I only know a very few ritual abuse survivors who don’t have problems with money. How they manage to have a healthy relationship with it, I have no idea.
There are about sixteen different reasons why I have messed up ideas about money. Probably the factor with the most profound influence is low self-esteem. I don’t think I’m worth very much; if I had been worth something, I would have been treated well by my parents. So therefore I’m not worth spending money on. (I know that doesn’t really make sense, but it seems to make sense to me.)
In the supermarket, I look for marked-down items. I don’t buy clothes if they aren’t on sale. Actually, I prefer to buy them at thrift stores, especially if they are on sale. I used to mend my socks and underwear, but I have gotten lazy in my old age. Now I just wear them with holes.
While I’m stingy with myself, I’m pretty generous with other people. Since others are worth more than I am, they would obviously make better use of money and things than I do. They get the cupcake with the most icing every time because they deserve it, while I barely deserve the air I breathe.
This attitude is reinforced by guilt from watching others get hurt by the cult and not being able to help them. Now, in an effort to re-enact that scenario and make a happy ending, I have the urge to help others almost compulsively. It’s usually not good for me and usually not good for the people I’m trying to help, who, after all, are perfectly competent grown-ups, not little kids being tortured by a cult.
Finances make me very anxious. I was taught that I would not be able to support myself as an adult and that I would always have to be dependent on the cult. I never worked as a kid, not even baby sitting or pulling weeds. I didn’t have my first job until I was twenty!
Believing, deep down, that I never will be able to support myself has made me worry inordinately that I won’t ever have enough. At the same time, I feel money is nasty and dirty and I don’t want any part of it. I think anybody who has been prostituted as a child or has been used in pornography views money very, very negatively.
(Actually, money in itself has no moral value. It’s just a tool. It can be used for good purposes or bad purposes or just so-so purposes. It’s up to us to use it differently than those that abused us.)
Since I’m so anxious, I have a real hard time keeping track of things. How much is in the bank? What bills are due? Overdue? How much interest does the credit card company charge? All these practical things swim through my mind like fuzzy out-of-focus jellyfish. Now you see them, now you don’t. Each time I sit down to sort things out, I have to start from scratch because I just can’t retain anything.
Then there are survivors whose alters all think they can buy things. Each purchase is reasonable, but when you have twenty or thirty inner people spending a couple of dollars here and there, it sure can add up. Many of them are child parts, and don’t understand budgets or deferred gratification. Sometimes one alter will hide cash to prevent another from spending it, and then not let on where it is. Or forget where it is. Cooperation, while leading to less chaos over the long haul, is bound to mean short-term deprivation.
Money can be used self-destructively, as anybody with several maxed out credit cards can tell you. Stealing is another self-destructive way to try and make up for childhood deprivation. How many of us have shoplifted, not because we needed something or wanted to fence it, but just to flirt with getting caught and punished? How many of us have done this as adults?
I have. I didn’t do it to get caught; I did it because I thought that was the only way I could get things I wanted. As a kid, I thought I didn’t have the money to buy those things and I knew better than to ask my parents to get them for me. Whenever I let on I wanted something, they made it a point not to let me have it. I stopped shoplifting in my twenties (hmm, that was right after I had my first real job.) I occasionally get tempted even today.
Lately, I’ve been trying to change my attitude. It’s not helpful to tell myself I am a mess and will never get it right. Far better to think, “Wow! With all I have going against me, look what I just did!” Each time I react with pride at my accomplishment it’s a little easier to do it the next time, whether it’s calculating taxes or buying a nice tomato. And I each time I react with pride I kick a little hole in my negative self-image. With this attitude, there’s no reason to procrastinate – I’ll just catch up on the bills and feel great.
Although I admit that’s easier said than done.