Friday, August 6, 2010

Overspending: A Map That Tells Us Where We Need Healing

Since overspending and debt problems are so prevalent in our country, let’s take a non-judgmental look at this topic. When your relationship with money involves overspending, worry and shame preoccupy you throughout your day. You can’t be present to other people, your work, or your efforts to relax when you carry too much debt, as overspenders usually do. But overspending can become the means of self-transformation if you stop haranguing yourself and instead start to figure out what is driving you to self-destruct in this way.

What might be going on within you? Many people come into adulthood never having had the opportunity to learn productive ways to deal with problems. You may feel insecure at a deep level; overspenders are often trying to fill an inner sense of emptiness. You may be trying to drown out ghosts from the past, including early trauma, with the intense feelings that come with recreational spending. Any kind of compulsive behavior is a distraction: if you weren’t overspending, what unpleasant things might come to your awareness?

In his excellent book Money, Heart and Mind, William Bloom talks about relative deprivation. Our sense of “being ok” and “normal” is strongly related to looking like other people. Unless we have a firm grounding in something like our family, community, or spirituality, most of us feel a deeply distressing sense of relative deprivation when we see others enjoying things we cannot afford. Much advertising is expressly designed to intensify this sense of desire and dissatisfaction.

There may even be biological factors involved in overspending. One of the identifying symptoms of the illness of bipolar disorder is a periodic uncontrollable drive to spend vast amounts of money, whether you have it or not. Many of us who are not bipolar are “hard-wired” to feel emotions so intensely that unless we learn ways to manage everyday stressors, we require strong distractions or sedatives to help us handle things that don’t seem to rattle other people.

Depressed yet? Don’t be. These are all solvable problems. Many good, decent people struggle with these issues and find ways to overcome them. It is of utmost importance to treat yourself gently and with compassion if you are an overspender. The very thing that seems like your greatest flaw becomes the means to your freedom if you let the problem tell you about what hurts within you.


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