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How to love yourself out of debt

We live in a time of consumerism and debt. We’re seduced into thinking we need material possessions to be successful — a house, a car, a healthy bank balance — but then told the debts we incur to buy these things are bad. So, at the very core, most of us have unhealthy relationships with money.

If you’re struggling with money and feel like you never have enough no matter how much income you bring in, it’s time to go beyond the numbers and take a look at your relationship with money. Just like everything else in our lives, money is an energy exchange and, when you start looking at your thoughts, feelings and patterns around money, you soon come to realise that to love your bank balance is all about loving yourself.

It’s about money and it’s never about money

The first thing to realise when you are struggling with debt, lack and money worries is that, while it may feel like a money-based problem, it’s most likely not.

“Our money story is rarely about money!” says Bari Tessler, financial therapist and creator of year-long money school, The Art of Money. “It is usually about all of the deeper issues we are working with, and have projected onto money. It’s often around feelings of enoughness and safety, power, responsibility and value. So we ask ourselves questions like “What do I need to feel enough?” or “When my numbers get too low in my bank account, do I feel safe?”

When you start looking at your thoughts, feelings and patterns around money, you soon come to realise that to love your bank balance is all about loving yourself.

Money becomes part of our story and we attach our value, security and power to how much (or how little) we have. But, while we can tinker with the numbers every day, unless we look at how these numbers make us feel and what we are letting them say about us, we will never truly clear ourselves from the attachment to our bank balance and live an abundant life.

“A lot of us equate the number we have in our bank account with our true value, but our true innate value has nothing to do with our bank balance,” says Tessler. “While we need to make money to create a nice livelihood and pay our bills, our value is a very different thing. And it is that value — our true value — that we need to get in touch with.”

Tune in to your money story

Kate Northrup, author of Money: A Love Story, a bestselling book on understanding our relationship with finances, takes us step by step through the values and “story” we’ve attached to money, abundance and wealth, and helps readers reset a healthy money story.

“Many of us grew up with a poverty mindset,” explains Northrup. “The way our parents thought about money, how hard they believed they had to work for it and how difficult it was to make it last has seeped into our daily relationship with money as adults. Whether conscious or unconscious, we are carrying around major blocks to real financial success. Even if we’re doing the budgeting and the affirmations, we need to go deeper.”

The education you received about money is also a contributor to how you view it. Most of us are learn what we know through trial and error, and if we’re ever taught budgeting or money management skills, it’s a very masculine approach.

“It’s all about spreadsheets and accounts, saving everything we can and working harder and harder so we can get better and better pay rises. Nobody teaches us the emotional aspects,” says Northrup. “My whole philosophy is that, if you don’t handle the emotional piece of it, none of the dollars and cents part of it — the adding and subtracting and what’s actually in your account or what you’re actually spending — really matters.”

How much do you value yourself?

To change your abundance story, you need to start to value yourself and view money as an act of self-love. It may sound a little New Age, but when you accept that money is a reflection of how you value what you do and how you feel about your place in the world, you start to realise that money is all about self-worth.

You simply can’t attract money if you don’t inherently believe you deserve to have it and that you can use it wisely. “If we value our uniqueness, what we do for our family and what we do in the world, then our relationship with money changes as well,” Northrup explains.

“Money is an energy exchange. I’d hesitate to say it in certain communities because people write me off as a complete woo-woo! But it is an energy exchange to the degree that what we value has energy and meaning to us. It has a gravitas or an importance. And if you think about it like that, that’s a higher energy thing than something we don’t care about.

“For example, let’s say I really need a new car and I value that in my life right now. I go over to the dealership and they have the car I want. I’m willing to part with a certain amount of money because I value the thing I’m going to receive. So I am receiving something that is energetically important to me — the car — in exchange for giving away this value that I have accumulated.”

Getting intimate with money

So how do you start to reset your values around money and self-worth? By asking the tough questions and getting really intimate with your money story.

“Our unconscious beliefs, usually from childhood from our cultural programming, are what are running our financial decisions today,” Northrup says. “So, even though we think we might be making a decision as a 35-year-old woman, we may actually be making a decision as a five-year-old hurt little girl. And so some of the questions I recommend delving into are a way to uncover some of those things so we can get in the driver’s seat of our financial lives as a grown-up with all our wits about us.”

“One of the most important reasons to create abundance is so we can spread it around … It’s our ability to do good things in the world.”

Don’t be surprised if resistance comes up, though. When you start to really look at your values around money, it can feel really overwhelming. Some of the forms resistance might come in are overwhelm, boredom, spacing out, getting confused, getting tired, feeling irritated or suddenly needing to organise your sock drawer. If one of these symptoms shows up, congratulate yourself! According to Barbara Stanny, author of Overcoming Underearning and a women’s financial empowerment teacher, if resistance is showing up, you know you’re on the right track.

