I was recently invited to present at a conference in Italy. I was invited to present on the topic of money—specifically on the topic of money anxiety.
Having attended this international conference bi-annually for the past eight years, I was aware that important topics ranging from death and dying to the healing of old childhood traumas through regressive therapy to the appropriate use of touch in psychotherapy had all been discussed.
The Unspoken Topic of Money
I was also aware of an unspoken topic at the conference—a topic that was impacting all of the many choices we made while at the conference. This topic determined what hotel we stayed at, what restaurants we ate at, and even if we could afford to attend in the first place.
That topic was money. Money affects the choices we make every day. It affects our sense of security. It creates a layer of added complexity in our decision making.
Fantasies About Money
As one of my clients once said, “I want the simplicity of poverty and the security of wealth.” Of course, she was really speaking about her personal need for security and to have her anxiety mitigated. She was hoping that having more money would create security. But, in that statement, she captured our main fantasy about money: If we had enough money, we would feel secure.
Money Buys Security
The fantasy here is that money can buy security—the security of knowing we wouldn’t have to worry about the financial implications of whatever comes along.
Now, the statement “Money buys security,” contains an element of truth, but is not truth completely. “Does money provide security?” is not a yes or no question.
It would be a like telling a person with a food addiction that the cure is to stop eating. Of course that would succeed in changing the food addict’s relationship with food, but it would come with some unintended consequences.
Where Real Security Comes From
If we indicated that money is not a source of security in any form and advocated that we don’t need to have any money to feel secure, we would be dismissing an important reality in our culture.
On the flip side, if we said only money creates the feeling of security, we would be significantly misrepresenting where real security comes from.
It might be safest to say something that Jesus once said in reference to paying taxes. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.” In some ways money can offer security and in other ways it can not.
The Roles of Money
Our culture has created a tremendous amount of insecurity in each of us around money. It does have an important role, but there are limitations to its importance. Perhaps the correct follow-up question might be: What can and can’t be helped by money? There are three perceived roles of money in our culture.
1. Money as a Key to Survival
In simplistic terms, we live in a culture where most transactions involve some level of implicit or explicit financial trade. So, money is necessary for survival. Therefore, the lack of money can be threatening to our survival.
So, yes. If our lack of money hinders us from obtaining something vital to our well-being, there is an understandable level of anxiety in not having it or not having enough of it, and an understandable level of security comes from knowing there is money in our bank account.
2. Money as a Cure All
Our culture sells the message that you need to continue to grow financially in order to be secure. The culture insists that you continually need to increase your earnings, your spending, and your savings in order to be successful.
Our culture also tells us both implicitly and explicitly that our ultimate security will come from more money, and this underlying message creates an anxiety for many of us as we strive to have enough to finally feel safe.
There are real risks of becoming overly dependent on money as a form of security, and there are other forms of security that are exceedingly important.
3. Money as a Form of Isolation
We can go to one another for a hug, or smile, and perhaps even a reassuring word, but we probably can’t go and ask for $3000. We live in a culture where we are financially isolated.
Here we are, in a world that often defines us by how much we make and where our ability to survive is dependent on our ability to earn, but we are each asked to protect our own financial well-being—from each other.
Since I am on my own, I have to make sure I am safe. I have to protect myself because no one else will protect me. Being alone always creates more anxiety.
Money understandably creates anxiety in each of us. We’ll talk more about what we do about this anxiety in our next segments.