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Money Is Not About Finances, It's About Emotions

06/16/2015 11:11 am ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

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Last year while working at a shop that sold premium (i.e. expensive) kitchen appliances and cookware, I swiped the bank card of a customer making a purchase and it returned an error message. His lightning quick response was, "But there is money. I have a million in that bank account."

Isn't that our first reaction when our bank card is denied at a retailer -- embarrassment? We are afraid the cashier will think we have no money! In this case, he even felt compelled to let me know just how much money he had.

Financial expert, Suze Orman states that fear, shame and anger are the most common emotions surrounding money.

We all think that money is about our bank balance. Yes, of course, it is that too, but money is also strongly connected to emotions. And before you think that you are exempt from an emotional attachment to money, think again.

How do you feel when you realize you are down to your last penny? Fear, panic, depression and even anger?

Sometimes our feelings towards money are so strong that we start to hate money because we believe that it is the cause of all of our problems. Hate is a strong emotion.

Money has even been the reason some people have attempted suicide.

On the flip side, tell me how you will feel if you suddenly got news that you won the lottery, or inherited a vast sum of money? Elated, right? Relief -- end of my money problems. I'm free! Or so you think.

A sudden large lump sum of money even changes people. Money gives them status and makes them feel powerful. Suddenly an air of arrogance sets in.

Money also influences how people treat you. A homeless person walks into a high-end retail store and gets shooed out with contempt. A well-dressed man pulls up in a BMW and has the welcome mat rolled out for him. People have more respect for wealthy people. Sad but true.

That's the power of money.

What Drives Our Beliefs About Money?

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It's clear that money evokes strong emotions and everyone has deeply-held and often subconscious beliefs about money. But where do our feelings about money come from?

Our thoughts about money often stem from childhood. How our parents handled money provides the foundation for how we may handle money. This is reason generational poverty and generational wealth exists. Poor people impart bad money habits and beliefs to their children. On the other hand, wealthy people tend to impart their philosophies and strategies on wealth creation to the children. Coupled with that is the inability of poor people to fund further education for their children and the advantage children from wealthy homes have right from the start, and so the cycle continues.

Add to that the fact that formal schooling does not include financial education, and so we go forth into the world with little or no financial roadmap and soon we are making bad financial decisions, running up debt and have ourselves entangled in a financial mess in next to no time.

Financial psychologists Bradley Klontz and Ted Klontz refer to the term "money script" to describe our core beliefs about money. They say that "money scripts are typically unconscious, developed in childhood, passed down from generation to generation within families and cultures, contextually bound, and often only partial truths".

To find out which money script you have running through your head, read the article What did your parents REALLY teach you about money?

The Truth About Money

The truth is that the problem isn't money. The problem is how we approach money, how we think about money and how we handle money. People who constantly think negatively about money, tend to be plagued by money problems their whole life. People who believe that money is something within their control, are the ones who become more successful and ultimately increase their money. Those are the people who instead of complaining about their lack of money, educate themselves about money. Financial intelligence is the basis for growing wealth.

Danielle LaPorte wrote in article Getting Emotional About Money, "I tend to think of money in the same way I regard time. It's a form of energy. It comes and goes according to my intentions. The clearer my intentions, the more the money flows."

A change in our financial situation starts with a change in how we think about money. Clearing out the negative thoughts about money will remove the blockages that are preventing money from flowing to us.

The Disastrous Pursuit of Money

While we should examine our feelings towards money and strive to manage money better, we should not allow it to consume us.

We all need money to live and money does make life easier and more comfortable and gives us access to better services.

Sadly, in today's world, money is the center of many people's lives, to the detriment of their health, family, and quality of life. Materialism and consumerism are driving people. Everyone is trying to keep up with everyone else with the best gadgets, cars, and houses. So deep is the need to impress that we feel embarrassed to tell our friends we can't join them at that expensive restaurant when we don't have money.

Again, what is driving this? It's our emotions. We feel better about ourselves when we have the latest iPhone or walk around in designer labels. We want to impress people with how much money we have. Money validates us. Money makes us feel we are somebody.

If this is your relationship to money, you are on a slippery slope. These are the wrong reasons for chasing money. Money should enhance our lives, not run it.

There's nothing wrong with these things per se. They're nice to have. However, if your world revolves around this, then you've lost sight of what's really important in life. What many fail to realize is that there are worse things in life than not having money. Having no loved ones, having poor health, having no friends to offer support during tough times, having no spiritual connection, having no purpose in life.

Changing Our Attitudes Towards Money

What we should be striving for is to develop a healthier relationship with money.

Money has such a powerful impact on people that a sudden gain or loss in money can have a profound effect on some people's personalities and attitudes. It can turn a nice person nasty or a happy person miserable. It can inspire greed and selfishness. More money can actually be a bad thing for some people.

But in most cases, money will not fundamentally change who you are or what you believe. At your core, you will still be the same person with or without money. Similarly, if you are bad at handling a little money, you'll be bad at handling a lot of money.

That initial elation at the sudden abundance of money quickly fades and you go right back to being the way you always were. That's why the saying "money can't buy you happiness" was coined. That initial joy is fleeting. There are many unhappy rich people.

The key is to find peace and contentment with or without lots of money. For once we have our focus in life clear and stop allowing money to have so much power over us, any changes in our financial situation will have a less devastating impact on our emotions.

Financial guru Suze Orman sums it up best. "People really do not have a clue at all," she says with deep conviction. "They think the reason they are miserable -- that they are an emotional wreck -- is because they have absolutely no money. They honestly think that if they had more money they would have fewer problems. The problem is that it's not true! The reason they don't have more money is because of how they feel about their life and who they are. Who you are determines what you have and get to keep. You define your money. You define the things around you. But money and the things around you can never truthfully define who you are."