By special request from a number of readers, let’s unpack some New Age teachings regarding money. One frustrated reader who asked me to write about this said, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from a coach or healer that if I just commit or pray or surrender or vision, ‘the money will show up.’ It feels so abusive to me – and it encourages financial irresponsibility, especially for those who are not wealthy and truly cannot afford it. Oh, except we’re not supposed to say that, are we? We’re supposed to come up with a verbal workaround because heaven forbid we should say something negative and thereby create it! Then if the money doesn’t show up, you’re shamed for not being invested/ committed/ surrendered enough, for not having done your work, for not being “whatever” enough. And then they promote the idea that money is ‘just energy,’ that it’s not ‘real’ It really devastates people who are on lower incomes who really need the help and then go into debt in order to get physical/ emotional/ spiritual/ financial healing (that may or may not actually help solve the problem).”
Gosh, how many times have we all heard this! So let’s unpack it with nuance. First, I think it’s true that many people have trauma around money from legitimate scarcity and poverty in childhood. It can be terrifying and devastating to young children to go hungry or watch Mom and Dad get evicted or get humiliated by other kids for wearing old, worn out, hand-me-down clothes. Those traumas, if left untreated, can lead to constellations of limiting beliefs around money that can impact our financial lives for our whole lives. That is true. It’s also true that treating those traumas around poverty can unburden those parts that get mired in scarcity thinking in adulthood, have trouble asking for or receiving help (from other people, from God, from government aid, etc.), or overspend or go into debt to overcompensate from past poverty and then feel entitled to getting bailed out. So in this way, our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings do impact our money, and changing how we think and feel about money (by getting really good trauma treatment) and educating ourselves about financial responsibility can mature our relationship to money.
It’s true that because they’ve been hurt, some people simply do not feel worthy or deserving of money. This deeply rooted unworthiness can be sensed by others, who may mirror back and anchor that sense of unworthiness. It’s also true that others feel unjustly entitled to money, and others may mirror this too by giving them lots of money because they seem so confident and sure of themselves. Both financial unworthiness and financial entitlement can be traumatic patterns, but the impact on money is not equal or just.
It’s also true that having financial “skin in the game” can definitely impact one’s level of commitment to transformation and change. When people get something as charity, they are less likely to even use what is offered, much less invest the emotional work, time, energy, and labor towards achieving a certain outcome and reaching a goal. In this way, money is energy- in the form of the Indigenous spiritual principle of “sacred reciprocity.” When we give and receive in a balanced flow, we keep the energy flowing. If we take more than we give or give more than we take, we get out of balance. Yet such a balance depends on certain assumptions of social justice, fairness, and equal access to opportunity that are not always the case in an unjust world.
What New Age teachings often leave out is:
1) Good trauma treatment tends to be a luxury good (most of the really effective trauma therapies- like Internal Family Systems (IFS), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), and Somatic Experiencing (SE) are not fully covered by insurance and can be quite expensive.) This can make healing financial traumas a catch-22.
2) These teachings do not tend to take into account the financial impact of systemic racism, sexism, homophobia or trans-phobia, and other social constructs that limit one’s ability to generate the same amount of money a white, cis-gender, heterosexual male who grew up with relatively wealthy parents might be capable of earning from the same labor, talent, intelligence, and time/ energy investment. The reality in our culture is that the fewer privileges someone has (by privilege, I mean whiteness, maleness, cis-gender, heterosexual, being brought up in a high socio-economic status, etc.) the harder it’s going to be to “manifest” money. No amount of changing your thinking is going to change that external impact on one’s financial opportunity. Doing so would require massive cultural and policy change.
3) While having financial “skin in the game” can definitely impact one’s level of commitment to transformation and change, overextending yourself financially can lead to further trauma, stress on yourself or the family, bankruptcy, losing your home, and being unable to feed the kids. Psychologically manipulating someone to go into debt or risk bankruptcy in order to participate in transformation is simply unethical, not to mention unkind, selfish, and utterly lacking in empathy for someone who struggles financially- for whatever reason.
4) Life is not always fair and opportunities are not always evenly distributed. While it may not be fair or just, transformation, healing, and spirituality have been commoditized, making many transformational, healing, or spiritual programs a luxury good. Putting aside the ethics of this (which is no small thing- I have ranted to my peers about this) – like it or not, not all people can afford to purchase all luxury goods. While I have a social justice part that thinks things like healing should not be a luxury good, at least in the United States, we’ve made good medical care a luxury good and decided not to democratize medical care by investing in socialized medicine. And in the midst of a global pandemic, we’re now we’re paying the price for our collective choice. Access to medical care, healing, transformation, and spirituality is not equally distributed in most of the world, and if we want to change that, it’s going to take more than law of attraction teachings to change the values and policies of a culture. Given that our values make such things luxury goods, we must treat them as privileges enjoyed by the elite- and wrestle with any discomfort this might elicit in us. It would seem ludicrous to try to pressure a poor person to buy a Ferrari by suggesting that if only they committed to having the mindset of a Ferrari driver, they could afford it. Yet in the New Age, this manipulative sales pitch may be used to try to sell a $10,000 program to someone who can barely pay their $1000 rent.
5) Some people are traumatized in ways that make it difficult for them to say no or make good, sound, responsible financial choices, especially if they are bullied by aggressive sales pitches. If they are pressured to invest in something they cannot afford, they may have compliant parts or people-pleasing parts or magical thinking parts that are deluded into thinking the money will just show up. Being able to recognize snake oil salesmen who will do anything to manipulate you into saying yes is a key skill in the New Age marketplace, where anyone with no degree, no expertise, and no quality control can hang up a high ticket shingle and claim to be a coach or a healer. Yet this ability to think critically and discern quality may be harmed by those with fewer privileges, so again- it’s a catch 22.
What’s the solution? Call a spade a spade. If you see someone trying to gaslight you into buying a high ticket item you can’t afford, simply tell them you can’t afford it. If they’re really sincere about wanting to help you, they might offer you a sliding scale or a scholarship, which many people don’t advertise but offer upon being asked. If that’s not available, you can always ask for help from privileged people who might be happy to sponsor you as a gift. But be cautious about going into debt because someone is telling you you’ll get a return on investment on something you can’t fact check or call references for. Check any magical thinking parts and just let yourself feel disappointed if you can’t do the thing you might want to do because it’s a luxury good you simply can’t afford.
This is where spiritual surrender can be truly transformational. One of my favorite prayers is “If I’m supposed to do this, please help me. If not, please stop me.” If the money magically shows up, do it and sing Holy Hallelujah- but recognize that this money might be more a sign of your privilege than your spiritual purity, manifestation power, or positive thinking. If the money doesn’t show up, a clear “No” or “Not yet” from the Universe is equally deserving of gratitude for the guidance- and at least then you won’t wind up with a $10,000 credit card bill you can’t pay.
For those of us who are employed in healing, transformation, and spirituality, we can do our part to repair the injustices and inequities in this realm by offering sliding scales and scholarships to people who genuinely need our services and are willing to have skin in the game either with a lower cost or in some other creative way, such as volunteering to help out at your clinic or offering some other kind of gift. Because those in such service industries also deserve to make a living, we can also create scholarship funds so those with more privileges can donate to funds that can help redistribute these offerings to a more diverse or marginalized group of people. If you’re one of those people with privilege, you can do your part too- offering to pay for someone less privileged next time you sign yourself up for something in the healing or transformation realm.
What else did I miss in the money manifestation unpacking? I’m sure there’s more nuance!