Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wealth Guilt

-- Have you ever felt guilty about making money?
-- Undeserving of your affluence?

I live in Marin county, which is located north of the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco. Based on the median prices of homes sold in Marin county during 2004, 3 of the 20 most expensive zipcodes in the U.S. are located here ( Given this wealth, you might expect people in Marin to be pretty capitalistic and business-oriented. But that's not the case.

In fact, there is a distinctly anti-capitalist flavor to Marin county. Many hippies settled here in the late 1960s and 1970s. The politics is generally "liberal" (John Kerry got 70% of county votes in the 2004 election). And there is some discomfort with big business, which occasionally appears as outright demonization.

And while those anti-business attitudes have frozen development and helped maintain an excellent quality of life for residents, those attitudes often carry unhelpful negative judgements towards money and those who have it.

There is a paradox: many residents of Marin county have significant assets (at least in the value of their homes), yet many are suspicious of business and capitalism. This creates an internal conflict - people here have money, but they remain uncomfortable with its power. For me, learning about this conflict has led to very interesting discussions with other local therapists and coaches. We are calling it a "conflict of conscience."

Guilt about wealth, and self-sabotage in the pursuit of it, are widespread in America. The media use rich businesspeople as safe "villains" (Ebenezer Scrooge and Gordon Gecko [Michael Douglas in "Wall Street"] are the prototypes), sure not to offend the majority of people. American society often teaches that businesses have caused most of our current environmental and health problems. We seldom hear about the enormous benefits that well-managed businesses have brought - those are taken for granted.

For the wealthy, the conflict of conscience may emerge as an aversion to the wealth one has. They may rashly give away, spend, loan, or squander resources on bad investments, for example, to remedy their distress. Others hide their money, pretending it's not there, and meanwhile neither investing it nor acknowledging the tremendous good it can do.

For some people, wealth feels unattainable. The conflict described above emerges as chronic self-sabotage in their business or finances. They may self-sabotage attempts to accumulate money, or they may feel that they face too high a hurdle for achieving success. For many of them, money is associated with shame. They might feel they are betraying their values by succeeding (especially if they grew up in a proud blue-collar family). On the other hand, they may fear being the subject of other's envy. They don't want others to feel bad because they are richer.

There are many possibilities here, and every person has different experiences. In general, the themes are similar, and specific techniques can reduce the "Conflict of Conscience" described above.

Richard Friesen, who is a businessman, psychologist, and a former trader on the Pacific Stock Exchange, will be hosting a f.r.e.e. teleseminar called "Conflict of Conscience" at 6pm PST on February 2nd. I'll be contributing 5 minutes or so to this hour-long seminar, and I think what Mr. Friesen has to say about this topic is timely and very important.

You can sign up for the teleseminar by emailing the following address with your name, phone number and country or US zip code in the body of the email.
[email protected]

And Mr. Friesen's video introduction is here:

I'm also sending out an invitation to my email list. You can become a part of the Market Psychology Consulting email list by registering for one of our financial personality tests and checking the box for the email Newsletter.


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