People arrive at the workshops I lead unaware of the pain they are carrying around. June, a woman in her mid-fifties, vaguely agreed with me that money was a source of suffering in her life, but she couldn’t really put her finger on why.
I began talking about how our money baggage comes from a decision we make when we are young. Suddenly tears were running down June’s cheeks. When I asked her if she knew what her money baggage was, she said: Money will destroy your life and relationships, so pretend it is not there.
“My grandmother had a lot of money,” she said, her voice cracking a bit. “She basically controlled the family with it. What happened in my family is exactly what Grandma wanted to happen. If she gave you money for college, you went to a college that met her approval. If she gave you a down payment on a house, it had to be a house she liked.”
June saw her Grandma destroy the family; she had her hooks in just about everything from financing the house to setting up college funds for the kids. When Grandma didn’t get what she wanted, she went on a rampage. June’s parents always caved in.
The older Grandma got, the more demands she made, and the more irrational the demands became. If someone disobeyed her, he or she was uninvited to family gatherings, cut out of the will, and essentially disowned.
June’s brother decided to go overseas to study. This appalled his grandmother. She believed he should first go to an Ivy League school and later could “prance around the world.” He followed his heart instead and Grandma did not spare him her wrath.
June remembered sitting down at Christmas dinner at her grandmother’s the following year, the long table arrayed with china and crystal. It all looked elegant and perfect. But there was a huge hole, the empty chair where her brother usually sat. It was understood that no one should even mention his name.
Grandma cashed in the college fund she had set up for June’s brother. June loved him and was deeply disappointed when she saw her family not say a thing about it for fear Grandma would take something away from them.
When the grandmother died, she left a considerable sum to June in a trust fund. June pretended it was not there. She didn’t want to deal with it, so she had accountants deal with it. She really didn’t know consciously why, but her money baggage was telling her, “If I touch it, it will destroy my life. It will destroy my family. I’ll be like Grandma.”
By unearthing her money baggage, June saw for the first time how much and for how long she had silently suffered around money. She saw how her beliefs had affected her own family—that money was bad, that it was an instrument that people used to control others and inflict pain, and that money was something to be avoided at all cost.
Is it time to break the painful cycles in your life? Look at how the messages you learned about money as a child affected your family then, and how those attitudes influence your family now. What are the messages you overtly or covertly give to your kids? Ask your kids what they are learning from you about money. Go back to your childhood and get clear about your own money baggage. You owe it to yourself and to your loved ones.
Tune in next week for more insights from Karen Ramsey!