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Healing Space | Your debt and your wealth begin in your mind

The roots of debt, spending and our relationship to money lie in the mind. Here’s how to untangle your money mindset

October 02, 2021 / 07:51 PM IST
Illustration by Suneesh K

Illustration by Suneesh K

Note to readers: Healing Space is a weekly series that helps you dive into your mental health and take charge of your wellbeing through practical DIY self-care methods.

Let’s say every time you did something good as a child, completed a chore or got really good marks, your parents got you a present or handed you a token of money, Rs 101 or Rs 1,001. The better your result, the higher the reward. As this practice repeats over years, you develop an association between the money and reward for hard work, but also success. So, you come to believe that all hard work deserves a reward, and all reward for hard work is monetary. This Healing Space logo for Gayatri Jayaram column on mental healthcan affect you in two ways, when you work hard and don’t get a reward, you fail to see the value of the hard work. Or let’s say you don’t get a reward that is monetary, maybe you just get praise from your boss, you can feel cheated of your reward. This also influences whether you see yourself as successful or not. Maybe no matter how good you are at your work, how much you like your workplace and colleagues, i.e., no matter how satisfied you are with your life, you just don’t see yourself as ‘successful’ because your monetary reward is not high enough.

We all have various ways in which our relationship to money has been shaped in these subtle terms.

For others, it could be the opposite. That is, if you grew up with parents who told you ‘it’s the job profile and your commitment that matter, never the money’, maybe you feel awkward to negotiate a pay raise or a better salary for yourself. Your work has become about ‘honour’ and money feels like it degrades that sense of dignity. Working hard, more than you are compensated for can be a culturally-accepted practice, such as with the Japanese concept of ganbaru, which is complete commitment to the task until its end. However, this also leads to karoshi, which is overworked to death or suicide by overwork. We may have grown up around a beloved family member, let’s say a grandparent, who made a lot of money but was basically cheated, swindled and used for his wealth, embroiled in property disputes and the like, making him miserable. We may thus conclude that money is what makes people unhappy, and create a subconscious bias in ourselves against it. We may know someone who lost a lot of money in equities and so will never invest in it.

The sense of proportion we have about money is culturally, socially and environmentally cultivated. While you might be wishing you made more money, your actions and behaviours shaped by this conditioning could be keeping you from building wealth. If you inherently believe that making a lot of money is what makes people miserable, you could self-sabotage. Your actions don’t align to your intentions. For instance, you choke on asking for the pay raise though your boss asks if you’re happy, you hold back on taking a leading assignment or project, you begin to come in late to work and miss deadlines. Or simpler still, you don’t invest or save in suitable instruments by telling yourself you’re not good at it.


Our sense of security about money could play out in modes that are non-financial too. Some people believe a sign of wealth is having a sweet, or meat, with every meal, maybe because that’s what a parent believes. Inviting family over for lavish lunches and dinners or the quantity and quality of gifts given periodically, say during a festival, become signifiers of financial security. When something inhibits our ability to express our financial security in this learned way, it could shake us up. So we could get into debt in order to keep up the status quo, taking a loan to paint the house, give gifts and host events. The inherited schemas around money affect our mood, emotional stability and sense of honour or self esteem.

If we want to change our relationship to money, we first have to go back to the associations with money in our personal life and examine where we inherit our conflicts or healthy habits about money from. Only when we disentangle from the emotional reasons for the ways in which we think about money can we change the end result.

Decoding your emotional money quotient

Ask yourself:

  1. What strong beliefs did your parents hold about money?

  2. What are the significant events in your life that influenced how you see wealth?

  3. Do you believe equating your work or effort with money demeans you?

  4. What are the actions you perform that sabotage your ability to make money?

  5. Do you have a financial goal and do your actions align with your intentions?
Gayatri Jayaraman Gayatri is a mind body spirit therapist and author of Sit Your Self Down, a novice’s journey to the heart of Vipassana, and the forthcoming Anitya, a guide to coping with change. [ @G_y_tri]

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