3 Ways Your Spending Habits Are Connected to Mental Health

MoneyWoman holding phone and credit card while out shopping is an essential part of life. Whether we make lots of money or are just skating by, we all have learned patterns of relating to money. Many of us grasp the idea of what money means and understand its presence in our lives from a very early age.

While there are many ways money can reflect our mental health, I’m going to focus on three key areas and how they may relate to your personal experience(s).

1. Relationships and Money

There are several dysfunctional ways one may use money that reflect how they engage in relationships. For example, one person who makes a lot of money and is very successful may live in constant fear that they will never have enough. They save and save and save, avoiding anything pleasant or luxurious. This type of person may even feel regular anxiety about “running out” or not ever meeting the financial end goal they have in mind. Note that I’m not referring to a person who works hard and strikes a healthy spend/save balance. I’m talking about an irrational fear of not having enough that isn’t based in reality.

This pattern often indicates clear things about this person’s relationships. A few possibilities include:

  • They may have the same fears about love and connection and believe something along the lines of, “If I’m not always perfect, vigilant, or on-guard, people won’t love, accept, or appreciate me.”
  • They may be so focused on money and work that they pull away from the people who love them to focus on those things.
  • They may be super rigid and overly perfectionistic in every area of their life and come to expect the same from their spouses, friends, and most dangerously, their own children.

These challenges can directly diminish healthy relationships by creating fear, anxiety, disappointment, and isolation.

Another money pattern that harms relationships is impulsivity and over-spending. The impulsive spender may make a ton of money, or they may live paycheck to paycheck; either way, they spend money as quickly as they get it and constantly find themselves in a state of financial deprivation.

A person with this pattern often lives in fear of “missing out” or in fear of “normalcy” and is often in adrenalin overdrive. Their relationships can suffer from this in several ways. This type of spender may also be impulsive in relationships. They may cancel plans last minute, blow off people they love for something “more exciting,” or they may even start to isolate because they have spent so much money on things that don’t matter, they can’t afford to socialize with others.

This can also be very difficult for someone’s children and spouses. They may spend so much that they forget to pay the electricity or buy a car without asking their spouse how they feel. This pattern tears down the trust, security, and consistency that are necessary to maintain healthy relationships.

2. Emotions and Money

A person’s emotional patterns are directly reflected in how they relate to money. Maybe the person who is impulsive with money grew up in a very controlling home. Maybe their parent was so focused on stringently saving that the child felt trapped. Maybe that person swore up and down they would never feel financially trapped again, and as a result, turned into an impulsive spender.

This spending pattern, which was a direct form of defiance developed at a young age in response to a controlling parent, taught this person to resist rules and authority in all forms. Maybe they keep getting fired from jobs because they have such a fear of “being controlled’ they refuse to comply with acceptable standards of conduct in the workplace.

An inability to keep enough money to live, to maintain a job, or to engage in healthy relationships keeps one just as trapped as if they were living under lock and key. It is just a different kind of trapped.

While this person is really only responding to a pattern of pain that was very difficult for them in childhood, they are continuing to create the exact same feeling of entrapment that they so desperately fear. An inability to keep enough money to live, to maintain a job, or to engage in healthy relationships keeps one just as trapped as if they were living under lock and key. It is just a different kind of trapped.

This scenario is just one example of how one decision made in a moment of childhood defiance (and self-protection) can create a pattern of dysfunction that continues to dictate a person’s financial destiny until they are willing to seek help.

3. Core Beliefs and Money

Emotions and core beliefs are not the same thing. Emotions are a reaction to something that is happening in our lives that causes a response, or they are direct responses to long-held core beliefs that may or may not be serving us. If you grew up in a healthy family, you may be carrying healthy core beliefs, like “I are worthy,” “The world is inherently good,” “People support me,” and “I am safe”. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you may be carrying some seriously painful core beliefs such as, “I am worthless,” “People are inherently dangerous,” and “I always have to go it alone”.

The core beliefs we carry absolutely impact not only the career paths we choose, but also the way we relate to and engage with our finances.

A person who feels everyone is against them may hide their money. They may keep secrets about money that separate them from their partner, like taking out loans and racking up credit card debt but hiding it from their partner. They may refuse to spend anything they earn. They may live in squalor or take jobs that are inherently impossible for them to succeed at. They may be overworked and underpaid.

On the contrary, if a person’s core beliefs are healthy and sound, they may start saving from an early age. They might go to school for something that challenges them and allows them to be financially solvent and generous. They may be able to openly discuss money with their spouse in a way that includes clarity and honestly. And they may be willing to ask for what they need and deserve when it comes time to negotiate for a raise.

The great news about dysfunctional core beliefs is that over time, they can absolutely be changed. All these challenges around money and mental health can be worked on, healed, and changed over time.

As with all points of pain in our lives, the first step is awareness, and the next step is asking or allowing for help. If you are dealing with any of these challenges in your relationship with money, making an appointment with a licensed, experienced therapist is a great place to start.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Blythe C. Landry, MEd, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ty

    September 1st, 2018 at 5:21 AM

    Next to love talking about money is probably the most efficient way for a therapist to comprehend a patient’s inner life.
    It’s something I wish therapists had brought up with me more often. In fact clarifying the role of money in a therapeutic relationship (I’m paying this person after all) could open doors and help cement a bond.

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