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Recession Regression? Not Again!

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Sept. 15, 2008, Ugly Monday, the market fell 500 points. Last week it crashed again. The media says the market's being driven by fear. It certainly is!

Some of the fear is about what's going to happen tomorrow and the next day. But the fear
driving the market isn't what people imagine, and it preceded current market turmoil, and the 2008 recession, by a long time. Not only that, it'll be here even after the market chaos has calmed and we're on seemingly solid financial ground again, nationally and internationally.

For many, if not most, that fear exists all the time -- perhaps unconsciously. It's not going away any time soon. It's not going away by itself. And it's not going away as a result of things we do on the practical level in the outer world: cutting spending back, selling assets, protecting savings, finding another job, cashing in an IRA, buying lottery tickets. These may seem to help for the moment, but none will make the core fear disappear.

In my three-plus decades as a psychotherapist, I've repeatedly witnessed that people's relationships with money, at the root, are based on thoughts, feelings and decisions they made about money as children, and, even more than that, on what money symbolized for the child. I've also witnessed people under stress repeatedly regressing to a child's thoughts, feelings and perceptions, even though they're unaware of it. It happens in all of us, whether we realize it or not, whether we deny or know it.

To summarize: under stress, we regress to children. The roots of our money relationships are those of someone regressed. In a financial crisis, we are profoundly regressed and don't know it, even if we aren't completely regressed, don't act on the regression, or act on the regression blatantly or subtly! Most importantly, whatever we do from the regressed place inside us -- conscious or unconscious, blatant or subtle -- impacts us enormously, individually and communally.

Imagine someone you thought was an adult, maybe even a sophisticated, successful businessman who "had it all together." Imagine that the market just dropped 500 points, his holdings are deeply affected, and he finds out during an important negotiation that isn't going his way. Imagine this 6-foot, 200-pound CEO throwing the proposal that's been made to him into the air, letting the papers fall, picking up his own proposal, crumpling it, shooting it into the trash like a basketball, and storming out, slamming the door behind him!

What you might see is an adult acting in a most inappropriate way. (Or you might even want to do the same thing.) What's really happening is that the mask of grownup is dissolving to reveal a frightened little boy.

If you asked him what he's afraid of, you might hear, "Whaddya think? I'm losing all my money." What he's really saying is, "My worst fear's coming true: I'll never have enough."

If you asked him why that was his worst fear, you might hear him say, "We never had enough money when I was a kid." Or, on a deeper level, "We always had more than enough, but I knew it was 'cause my dad was so smart, and I'd never be able to do that." But what he's really expressing is what he truly never had enough of, beneath the money. What the money came to symbolize for him. What got transferred onto the money. "What I really never had enough of was Mom's love." Or "What I really never had enough of was connection with Dad." Or "What I never ever had enough of was my family seeing who I really was instead of who they wanted me to be."

As a therapist, I'd explore with him what he revealed to me as deeply as he could go, helping him step-by-step heal his relationship with money, and his mother, father or family (where he might not even know it was wounded), and tease apart his relationship with money from that with his family.

This is a brief revelation of the essence of our relationships with money. The crux: Nothing we do with money could be truly sustainable individually or communally without working with the underlying relationship with money. This is complex and deep, but definitely resolvable, healable, transformable. This is the hope!

We each have our own version of young relationship with money calling out to be healed in this financial crisis. We each impact our world with our current relationship with money, and have the power to help heal our world by doing our own inner work with money and what it really means to us. Just imagine the effect on you, our nation's economy, our world!

© Judith Barr, 2011