Tatiana Yevtushok

Business psychologist. Gestalt psychotherapist. Coach. Trainer

Emotional money

In previous articles I have written already how the topic of money in psychology often intersects with the emotions associated with it. As Kiyosaki says, “Money is an emotional thing. If you can’t control your emotions, then emotions will start to control your money.” And it’s true, not because money itself is inherently emotional, but because money is the resource that exists at the intersection and in the context of relationships. It is the result of the exchange process between us and our clients/colleagues/partners/subordinates/supervisors (each person has their own counterparts). It is an exchange of our skills, professional expertise, talents, and abilities that we invest in our services or products. And since any interaction and relationship affects the emotional sphere of the individual, we say that money, as a result of the quality of this interaction between two parties (us and those from whom we earn), is also charged with emotions. And in this article, we will explore the emotions that lead us to the desire to earn.

Why is this important?

It’s important because these emotions will not only reflect on the outcomes (financial rewards), but also on the process of your activities (business or any job) that involves contact and relationships with people, where these emotions can become stumbling blocks because they indirectly or directly influence the quality of interaction and, therefore, your self-realization as a process of projecting your skills, talents, qualities, and abilities into your work.

We will examine this topic from the perspective of scientific social psychology. We will not delve into it from the standpoint of any positivist or magical rituals like “How to charge your money with positive energy“, although I will briefly mention that there are Zen practices that suggest expressing gratitude towards money. For example, Ken Honda writes about the importance of thanking your money every time you receive or give it, in order to accept and release it with ease and joy. You can practice that if you like, but as you understand, it’s not our main focus here. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Dull money or restless money?

Do you feel more depressed (disappointed, dissatisfied, sad, desperate) when you are unable to earn enough for your needs, or do you worry (feel anxious, fearful, and concerned)? The same question can be asked about your work: does it bring you more dejection or worry? You can also think about how you handle your income and expenses: do they leave you with a sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment (for example, feeling down and upset when paying for something without experiencing pleasure), or do you immediately start worrying and feeling anxious about running out of money?

If none of these apply to you, feel free to close this article. However, if you recognize these emotions within yourself, try to navigate through the theoretical part.

Of course, it all begins in childhood, but we’ll come to that later. Let’s start by looking at the theory of self-discrepancy. According to this theory, our self, which encompasses our thoughts, knowledge, feelings, and behavior, consists of:

– The actual self (who I am in reality)

– The ideal self (who I want to be ideally)

– The ought self (who I should be)

If our ideal or ought selves do not align with our actual self, a discrepancy occurs within our self, and our organism attempts to compensate for it by experiencing emotions of dejection or worry. Strange as it may sound to you, this is a process of self-regulation, if you will.

Furthermore, research has shown that when there is a mismatch between our actual and ideal selves, we tend to experience emotions such as disappointment, dissatisfaction, and sadness. On the other hand, when our actual self falls short of our ought self, we may become prone to worry and feelings of anxiety and fear.

Thus, if our visions of how we ideally want to live and how wealthy we want to be do not align with our current sense of self and reality, we are inclined to either set goals and pursue our ideal desires and aspirations, working towards their realization and earning money accordingly, or we may fall into dejection (expecting and becoming disappointed, feeling sorrowful about the inability to earn what we desire, experiencing dissatisfaction with the quality of life, income, and expenses, and most likely, with our work).

When the sense and knowledge of who we should be in terms of our earnings do not correspond to who we currently are, we tend to lean towards worry, and thus, towards anxiety and fears.

So, what do we base our approach to earning and work on? What motivates us to earn? Is it the unease of lacking something, or the pursuit of ideals? These are very subtle distinctions because they constitute internal drives and motives: seeking fulfillment or getting rid of something, earning to enjoy a better quality of life, or to avoid the discomfort of fear and need.

What are the reasons then?

To understand the reasons, it is important to consider another theory—the theory of regulatory focus (Higgins, 1997, 1998). According to research, self-regulation involves two different focuses inherent in different individuals. These are two distinct systems for directing internal attention: the promotion system and the prevention system.

