Tax time is widely known as a time of great stress, fear, and frustration for many of us. Why do we have such strong feelings about April 15?
Three of the major reasons Tax Day results in such strong feelings are:
• Our unconscious relationship with money
• Our unconscious relationship with the IRS
• Our reflexive tendency to unconsciously regress under stress
Let’s take these one at a time…
Our unconscious relationship with money.
We each have a relationship with money that is beneath our awareness and rooted in our experience as children. As a result, without being conscious of it, we think, feel, and take actions in relation to money “as children”… at least in part. In fact, even though we may believe we are being adult about money, even though we may appear to be acting as adults about money, beneath the surface there is a child within us driving our relationship with money.
To really get a sense of what is happening, imagine this: You are a person in your present day 35-year old body, doing your taxes. But without realizing it, you’re a child on the inside… it’s as though you’re sitting at a child-sized table with a toy calculator. Or, you’re in your present day 50-year old body going to meet with your accountant. But without knowing it, you’re a child on the inside… it’s as though you’re driving there in a bumper car from the amusement park, letting out stored up feelings on the people all around you, and when you get there you’re sitting at a child’s school desk, writing “naughty words” on the desk while waiting. These images may seem bizarre, and it may be hard to think of yourself as a child in the here and now… but these metaphors may accurately reflect what is happening within you, between you and anyone with whom you have financial transactions, and between you and money. Read on…
The child we once were may have formed a relationship with money in part directly about money. Or money may be a symbol of something or someone else from very early in our lives. For example, I have heard people say as Tax Day approaches… I have to work so hard for money, but I don’t get to keep it anyway. If you’re one of the people who say that, maybe that’s what your father said when you were young. Maybe you learned to say it, think it, feel it by witnessing him. Or, maybe you could also say that to your father… because no matter how hard you work, you get just a moment of him, either for criticism or praise. And maybe you could say it to your mother from very young, if you’d had the words to say it. Maybe you could say it to her even as a baby, because you would cry and cry for her, and when she came she’d change you, put you in a baby carrier, stick a bottle in your mouth and go on about her business. So no matter how hard you worked your little lungs and voice to get mommy, you didn’t get to keep her.
So . . . what if you think you’re relating to money, but it’s really your mother or father you’re relating to? Your relationship with money will be very mixed up!
Our reflexive tendency to unconsciously regress under stress.
Next, let’s go to the issue of stress. When people are under stress, they regress to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of a child . . . even though they are not aware of it. Even if they would tell me I could not possibly be accurate about them. But I hear it, see it, feel it, and sense it consistently – not only in my office, but in social events, gatherings with colleagues, at conferences, in schools, places of worship, in government, and in the news from both ordinary people and people in very high places.
And as a result of the regression under stress, people’s here-and-now concerns become enmeshed with their feelings from childhood, creating an overwhelming mix of feelings.
When we’re stressed about Tax Day . . . we already have our relationship with money deeply impacted from childhood and now we also have the stress causing us to regress. When we regress, we may act out this regression in any one of a number of ways, including making poor money decisions . . . decisions that are really being made by the child inside us. During tax season, this may include decisions and actions like:
• being ‘unable’ to find the facts and figures we need in order to do our taxes;
• feeling unable to think clearly enough to fill out the tax returns, or to do the mathematical calculations for the returns;
• choosing to cheat in order to keep one’s money;
• ‘forgetting’ to prepare and send the taxes;
• procrastinating or putting the taxes off altogether.
So… what if you think you’re handling your stress like any other adult around you, but you’re actually regressed and don’t even know it? Your relationship with yourself under stress will, itself, be very confusing. And what if the adults around you are in the same position you are – regressing without realizing it – and neither you nor they know it? Then comparing yourself to someone else makes what is already confusing, all the more confusing.
Our unconscious relationship with the IRS.
Tax Day is getting closer and closer and we finally come to our unconscious relationship with the IRS. The IRS in general, in fact, tends to trigger something very strong in most of us? Fear. Anger. Frustration. Why is this?
Sometimes our feelings about a person, group, or even a thing, are so enmeshed with our childhood feelings, that we transfer onto the present day person, group, or object the feelings we had in childhood about people such as parents, relatives, teachers, clergy… authority figures in our lives back then. We’re usually not aware of doing this, and even when it’s brought to our attention, we usually can’t stop it right away. It is something that needs to be worked through at the root.
I have found that people’s feelings about the IRS are usually rooted in a childhood fear of the authority, or even anger at the authority… whatever authority from childhood we may be transferring onto the IRS. No matter how smart, how sophisticated, how worldly, how rich, how powerful, how confident… most people have very strong feelings about “the big, bad IRS”… not knowing that a large part of these feelings are actually the transference of our early authorities onto the government tax authority. And remember, since transference is usually unconscious, at least at first, we may not even realize we have the feelings toward our original authority figure, let alone the IRS as an authority figure.
There are many feelings and perceptions, often rooted in childhood, we may have about the IRS or any other authority. Among them… the ‘big bad authority”…
• doesn’t give us enough
• gives to us and takes most of it away
• dangles what we need in front of us and then pulls it just out of our reach
• always makes it hard for us to get whatever we need
• threatens us if we don’t give it what it wants
So… what if you think your feelings about the IRS are totally here-and-now justified feelings, but they are really a transference of feelings from childhood onto the government? Your relationship with the IRS however close or far it is… will be contaminated by your experience of authorities as a child.
Be aware that each of these reasons for stress during tax season and on Tax Day is rooted in your childhood. The truth is, most of the time we are not able to handle the overwhelming combination of our “here and now” feelings and our long ago feelings from childhood by simply trying to “manage” them or pretend they don’t exist. And if we are able to handle them that way for a time, managing and pretending about feelings are not sustainable solutions. We need to heal them… fully and to the root.
For if we don’t tease away the ancient feelings from the current ones, these feelings will keep returning to haunt us from our underground, not only during tax time but any time these feelings get evoked in us. And once evoked, we run the risk that our actions and choices will be made by the wounded child inside us, beneath our awareness… leading us to act in counter-productive, often destructive ways.
Even if, in the past, you have freaked out every April 15, tax time doesn’t have to make you pull your hair out… if you make the commitment to do the inner work of truly healing the feelings at the root of your relationships with both money and authority.**
*If you want to learn more about different aspects of what I’ve described above, go to the Money Is A Clue page on my website.
**If you would like to do a consultation with me on any of these themes, or another, please visit my website. On my website you can also learn more about my upcoming workshop on the theme of healing your relationship with money.
© Copyright 2010 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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