I want to talk about a taboo subject and one that I am not seeing talked about enough; the subject off financial PTSD. For those of you that have never come across this term, PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and there’s actually lots of people that I have seen addressing this particular area in terms of things like narcissistic relationships, abuse, and divorce and all sorts of things. It’s a fascinating subject and one that I think we to talk about in terms of the financial implications, and something called financial PTSD.
What is Financial PTSD?
When we think of the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, we often think that it has to involve something really, really traumatic. Often that is the case, but often we also go through some things that we wouldn’t necessarily even consider to be trauma. Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.
- Somebody reached out to me who has lost a very close friend, and the consequences for them is that the way that they dealt with that trauma was by overspending.
- Another example; some very close friends of mine lost a baby a few years ago and the consequences off that devastating situation was that they were overspending. They were going away, and buying gifts in an attempt to try and make themselves feel better and to try and cope with the trauma.
We reserve the term trauma for a very specific set of circumstances and often the most dramatic ones. But actually, sometimes it can be even smaller things. I’ve just given some examples there about some obviously very traumatic things, but also some smaller things. If you were to have an argument with your partner about money, that’s traumatic because it’s triggering something that’s causing a negative reaction.
The reason I want to talk about this is that often I’m sure many of you have felt, overwhelmed, have felt fear, have felt anger or grief, or felt selfish or felt anxious about money. Let me know in the comments, have you ever felt fearful or scared or worried or anxious about money? Now sometimes that it may not be money that is the cause of this emotion. It can actually be PTSD. It could be a trauma that you’ve experienced – that could be present trauma or past trauma – that’s contributing towards that feeling. Because actually, if we think about money, it equates to security and safety, status, and power. Money can be interpreted against how you feel in terms of your worth. So if you don’t feel worthy enough to hold onto money, then guess what? You won’t hold on to it. You’ll try and get rid of it. And that could be caused by PTSD or a trauma that has happened to you in the past.
There’s so many unconscious ideas that are embedded in our relationship with money and if we think about it, if we go into scarcity mode and we question our security around money, then this disbelief regarding our own security leads to certain practises and leads to certain events and behaviours. So being frugal with money, or overspending could be another way of that behaviour being demonstrated. Our body’s defence against stress and financial stress is fight or flight. Trauma throws us into survival mode and when we’re in survival mode we will take measures to protect ourselves.
Often we talk about our inner critic, this little inner voice that says “You’re not worthy enough. You can’t do this. You’re not worthy to go and build this online course” or “You’re not worthy of being a successful entrepreneur” or “You’re not worthy of asking for a pay rise.” All of these lack of self worth beliefs, because we go into that fight or flight mode.
One of the things I’ve been talking about today in my Female Financial Foundations course is about this idea of our financial comforts. If you draw a circle on a piece of paper and imagine that is your financial comfort zone. What sits outside that financial comfort zone for you? Is it fear? If fear sits outside that financial comfort zone, what would happen if you were to tip outside? What what would happen if you were to imagine that circle was suddenly flexible, like an elastic band, and just by gently stretching that comfort zone you would start pushing through some of those negative self beliefs.
How we relate this to trauma is that sometimes the problem isn’t the money. Sometimes what happens is, unfortunately, money gets the brunt of it. If you imagine that money is a person, then money gets the brunt of our emotion. We store all of that trauma and negative emotion towards money, and we think that if we just earn more money then everything will be fine. If we just go on another holiday, then we’ll better about this grief, loss, or this trauma that we’re trying to process.
Sometimes that trauma can go back many, many years. It may not even be something you’re currently experiencing. So I just want to share five questions that I think that you could be asking of yourself if you’re feeling in this situation.
Five questions that you can ask of yourself to try and help you to recover from financial PTSD and improve your relationship with money.
Grab a piece of paper for this exercise. So the first question is;
- How do I feel right now? If you are about to go and make a financial transaction or financial decision, ask yourself, How do I feel right now?
- Question number two is what is causing me to react this way? What’s the cause underneath? Is it emotional? Have you just done something really stressful? Have you just had an argument with somebody? Are you feeling really crap today and you just need to spend some time focusing on yourself? What is causing you to feel that way?
- Question three, then is what do I need? So why do I feel the need to buy this thing or book this holiday or purchase this item? Why do I feel the need to buy this?
- The next question you would then ask yourself is, Do I really need it? Do you really need it? If you do, then that’s great, go ahead and complete that transaction. But think about financially, are you in a position to to cope with that expense? In an ideal world, I’m a massive believer in that everybody should have a guilt free spending pot, and label it a guilt free spending pot. If you do feel that time when you need to go and make a purchase just to make yourself feel better, then you’ve got a pot of money to be able to do that without maybe tipping into overdraft or into debt.
- The final question to ask of yourself is, How do I feel after I buy it? How do you feel? Is it a temporary release of emotion? Is it long lasting? How do you feel after you buy it? And I would always encourage people who are experiencing financial PTSD to, of course, go and work with a counsellor or therapist, somebody that can help you identify the root cause of that trauma which may be stuck in your past, or may be in your present. Journaling is one of the things that I think everybody can do. It’s completely free, and an opportunity to release some of that emotion onto a piece of paper.
So use those five questions to think about how you feel and what is causing you to react in this way? Why do you feel the need to buy this thing that you’re thinking about buying? Do you really need it and how you feel after you purchased it? Because the goal here is to try and gain back control over the emotion that you’re feeling in that moment. Because controlling the negative thoughts obviously is then going to control how we feel. And if we can change how we feel, we can change the behaviours.
So stop focusing on the money because it’s not necessarily the money that’s the cause. Money is never ordinarily the problem. It’s always something else that’s causing that negativity. So find what that is that’s causing that. Don’t always stop to beat that inner critic up, because sometimes that inner critic is there to protect you.
Join the next FREE Plug Your Money Leaks Challenge
Book in a complimentary call to discuss how financial coaching can help you move from financial overwhelm to confidence and control.