Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our relationship with money Part 2 Connecting money with the soul

In my previous post I spoke about our complex relationship with money. This series of articles looks at some of the psychological issues surrounding money.   

In their article on emotional aspects of financial decisions, the authors Young and O'neil tell us that emotional reactions to money affect the way people plan and manage their finances.

This is strange considering that many people assume, or try to reduce, money to a rational, meticulous, and highly calculable concept - referring to the "bottom-line". I can just imagine the guys with calculators working the numbers in this scenario.   

Yet emotions surrounding money is often not rational nor open to evident accounting and calculation.  James Hillman, a psychologist, tells us that money is a unique psychological reality that does not allow itself to be de-valued to something solely material, without causing psychological symptoms in the person. Meaning that money has to occupy a correct position in the psyche. 

Money essentially lives within a social agreement. Without an agreement between people, money will have no value whatsoever.  You cannot eat money, drink money, or use it for shelter, although you can burn paper bills for heat.

People rarely seem to do that! Except in Germany in 1923 when the German currency lost so much value people burned it for heat or used it as wall paper.  What Hillman is trying to tell us is that the reality of money occupies a psychological and illusively complex position in the mind (as I concluded researching this article).      

What I have came to realize through a reading on this topic is that money, as a psychological concept, attains powerful symbolic meanings, meanings that radically affect our lives.

It is my opinion that in any quest for wholeness, including financial wholeness, we have to deal with the issues of money.   

Below are some of the ideas of psychologists I have outlined as a foundation for this discussion.  Interestingly, literature on the psychology of money is scarce. In his article, Richard Trachtman argues that one reason for this scarcity of content is that psychologists are people too; also subjected to the influences and tensions of money.    

Sigmund Freud  

Freud positioned money in the anal phase of psychosexual development. Money took on an unconscious symbolic meaning linked with the character traits of the anal expulsive character or the anal retentive character. 

These character traits are loosely associated with being stingy and frugal (as with the anal retentive) or being excessive and a spend-thrift (as with the anal expulsive).  Note that modern psychologists seem to ascribe limited validity to Freud's ideas, though they are still influential.   

Also, in the freudian theory money is symbolized with feces. Trachtman argues that that is why money has become such a shame filled subject in many western cultures.

Issues of guilt and shame are often associated with money and money is often considered to be a "cultural taboo" (Trachtman argues). Talking about money issues are often considered to be in poor taste. This is a strongly embedded cultural idea in my society, where asking someone what they earn is worse than to enquire about their sexual lives.  

I think evident from literature is that our emotions, attitudes and beliefs regarding money are developed from a very early age, become deeply embedded in the psyche, and are highly resistant change. Money issues also seem to live and grow in the 'dark', in silence, and in the darkness is where the 'monsters' live.

Carl Jung

Interestingly, it is not always the darkness out there that creates our troubles, it is sometimes the darkness from within. Money is able to entice both the good and the bad in us. Bringing from the soul works of 'light' or works of 'darkness'.  

Jungian scholar, Bernice Hill notes the influence of the shadow archetype being prevalent in western society. This is evidenced by an extreme drive for "profit without the consideration of future consequences" seemingly existing on a corporate and individual level.

The shadow is what Carl Jung called the weaknesses, shortcomings and instincts people repress in their personalities. The force of money seems to entice this 'dark character' to come into expression in the world.

The author George Orwell had some insight in this: 
What he realized, and more clearly as time went on, was that money worship has been elevated into a religion. Perhaps it is the only real religion – the only really felt religion – that is left to us. Money is what God used to be. Good and evil have no meaning any longer except failure and success. 
George Orwell (1956)

Money appears to open the door for the emergence of the Shadow. Many lottery winner succumb to the influence of greed, self-indulgence and narcissism, as Robert Young says in his article. Young further argues that moderate financial means, at least, serves to put a brake on possibility of destructive excesses and rampant desire.

Money easily becomes a psychological substitute.  It often replaces things that should be occupied by something else in the psyche. Orwell showed us earlier that money may be elevated to replace a deity in the mind.

The myth of Midas tells of, King Midas, whom the God Bacchus granted the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.  Initially Midas rejoiced in his ability, but later, at his touch, he was left with lifeless gold continually substituting what he really needed: family, friendship, love, and food. The gold could no longer satisfy.  Young relates this to people living in an endless pursuit for more money, working all hours, at the expense of things like family life. This is a present danger of money.

Jacob Needleman (mentioned in Trachtman's article) argues that money is an "invention, a mental devise, very necessary, very ingenious, but, in the end, a product of the mind". Within this social convention are many rational and irrational expectations about what money can do for us.   

It is the irrational expectations about what money can do for us that proves to be problematic.  Young defines this as a 'fantastical fetishization' where money becomes a substitute for something else. The fantastical element reflects on unrealistic, often fantasy, expectations associated with money.

Uncontrolled money emotions seems to reflect on an eruption of the freudian pleasure principle (according to Young), or perhaps what is called the desires of the 'flesh' in theological terminology.      

According to Trachtman most of us are BLIND to our own psychological money issues.  Yet, in order to change our financial realities, we have to deal with the REALITY of our assumptions, beliefs, and attitudes about money.        

We need a balanced perspective

It has taken me very long to realize this, but we need a balanced perspective on money.

Money is important for one's well being and the extreme lack of it does cause misery, as Young tells us;

Yet, money can never become a substitute for important human needs and pursuits, although personified, it would very easily like to occupy those spaces;

We need wisdom to know what money can do for us, and what it cannot.

Thank you for reading this post.  I am hoping that it has shed some light on this very complicated issue. I welcome your comments, feedback or insights.   

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