December 13, 2018

The high cost of how women relate to money

There are a number of topics society has told us we aren’t supposed to discuss in mixed company. Religion, for example, has long been a forbidden subject between people of different faiths. Politics is mostly swept under the rug among people of different parties. Money, something that we all have feelings about, has never been a polite conversation piece.

Enter Kate Levinson, a San Francisco Bay Area psychologist and author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman’s Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money.”

As Levinson explains in her book and during her numerous “Emotional Currency” workshops, we need to start talking about money and examining our feelings about it.

“Whether you have a lot of money or a little bit of money, we all have emotional reactions to money,” Levinson said. “We make better financial decisions when we’re aware of what these financial decisions are.”

Levinson said many people have guilt about having too much money or shame about never having enough. Even though they might understand that they have those feelings, few people are aware of why they have them.

Just like personality itself, emotional currency develops in a variety of ways — starting in our biology, she said.

“I think we’re born with innate tendencies, psychologically, and we’re born with innate tendencies toward money,” Levinson said.

Family often has a major impact on our thoughts about money as well, she said.

In her book, Levinson writes about how her mother’s wallet was always open (figuratively) for her to take money when she needed it as a child and young adult. But she said she didn’t have that same financial arrangement with her father. This common occurrence during her adolescence, she said, was one of the many instances that shaped her own views on money as well as her relationship with her father.

The first step in understanding your emotional feelings toward money, Levinson said, is to talk about money thoughts, concerns and opinions with a friend or someone trustworthy. She attributes some money issues, such as compulsive shopping or hoarding money, to underlying emotional reasons. In many cases, bringing the problem out in the open can pay dividends in overcoming an issue one has with money, she said, adding that suppressing these feelings might lead to further trouble.

“Just acknowledging the feeling helps us find a better solution,” Levinson said. “Not acknowledging the feeling keeps us stuck in behavior that may not support us and may be self-destructive.” 

As the title suggests, Levinson’s book focuses heavily on how women react to money. Using anecdotes from clients as well as her own personal experiences, she links a lot of her theories to behavioral examples as well as general feelings women have toward money.

Although women are increasingly becoming breadwinners and sometimes the major moneymakers in their families, men have dominated — and still do — the topic of money in the household, the office and society, Levinson said. Because of this discrimination, men and women have developed different feelings toward money.

Levinson said that certain sensibilities regarding money are characterized as either more masculine or feminine. Objectivity, logic and reasoning are more generally attributed to masculine sensibilities, whereas emotionality, empathy and compassion are more closely associated with feminine ones, she said.

However, Levinson isn’t blaming men for the nature of women’s relationship with money. Rather, she said she is identifying a societal trend. And while she acknowledges that there is a difference between the genders when it comes to money, there doesn’t necessarily have to be. Levinson recommends that men provide more support to the women in their lives. Fathers, for example, should be open to discussing financial issues with their daughters to break down some of the feelings of inequality.

She also encourages men to examine their own relationship with money in relation to society.

For all of the advice and exercises Levinson offers through her book, she said “Emotional Currency” doesn’t tell readers how to feel about money. Instead, she lets readers discover that for themselves.

“The book doesn’t have any prescriptions,” she said.

That said, Levinson stresses the importance of understanding unique feelings toward money and taking back control of those feelings.

“Money is very concrete, and it does not magically take care of itself. You have to attend to it,” she said. But, “If you pay too much attention to it, it will take over your life,” she added.

Levinson has researched the emotional and psychological effects of money since she wrote her dissertation. And yet, she said she doesn’t feel cured of her own money problems. But she does feel like she now understands how she will react in many situations involving money. And that is a satisfying feeling, she said.

“I feel like money has a saner place in my life and that it’s not in charge so much,” Levinson said.

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