I'm so excited to share that a new recent addition to my skill set is that I've worked through a trauma-informed integrated coaching qualification. It was really clear to me while I was working through my financial coaching course just how much trauma impacts on so many different areas of people's lives. Finances included. So it made sense to arm myself with this as it's something I frequently come across while working with my clients.
I’m so excited to share that a new recent addition to my skill set is that I’ve worked through a trauma-informed integrated coaching qualification. It was really clear to me while I was working through my financial coaching course just how much trauma impacts on so many different areas of people’s lives. Finances included. So it made sense to arm myself with this as it’s something I frequently come across while working with my clients.
It’s also something that is hardly ever talked about. Let’s face it, money is already a taboo subject. How comfortable would you feel talking to a stranger about your salary, or how much you owe in credit card debt? As trauma, in simple terms, is linked to our own perception of events, maybe I could start by explaining just exactly what financial trauma is.
Living with debt that you can’t seem to be able to shift or pay down, being made redundant, being under pressure to find a job when the economy is in freefall (hello 2008 recession), being unable to afford mortgage repayments whilst juggling other spiralling living costs are more than just unfortunate circumstances. For some, the long-term effects of living with just one of these examples, let along coping with several at the same time, this kind of stress can be debilitating and result in symptoms characteristic of PTSD.
It’s common to think about the term “trauma” in relation to huge catastrophic events that happen to us. Again, it’s our own perception of the events, but they’re the sort of things that happen that we imagine being the hardest to overcome. Or we can’t even see a way through, or how we might survive from. What this actually results in is people not recognising trauma when they have it, because we deal with every day.
The thing with money and finance is that it brings out fear and uncertainty in people like nothing else. Because of perhaps a lack of financial education, linked with the taboo we’ve already mentioned, alongside our own money stories that we call carry with us, it’s common to have intense stress, paranoia, fears and worries about money and finances, in a way that almost nothing else can compare. Money can equate to security, safety, status, or power. Money can be interpreted as worthiness. There are so many unconscious ideas and messages embedded in our relationship to money, that it only makes sense that financial trauma can have such a massive negative impact, and yet mostly gets ignored or left by the wayside.
Though there’s no changing the past, learning and working through what’s causing constant money stress can help towards recovering, and regaining a sense of health and financial wellbeing.
In it’s most basic sense, financial trauma can be caused when expenses outweigh income for an extended period of time. It is not the inability to pay that creates the trauma, it is usually the string of events that follow. One month can easily turn into three months of falling behind, basic necessities become threatened or needing to be put on a credit card, such as food or running the car, and friends or relatives might need to be approached for help, which can be embarrassing, and so on. This can also lead to fear and paranoia regarding our employment or how we run our businesses.
This means that our stress regulatory response gets totally overwhelmed by our environment and circumstances. The way our stress response works is to help us turn on every cell in our body so that it does exactly what we need it to do when we experience a threat to our existence. The instinctive reaction to fight, flight or freeze for those times when we just can’t think our way out of a situation. However this primordial system was needed way before we, as humans, even needed to know what money was. Now, when we have to juggle between paying our bills or putting food on the table, our stress system jumps into action, much the same as if a woolly mammoth appeared in your back garden. Except, back in the day when this might have happened, we either made it out of the mammoth’s path and were able to relax that night or we were mammoth food. But with financial trauma there is no downtime, our stress system is locked on overdrive. So it’s not how we were designed and our system hasn’t evolved to cope.
So financial trauma is our reaction to chronic financial stress. It impacts on our ability to carry out normal work and home life functions and can manifest as some of the following symptoms:
- Our basic thought patterns regarding money are negative, and often involve assuming inevitable failure.
- Our ability to concentrate is hugely reduced, with our focus often drifting back to thoughts of financial disaster.
- Our general environment is seen as an increasingly hostile place, believing that it’s only a matter of time before bad, or worse, things happen again.
- Our dealing with constant nervous energy, restless legs, insomnia and jumpiness becomes chronic.
- Our coping mechanisms, such as avoidance or substance abuse, increases.
- Fear about opening mail, receiving emails or taking phone calls (that unknown number could be someone else chasing you for payment, etc.)
- Our happiness and joy slowly reduces, dwindling down to rarely being found.
- We then begin to isolate ourselves as relationships become associated with costing more money. This is especially true if financial trauma stems from being controlled by someone else with money.
- We then begin to question our own security, even in months when cash flow feels OK. This perception of our own security leads to certain practices, such as being super frugal or over-saving, but taking them to an unhealthy, and unsustainable, extreme.
Does this mean that we’re stuck with this feeling now once we’re in it? No, absolutely not. We can recover from this and learn to regulate our responses again. We start by rebuilding a healthy relationship with money by figuring out the core principles for us that lead to financial wellbeing.
- We can work to reduce debt, especially debt with high interest accruing. If quickly clearing these balances isn’t feasible, make a plan to work on debt reduction. This starts with being aware of what you owe and having a plan to repay it to help restore a sense of control.
- Give some thought to a serious plan for the future. Putting even a small amount of money away into a pension, into a savings account or investing in an ISA. When we are struggling with trauma, we are in survival mode. We have trouble thinking beyond our immediate circumstances. Planning for the future helps to act as a fire-breaker to overcome this feeling, reassuring us that we will make it through, and we will be prepared when we do.
- Feel the feelings. When you become anxious around finances, recognise what’s going on and allow yourself to feel what’s going on and where it comes from. Try and imagine what a healthy response to the situation would be, or the advice you would give a friend in the same situation. Be kind to yourself, and know that however you’re feeling is OK.
- Reach out and talk to a friend. Opening up and getting support helps change the chronic stress response that creates financial trauma. Being open about your fears and discussing them can also help remind you that most people go through financial hardship at some point in their lives too, and that everyone has to not only deal with the same potential issues, but that your worries are likely more universal than you think. This will serve to remind you that you aren’t alone.
- Do what you can to stop avoiding. The point is not to be able to remove the triggers — like never checking your credit card statements, or savings account — instead, being able to work through the triggers. Remember: fear thrives on the unknown. Get clear about what you need, and what’s happening in your financial life, and the easier the exercise of not avoiding will become.
More than anything else, financial wellbeing is about determining what works for you. It is about being able to live as you desire, but also caring for yourself in the future, without a debilitating degree of stress surrounding your concept of money right now.
The ultimate take home that I want to get across is that financial trauma is something that isn’t your fault. It’s not something that you’ve chosen, and you have to absorb and deal with on your own. If any of this blog resonates with you, and you want to explore coaching to help get you back on track, send me an email on email@example.com and we can arrange a time to chat.