The promotion system is associated with the ideal self and is focused on the presence or absence of positive events (such as the good things in your life that money can provide, both material possessions and work fulfillment). It involves an approach strategy. According to research, individuals with a promotion focus are more oriented towards relationships within a group (such as a team, interactions with clients, etc.), emphasizing contact with others. Their internal self-talk is framed in terms of “How can I accomplish this? How can I get there? How can I achieve that?” Often, adults with a promotion focus have grown up receiving hugs and encouragement for their successes (the presence of positive events) but were ignored or deprived of love for their lack of achievements (the absence of positive events).

The prevention system is associated with the ought self and is focused on the presence or absence of negative events (such as attempting to avoid unsafe situations through money and the security it provides). It involves an avoidance strategy. Individuals with a prevention focus often have difficulty maintaining relationships within a group or with clients, as they are primarily oriented towards avoiding or escaping from such interactions. Their self-talk often begins with “in order to avoid…”. For example, “I want to earn money so as not to be poor, to avoid feeling deprived, to prevent suffering, etc.” In childhood, these individuals were likely encouraged to be cautious about dangers and potential negative events (the absence of negative events) and were punished or scolded for undesirable behavior (the presence of negative events).

Some people are focused on winning/not winning, while others are focused on losing/not losing. Some are inspired by positive role models and actively engage in the process (taking risks or feeling disappointed), while others are influenced by negative role models and avoid failures (hence it’s better not to take risks and worry onstead).

To determine which system underlies your relationship with money, ask yourself the following questions:

– What do you focus on when it comes to money: desires or obligations/should nots?

– Do you work and earn for offense or defense (like in a basketball game)?

– Are you working towards achieving what you desire or avoiding discomfort and dangers?

– What underlies your desire to earn or have money: striving for an ideal life or trying to eliminate fears?

It all comes down to the mental images that drive these aspirations.

Promotive system

If you’re experiencing feelings of sadness, disappointment, dissatisfaction, or melancholy in relation to earning money and work, it’s likely that your needs regarding money are in the realm of a gap between your ideal and actual self. In that case, it’s important to work with your desires and ideal images to extract the ideal qualities projected there and integrate them into your actual self.

Answer the following questions:

– What kind of life do you want to live? What ideal financial scenarios would you like to play out in your life? How much would you ideally like to earn and what would you spend it on?

Next, imagine yourself as those ideal finances and describe what kind of money you are. You’ll create a list of qualities. In reality, these qualities are the ones you aspire to, the ones you want to enrich your self with. This is your growth zone.

Answer the following questions:

– How can you already cultivate these qualities and states in your life?

– In which areas of your life would you like to manifest them in reality?

– How can you project each quality into your work?

Prevention system

If you are more inclined towards feelings and states such as anxiety, fear, and apprehension, your discrepancies in beliefs (thoughts and feelings about yourself) and your behavior lie between your ought and actual self.

It’s important to work on safety and do so as concretely as possible:

– Fears (make a list)

  – What are you afraid of, and how can you ensure your safety in each specific case that your fear portrays?

– Worries (make a list)

  – What are you worried about? What aspects of it are based in reality, and what are not?

  – Who and how encouraged your worries or punished you for unwanted behavior?

  – How can you be punished for your actions? For your failures? How does this relate to the punishments you experienced in childhood?

  – How have you suppressed your desires as a result?

It’s important to awaken risk and play, to awaken desires:

– What would you want if there were no fears and you were in total safety?

– How much would you like to earn if it were safe?

Your task is to understand the mechanisms that underlie your motivation in interacting with money and the activities through which you earn it. Gain insight into your own motivations and separate previous experiences from the present ones.

Your task is to become aware of your own self-regulation mechanisms and learn how to consciously bridge the gaps between your actual, ideal, or expected self by integrating qualities and cultivating states that you aspire to.

Recently, one participant of my money psychology course wrote to me that just two months after completing the course, she was offered a job with a salary that precisely matched the ideal desired amount she had been working with during our sessions.

Shift the focus of your attention and retrain yourself in formulating your internal queries. 

The brain is like a computer; it enjoys solving tasks. However, in order to solve them, it’s important to formulate them correctly. The best formulation can be a question to yourself: “How can I reach the income level of ______ (insert your desired amount) in my work?” Perhaps you will need to ask yourself this question every day for a sufficiently long period of time, but this task triggers search programs for options and possibilities to implement your intentions. Moreover, this formulation arouses curiosity, which, as ancient Greek philosophers wrote, is one of the main propellers of human progress and the opening of consciousness to new states.

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