Where do negative self-beliefs about money come from?

One thing I hear often when I talk to people who feel blocked in finances are negative self-beliefs. These usually sound like "I'm not good with money," "I'm not good at math," "I'm not good with numbers."

In my experience, 99% of the time these beliefs aren't true.

People believe them, but they aren't objectively true.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who held these beliefs about herself. Her family helps her maintain a spreadsheet for her student loan payments, and every time she looks at the spreadsheet, she just freezes. She described her feeling of overwhelm as a "sick cloud," "just discussing it makes me uncomfortable."

I can tell you she's a highly intelligent person. Everything else we talked about indicated to me that she's a capable learner and broadly curious, introspective, does high-quality work, and is more than able to engage in critical self-analysis. But she's simply blocked when it comes to money.

She went to a Catholic school, and her 5th grade math teacher, a nun, hit students physically when they got it wrong in math class. From that point forward, her life consisted of after-school tutoring in math ("I felt like a special needs kid"), remedial "dumb-kid" math classes in high school, a feeling of dread whenever her engineer father sat her down at the dinner table to help her with math homework, and more. I asked her what math was like in fourth grade: "I remember being excited that I knew all my multiplication tables and proud that I had them all memorized." If you tell a child that she's stupid enough times, eventually she will start to believe it. (Honestly I'm enraged even writing this. What the fuck are people thinking?)

She ultimately graduated with a 3.75 GPA in high school--a respectable achievement in the eyes of anyone but the most tiger-est of moms--and yet, anytime that numbers come up, she feels "backed into a corner," "vulnerable," "even looking at a breakdown of numbers, even the minuses, from my paycheck is anxiety-inducing."

Having worked with enough people to change their belief system from "I'm not good at math/money/finances" to "I can master anything in the world of finance that I want to master," I promise you, this woman is absolutely capable of being good with money and numbers. She's just blocked emotionally, because of a traumatic (not intentionally traumatic, but sadly people in positions of authority are sometimes clueless of the impact their actions have on others) childhood experience that is triggered anytime she sees numbers on a sheet of paper.

The good news is that these types of negative beliefs can be identified, excavated, and taken out back and shot. I have a student who is a life coach and she started my class with many of these types of beliefs. But as she started to grasp, understand, and internalize more and more financial concepts, these types of beliefs started to lose their power over her. The moment a person who believes they aren't good at math solves a math problem, that negative belief comes under attack. Enough attacks, and eventually the belief will crumble.

If you're someone who struggles with this type of belief system, try this: 1) write down the belief on a sheet of paper 2) find something that triggers it 3) stay with that feeling of overwhelm until the immediate fight or flight passes and 4) see if you can study even one part of the puzzle. For example, if you feel frozen looking at a payment breakdown on your paycheck, try to feel the frozen-ness, and see if you can even read one line-item on the stub. For example, "amount deducted in social security tax: $200" would be good enough. Do this enough times, and your limiting beliefs lose their power over you.

Let me know how it goes.

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