How to turn off the money tap and say “no” to financially help family and friends

For many years, Rudy Ruttimann worked too hard to support her family and community to ensure that they never had to experience the extreme poverty she faced as a teenager.

At age 15, she had fled an abusive childhood home in Saskatoon and hitchhiked to Toronto. Over the next five years, she spent time living on the streets and in shelters until she finally found a room in a homeless shelter.

Ruttimann eventually got married and had three children, but since her husband was an aspiring singer-songwriter who didn’t earn money or didn’t want to find another job to earn extra income, Ruttimann ended up working long hours and multiple jobs to support everyone.

The dynamic became such that her partner never had to worry about finances, as she overcompensated to make sure everyone was taken care of.

“I kept activating it because I had to make it work for my kids so they didn’t have to live like I did,” Ruttimann said. “I couldn’t and didn’t want to resist it.”

While Ruttimann stopped allowing her spouse after the relationship ended, she continued to do so in other ways by accepting lower wages for the job – and not negotiating more – and offering quick work. money to her children when they become adults instead of helping build their capacity to handle their own sticky situations, she said.

Chantel Chapman, a financial trauma researcher and co-founder of the financial literacy program The Trauma of Money, says the main type of financial disorder she sees in her program is financial empowerment.

“Financial facilitators often put themselves at financial risk in an effort to help others,” Chapman says. “And, they find it difficult to say ‘no’ to financial requests from friends, children and other family members, and may avoid making clear arrangements for loan repayments,” it adds. her, referencing a definition by psychologists Dr. Brad and Dr. Ted Klontz. .

The reason it’s called financial empowerment is because it can empower someone else to depend on you, she adds.

In Ruttimann’s case, there were both financial and personal risks. Because she was struggling to cover both her husband’s and children’s expenses, she was unable to spend as much time with her children as she would have liked – although they always maintained a relationship. strong relationship and remain close today, she said.

When she and her husband finally divorced, she realized how much debt he had accumulated under her name using his credit cards. She was responsible for this debt when she moved to start over with her children.

Caval Olson-Lepage, a certified financial planner at Affinity Wealth Management, says she most often sees financial empowerment in the form of parents repeatedly helping their adult children out of sticky situations, like credit card debt. , but it can happen in all types of relationships .

While parents generally feel a duty to provide for their children, it can cross a line when the children have grown up and this sense of responsibility causes financial harm to the facilitator.

For example, for one of Olson-Lepage’s clients, what started as a donation to help secure a child’s home turned into large withdrawals to help fund home renovations.

“It can lead to problems if you deplete your retirement savings to the point where you can’t recover if your kids don’t pay you back,” Olson-Lepage says.

The situation can also occur in reverse, with a child constantly covering the expenses of his parents.

Friends are also not immune to helping each other. In this scenario, it could be a friend who is always taking notes from others, leading the friends to expect it to create a habit of overspending in the facilitator.

Chapman said financial empowerment isn’t just relegated to friends and family. This can lead to “underpayment and underpricing” of work, as well as a tendency to overwork.

As for why we help financially, Chapman says the behavior is actually a response to trauma. While we generally think of “fight, flight or freeze” as physiological changes that occur in the body and mind when a person feels threatened, there is another traumatic response called “adoration” which means that you indulge in order to feel safe or worthy.

Why this happens because there is something that happened in that person’s life, or potentially in their ancestral line, that caused them to feel unsafe, unworthy or unloved, she says .

“If we don’t feel safe, if we feel like we don’t belong or have lost connection with our dignity or the people around us, it makes sense to try to tell our nervous system that we are safe We reach out to please people and use our money as a “please like me” fund.

So how do you stop helping financially?

The first step is to identify the behavior and recognize how it makes you feel. For many, that feeling can be resentment, because people don’t typically want to be in an empowering codependent relationship for long periods of time, Chapman says.

Then, since financial empowerment is a response to trauma, you’ll need to regulate your nervous system, such as focusing on your breathing or spending time in nature or other methods, Chapman says.

The next step is to connect with your values. In friendships, for example, you may find that you value friendships based on reciprocity and that you shouldn’t have to pay for lunch to feel accepted or included.

Thinking about these values ​​can also determine when it makes sense to pay for others and when it doesn’t. If you value wealth sharing within the family or wealth redistribution, in general, it makes sense to provide a child with a down payment for a first home or to give money to others.

What defines this behavior as a money disorder is that the disordered behavior stems from feelings of fear or unworthiness, and it negatively impacts your own financial situation.

“As we say in the world of codependency recovery, you have to put on your own air mask first so you can introduce yourself and be helpful, supportive, and share with others,” Chapman says.

Setting boundaries is another important step. If the behavior has been going on for a long time, others will expect that financial support, so it’s important to be clear and direct, says Olson-Lepage.

For example, you can say that you will no longer be able to cover certain costs, or you can provide a timetable indicating the end of the financial assistance. It could also include outlining a loan repayment period if you frequently issue loans that go unpaid, she says.

You can also declare that you’re ready to provide support in other ways and specify how, says Olson-Lepage.

And, when it comes to situations where friends or family don’t have the money to do certain things, like buying a meal at a restaurant, find different activities you can do together that don’t cost money. money. There shouldn’t be an obligation to pay just so you can spend time together, she says.

Chapman’s final advice to financial facilitators is to seek community support, which can come from groups such as Codependents Anonymous, Underearners Anonymous and Overspenders Anonymous. The facilitator may also want to explore mental health support to find out why they have this trauma-based response to begin with.

Over the past five years, Ruttimann has mostly quit her money habits and says therapy has helped her.

“Through therapy, I realized that my children were fine and that I didn’t have to worry so much or work so hard to save them financially,” she says. “They are quite capable.”

She also recovered from the financial difficulties she experienced earlier in life and later bought a house with her current wife.

Ruttimann’s advice to others caught up in financial empowerment is to figure out what your values ​​are so you can live in the way that best serves you.

“If the drive to make money and push yourself with that money comes from a place of fear, something is wrong and you will miss out on the joys of life.”


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