Meet Vicky Reynal, our brilliant new money psychotherapist who will be writing a weekly column exclusively for Mail+ readers.
Vicky has worked in private practice and in the NHS as a psychotherapist and is the only psychotherapist in Britain who specialises in dealing with issues around finance and money.
Each week, Vicky will explore your problems surrounding money – whether you are struggling to resolve an issue in your relationship, within your family or in the workplace.
Her expert answers will help guide you through your challenges so you can understand them better and overcome them.
Vicky Reynal is the only qualified expert in Britain who specialises in dealing with issues around finance and money. Send her your money questions [email protected]
Every week in my practice, money comes up during therapy in different forms and shapes. It doesn’t matter whether a person is from an affluent or modest background, money is a frequent source of worry and conflict.
Clients may find they have an uncontrollable drive to amass money without feeling fulfilment, they might have experienced financial trauma such as bankruptcy or job loss which they find hard to move on from, they may struggle with overspending or experience repeated clashes over money in their relationships.
My role is to help each one of them manage their emotional relationship with money and to transform their approach to it.
Each week I’ll be answering your questions, no matter how big or small. I’ll help you see that the problem you are facing today may be linked to past experiences. I will also lead you to explore solutions and how to overcome similar issues in the future.
First I wanted to share my thoughts on the biggest area of money conflict – families.
In my experience even the happiest of clans can come unstuck when the issue of money arises.
Many families don’t talk about money. They argue about money. It is one of the top causes of conflict and disagreement in families, often for two reasons.
One is the lack of open communication about money, which results in feeling annoyed or even angry when other family members make choices that aren’t aligned with how we think.
And the second is that many of us lack what I call ‘financial emotional awareness’ – in other words, we are not very mindful of our own relationship with money and how and when we let emotions guide our money choices. This can be a real barrier to acting rationally and being able to articulate to others why we make the choices we make.
In practice I’ve found that money conflicts in families are often not about money at all, but about what it stands for. In families, money can represent power, security, nurture, control, recognition and many other things.
It gets used to express a range of emotions, from love and gratitude to anger, envy or fear. Sometimes we do this consciously – we buy a big gift to express our love to our grandchildren or we refuse to lend money to a sister-in-law we dislike.
But often our money behaviours express feelings about ourselves and our relationships with others unconsciously. We need to watch out that we aren’t acting out thoughts and feelings that we are finding too difficult to manage or to express in healthier ways – such as talking.
If you are looking for ways in which to deal with money situations that may arise within your family – here are my five guiding principles to follow.
Normalise money conversations
Money is part of every day life and we’ll come across it every single day. Yet the amount of time we spend having constructive conversations about money is completely disproportionate to how ubiquitous it is. We just don’t talk about it enough.
This is in part because there are a lot of emotions that are wrapped up with money (like shame, guilt, anxiety, for example) making it difficult to talk about it with the same nonchalance we’d apply to a conversation about a meal choice or what to watch on TV.
I have seen parents procrastinating over conversations about estate planning with their children, adult-children disguising the reality of their financial situation from parents and partners keeping financial secrets.
But the problem with avoiding talking about money is that we leave a lot up to other people’s assumptions and imagination.
So even if we weren’t bringing up estate planning to protect our children from the painful thought of our passing, we might be causing even greater pain as they try, post-mortem, to figure out the reasons for your choices.
Adult children might too be missing out on the potential guidance and support of their parents in an effort to avoid their feelings of shame or risk of disappointing their parents.
Similarly, hiding our latest risky investment from our partner in order not to ‘worry them’ might not only hurt the trust in our relationship, but it also misses an opportunity to talk about and negotiate our different approaches to investing.
Vicky says many families don’t talk about money – they argue about it. But clear communication can help resolve certain issues surrounding money
Be conscious and clear on what you’re saying through money
We often inadvertently use money to express our feelings. Many family conflicts are a result of people having used money to express something they could have more effectively communicated through words: parents that only manage to show love through lavish gifts, a sibling that gives us a shockingly small present for Christmas instead of telling us how angry they are with us or a couple that meticulously splits every bill instead of talking about the underlying trust issues that might be behind their effort to keep everything so separate.
