Self-Worth vs. Net Worth in Trying Economic Times

It’s difficult to escape. Turn on the radio or the television, peruse a newspaper or listen in on a coffee shop conversation and you’re likely to hear about financial trials and tribulations. A steadily growing concern in the wake of one of the gloomiest economic climates of our time, money is a major cause for stress in any period.

Able to wreak havoc on our relationships, and to cause significant setbacks in our understanding of self-worth, money can be a nightmare when we’re going through a difficult financial cycle. Recognizing the urgency of this issue for millions of people across America and throughout the world, not to mention the therapists working to help cushion the blow and create positive change, many psychologists and mental health workers are exploring the relationship between “self-worth” and “net worth.”

The somewhat novel idea is that anxieties over money problems are more often linked to the imagination rather than any straightforward interaction with reality. Fears about how bad things could possibly get –including having no way to care for one’s family or oneself– tend to dominate the subconscious during financially straining times. But while we can subject ourselves to fairly harsh treatment in the worry department, the good news is that thinking psychodynamically about these issues, examining past events and ideas that inform current behaviors surrounding money, along with a little fiscal organization can bring a world of relief, even when the money’s tight.

Bringing these insights to the public consciousness is an important part of helping to mitigate the losses and further risks of the economic downturn, and therapists note that financial recovery can be achieved when the collective baggage of finances are brought into awareness and the majority of us heal our relationship to money. As the media continues to overflow with sour notes on the state of stocks and savings, therapists may have a lot of baggage to help people work through –but are well-equipped to help their clients find solace in their self-worth.

© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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

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  • Lindsey


    May 19th, 2009 at 2:30 AM

    This is so true..When we start getting tight with money and wonder how we are going to pay bills, if we are going to have enough, it seems like that’s when arguments start and it doesn’t have anything to do with us, its the money problem. I do believe it’s the fear of “what if” and yes, we have been through some rough times, but God has always brought us through it.

  • Lisa


    May 19th, 2009 at 5:40 AM

    I recently lost my job and as I have been trying to deal with all of the financial pressures it finally dawned on me just how much value I placed on myself because of the money that I was able to bring home. I have kind of a unique situation in that my husband is a stay at home dad, now I guess we both are for a while, so it always made me feel so good to be able to support my family and to give them everything that we all needed and so much more. I have been really down on myself since losing my job because I know that our lifestyle has to change and I can no longer be the provider that I have been for them for so long. This has definitely brought us all down a few pegs. I am trying to stay upbeat and hope that this economic downturn will not last for long, but in the meantime I know that I have a lot of soul searching to do.

  • Mica


    May 20th, 2009 at 3:43 AM

    I really do hope that the economy turns around for the good. It’s time for things to start changing.

  • Carter W

    Carter W

    May 20th, 2009 at 5:10 AM

    My money fears are very real and so are those of so many other workers. The sad reality though is that even before the hard times hit money was already a huge worry and very much a part of who I was- now it has only gotten worse.

  • John


    May 21st, 2009 at 1:30 AM

    Some of my friends have been made redundant and one of them is on the verge of a divorce because of this one thing called self-worth. His wife called him a good-for-nothing loser while she was going through her stressful day and he didnt let that one careless definitely unwarranted remark go. He has filed for divorce and I think he is pretty messy at the moment.

  • Stacy L

    Stacy L

    May 21st, 2009 at 3:49 AM

    When did it become the norm for everyone to have their self worth tied into how much money that they bring home? That seems like skewed thinking to me. I have never relied on money to bring me happiness but today it seems like there are an awful lot of people who do that. My parents grew up with nothing and they say that they were always happy just being together. Maybe more of us should go back to trying this approach with our own kids and give us all a good dose of reality that is missing from society. We need to get back to the basics and maybe then we could all do a little better at seeing more light at the end of the tunnel.

  • Rihaana


    May 22nd, 2009 at 1:57 AM

    My husband lost his job 3 months ago and is now an odd job man while applying for jobs. We see him through the same eyes that we did 3 months ago and I can tell you for sure it takes a very petty person to tie someone’s self worth to net worth. It also speaks volumes of their level of maturity.

  • Mary Catherine

    Mary Catherine

    May 22nd, 2009 at 3:52 AM

    Everyone is so right that we have let the amount of money that we have in our bank accounts determine how important and well thought of we are. But that is such a big lie that we have all been feeding ourselves. That is why this recession over so mnay others has really taken its toll. Not only are people losing their material wealth but they are losing the ideas that they held about themselves all because for most of them it has been tied up in how much money they make and spend. What an eye opener for so many of us.

  • Stephanie


    May 22nd, 2009 at 8:02 PM

    We all fall into this trap sometime or the other. Hard times actually hit us where it hurts. Its difficult not being able to think of money as an important factor in self worth.

  • Aubrey


    May 23rd, 2009 at 3:24 AM

    Stacy makes a good point. I remember when I lived at home with my mom, who was a widower, raising 4 kids on her own. We did not have much at all, but when I look back it seems that is when I was the happiest.

  • Christine


    May 23rd, 2009 at 4:34 AM

    Can we all just go back to bartering so that money will become not so big of a deal? I wonder if my credit card companies would go for that?

  • Teri


    May 24th, 2009 at 7:00 AM

    It’s hard to not think of money when you need it to make ends meet. Money is important, but it’s not the only thing in life you need and it’s not the most important.

  • Joanna


    May 25th, 2009 at 4:07 AM

    I like Christine’s idea. To be honest, I already am bartering with friends, siblings, neighbours and its gotten us through. Doing 2 very small part-time jobs is still not enough to feed my family of 4.

  • Doug


    May 26th, 2009 at 3:57 AM

    Even when I made more money I still had worries that it was not enough. This is forcing me to take inventory and make some tough decisions about how much really is enough to be happy. The conclusion that I am coming to is that it is not about how much money can make you happy at all. There are much simpler things that are going to bring you peace and happiness, and to keep all of that tied up to how much money and wealth that you achieve is never going to make you the kind of person that you want to be.

  • stacy c

    stacy c

    May 14th, 2010 at 12:35 AM

    So happy I stumbled across this blog. It reminded me of my grandma laughing telling stories about the depression. People speak of great memories from poor times.

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Title   Content   Author is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on