The way we think about money can heavily affect how we manage our finances, but is the opposite also true? Perhaps the way we handle our money can also affect our thinking and the way we operate. For all the self-help books about how to get rich, there is surprisingly little literature in the fields of finance and psychology that link money to emotional and mental well-being.
This academic study published in 2011, outlines the many ways that an unhealthy relationship with money and distorted beliefs around finances can result in self-destructive behaviours. These behaviours are called “money disorders”.
Having a money disorder is when a disproportionate level of value is attributed to wealth and money, which manifests itself in self-damaging financial behaviours. In this article, we explore a few of these disorders, their symptoms, and when it may be advisable to get help.
For some people, the stockpiling of money or other objects gives them a sense of security, safety, and a temporary relief from anxiety. To a certain extent, everyone has some tendency to keep certain items well past their practical use. But this behaviour may lean towards ‘disorder’ territory should it interfere greatly in our personal lives.
A heavy inclination to not throw anything away can cause financial harm in having to allocate exponential amounts of resources to maintain the items being stored and can also cause structural harm if large objects are not being kept in a place that is monitored to prevent hazards.
The causes of this behaviour in the extreme might be from growing up in an environment with little security or a traumatic incident involving heavy loss of personal belongings. These two factors may contribute to the hoarder’s penchant for developing intense emotional connections to material objects that come into their possession.
In some cases, the hoarder may also tie the having of a material object to their sense of identity. Should a hoarder think “Having these nature magazines means I care about the environment”, it may mean, to them, throwing the magazines away is akin to denying a part of their identity.
If your hoarding has begun to interfere with your health and well-being (you are falling sick because of the dust or decay in your home from the items; you are avoiding family or friends for fear they may see the state of your home; or you cannot function normally in your home because of the clutter) then it is time to seek help.
Compulsive buyers have the distorted belief that shopping is the only activity that provides escape from worry and anxiety. However, it must be noted, that ‘retail therapy’, as some call it, is a temporary high that can bring more harm than good. Purchasing necessities is inherently a good thing if we know what we’re buying and are aware of our choices. But once we start thinking about shopping for pleasure’s sake and buying things as an end unto itself, is when we should start worrying.
Compulsive shopping causes the obvious financial harm of overspending, and it also may lead to the overspender neglecting other financial responsibilities in life. Left unchecked, a compulsive spender can quickly shop themselves into ruin.
Overspending may be traced to several factors. One of them might be a higher level of susceptibility to marketing and advertising than is typical. Another reason could be a higher vulnerability to loss aversion, or a skewed judgement on the value of money.
Workaholics believe that their self-worth is tied directly to their net worth. Consequently, they overvalue the pursuit of earning more income and undervalue other responsibilities in life such as time spent with family, forming meaningful friendships, or social causes.
Those with this affliction might have the tendency to show off their status by buying expensive things, or conversely, be overly vigilant in their spending such that they never buy anything unless absolutely necessary, despite continuing to make more money for that purpose.
This skewed attribution of self-worth to their wealth harms workaholics not just through their neglect of other things, but also from having a more easily damaged self-esteem. A workaholic who loses their job due to economic turmoil may be prone to mental breakdowns or depression due to not placing any self-worth in anything outside of their work.
This distorted belief that worldly possessions and greed is the only thing to value in life may be caused by crippling self-doubt or even self-loathing. A lack of healthy, fulfilling pursuits outside of the working life can also be a contributing factor to this.
Characterised by an inability to resist the impulse to gamble, a pathological gambler can be difficult to distinguish from someone who is simply gambling too much. Whereas somebody who gambles too often, but not compulsively, can still be said to gamble more than they should, a compulsive gambler’s patterns of behaviour is much more self-destructive.
They may feel the need to gamble increasingly larger amounts in order to feel the ‘thrill’ of gambling, feel restless or irritable when trying to cut back or quit, lie about time spent gambling, and in extreme cases, may even commit crimes or jeopardise their jobs due to gambling.
People with gambling problems may also be susceptible to other forms of addictive behaviour such as alcohol or substance abuse. While the traditional mental image of a gambler is one stuck in a casino going from machine to machine, gambling can also manifest itself in a compulsive tendency to take unnecessary risks in investment.
An addictive personality is a major cause of developing compulsive gambling behaviour and exposure to situations or settings that encourage gambling is also a contributing factor.
As it turns out, there are many ways our financial health can influence our psychology, and vice versa. Despite what you may assume, there are many other Malaysians out there who are dealing with mental health issues like these. If you or someone you know are going through it, we recommend checking out this list of therapists and counsellors in and around Klang Valley.
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