Your Money or Your Life?

We believe the stories we tell ourselves — and boy, do we tell ourselves a lot of stories about money.

When you’re in a relationship, you cover wide-ranging territories. You navigate terra incognita together, find your happy place, build on it. But sooner or later, you’ll wander unawares into your boo’s landmine field. And: BOOM! Unless you’re warned.

I am proud to say that I identified mine early on and pointed it out to my spouse. Hey, look at this sign over here, honey! Can you read it okay? It says: Keep your mitts off my money.

Okay, I am not proud to say that my money and I are still enrolled in Daddy Issues 101. It’s a gut course, that’s for damn sure.

And, of course, there's a story behind how my money and I ended up getting stuck in that class. No personal story can be true and abridged, but to sum it up: My dad and I had the most perfect, wacko, adventuring, completely adoring childhood together. I loved him, but he was also a charming, tormented narcissist who abruptly dumped our family for a new one five states away when I was 13. BOOM!

He disappeared me; he disappeared himself. He became filthy rich, snake-mean, and drank more than anyone will ever know. I wept, begged, charmed, joked, flattered, wrote — anything — to get Dad just to see me. The answer: “I don’t owe you anything.” It hit me. He meant money. Specifically, he saw me as money.

That’s why he rarely paid child support without a court order. That’s why I had to sue him to get to go to college. And that’s why after I was on my own, I never asked him for anything. I never asked any boyfriend — later husband — for anything. I’d never let money and love in the same room again. Ever. Do my relationship terms make more sense now?


Yes, they do, apparently. The growing psychological field of financial therapy argues that there’s a perfect explanation for my particularly ferocious protectiveness around money — and whatever your attitudes about your funds are, too. They’re called money stories.

“Your money story is all your unconscious beliefs you have about money—how you should earn it, what it means to want it, and what it means to have a lot or a little,” writes our own Amanda Steinberg, founder and CEO of DailyWorth, in her forthcoming book, Worth It (look for it in early 2017). “It reveals a lot about yourself and what you believe is possible.”

Know that folksy dictum, “We are the stories we tell ourselves”? It's a very real psychological developmental phenomenon. Erik Erikson, the late, imminent developmental psychologist, theorized that we humans typically begin internally "writing" the story of our lives at the outset of adolescence.

Starting at around 12 or 13 years old, Erikson found, you enter the developmental stage at which you begin to grasp and process important turning points in your life, making you become aware of who you are. Or think you are.

Unfortunately, as we all cringingly recall, it’s also the stage when you’re basically nuts.

You’re flooded with hormones, body and brain metamorphoses, Byzantine social dynamics, reactive thinking. You’re at your life’s peak of irrational thinking and behavior. And is this crazy self that gets the job of building your core identity. Awesome.

Wait, it gets worse. How you react to your life’s events at this emo-critical juncture — and how those memories end up getting written into your life story, as your life continues and the plot thickens — actually do form the basis of who you believe you are: emotionally, spiritually, socially, intellectually, publically. The works.

Your narrative identity can shape your attitudes, behaviors, moral sense, values — you name it. Money is a lightning rod for all them. Maybe you see it as a weapon; a form of manipulation; love; emotional security; a black hole that always needs feeding. Unless you decide to snap out of it, take your own pen (or keyboard) back, and start fact-checking your unconscious beliefs about money, your money story will write you.

But there’s hope.

“The good news is that money stories can change and money identities can shift without having to suffer a catastrophe. We just need to look at the thoughts and ideas that motivate us,” writes Amanda in her new book. “It’s powerful to bring what’s been hidden into the light. Make what’s been unconscious conscious. See what’s been lurking behind your thoughts about money and what’s been driving many of your financial decisions. Make sure your money story is working for you, not against you.”

I have to admit: My own money story is not working for me. Honestly, it messed up my marriage; it messes with my sense of self-worth. Barricading my money, I’ve recently realized, doesn’t actually make me feel safe. It makes me feel paranoid, scared. It’s shaming like nothing else.

Unless you listen to Amanda.

“Getting clear on the story that’s driving you is about releasing shame and guilt. It’s not about feeling horrible about the distance between where you are today and where you want to be,” she writes. “So, it’s against the rules that you spend a single moment feeling bad about yourself or your financial decisions. You’re about to declare a new way of being with money that inspires you.”

Okay. Got my pen. I’m ready.

You might also like:
How Your Money Story Is Holding You Back
When Being Cheap Costs You Big
6 Factors That Could Make or Break Your Relationship