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4 Ways to Overcome Our Brain Sabotaging Our Money

This weekend while strolling down these internet streets, I happened across and article by CNBC titled: "Your Brain May Be Sabotaging Your Financial or Career Success-and It's Due to How You Were Raised." I must admit, I have long been intrigued by my own personal relationship with money and of course, the blockages I have experienced when it comes to money. Today's blog article will be a reaction to the CNBC article as well as a unique opportunity to be transparent and share my own money scripts to encourage you to get serious about your financial wellness. Because let's face it, money is generally on the top of our lists if we are going to get serious about stress management.

The CNBC article starts out with a rather discouraging statistic from researchers with George Washington University. This research showed that 50% of surveyed U.S. adults attributed feelings of stress when talking about personal finances. Even more, 60% reported experiencing anxiety simply thinking about their finances. Yikes! What's more, this was not limited to low-income earners. The upper echelon of high- income earners also had similar experiences of stress and anxiety. Turns out, our thoughts and feelings about money are deeply rooted to our childhood experiences with money. The article also links what we think we are capable of achieving with what our parents earned. Why?

As we say in counseling and psychology, what fires together wires together. Meaning, our brain is constantly looking for patterns and connections; it's what has kept us safe and progressing as the human species. Our brain achieves this by the network of neurons within it. Neurons firing at the time of the input or encoding of new information, wire together. Whatever thoughts and feelings were experienced at the time of the neurons firing become hardwired into our brains. Therefore, when we see a similar pattern, we feel similar emotions. This works for everything in our lives, yes including money.

Money scripts are those unconscious beliefs each of us have developed concerning money and life. Formed during childhood, they come from direct and indirect messages we received about money from our parents and/or other caregivers as well as society as a whole. As we integrated information about the world to help us make sense of it, we internalized the messages we received about money. What makes money scripts even more powerful and challenging to overcome is that they contain both grains of truth and grains of falsehood. There are many ways money scripts were delivered to us; our parents/guardians, other family members, neighbors, our local culture, news and social media, teachers, and clergy, to name a few.

As I think of the messages I received in childhood, it is little wonder that my own complicated relationship with money emerged. Some of the most common money expressions I can recall are:

  • Money doesn't grow on trees

  • It is important to save.

  • We don't have food to waste; it's children right now wishing for what you are wasting.

  • You should be grateful for what you got.

  • It is better to give than it is to receive.

  • Money is the root of all evil.

  • It will be easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven.

Now, in and of themselves not all of these messages were "bad" and not all of them untrue to my circumstances. I grew up poor, as did both my parents before me and both of their parents before them. There were tenant farmers, sharecroppers, and slaves in my family lineage with no generational wealth to pass down. In my world, we had no money trees. Any slight emergency meant a trip to one of those payday loan places. Christianity was a huge part of my upbringing so the Bible's message on giving rather than receiving, money being the root of all evil, and rich not going to heaven were drilled into me any given Sunday or any other random day of the week.

Somewhere along the way, the messages about money that became ingrained in me were:

  • Money is bad

  • There will never be enough money

  • You have to work hard for your money

  • Money isn't really all that important

  • It's not nice to bring up money

Feelings aroused in me about money are anxiousness and uncertainty. I never had any money to manage growing up. The thought of getting money made me fearful that I would change into a bad person, people would view me as bad or get jealous, people would only use me for money, and I'd probably lose it all because I don't know how to invest it anyway. So, I guess it is best not to have any or at least not too much. And since money doesn't grow on trees, that means I would have to work long and hard to get any. However, I should just be grateful for what I make because even though I am not "rolling in the dough" I am still doing better than some other people. Job stability is important and as long as I show up, keep my head down, and work hard, my income will be stable. Whereas, if I start my own business, there is no guarantee that I will be able to make ends meet. Do you recognize any of these in yourself?

There are others of you, who have the opposite experience. Maybe you grew up in an affluent family. According to the CNBC article, your set of hurdles aren't always any less stressful and anxiety provoking. "Sweetheart, you were born to privilege and with that comes specific obligations." This a quote from one of my favorite movies, Ever After. I believe it does so accurately describe the social expectations of your family and peers when you are born into wealth. Example from the CNBC article:

"For instance, you might feel drawn to a small school or community college that particularly excels in a field that you want to study- but your social upbringing might dissuade you from it....making choices based on how they'll be perceived socially can lead you to start 'overlooking your own wellbeing, your own goals and your own practicality.'"

These kinds of thoughts and feelings even among those with wealth can lead to money mindsets such as:

  • I deserve to spend money.

  • There will always be enough money.

  • Money will give me meaning.

However, feelings of emptiness on a personal or soul level can lead to self-sabotage. So how to overcome this?

Identify where you stand.

We discussed it briefly in the article, "Dimensions of Wellness: Financial Wellness" so I would be remiss to not bring this reminder to you. One assessment I have personally taken and offered to my coaching clients is the KMSI (Klontz Money Script Inventory). There are four money script categories (money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance) and the KMSI helps you identify your money script. Also, make it a goal to know where your current financial numbers. Keep track of all of your spending. I have a hack I like to use to assist me with my financial wellness in a unique way other than just keeping a budget ledger.


Once you have identified where you stand, begin the process of acceptance. Remember earlier when I said, what fires together wires together? Please understand we cannot fight against the wiring. You have whole emotional memories stored surrounding money. If you want to change the anxiety you experience with money, you have to change the neural connections that lead to the anxiety responses. But to get there, we must first accept its reality. Understanding your unique stress response and ways you can cope is a great step in this direction. Envision Coaching & Consulting, LLC offers a targeted stress management coaching bundle to help you take a step on that pathway; whenever you are ready get started, I am here for you.

Create new money language.

I am absolutely big on positive affirmations or mantras. I use them frequently with both therapy and coaching clients. I even personally use them in my own self-nurturing journey. Change your language to affirm that you are much more than just your income, that your self-worth is defined by more than just your networth, and the values that make you uniquely you. Use this new sense of empowerment to forge a new money script that you can utilize.

Find your tribe.

Connect with a coach or even a therapist that can help you work through your money scripts and how these affect your thoughts and emotions. Also as mentioned in the CNBC article, identify supportive friends who can help you restore or fortify your belief in yourself. Then invest in learning more about money from a financial literacy standpoint.

The emotional tension tied to money often began in childhood. Depending on your age, that means some of you have been living with those patterns and scripts for at least a decade while some others of you, for multiple decades. It is important that each and every one of us implement a strategy to address our relationship with money. And as tempting as it may be, don't try to tackle everything all at once. However, don't allow yourself to become so overwhelmed that you take no action at all. Please remember as you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.

"I am never wrong when it comes to my own possibilities." ~Placido Domingo

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