Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t obvious when someone has experienced complex trauma. This is both good and bad. It means those of us with traumatic backgrounds can go on to get degrees, good jobs and live somewhat decent external lives. All that high functioning means we can establish some level of safety without which we cannot experience deeper healing. But the downside to the super heroism of the controller is that we can effectively lie to ourselves and others about our reality. We can hide our past in the corners of our systems and move through life as if nothing ever happened. Many of us don’t know we have trauma at all.
And while this may sound like a great idea (especially to our controllers), there are downsides to this approach. The trauma is still there. We haven’t eradicated it from our systems. That would be impossible. And no matter how hard we work to hide it, it will show up. In my humble opinion, there are four main ways it shows up no matter how strong our mask is. First, it shows up in our physical health. All that trauma in the body is going to wreak havoc on how we feel. And let’s face it, we are exhausted from all that running. Second, it shows up in our mental health. Anxiety, depression and other diagnoses will find us eventually. Third, it manifests in relationships. We struggle to find relationships that are fulfilling and often give up and isolate. And fourth, it shows up in our financial well-being.
Today I want to focus on the last one. The patterns that show up around money are always indicative of our traumatic experiences. And no matter what solutions you write down on paper (or lay out in a spreadsheet), the only real solution to your financial woes will happen with the healing of your traumatic memories and emotions. But how does that work? How does our trauma impact our finances exactly? Let’s look at what happens in our psyches after trauma to understand this better.
Money gets linked to abusive power. In abusive families and societies, the people with the money have the power. And that money gives them enough power to be abusive with no real repercussions. Victims are kept from financial empowerment in an attempt to control them. They have to tolerate abuse. It is the only way they can survive. And abusers can keep doing what they do. The financial structures in families and society have been set up to support abusers for generations. And it is incredibly challenging for victims to break through those structures.
Financial abuse gets internalized. After all those childhood years of being abused financially, we start to limit our own financial possibilities. This is largely internalized with the controller. We tell ourselves we don’t deserve nice things. We tell ourselves we must work hard and one day we will be able to relax. But that never happens. We may even limit our necessities because we feel unworthy. But we will spend money on others whenever we can. We will abuse ourselves with how we distribute our money, but we will label it as responsible and/or kind.
Rebellion against the control of money gets internalized. While we have internalized financial abuse, we have also internalized the rebellion against it. We can spend years saving money at the expense of our happiness only to blow the entire savings on something frivolous. We can dramatically swing between spending nothing and spending far too much. This leaves our financial state in constant chaos. But our freedom fighters are tired of being controlled and will rebel in these ways. And when they are constantly being denied, who can blame them?
Financial struggles become a requirement. Let’s face it. When we have lived in chaos for such a long time, it is hard to let it go. Chaos has been the distraction we need to avoid the pain underneath the surface. The hypervigilance that manages the chaos is considered necessary for survival. If we were to end the financial chaos and be comfortable, it would feel incredibly uncomfortable. It would feel like waiting for the other shoe to drop. So when things do get comfortable financially, we may still find our minds racing to find ways it isn’t or shouldn’t be.
The financial abuse persists. Financial abuse from our abusive families doesn’t stop when childhood ends. And this abuse reinforces the internalized financial battle. Let’s face it. Our abusive family might have preached to us about becoming independent, but they never had any real desire for that to happen. They need us to remain dependent on them so they can maintain control. So they offer us financial assistance and then guilt us about it. They point out our financial irresponsibility but then offer to save us. When we attempt to pull away, they use money to pull us back in. This keeps us confused and under their control.
So when you find yourself in financial chaos, it isn’t by accident. Honestly nothing is by accident. The trauma is finding its way through to the surface of your life in the most inconvenient ways. So take time to examine how you are bringing your trauma to life. This could be one of the most lucrative choices you make in your recovery journey. If you would like guidance to help you with uncovering your financially sabotage, come join us in November in Survivor’s Guide for Life. We will be discussing how to create financial success after trauma. This is a critical topic. Living your best life is not selfish. Living your best life is your birthright.