Why Can’t I Stop Worrying About Money?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

I constantly worry about money. I don’t even live paycheck-to-paycheck or anything. I just have this constant nagging fear that I’ll end up destitute and unable to support myself, even though I have several years’ worth of “rainy day” funds. Knowing I’m going to be okay is really important to me, and I don’t know how to make myself feel that way—no matter what position I put myself in financially. I don’t even know how much it would take in the bank for me to feel secure. A million dollars probably wouldn’t do it.

My family wasn’t well off by any means, but also didn’t seem to struggle, so I don’t think my issue is related to that. I was laid off in 2008 and went four years before landing steady work again, and there is no doubt that took a toll on my self-esteem and self-confidence. I feel like I try really hard to be valuable these days so as to stay employed and not feel that awful feeling again. Maybe that’s part of what is going on? But even before that, I placed a high value on financial security. In fact, if you were to ask me what was most important to me between love, happiness, and financial security, I’d have to go with financial security. Something about that feels wrong to me, but I don’t know what to do about it. —Never Enough

Dear Never Enough,

That sounds incredibly stressful. You seem to be living in a constant state of worry and anxiety—driven by some vague sense of fear and unease. Sometimes the worries we have without “logical” reason are the hardest to combat. Simply pointing out to you that you are fine isn’t going to add to your sense of security.

So, what CAN you do?

My hunch is if those safety needs were attended to, it would allow you to embrace some of those other pieces, like love and happiness.

It sounds as if understanding some of the root causes of your need for financial security would be a good place to start. I’d recommend working with a therapist to explore where that need came from. It sounds as if it wasn’t necessarily from childhood deprivation, nor was it caused by your layoff (though that certainly may have intensified the fear and insecurity).

Safety is one of our core needs as humans. That can take many forms: physical safety, emotional safety, and yes, even financial safety. You feel unsafe, and understanding why is likely a good first step in learning how to help you feel safer. My hunch is if those safety needs were attended to, it would allow you to embrace some of those other pieces, like love and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with wanting and needing to feel safe. When we feel unsafe, however, we walk through life in a state of anxious activation, scanning for threats and preparing for the worst. It’s an exhausting, and often unnecessary, burden.

Your sense that no amount of “rainy day” funds would remove your worry indicates that your fear isn’t really about money per se, but more about feeling safe. Understanding the core fear is a place to start.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 5 comments
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  • Penelope

    Penelope

    October 21st, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    I have often heard other say that money does not buy happiness.

    Well you know what it does buy? security. And for some of that this is the priority.

  • Tatiana

    Tatiana

    October 23rd, 2017 at 10:36 AM

    You don’t know real poverty until you have grown up in Eastern Europe. That was a time in my life when I really didn’t know when the next bite of food that I would have would be.

    You have to learn to be thankful for the small things in life and trust in the fact that in the end everything will work out the way that it is meant to. I know that can feel like a bit of a free fall, but in the end, you really don’t have that much control over every single thing out there.’

    There will just come a time when you have to have a little faith.

  • will

    will

    October 24th, 2017 at 3:34 PM

    Money really is the security blanket that most of us feel like we have to cling to. Like it or not it is truly what continues to make the world go round.

  • Allie

    Allie

    October 25th, 2017 at 12:23 PM

    My dad once lost his job when I was a teenager so I understand how you get very embedded in that feeling of financial insecurity. Even today I make good money but when my checking account dips below a certain point I start to feel a little nervous.
    I think that it is totally ok to feel a little nervous about money every now and then but it isn’t good when it rules your life.

  • Logan

    Logan

    October 26th, 2017 at 9:37 AM

    there are some things that you can’t let yourself dwell on

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