Money trauma is a reality many don't talk about

Gené Hunter
Michael Longmire/Unsplash

The word “trauma” is typically associated with significant life events, breakups, losses and horrific events we don’t know if we’ll recover from.

However, there’s another form of trauma that’s a reality for most people that isn’t heavily talked about: money trauma. Yes, it’s a real thing and many people experience it whether they know it or not.

When we think of money, we typically equate it with security, safety or power. It’s also equated to having a certain type of social status, usually the more money you have, the higher your status is. It can also afford you different opportunities and experiences that a lack of money won’t give you.

Money trauma can also be referred to as ‘Financial PTSD’ which refers to the result of living at least three months when one’s income is not adequate to meet one’s expenses. Usually, PTSD (or trauma) forms when an individual’s home life is disrupted and causes a great amount of stress due to not knowing how one will be able to pay bills or maintain their lifestyle. This can have a ripple effect and cause both physical and emotional stress on an individual. Some effects include:

  • Becoming hyperreactive to situations that remind a person of their financial problems
  • Insomnia and a constant feeling of looming financial obligations
  • Inability to feel close to friends and significant others
  • Difficulty enjoying things
  • Operating with a sense that bad things are inevitable and that life will be cut short due to financial status or loss of finances

Alternatively, it’s not an individual’s inability to pay for the basic needs and wants that creates trauma around money, it is normally the series of events that follow a financial loss. For example, an individual working as a freelance or contract worker could have the means to consistently pay their bills, but their contract unexpectedly ends and they not only have to worry about where their next check comes from but they also have to begin the job search process which takes up a lot of time.

One month away from work can easily turn into three months of falling behind on bills which threatens a person’s housing, food, healthcare or childcare.

Dealing with this can also lead to fear and paranoia regarding work and feeling like you’ll seldom have money to spend as well as save for future emergencies. It can also take away the enthusiasm to enjoy life and put people into survival mode.

Although money trauma exists, it doesn’t have to be a burden you have to carry with you forever. While having a consistent flow and high amount of money are the ideal ways to combat the PTSD of financial loss, there are other ways to recover from the occurrence:

  • Plan for the future: Trauma can place us into survival mode and we are not able to think past our current circumstances. Take time to create a strategy for the future, whether it’s for weeks or months at a time to keep yourself out of a cycle of financial loss.
  • Label your feelings: We know that trauma affects us emotionally and it’s important to acknowledge that. Recognize what you’re feeling whether that be tense, anxious or nervous feelings around money. It’s important to not throw these things to the wayside.
  • Talk to a friend: Going through financial woes can seem embarrassing, but the truth is, we all go through at some point. DOn’t isolate yourself, embrace support from your closest family and friends. Getting social support helps change the stress reactivity that allows trauma to stay.
  • Talk to a professional: If you feel that your immediate circle won’t be able to provide the help you need, talk to a mental health professional who can help you work through strategies to get past it or put healthy practices in place.
  • Stop avoiding: You want to get to the point of working through your triggers, this comes with not avoiding things like your credit card balances, your checking or savings accounts. It’s important to know where you stand financially and create plans to tackle balances. Sometimes, fear thrives in the unknown. When you know where you stand, you’re able to be clear on what it is you need.

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Atlanta-based journalist with a passion for all things lifestyle and community. Story ideas/tips?

Atlanta, GA

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