Irritated by someone’s poor financial management
This past weekend, as I was walking our dog, I found myself thinking of someone I know who has been struggling with her finances since long before I met her. She is a woman who worked with me for a few years, and the last time I happened to see her, money was still an issue. I found myself feeling a judgmental irritation. To me – and to others – it is obvious what she needs to do to improve her financial situation.
The impact of childhood sexual abuse
She was sexually abused as a child. The thought came to me out of nowhere. And it was true. It was something that she had confided in me and that we had discussed many times. An abuse that had lasted for years at the hands of someone in the family. And nothing had been done about it. When she had tried to bring it to light, she was the one who was rejected.
My feelings of irritation were washed away by a wave of compassion, and I realized that I sometimes forget the significance of what people have gone through. I started to think about others I know who suffered sexual abuse as children. Over the years there have been five – all women – who have confided in me. As I considered each one, I was stuck by something I have never thought of before: Each and every one of them deals with significant financial struggles.
As I thought about these women in terms of their individual attitudes towards finances, words like “denial”, “disconnect”, and “powerlessness” came to mind. And it was so clear to me that these are also words that capture the coping mechanisms of a child suffering sexual abuse.
Is there a connection between a history of sexual abuse and poor management of personal finances? I tried to research it, but I didn’t succeed in finding a study on the topic in the brief time I spent looking. It’s something I’d like to know more about, but for now, it’s a strong impression. I think there is a connection.
Why judgment doesn’t work for personal finance
If I know five women who have confided in me the sexual abuse they suffered as children, how many do I know who haven’t chosen to share their pain? How many men? There is no way I can know, and there is no way any of us can. We sometimes simply don’t know what significant history people carry with them. And even when we do know, we sometimes forget the lasting impact of that history.
So I encourage you not to engage in the kind of judgmental irritation I experienced during my walk with the dog last weekend. I sometimes see it in the personal finance bloggosphere – judgment about people who manage their finances in such obviously misguided ways. You can see the eye-roll of the writer as words like “Why do they . . . ?” and “Don’t they realize . . . .?” and “Do they think at all?” stream smugly off the page.
We are definitely in a time of gross overspending and out-of-control personal debt. And all kinds of people get into patterns of spending beyond their means without thinking about it. But we can’t know the root problem for every person. We can’t use broad brush strokes and say the solution is obvious.
When I get frustrated with someone’s persistent bad financial habits, it’s because I care about that person. But I know from my own experience that frustration is just not helpful. I remember, when I was still in my long-lasting chaotic money phase, I put up walls against those who “knew it all” when it came to finances. I didn’t give them the time of day. They could huff and sigh all they wanted.
The best any one of us can do is to acknowledge our own issues and to glean and share what wisdom we can from confronting them. When it comes to others, we can listen, question, challenge, research, discuss . . . And then we have to let them be. Without irritation. Without judgment. In the end, the most helpful attitude is one of humble compassion. Because we can never know the full story.
*Photo courtesy of Sunny