Karen's Story

Published on 29 September 2009 by

Category: Other, Stories of Change

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Karen’s Story

The crisis came when yet another relationship that I had invested a lot of time and money in was ending.  A part of that relationship ending was that it was going to be financially devastating.  I live in one of those states that says what’s yours is half theirs.  My family was once again besieging me with requests for financial help (I had become their “bank”, a place where they could get unlimited loans and know they would never have to pay them back), and that day, looking at my checkbook realized I didn’t have enough money to pay my own rent that was due in 3 days.  Something snapped.

Suddenly, I was so very tired of hurting over money.  I felt like my moods and attitudes were affected by what I had rather than the great life I was living.   I felt responsible for too many people and I realized that I was emotionally and spiritually drowning.  I wanted to just die right there and get it over with.

I was shocked by the depth of the pain that money and my relationship to it had exerted on my entire life.  Up to that moment, I had considered myself strong and able to overcome any obstacle (and believe me there were many) but my feelings about money were really taking me out.  It was so hard not to judge myself harshly…after all, shouldn’t I have known better?

My mom was one of 12 and they were very poor.  She dropped out of high school to help take care of her younger brother and sisters and had her first child at 19.  There were many things that she couldn’t have and she developed a habit early in life that I believe  hindered our family’s well-being (emotional and financial) to this day.  My family of origin adopted a “by any means necessary” attitude toward getting what they wanted and while this is certainly understandable when you have a family to feed, it became a way of life that has produced pain and angst around money.  Getting something for nothing or having a “hustle” was just a way of life.  My mom raised four of her five children (she gave my sister to her aunt) with this legacy and the result has been staggering.  She was determined that we would have “everything she never had” and that meant that she would hustle, steal, borrow (and not pay back) anything to get what she wanted.  This went far beyond mere necessities and eventually became an addiction to consumerism.

My mother never saved any money.  She spent every dime she made and when she wanted something she just took on another job.  She stole from the family she worked for and eventually we lost our home when she was caught.

Early in life I remember feeling it was okay to take things and there was a thrill to getting away with it.  Fortunately I learned that I didn’t want to live that legacy and now am sensitive to not “taking” anything that isn’t mine.  This caused me to be overly cautious and afraid of even the “appearance” of a hustle; I often found that I had difficulty receiving things/money/friendship that is offered by people who care for me and simply want to be kind.  I was always afraid of being viewed by a taker so I gave excessively.  I  was very good at helping other people identify what their services were worth but I  discounted my services to my financial detriment.  Everyone’s needs came before me.

The result was excessive and unhealthy debt, personal relationships that were unbalanced financially, being so afraid of “using” someone I often felt used, sharing above and beyond what was appropriate for my financial well being

Instead of giving up that day while looking at my checkbook, I found hope in reaching out.  I discovered that there were people who could help me with this.  People who had been there themselves.  People who were not judging, just creating a way out for themselves and others like me.  One of the first things they asked me to do was to take a look at my long held, mostly unconscious beliefs about money.  That changed everything.

Through the process of examining my money scripts, the old belief that “If you do good things you will be taken care of…” has been replaced by “I need to take responsibility for planning my financial future to make sure that I can care for my financial needs”.  I share with others only to the degree I can do so w/o impacting my financial wellness.

The old money script of “If I have more money I will be happy” has been adjusted to “If I but look around at what is already in my life; love, family, health, etc., I am already happy”.  When I use my money wisely I am happier.  When I am compensated fairly for my work I feel energized and fulfilled and I know I am contributing to the financial well being of my community.

The old script of “It is demeaning to take from other people when the offer support and help” has been changed to “Thank you”.  I am able to see that the offer is coming from the same part of their heart as my offer to help others comes from.

I can have relationships of equitable sharing.  Sometimes I may give more, but I am learning how to receive as well.

I work with low income clients and I am ALWAYS tempted to give my services away.  I have a very fair sliding scale but often end up “cancelling” the outstanding balance.  This year, after about two years working with “what I deserve” I have stood firm on my fees; doing pro bono work in a way that doesn’t leave me feeling abused.  My clients appreciate the boundaries and I am enjoying my work more.

I have limits on what I will do for free for clients, community based organizations and conference organizers.  People seeking my expertise now pay for it.
My mother recently asked me to pay for her to go on a cruise.  I said “no” without explanation or apology.  I was afraid that I would give in to the guilt (I certainly felt guilty) and she really pulled out all of the stops about how this would probably be her “last chance” to go anywhere (she has been on two trips since then).  I instead showed her how she could save a little each month to cover the cost of her trip and spending money.

I continue to have financial challenges that impair my ability to implement all that I know about having a good relationship with money so the path to financial health as I define it has been more erratic than I would like.  The easiest part of all this is that I know what financial health means to me and I know where to get the help I need.  I understand my money scripts and I know when I am operating in that place.  This is not to say that I NEVER go back to my old way of thinking and behaving, but that when I do, I know how to self correct gently and get back on track.

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  1. Donna Lee says:

    I share many of Karen’s problems and more. I wanted to tell her that there are many ways around financial problems and issues that we may not be aware of because we just don’t know about them. For instance, I am an associate with a company that sells lifelong memberships to a travel club for $99.00 each, whereby those who join get a free 7-day cruise each year and pay only taxes and processing fees, among many other travel benefits yearly. I get paid $30.00 for each person who signs up, plus each person who joins gets five more invitations free to give to family and/or friends. I also have free “Guerrilla Financing Tips” on my website where I sell my products and services. Problem is, no one is patronizing me, nor have they been doing so since I’ve had this website, which has been several years. I’m drowning; help!

  2. Diana says:

    With my decision to live “in the solution” rather than the victim mentality, it helps when others verbalize their version of the negative scripts I didn’t realize I learned. It helps me understand what I’ve subconsciously adopted as “ruling scripts” and how erroneous most pieces are. Thanks for the “before” and “mature” ways of thinking Very helpful.