It might feel hard to talk about our feelings but it’s worth wondering: Is the message clear when we express it through money?
Actions only speak louder than words when the meaning of our action is clear and not open to interpretation.
I have seen examples of parents giving more money to one of their adult-children for good reasons (because they have a larger family to support, for example, or as compensation for helping the parents with the family business) and this act of generosity being misinterpreted by other siblings as a statement of preference or greater love.
So before taking a financial action that will have an impact on others in the family, it’s worth trying to understand what is the message that we are trying to send. Check that it is aligned with your money choices.
If you wanted your children to be more independent financially, then are you explaining it and enabling it through your money choices? Or are you saying one thing but then your money choices (like repeatedly bailing them out financially) are sending a different message?
Remember – you are usually only half right!
People have a range of different views on money: what’s essential, what’s excessive, what is risky, what is fair, how much to save/spend, how it should be distributed in the family.
Yet for many it is a struggle to account for differences. We expect that others, especially our own family, will value and use money in a similar way to us.
When we come up against different views we often feel defensive rather than curious.
We stick to why we are right and the other is wrong, rather than contemplate the reasons why they have a point, too. Or why there is a downside to our approach.
Think of two grandparents, one that loves to ‘spoil’ the grandchildren with presents and the other who believes in promoting a more measured approach to spending.
They can both argue a good case, and there isn’t a right or a wrong answer, just different views with their pros and cons.
What needs to be held in mind, too, is that those views often have a history. The grandparent who wants to spoil might be responding to experiences of scarcity growing up and takes joy from giving the grandchildren something they could never have, or might even be addressing their guilt for not being able to afford it for their own children.
Curiosity helps us understand the other’s point of view and maybe even see some of its benefits too.
Watch out for both patterns and inconsistencies
We can learn a lot about ourselves and our family relationships if we are curious about inconsistencies in our money behaviour.
For example, we are usually a generous person but with our middle child we tend to be more withholding. What is that about? What does it say about our relationship with them? Is there a lack of trust? Are we acting on some feelings of disappointment towards them?
Or are we usually controlled with our spending but when we go out with our cousins we go overboard? Could it be that we are trying to show off to them, feeling a bit insecure about the fact that they have higher paying jobs? Paying attention to the deviations from our normal behaviour can point to some feelings we were not fully aware of.
Being self-aware helps us curb our behaviour and re-align it with our values or to the message we want to send.
It can also help us strengthen our relationships. We might decide to work on the trust with our middle child, rather than simply withhold from them and we might decide we don’t need to show off to our cousins acting out our insecurities.
Set the scene for a constructive discussions
As you prepare to discuss money with a family member, there are a number of things you can do to maximise the chances of resolving a difference, or not stirring up an argument.
You need your mindset to be curious and open – try to explain your thinking and the reasons behind it. But prepare to listen carefully to the other’s view.
People don’t react well to accusations or authoritative statements. Make sure you are looking for compromise and understanding, not the prize for who’s right.
Your tone is important. Even when discussing something that made you angry, you can simply say that without having to raise your tone.
Your timing matters, too. A private conversation might be better than blurting something out over a birthday dinner.
Choose a calm moment both for yourself (don’t react in the heat of the moment) and for the other person (not when they are in a rush or preoccupied with something else).
We need self-awareness and courage to change how money is discussed in our families. But with more constructive money conversations, you can avoid becoming a family who either argues incessantly about money or avoids it altogether because it’s ‘too stressful, shameful or difficult’ to speak about.
Vicky Reynal is a money psychotherapist working in private practice and author of Money On Your Mind to be published in May. Do you have a money question for Vicky? Email [email protected], with brief details of your question or problem.
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