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Are Any of These Money Attitudes Sabotaging Your Life?


Money can be an emotional matter. Some people spend their whole lives trying to untangle their own money hang-ups. Because you might have been partially drawn to medicine for financial reasons, and because the finances might turn out to be more complex than you had bargained for, it is a good idea to figure out whether you are carrying the burden of sensitive money baggage before it leads to interpersonal conflicts or serious financial mistakes.

Money can be an emotional matter. Some people spend their whole lives trying to untangle their own money hang-ups. Because you might have been partially drawn to medicine for financial reasons, and because the finances might turn out to be more complex than you had bargained for, it is a good idea to figure out whether you are carrying the burden of sensitive money baggage before it leads to interpersonal conflicts or serious financial mistakes.

Do you recognize any of these attitudes? They may lead to frustration down the road.

Money is a proxy for good grades

Over the years you probably earned good grades and scored well on tests. Accumulating money in adulthood can be a satisfying way to continue to feed that need for achievement. Getting a higher salary may be the equivalent of getting on the honor role. Earning extra money can feel like you are racking up extra credit points. Some doctors aren't necessarily big spenders, but simply use money as a real life way to score high. Because money is so quantitative, it is an objective way to measure your achievement and self worth. How would you have felt if you earned bad grades in school? If you linked your self worth to achieving high grades, then perhaps you view money the same way.

While money isn't harmful any more than getting good grades is harmful, being aware of your feelings can help you avoid becoming resentful if you sense that you might be earning less than someone who ‘doesn’t deserve it’ as much as you do.

Money is an entry into high social status

Lack of social status in at some point in life often drives people to try to compensate. If you were excluded, ignored, or sad at some point in your childhood due to your family's lack of money, you might be driven to overcome that feeling now that you finally have your own earning power with which you could establish your social status as an adult.

While your new status and earnings are a good thing- it is important to acknowledge your feelings to avoid relying too much on your money for social status.

What if you earn a good living and buy a home in a desirable neighborhood only to be excluded again or to find yourself not truly fitting in with your neighbors? Will you be able to handle it?

Often, people who don't have money perceive the lack of money as the sole reason for social exclusion. However, there may be other reasons for being excluded from a social group other than money — divergent interests, a different background, or incongruent values. Keeping that in mind will prevent you from putting too much faith in the idea that you will finally be part of the 'cool group' once you become rich.

Money has been the crutch holding you up

This is a common problem for physicians as well. A number of doctors, particularly those who lived in small towns or who were part of a small ethnic social group, achieved status, respect, and admiration because they were physicians. If your family's wealth helped build your confidence within your small social circle as you grew up, you might be shocked to discover that not everyone you encounter outside of that microcosm is as impressed. This can be a tough pill to swallow for medical students and residents who always felt special but no longer don’t, among fellow medical students and residents.

While your pleasant memories may continue to provide you with warm feelings, at a certain point most people have to move on and earn their own status and respect.

Money was the cause of a crisis

Often, money leads to a crisis such as a divorce, a sudden move, or even criminal acts. If you have a serious event in your life that shaped you and has made you anxious or insecure about money, it may be worthwhile to get professional therapy. You might spend years of angst, or possibly worse, fighting your money demons if you try to deal with them on your own.

You like spending money

You might be a simple person at heart, without deep anxieties or hang ups, but a simple love of spending so that you can have things you want. Perhaps you never experienced a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your upbringing was designed to shield you from ever feeling a sense of deprivation or exclusion. While this may be ok if you have access to unlimited amounts of money, it may cause problems with social or professional jealousy directed towards you, and may even incite retaliation or disloyalty from those who sense your lack of reality.

You want people to know that you spend money

This is a relatively common issue for people of many different backgrounds. Often, the enjoyment of spending money lies in gaining admiration, respect, or acceptance by others who you value. You may become preoccupied with spending on things that appear to be more expensive than they are. While this may cause some anxiety for you as you strive to ensure that your spending is seen, duly noted and appreciated, it is not as likely to lead you to as many irresponsible decisions as those who simply love spending for the sake of enjoyment. The biggest trap you can fall into is spending on things that you do not really care about, but that you anticipate someone else will admire.

Money makes you feel safe and secure

Money can certainly provide a buffer that helps protect from sudden financial emergencies or unexpected events. Most people have a certain ‘number’ that makes them feel safe. And financial advisors can calculate for you how much money you need to save in order to maintain your expenses in the case of job loss, illness etc. However, the power of money is limited and it cannot protect against major health events or personal heartbreak.

You worry that people only like you for your money

This may or may not be based in reality. Certainly, some individuals link themselves to those who may provide financial benefits, and you may have been the unwitting victim of such a friend or a romantic partner. However, it is important to rest assured that not everyone you encounter could possibly be out to get your money- even if you do not consider yourself physically attractive or charming.

You associate money with power

Maybe you are right. Certainly, you can get some of what you want with money. In addition to material objects, fun experiences, services and security, money can also buy influence. But, there are a few drawbacks to relying too much on the influence of money. At some point, someone may ‘call you on it,’ eventually stopping you from influencing people through your money. And, what is more likely, is that you may be disappointed if you do not always get the results that you want if you rely solely on money as an influencer.

You think doctors should earn more money

This is a common mantra among some medical communities. The problem is that the resentment can build up too much, and may become distracting. It is important for doctors to have an understanding of the factors that play into reimbursement. However, when doctors (or anyone) become excessively resentful of a perceived unfair financial distribution, it can lead into dishonesty.

You are defensive when you hear that doctors aren’t rich

Along with the headlines proclaiming that doctors earn less than they used to, some physicians cover their ears and become very upset at the public suggestion that they are not high earners, quickly correcting anyone who speaks otherwise. Many physicians feel that they have worked too hard to hear such negative statements, perhaps feeling that such references are insulting or hurtful. Overall, you should be reassured that even if the media says that doctors are not high earners, such reports will not cause anyone to view you as if you earn a small income and you will still be able to have all of the respect that you have worked so hard for all of your life.

Money hang-ups

Emotional money baggage is common because money can serve as a proxy for other things. Much of the time, small hang-ups do not really cause big problems. But if you recognize that one of these quirks is really becoming a major preoccupation, interfering with relationships or common sense, then it may be time to face the music and make a change.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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