Updated: Nov 7, 2022
by Deniss Pleiner, M.A.
Financial trauma is the result of traumatic experiences in relationship to money: i.e: poverty and systems of financial (and racial, gender, etc) oppression. So it is no surprise that as the groups that experience it the most are BIPOC communities-- particularly Black and Brown folks-- and most immigrants and children of immigrants. It is because of the unique circumstances in which these communities experience financial trauma that we must take a closer took at how it feels-- and how to heal it.
Some Quick Links for Quick Answers
What is Financial Trauma?
As mentioned above, Financial trauma is the result of traumatic experiences in relationship to money. Black and Brown communities, especially those who are immigrants or children of immigrants experience consistent poverty as a result of systemic oppression.
This means that, if you identify as a BIPOC Adult, you may have worried about money since you were a child: to some degree, you knew your family did not have enough. And growing up, this reality became more and more apparent. You felt responsible for your family's financial stability-- and perhaps your parent(s) may have even explicitly placed this responsibility on you.
But what happens when we begin to earn more money as a BIPOC Professional? As your earning power increases and find yourself more financially stable-- what happens to the worry? To the sense of responsibility? It's probably still there. So let's learn how it may be showing up for you.
You may notice that you engage in some "retail therapy". You have found that shopping when stressed or sad brings you some joy. You end up buying things because now you have the ability to do it and you can (kind-of) afford it. You may be engaging in consistent “splurging” but experience regret later.
This is often tied to a lack of financial education (stocks, savings, etc.) which is also a result of systemic oppression. Because we have no generational wealth, financial literacy is not passed down to us by our parents and because our family has been in survival mode, we also don't have the resources or the time to dedicate to leaning it.
Scarcity Mindset & Spending Anxiety
You may be on the other end of the spectrum and feel that any amount of money is too much to have to pay. Even when its for necessities. It hurts to see the money go because this triggers your scarcity mindset.
There is a constant fear of ending up without money because you grew up with very little. You may feel an underlying anxiety around money and not having enough-- so much anxiety that it limits you from spending on things that can also bring you joy.
While this may not necessarily present itself as clinical form of hoarding (severe functional impairment, poor living conditions, etc.) it show up like not wanting to let go of things for fear that you may need them-- sometime, maybe, in the future, perhaps? The fear that you might need something later and not be able to afford it will make you hesitant to throw anything away or get rid of anything.
This might also show up in the form of over-buying. You buy in bulk when you can because you want to make sure you have enough. The anxiety of running our of money or the item will push you to overbuy (see: toilet paper shortage from the pandemic).
When you have more financial freedom, than your parents or grandparents you may feel guilty. Because you have felt the anxiety and stress of not having enough-- and because BIPOC communities are often collective-- you still carry a sense of responsibility.
Wanting to help your family financially is not a bad thing.
What get's us into trouble about this Guilt is that it can push us to sacrifice financially. If it is not financially feasible or realistic for you to support your extended family-- but the guilt connected to your financial trauma makes you do it anyway-- it can begin to further trigger your trauma. Finding a balance that works for you will be key here: setting financial boundaries with your family that allow you to support them but not hurt you.
What to do?
Whenever we talk about trauma as BIPOC Adults, we must always remember that it is not to vilify or blame our parents-- but for further self-knowledge. Behaviors adopted in a time of trauma are for survival. These behaviors got you this far. It is up to you to decide what still serves you and let go of what isn't.
Family values and wanting to safe money are also not bad things-- the journey is about finding a balance that keeps you emotionally (and financially) safe.
Contacting a financial advisor for the technical stuff is always recommended, but the trauma portion will still be there. If you experience these symptoms: be compassionate with yourself now that you are aware of where these feelings are coming from.
We can't address something we don't even know is happening– and once we do, self-compassion is what will create motivation for change.
If you feel that motivation, consider working with one of our therapists. We offer free consultations-- request yours below. (services available only in California, U.S.)
Deniss Pleiner, M.A. is the founder and Clinical Director of TOC Therapy-- a group
practice in California tailored to meet the mental
health needs of BIPOC adults through
online individual and couple's therapy. As Clinical Director, Deniss guides the clinical development of TOC Therapy Associates and oversees clinical services and offerings. Deniss also works as a Mental Health Advocate, hosting workshops for organizations interested in supporting their
member's mental health and developing emotionally intelligent leadership.