When mammon becomes the root of all anxieties

Posted on August 23, 2012 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

As you, dear reader, hold this fragile compendium of commercial sense and sensibility in your sweating palms, understand there’s at least a 75 per cent chance that you are mentally disturbed. Worse, you’re in denial.

No, you don’t suffer from one of the ordinary aff lictions the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual periodically trots out to support its confederates in Big Pharma. But, make no mistake, if you evince even one of the following symptoms, you need help:

…It’s a late, lazy summer Sunday, and you’ve hit your 14th straight yard sale. The truck you’ve rented barely contains the broken toaster ovens, derelict fax machines and plastic picnicware you’ve scooped up. And yet, you still can’t shake that nagging feeling of emptiness, which you carry all the way back to your basement brimming with other people’s junk you’re never going to use.

…It’s the week after Christmas, and you’ve maxed out all but one of your 18 credit cards. What better time, then, to invest the remainder of your dwindling resources in a trip to the Canary Islands? What is it they say? You have to spend money to make money. Ah yes, you make it so, then.

…It’s the end of the month, and the mail arrives with your bank statement, which reveals a $99,983 balance in the black. You start to panic. You want to throw up. If you had only resisted temptation and not purchased that double latte the other week, you’d be genuinely rich. You cancel your cable, turn off the lights and start counting your pennies by the impecunious light of a hurricane candle.

If any of this seems familiar (and, according to recent statistics, it should), the chances are excellent you suffer from what an increasing number of clinical psychologists are now calling a “money disorder”, which can manifest itself in ways other than hoarding, profligacy or parsimony.

According to Julie Cazzin, writing in MoneySense.ca this summer, there’s “financial incompatibility” (between spouses), “financial enabling” (keeping your kids in a lifestyle to which they have no right to expect), “workaholism” (enough said), and something the author rather provocatively terms “financial incest”, in which “adults force their children to take on an unreasonable, inappropriate role in their finances or relationship. It often happens when a parent doesn’t feel she has a satisfying relationship with her spouse or partner.”

In fact, according to Dr. Brad Klontz, the co-author of Mind Over Money and who may be the world’s leading authority on the subject, “Since 2007, three out of four Americans have identified money as the primary source of stress in their lives. The average American has a money disorder.”

The timing is significant. The global financial collapse has made most of us who aren’t rolling in dough afraid of our own monetary shadows. More than $5 trillion in U.S. household wealth vanished in the three months ending March 31, 2009. By the end of that year, the trough had deepened to $16.4 trillion.

Canada has fared better, at least on paper. But the nation’s rising level of personal indebtedness, combined with an imminent downward correction in the relative values of homes (most peoples’ singularly important assets) is making our own relationship with money . . . well, let’s just say, complicated.

What’s most irksome, perhaps, is that while the western world is actually awash with cold, hard cash, money is no longer most people’s quarry to hunt. Current research in both Canada and the United States convincingly shows the winnowing out of the traditional middle class and the widening gap between the rich and the rest are accelerating phenomena. Is it any wonder why we have turned filthy lucre into the lodestone for all our anxieties?

Still, for every mental disorder, there is a self-help movement. Enter “Underearners Anonymous,” which bills itself as “a Twelve Step Fellowship of men and women who have come together to recover from underearning” and “to fully acknowledge and express our capabilities and competencies.”

It might work for some. Who knows? As for me, I don’t relish beginning the rest of my days chanting: “My name is Alec B., and I’m a deadbeat.”

Then again, I’m probably in denial.

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