If you’ve visited the beach this summer, you may have noticed that certain beaches have signs posted that warn swimmers of the risk of being pulled underwater. Though the ocean is always enticing to swim in, it’s forces can prove quite powerful, and even dangerous.
A similar force is present when you have a problematic relationship with money. My clients have often described that in order to stay afloat, they feel an enormous pressure to make more money or to spend less. And they feel caught in a downward spiral. I’ve come to call this spiral the Money/Life Drain.
Sometimes we’re pulled downward because of circumstances beyond our control, such as a loss of income or a downturn in the economy. Other times, the force is created by our own habits of spending or debting.
However it starts, the force of the Money/Life Drain can grow powerful, and we can feel defenseless against it.
I want to emphasize that the Money/Life Drain can affect us all, no matter where you lie on the economic spectrum. The numbers may be higher for the rich, but the emotional toll is the same for everybody. The purchases may be grander, but the drive to spend beyond our means is the same.
As you’ll see below, the Money/Life Drain is an illustration of the way an unhealthy pattern of relating with money can affect every aspect of our lives. It represents an unsupported—and unsupportable—financial structure born of unhealthy money behaviors and circumstances. The force of the Money/Life Drain, with increasing pressure and narrowing options, draws us down to its bottom level. At this bottom, we feel trapped, caught in a repeated pattern of money behaviors and consequences that come with them.
Let’s look at the layers of the Money/Life Drain, starting at the top.
Level 1: Financial Burdens, Debt, Out-of-Control Expenses:
We start our descent into the Money/Life Drain with feelings of being burdened.
- We have trouble keeping up with our expenses, using credit cards or family loans to stay afloat.
- Despite our sincere intentions to make a change and endless worry, our money habits don’t seem to change.
- Bills continue to mount and creditors expect to be paid.
Level 2: Inability to Save, Pressure to Work And/Or Earn More: The pressure increases and the options narrow. It’s hard to keep up with, much less get ahead of, our financial difficulties.
- Obtaining money by borrowing against the equity on our homes, or by tapping retirement accounts, once unthinkable, now seems necessary.
- We work more hours or get a second job, which also means more child-care costs, commute costs, and other expenses.
- We’re exhausted, but still the problems continue to grow.
Level 3: Stressed Relationships:
We argue more—and more heatedly—with our loved ones.
- We may keep our finances a secret, and end up living in fear of being discovered.
- Friends or family members might grow impatient with our repeated inability to “get our act together”.
- We have little time for people we love, and feel more isolated.
Level 4: Compromised Health and Well-Being:
Worry about money is now starting to affect our sleep and our mood.
- Insomnia and anxiety add to our exhaustion.
- We suffer headaches or digestive troubles, elevated blood pressure—even panic attacks.
- We might turn to alcohol, drugs, or other distractions to escape the feelings of dread that seem nearly constant.
Level 5: Financial, Emotional, and Spiritual Depletion:
Finally, we are overwhelmed on every level.
- We experience down-to-the-bone exhaustion.
- We feel depleted financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
- We may have compromised social, moral, or spiritual values in order to deal with our financial circumstances.
I’ve seen many people pull themselves out of the depths of the Money/Life Drain. Initially, they didn’t feel strong enough. They also feel ashamed and foolish for letting things go so far, and this just adds to the strength of the drain’s pull.
Just think for a moment…. If our attitudes and behaviors are high on the list of contributing factors to the problem, then your attitudes and behaviors is a powerful place to start.
Fortunately, you get to design your financial life, starting now.
So today, take a look at the Money/Life Drain image. Do you find yourself in any of these levels? Which ones do you identify with?
Do you see any troubling, recurring patterns and experiences in your financial life? What do you think is happening here?
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