The love of money is the root of all evil. -- new Testament, I Timothy
The lack of money is the root of all evil.
-- George Bernard Shaw
Although people may squander, horde, flaunt, worship and despise money, the one thing virtually no one wants to do, says Washington psychotherapist Olivia Mundra, "is talk about their emotional relationship to it.
"As much as people hesitate to reveal their deepest-held family secrets, childhood traumas or even sexual fantasies, they are even more reluctant to talk about money. Now that we've had a sexual revolution, money remains the last taboo."
The link between the psyche and the purse, contends Mundra, "is an enormously complicated psychological subject. People's relationship to money tends to be very secretive and cloudy -- even to themselves -- and is affected by cultural beliefs, religious roots and family upbringing. The way we spend our money reflects our deepest values. It is a statement of who we are."
This money-mind connection is "greatly exaggerated at holiday time," says attorney and financial adviser Michael Goldberg. "Throughout the year people tend to ignore the emotions surrounding their spending habits, but that becomes almost impossible at an emotionally charged occasion like Christmas.
"People seem to think they should approach money matters coolly, rationally and logically. But you can't make really intelligent financial decisions -- particularly at holiday time -- unless you deal with the emotions involved."
Mundra and Goldberg pooled their talents to offer recent "Money and Harmony" workshops and counseling for couples at the Washington Community Therapy Guild. They plan to launch an "Institute for the Psychology of Money" early next year.
"We try to help people uncover hidden attitudes they have toward spending," says Goldberg, 34. "Then we work on how they can re-channel emotional blocks so they don't worship money or despise money, but instead achieve a comfortable, balanced relationship to it."
"Most people," claims Mundra, 36, "either want to avoid dealing with money, or are driven by it. They secretly consider themselves horders or spendthrifts. Sometimes at Christmas they totally reverse their usual pattern. A horder may spend like crazy, then horde again until the next Christmas."
Money, says Goldberg, is like sex. "Even though we're not taught how to handle it, we're expected to know what to do with it when we're grown. Some families never mention money; others dwell on it like a burden."
At the root of most "money madness," claim Mundra and Goldberg, is money's relationship with two strong psychological dynamics: love and power.
"A lot of money words are like love words," says Goldberg. "There's bond, yield, interest, investment, bank, worth. When we say a millionaire is 'worth' more than someone on welfare, we contend that we don't mean it in terms of his value as a person. But we still half believe it's true."
Children, says Mundra, learn that money equals love "when parents withhold allowance as punishment. Even if parents give the allowance no matter what the child does, that's a reverse way of showing that money is love. Also, money is often easier to give than time."
So far as money's link with power, it has "tremendous potential to do good or evil," notes Goldberg. "Banks are very much like temples. Roman coins were minted in Juneau's temple. Today we still are somber and hushed in banks."
When parents take children to open bank accounts, "the serious atmosphere gives the message that money is a big deal and it's scary. Usually parents co-sign the account and kids often don't see the money again. So they don't really learn how to handle it."
Mundra lists four major emotional reactions usually elicited by money: "greed, fear, shame and pride. Original feelings of deprivation can lead to people fearing they'll never have enough, which can be at the root of greed. Or if they feel they didn't get love from parents they might try to become rich and powerful to gain love from others.
"People often don't feel okay about having a lot of money because they confuse feeling good about doing well with being egotistical. Some people's self-image is tied into how they relate to money around others. They may leave a large tip if they're dining with friends, and a small one if they're alone."
Couples often adopt opposite postures toward money, says Mundra (who considers herself "a spender"). "Even if they were both spenders when they met, as they become a couple they tend to polarize. They might fight for the role of spender, with the loser becoming horder.
"They may continue moving to opposite extremes until they reach a crisis. A lot of fights start because two people view the same amount of money totally differently. The spender thinks something is cheap and the horder thinks the same thing is expensive."
Problems also arise from "money secrets."
"Everyone has an aspect of their relationship to money that they keep hidden. One person may be a binge shopper, another may bounce checks, someone else may have a secret inheritance," says Goldberg, who admits he has "horder tendencies."
While the secret itself is not necessarily a problem, "pretending about it is," says Mundra. "People who play games with themselves can wind up in trouble, like the person who squanders money secretly and racks up enormous credit-card bills. We call this 'building on a deficit.' What the person needs to do is bring this hidden area to the light and face it."
Once a person is aware of their personal spending games, "they need to plug into the reality of their financial situation," asserts Goldberg. "This usually means coming up with a net-worth statement. Most people are very surprised to find out how much they have. Then they can work with budgets, investments or whatever else they need to get what they want from their money."
But even the best laid financial plans tend to go astray at Christmas, concedes Mundra. "It is an enormously emotional time of year where expectations soar. The holidays can stir up intense feelings of old longings, disappointments, joys, fears. To avoid dealing with them, people speed up for a month. Then in January they get suicidal depression."
A great deal of anxiety surrounds gift giving, says Goldberg, "because gifts are a symbol of how much someone means to you." Since people often equate money with worth, "the price tag can become more important than the gift itself."
In the quest of money harmony, Mundra suggests that gift-givers "try and separate out what you expect from the other person, or what society expects from you. Instead, focus on what you really want to give to that person. For some people it might be a service, like taking care of their kids for the weekend that would have the greatest value."
Among their other suggestions:
* Consider how the other person gives. Do they use elaborate wrap and write poems or do they pass it along in a paper bag? Most people give in the way they want to receive.
* Communicate gift expectations. Ask people who are difficult to shop for what they want. Tell others what you want if it's important to you; otherwise, be prepared for the unexpected.
* Remember that giving your best isn't the same as giving the most. If you tend to overspend, ask yourself if you're spending beyond your means through guilt, shame or some other "hidden" emotion. A gift that strains you financially may also strain your relationship.
And finally, if you tend to get "shopper's block," consider a personal message, a chunk of time spent together, or a phone call as possibly "the best present."
Olivia Mundra and Michael Goldberg will offer a "Christmas Crazies and Money" seminar 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, and "Money and Harmony" workshops Jan. 6 and Jan. 20, Washington Community Therapy Guild, 1841 Columbia Road. NW., $5 each. For reservations: 483-2660.