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I’ve worked with countless people who have thought it should be easy to fix their financial problems. These were all people who were intelligent, gifted even, who thought they should be able to logically examine their behavior and circumstances and figure out how to fix the issue. But when it comes to long-standing, heck of a lifetime struggles with money, intellect is not even close to adequate to solve the problem. When dealing with money shame and deprivation, there are many things at play.
We wrongly assume that we can work harder, think about it longer, obsess about the situation and that somehow our problems will be solved. But you see the problem doesn’t stem from a lack of hard work or inability to solve the problem in the first place. Our destructive money problems and behaviors come from someplace else, someplace much deeper.
If we take that onion out and continue to peel back the layers, what we find is that our money problems and the emotional issues that got us into the mess in the first place are deeply rooted in deprivation and the corresponding sense of shame.
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Dealing With Money Shame and Deprivation
Deprivation is a force, albeit an invisible force in the lives of nearly every person who struggles with money. It doesn’t matter if you grew up with means, modestly or got your food from the local food bank. Money shame and deprivation are regularly at play in every unhealthy relationship with money.
When we refuse to look at the effects of money shame and deprivation, the logical solutions we routinely try are not effective. We can work harder, think about it longer, run numbers until our fingers bleed, all to no avail. We might begin to make some progress, but when shame and deprivation are at play, it is only a matter of time before it’s all undone and we are right back where we started. This time the hole of deprivation is even larger and the shame even greater.
Many of you know my story of debt. What I didn’t understand right away, as I began to move towards financial recovery, was the role that money shame and deprivation took in my money situation. Deprivation was born from my unmet needs and grew and grew until it was like the scary figure in the movie the Blob. It became so big that it took over everything in its path including my self-esteem. Shame, of course, kept me in hiding where the beast of deprivation lives best. I finally came to realize that my spending didn’t squash deprivation because I didn’t fully understand the difference between wants and needs.
Needs and wants are not synonymous, and they are not interchangeable. Meeting our needs is vital to a healthy relationship with money. Spending money on wants is a sure fire way to get and keep yourself in the financial hole. So, it becomes really important to learn to distinguish between the two. You started to learn more about that last week, and I’ll share even more about that subject today.
What Is Deprivation?
Deprivation means living in a constant state of emptiness and longing. Now you might or might not be consciously aware of this state of emptiness and longing, but it nonetheless drives our choices. Deprivation is the injury that develops when our most basic and essential needs are not met. These needs include physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs and if these needs are not met for a long time, well we all understand what happens.
I’m going to share my personal deprivation story which I have never shared before so that you can understand how my money problems started.
I am adopted. I was adopted as an infant, four months old. My adoptive parents, with whom from this point I will refer to as my parents, were great people. My mom passed away last year, and my father has been gone 15 years.
My mom suffered from major depressive illness her whole life. By most standards, people would say that I was somewhat neglected as a child. Most of my childhood memories include having discussions with my mother in a darkened bedroom because she spent an enormous amount of time sleeping. She didn’t interact with us much because, quite frankly, she was too depressed to do so. Medications were not as successful at treating depression back then as they are now.
My father had the burden of working, cooking, grocery shopping and most, if not all, of the other responsibilities to ensure our basic needs were met. But that left little opportunity for him to spend much quality time with us. So we were on our own a lot.
For me the deprivation came from two places: I had one mother that didn’t want to be my mother and another that had a pretty hard time being my mother.
My unmet needs were more emotional than say physical. But for some of you, it may be that you didn’t get your physical needs met or possibly you were abused as a child. For some of you, it may not be so obvious where the deprivation came from because deprivation is the master of disguise.
The point here is that no matter what your circumstances, no matter what the journey, most of us end up in the same place.
When we learn to identify unmet needs and begin to meet those needs, we begin the healing process and learn to grow beyond them.
Why You Can’t Shop Your Way To Happy
Unmet needs, whatever the source, expand over time and ultimately become or magnify deprivation. When we look at the world through this lens, the world becomes a source of tremendous disappointment where we seek and accept whatever measly crumbs of comfort we can find.
Attempts to fill the hole of deprivation can take many forms. Some people like me go on a buying frenzy, purchasing anything and everything they can. Some accumulate things, but no matter what way you choose to fill the hole, one thing is certain: that no matter how much you buy, the feelings of deprivation remain and the reason is simple – you can never get enough of what you don’t need.
There are three signs and patterns of behavior that people develop as they struggle with deprivation. They are:
Doing without means not having the essentials. Many of us have heard the stories of people struggling to make ends meet who only eat once a day because they don’t have the money to eat three meals a day. Or possibly, the older adult who can’t get their social security check to make it to the end of the month, so they take their medication in a manner that makes it last longer than 30 days. These are all examples of doing without.
Doing without can show up by not taking care of basic needs of safety, health, and comfort such as car repairs or dental care. The funny thing is people often will forgo meeting their daily needs while spending on seemingly less important things, which of course only worsens the situation. People will always buy what they want but not always what they need.
Making do shows up in people who patch things together. This is different than choosing to live with something less than perfect (or even without – something like a minimalist) until there‘s a better time to buy it. This is about a lifestyle of tolerating poor or inadequate substitutions for things that are needed for comfort, security or fulfillment. Making do is like using duct tape to fix your car. It might work for a while, but in the end, it’s not the best or safest option.
Making do as I am referring to here, is about self-neglect. It’s about making substitutions that range from inadequate to downright dangerous or even deadly.
Some people confuse making do with being frugal. Frugal is a different kind of choice. For example, resoling a pair of shoes might be more frugal than buying a new pair. Making do is buying a pair of shoes that are too small just because they are on sale and then hoping the salesman can stretch the heck out of them. You see the difference?
Making do becomes a way of life for some people. It’s a constant feeling that you must tolerate shabby, broken, or unpleasant because that is what is due you. Guess what? Shame is usually at work here.
Tolerating this state of deprivation always affects the quality of your life and the ability to feel good about yourself.
Overdoing is feeling overwhelmed, confused, frantic, or panicky. We’re running late, running over or just plan running on empty. Overdoers constantly live in a state of being over-committed or overextended in one or all of three areas: time, money, or energy.
And, the funny thing here is that as a society we are always slapping these people on the back telling them how much we can’t believe how much they get done and how we can’t live without them.
They are so busy they neglect their needs at their own expense. They’re too busy to sleep enough, eat well or go to the gym. Self-care is not even on their radar.
So overdoing leads to deprivation which leads to spending in unhealthy ways.
When spending is overdoing, it usually takes on an addictive quality, and despite the dramatic consequences, the spender seems totally unable to change their behavior.
Overdoing can best be observed in the comedy Confessions of a Shopaholic. But overdoing is no joke, and it can have drastic consequences such as pain, family conflicts sometimes in families falling apart, and it erodes emotional, spiritual and financial well-being.
For overdoers, the compulsion to buy overrides the power to make a reasonable choice or change their behavior. You can never get enough of what you don’t need – so the overdoer continues to buy and buy never to touch their real need.
These three states – doing without, overdoing and making do – can be exhibited simultaneously. The results of all three are the same – bigger debt, deprivation and shame. But here’s the thing – overdoing, doing without and making do can become our undoing if we don’t do something about it.
Tomorrow we’ll do an exercise to uncover what we tolerate in our lives as it relates to doing without, overdoing and making do.