I have written on many occasions on the link between our beliefs and values about money and wealth and the direct impact they have on our ability to create a financially viable therapy practice.
Recently, I have been working with a client who has been exploring his struggle to earn a decent living in his small metalworking business, and to create financial security in his life. His name is John, and I have his permission to tell some of his story here to illustrate in concrete terms how beliefs that we have carried since childhood shape our way of being with money. These beliefs are often swallowed whole without subjecting them to any scrutiny.
John was raised abroad in a Catholic family, and like many Irish children of the same age, schooled by nuns and priests. One session started with John describing a minor incident with a neighbour that had triggered a number of strong emotions, hugely out of proportion to the incident itself. The details of the incident are irrelevant; the key point was how powerless John had felt in the situation. As the session progressed, John recalled that he had often felt powerless to prevent others acting in a way that negatively affected him.
As we explored it, he recalled an early memory from school, where he had repeatedly been told he was a wretched sinner, and that his goal should be to be good and holy and to please God. God, he understood, wanted him to please the nuns and priests, and do their bidding. John had swallowed a belief that he was inadequate, could never be good enough for God, and that his mission in life was to redeem himself so that he would not go to hell.
In an effort to please God, the young 7 or 8-year-old John would get up at 6am to go to Mass day after day, believing that it would help him escape from being one of the “lazy, slothful mob” of hopeless people who were doomed to go to hell. John worked really hard to try to overcome this unworthiness by always trying to be better, constantly trying to improve his holiness. He craved the acceptance and approval of the nuns and priests who spoke for God, and who always found fault with him. He spoke of how he tried to emulate the holy martyrs, gradually letting go of his own desires, his own beliefs, and his own views of the world.
As John talked about his experiences at school and in church, he began to recognise the impact they had had on his personal and professional life. He had been riddled with guilt every time he took a step to improve his own financial situation, believing this to be contrary to what God wanted. He grossly exaggerated the impact his actions might have on other people, and in this way he very effectively sabotaged his intentions to grow his business. He allowed his customers to dictate their terms to him, about price and time, and he felt powerless to negotiate in a way that was effective for him.
John had internalised the critical nuns and brothers from his early childhood in such a way that they lived on in him. He believed that life was a constant struggle to prove to God that he was worthy, and his life continued to offer him evidence that this was true. He continued to meet with customers who, like his teachers were hard to please. When John tried to increase his prices or to ask for better support from colleagues, he felt an inner conflict which he interpreted as evidence that God did not want him to earn more.
This article is not about bashing the church or its ministers. For all those who delivered the negative messages that John internalised, there were also many who delivered positive, supportive messages, but for John, the power of the positive was feeble compared to that of the negative. The point is to illustrate the power that we can give to our beliefs, so much so that they become our truth and they drive our actions at a very subtle level that is out of awareness.
When our actions to build a viable practice are contrary to beliefs instilled in childhood, our unconscious finds a way to sabotage our efforts. Guilt and shame arise when we try to act outside of what we have been told, and they are powerful moderators of behaviour.
John has been able, bit by bit, to bring his negative beliefs into his consciousness and to challenge the power they hold over him. It has been quite a journey for him, but he is seeing the benefit of the deep work he has done, as he makes better decisions in his business, which benefit him as well as his customers.
On the face of it, John’s childhood experiences have nothing to do with his ability to build his business. In practical terms they did not prevent him from using the metalwork skills he had been trained to use for the benefit of his customers. However, those old beliefs prevented him from being more effective in his business practices. Clearing up these old patterns has allowed him to look more objectively at his business and what he wants to get from it. John has learned to spend time working ON and thinking about his business and not solely concern himself with meeting his customers’ needs. He has been able to focus on doing work that is both more satisfying and more profitable. Of late, he has been steadily increasing his prices, and at the same time not doing work for free that he resents such as quotes or design work. The guilt he previously felt has gone. And he has not had to adopt hard-nosed corporate practices in order to do this.
If you are struggling with the dilemma of how to be more profitable in your practice while meeting your client’s needs, perhaps I can help you to uncover and soften your old beliefs about money? Contact me here for an appointment or to avail of a free 20 minute consultation.