How To Stop Linking Money With Success, From A Financial Therapist

I've spent the last few months interviewing wellness leaders about their relationships with money for mindbodygreen's Well Spent series. Regardless of whether it's a functional medicine doctor, a nutritionist, or a spiritual healer on the other side of the phone, it seems there are some things everyone can agree on: High-quality food is worth the steep price tag, kids need to be taught financial skills earlier, and everyone—everyone!—gets stressed about money at one point or another.

But this financial stress affects everyone differently. For some, it serves as motivation to take on more work or get better about saving. On the other hand, it can spiral into full-blown financial anxiety that leaves others feeling panicked, paralyzed, and unsure whether they have what it takes to get back in the green. One of the key drivers of the stress response seems to be whether you let your bank account define other areas of your life.

In other words, if you tie your self-worth to your net worth, chances are they'll both suffer.

A 2017 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin backs up this observation with some initial research. In it, hundreds of participants from different backgrounds journaled about their financial stressors. In the end, those who connected finances to self-worth wrote in a way that hinted at negative psychological consequences, such as “feeling less autonomy and control over one's life, and experiencing more financial hassles, stress, and anxiety.”

“They also showed more disengagement from their financial problems—they gave up searching for solutions,” a lead researcher wrote. So according to these findings, defining yourself by your bank account not only dampens your mindset; it might keep you from making the right financial decision.  

Untangling the web between net worth and self-worth can be messy—especially when you consider that so many of us were raised to equate money with success. Mainstream media only reinforces this idea, touting celebrities and influencers dressed in expensive clothes, driving expensive cars, and having expensive experiences as something to aspire to. However, the tide could finally be starting to turn on that one.

“This whole minimalist movement helped a little, I feel,” said Megan McCoy, a financial therapist, of people's changing view of what money can buy. “The housing regression and student loans scared young people from buying a house, so that became one less status symbol to tie…

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