Journalling, meditating and asking yourself some tough questions about what you really believe about money and abundance will help uncover the real underlying issue that may be ensuring that even when money comes into your world, it doesn’t stick around for long.

Rethink debt

Debt can be a crippling hurdle for many people when it comes to changing their money story. The guilt or shame we attach to it keeps us stuck and blocks the flow of energy. To really clear that, you need to change the way you view debt.

“I believe there can be both healthy and unhealthy debt,” says Tessler. “And if we can change that belief, we naturally start to clear it faster and bring in more wealth.

“One of my favourite stories of this comes from an old student of mine who had a debt, did not want to pay it back and felt completely trapped by it. When we sat down to have a look at it with fresh eyes, to reflect on its origin and articulate what it had allowed her to experience, her whole perspective on it shifted rather quickly.

“It turns out that this debt was created by a big trip to Italy she’d taken years before. This trip was a very important turning point in her life and she still carried enormous gratitude for it,” she continues. “With this new clarity, she decided to rename her debt-liability ‘My Italian Experience’. This simple act of renaming connected her with the desire and commitment to begin paying it off with enthusiasm and appreciation.”

Change your money mindset

So what happens when you are ready to change your money story, you dig deep and reflect on your values and you realise there’s a very strong belief that says, “I never have enough money. I’ll never have enough money?”

“Sometimes just identifying it actually changes it,” advises Northrup. “I’ve noticed that, in my own life, when I become aware of a bad habit of thinking, often times it will simply disintegrate.

“But if it doesn’t disintegrate, I recommend having an automatic money mantra you can switch to instead. You don’t have to make it a mega stretch, like ‘I am a multi-millionaire’, because your mind will think, ‘Yeah right!’ But in a moment when you feel like you’ll never have enough, you could try moving into appreciating what’s already working.

“So, OK, maybe you don’t have as much money in your bank account as you want, but what is working? The faster you can put your attention on what is working, as opposed to what isn’t, the faster your emotional landscape changes and then the more welcome positive thinking is. And then, of course, the better we are thinking, the better we feel, and the more positive actions we take, which is where money comes from: taking positive actions.”

Millionaire businesswoman, author and business coach Marie Forleo calls it an “Automatic Transformative Mantra”: “a simple phrase you put on automatic repeat that transforms your money mindset”. The example she uses, even in her own life, is: “There’s always more where that came from.”

Doing good in the world can make you rich

Finally, for many spiritually minded and giving people, there’s an underlying belief that you can’t make money from doing good — a thought pattern that has to be acknowledged and changed if you are ever going to truly value your worth and move into abundance.

“This idea that it’s not spiritual to be rich is one of the most insidious beliefs out there, especially in the helping professions and in the spiritual communities,” says Northrup. “It keeps us playing small. If we think about it logically, it makes no sense. Why should we not get paid to help people? Why should we suffer so others can thrive? That’s a zero-sum model and is such a lack way of thinking.”

Instead, switch to knowing that, when you add more value to the world and when you help more people, more money comes into your life. Think of it like an upward spiral: the more value you give, the more you receive, and the more you can give …

“If you don’t handle the emotional piece of it, none of the dollars and cents part of it … really matters.”

“Think of somebody like Oprah Winfrey or Tony Robbins, some of the great leaders of our time: they have added tremendous value to people’s lives and many of them are living very well with tremendous abundance. In fact, one of the most important reasons to create abundance is so we can spread it around to things we believe in, because money is power. It’s our ability to do good things in the world.”

To make the sort of change we want to see in the world, we need to have financial resources. As Mother Teresa said, “In order to change the world, you have to have a cheque book.”

Acceptance = abundance

Remember, just like your life cycles, your money story has many cycles, too. Your money has an energy and, to create more flow and abundance, you need to bring more positive, high-value energy into your life and release the attachment to the down times.

“Just as we all go through changing life cycles, so too do we go through money cycles,” Tessler says. “Most of us experience peaks and valleys to our creativity, productivity, success and income. Our yearly finances are the same — in one year we may earn more, while in others we may save more, give more or invest more. Some years we may scramble to live within our means. And, yes, some years we take on some debt.”

Become more accepting of the flow of money in and out of your life and begin to view it as an integral part of your self-worth.

“Money is a stand-in for what we value,” Northrup says. “The more we value ourselves, the more we naturally radiate goodness, the more we naturally increase the value we put out in the world. We’re more present. We’re more creative. And we have better ideas. So, when we value ourselves more, we attract more value. It’s as simple as that.”

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz

Amy Taylor-Kabbaz is a journalist with more than 15 years' experience, specialising in health, mindfulness and motherhood. She is also the best-selling author of Happy Mama: The Guide to Finding Yourself Again, and is the creator of the website Happy Mama.

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