief. In order to cope, parts of ourselves come up with stories to explain what has happened and behaviors to deal with it or try to prevent it from happening again.

With more trauma, the lessons get reinforced, and we form beliefs that we come to see as universal truths. These are Money Scripts. Most of us have 50 to 200 predominant ones that operate constantly. In most cases, they’re subconscious, undiscovered until we take time out to figure out what our systems believe about money.

We organize our behaviors around these Money Scripts, which shape our financial choices and habits. This is why you’ve heard me say so many times that there is no illogical behavior around money, because underlying that seemingly illogical behavior is a Money Script that makes the behavior a perfectly logical response.

Some money behaviors are so serious that they can be called money disorders. Some of these can be found in the DSM-V, the diagnostic manual used in the mental health field. There’s disagreement among mental health professionals on the value of diagnostic labels, which are necessary when insurance reimbursement is involved but not always as helpful in actually working with clients.

Let’s briefly look at a few of these money disorders. This is not a complete list by any means.

  • Workaholism. This is quite common and is one of my own drugs of choice. It’s one of the disorders that people are actually praised and rewarded for. But the problem with workaholism is that it crowds out relationships. At the peak of my workaholism, I was probably working about 80 hours a week, and it contributed to the end of my first marriage.
  • Compulsive buying. This actually is called “oniomania,” from the Greek root “for sale.” It is just what it sounds like: buying stuff regardless of whether you need it or can afford it.
  • Gambling. This is not spending some time in a casino for an evening’s entertainment. It is compulsive addictive gambling that actually harms or threatens a person’s financial wellbeing.
  • Hoarding. This goes beyond collecting, to fearfully accumulating things to the point you can barely move through your house. It becomes very disruptive to your lifestyle and relationships.
  • Financial Dependency. This is harmful dependency on someone else for one’s livelihood. The classic example is the adult child who is unemployed and living in their parents’ basement. It can also be financial dependency on a spouse, on government, or any other situation where a person is trapped and unable to provide for themselves.

My intent here is just to introduce a handful of money disorders, to encourage you to consider whether any of them may be present in your life. I don’t think, by the way, that I’ve ever met somebody that didn’t have some type of money disorder or problematic money behavior. Anyone who is sure they don’t have any may be demonstrating yet another money disorder, which is financial denial. As you think about your behavior around money, I encourage you to be curious and open to considering possible ways that it may not be serving you well.

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

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