In the eyes of a child money is alive. Money leaps out of machines in a mysterious way and solves problems or creates others. Money jumps in the middle of parental arguments and draws its sword, threatening to separate a child from his family. Money leaves powerful messages in marriages; it "wakes" up emotions as it "writes letters" to the family in the form of bills or makes phone calls to the household in the form of bill collectors. Money-talks are frequently the most emotionally charged conversations that a child hears, and children become aware of the social implications of money as soon as they become aware of, and responsive to, others. Money becomes a god that Mother sacrifices Motherhood to obtain and Fathers forsake home life in pursuit of "making a living". Money is the visible representation that a child sees as individuals connect one to another and exchange the green stuff. A child observes the social contracts of money between people and knows that money itself is social; it creates agreements, happiness, and pain as it pulls people together or separates them forever.
Understanding our client's financial and work dilemmas requires much more skill than just offering them the telephone number for credit-consolidation companies. The behaviors themselves can be as varied as trauma repetition, mood-altering experiences, or acts of defiance, as well as many other possibilities. Debt may be for one individual an act that quiets a suppressed and unconscious fear of separation; for another it might be an angry response to feeling confined and trapped; to a third it might mean an anesthetizing behavior allowing one to "zone out".
Healing wounds made by money and work is best approached as if the behaviors themselves sat on a three-legged stool - not to be understood unless all three legs are available. For clinicians the first leg is to understand the Attachment and Trauma issues that arise out of early childhood experiences that serve to create templates for adult behaviors. The second leg is isolate the exact Temperament - answering the question that it is both nature and nurture that give us our attitudes and behaviors with money and work. The third leg is Affect - when we help our clients to understand that the phenomenon of debt creates feelings of emotional pain and fear - and sometimes it is the emotion itself that is most attractive to a traumatized individual.
The money and work disorders create a collage of dysfunctional behaviors. Clients may display a pattern of compulsive shopping, spending and/or debting; some may have progressed into hoarding or shoplifting. Other clients become obsessed with money or work, and some retreat into deprivation and under-earning. Some gamble, either in traditional ways with slot machines and gaming tables or with high risk investments and business adventures. Still others might find themselves paralyzed by the wealth they have inherited or with which they have grown up, and are now unmotivated and untrusting, alone in a threatening world. Assessment of money disorders frequently shows a correlation between adaptations such as gambling with embezzlement, shopping with shoplifting, workaholism with at-risk entrepreneurship or embezzlement, or compulsive giving with relational issues (the "Financial ALANON Factor"). Regardless of how the puzzle pieces fit together to create the unique profile, the treatment follows a predictable course.
Specific steps that need to be taken by clinicians wishing to approach and understand the emotionally-charged, compulsive work and money behaviors include:
(1) An Assessment of disordered patterns of work and money.
(2) An Evaluation of client's temperament and confirmation of underlying personality-specific innate fears.
(3) Childhood memories narrative to determine template(s).
(4) Re-scripting of cognitive distortions regarding finances and work.
(5) Vision work to establish clear goals for future behavior.
(6) A relapse prevention plan based on knowing risk and trigger issues.
Money trauma and the related adult behaviors surrounding money are the unspoken burdens of shame that often take our clients into relapse. In the past twenty years we have made great strides in healing the wounds of sex addiction and we can now talk about sex openly. The time has come for us to talk about money as well and conquer the shame that has kept this subject in silence for too long.
Bonnie A. DenDooven
Bonnie A. DenDooven, MC, LAC, a family workshop therapist at Gatehouse Academy, is a former business owner-turned-therapist. The author of the MAWASI© for therapy and healing of financial disorders and work behaviors, she is a former primary and family counselor and assistant clinical director for Dr. Patrick Carnes at The Meadows. Bonnie was schooled in Gestalt therapy and is a member of Silvan Tomkins Institute of Affect Script Psychology, an advocate of Martin Seligman Positive Psychology, and a champion for the initiative for VIA Classification of Strengths and Virtues (jokingly referred to as the "un-DSM").