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Unpacking financial trauma

Updated: Apr 23

You hear a lot of talk about physical, mental, and emotional truama, but how many of you have thought about your financial trauma and how it might be impacting your life today?

Maybe you don't have any. Maybe you grew up with parents who had a healthy relationship with money. Maybe you never wondered where your next meal was coming from. Maybe you never had to worry about whether your parents would be able to pay rent or if you'd have to move again. Maybe you've never experienced bankruptcy or crippling medical debt. Maybe you had a sense of security and never had to worry about money until you were older.

But if you struggle with severe anxiety about losing your job or paying your bills, if you struggle to create and/or maintain a budget, if you are constantly waiting for the next financial disaster to strike, if you are a chronic splurger, if you continue to max out credit cards, if you are overly frugal and penny pinching, or if you are downright greedy despite your wealth, you may have financial trauma that needs examining.

Hell, you can have financial trauma simply by living in the U.S. where the cost of goods and services continue to increase while our wages remain stagnant. It's not your fault you were born into this grind culture where we're brainwashed into believing if we just take out high-interest loans to go to college, work harder, work longer, grind, push, suffer, that we too can live the American dream.

For years I told myself I was just bad with money, that somehow if I could just budget my paychecks better and pick up a few side hustles, I could pull myself out of debt and save enough to buy a house. But you can't get blood from a turnip. People can't magically make their minimum wage paychecks cover the current cost of living. Even someone working full-time at the "living wage" of $15 an hour can't afford to live in WNC.

One reason I left journalism was because I was tired of struggling financially. The stress and anxiety of living paycheck to paycheck was impacting my mental health. Then I finally landed a job that can pay me what I'm worth, and magically I've been able to pay off my debt while saving money for the future.

The peace and mental relief that's come with more financial stability is something I wish everyone had, yet I still feel like an imposter some days. It's a feeling of "I don't deserve this, I'm over my head, and at some point they will figure it out and I'll have to start over again."

The progress with my own situation has forced me to address my own financial baggage as I try to unpack it and let it go. I'm trying to unravel 30 years of scarsity mindset and create an abundance mindset for the future. It's much easier said than done.

I didn't grow up with a lot of money, but I also didn't want for much either. My parents bought their first home when I was 1 year old. It was a doublewide and it was situated on a rural piece of land gifted to them by my grandfather. My dad was just starting his career selling mobile homes after getting out of the Navy. He was 24, I was on the way, and he had to find something that paid more than brick laying.

Both my parents grew up in what they would describe as a "dirt poor"situation, so owning their own piece of property and a home was a huge generational step up. As I got older, my dad's career in the mobile home business grew. By the time I was 8 years old, we were welcoming my younger sibling into that same home with a renovation/addition project nearly completed to make room.

Once Dad started making more money, I remember hearing more fights about money. My parents argued everytime I needed money for something, whether it was clothing, school supplies, or the cost for me to play sports or participate in other extracurricular activities.

They divorced when I was 12. My younger sibling and I lived with Mom in a park model trailer on the other side of town. Mom went back to work waiting tables to support us. Dad paid child support, but it felt like they fought about it being late every month. It made me scared to ever ask for anything. I felt like a burden and experienced a ton of anxiety whenever I needed something.

I moved in with Dad when I was 16 because mom moved to Florida for a new job. There were so many expenses when I was a senior - senior pictures, class ring, yearbooks, and outfits needed for homecoming and graduation. To his credit, dad bought me my first car under the conditions that I'd pay for my own insurance, registration/tag, and gass. I worked a part-time job after school and on weekends making $7 a hour to keep up my end of that deal. But whenever I needed something school related from Dad, it led to a huge blow up.

I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong. I was working, I had straight A's in school, I was active in theater and chorus. Why did he make everything so difficult for me when he had the money? The dynamic continued into college. Now I was working full time and going to college full time. My tuition was covered by Georgia's Hope grant because I had good grades. Dad made too much money for me to qualify for any other finacial assistance. I lived with roommates and paid rent and utilities. I did my best not to need anything from him, but occassionally I'd have a car emergency I couldn't afford and would have to suck it up and beg for money.

I graduated from college and have never been unemployed a day in my life. On one hand, I'm proud of my strong work ethic and how far I've come on my own. On the other hand, I'm still working through the consequences of growing up feeling like I just wasn't worth the investment. Always having to prove my worth through overworking, giving too much to others, and never relying on others for help. This is called hyper-independence trauma my friends!

Now that I'm older, I understand my dad also suffered from a scarsity mindset around money. When you struggle financially for so long and then find success, your brain still doesn't trust it. You're always waiting for the other shoe to drop and for everything you've built to be taken away from you. He was also trying to raise me to be self-sufficient and to not rely on others - just like he couldn't rely on anyone when he was on his own at 16.

Finding financial success can also make people greedy. They develop this sense of entitlement that makes them want to keep it all for themselves. I know that is not who I want to be. I've never had a lot, but I've always been willing to share whatever I do have with those I love. I choose to believe whatever I willingly give to others will come back to me threefold.

I've talked through a lot of this in therapy so I can make progress on my finanical goals without tripping over all my own baggage. I've taken steps to overcome these money hangups to find a balance between paying my bills, paying off debt, saving for the future, and still being able to spend money on the things that make life worth living.

I have to remind myself everyday that I am worthy of the abundance that comes my way. You are too!

Click on the photo below for more financial trauma resources.

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