Paul Sunderland talks about spending, debiting, under-earning and finances. His talk is full of amazing incites for people with chronic money problems and those who struggle to manage their debt and credit. In this talk, Sunderland looks at how people can get themselves stuck in seemingly insurmountable financial problems. His explanations not only provide help and information for people struggling with finances, but also advice for loved ones.
This is a must watch for anyone in the addiction treatment field and anyone who has ever struggled with money.
If you are interested in attending any of our future lectures, please visit our upcoming events page.
I am always pleased to do a lecture for this free recovery series. I like to do one lecture about once a year. I think this is the fourth one that I've done. I have done one on adoption that was alluded to a couple times because that is something that really fascinates me. The adoptees and how very over represented they are in the treatment environment and the recovery movement. There is a lecture on the couple relationship and one on co-dependency I think was made last year. They are posted on YouTube if you're interested. I don’t put them up there. This is about under-earning and I need to big myself up and have some sort of esteem.
Now I’ll attempt to introduce myself. I am an addiction psychotherapist. I am a trainer and consultant. I trained just under 30 years ago actually. You would never believe it. It was 30 years ago as an addictions counsellor. That was in the 80s and the 90s, and as a psychotherapist. I've worked in the primary treatment environment for a long time. I worked at Clouds House, which some of you may know, for about 16 years and I was head of treatment there. Also I worked at the Crossroads Centre in Antigua as the clinical director working with an American team.
So I've had quite interesting time. I came into the addictions field at a time when it was quite interesting because it was just starting to become professionalised. Actually Clouds House I think is maybe about 30 years old. It was the second 12 Step Treatment Centre to start in the UK. Broadway lodge is probably the first one you may have heard about.
The staff very typically in those treatment centres in the early days were people who were in recovery and treatment was very much a 12-step facilitation treatment. There were doctors and nurses but there was no space for psychologists and psychotherapist and no real space to think about addiction as being anything other than about alcohol and drugs. In fact, when Broadway Lodge started up, it was for alcohol dependence. And they had an experiment in the early 80s where they would allow a few potentially disruptive addicts to join the programme; no more than four at a time. I think they thought they would all sleep with each other, which they did, but they also got well. It was quite an exciting time for me training there because people were starting to write about co-dependency and some of these other fellowships were starting to take off. As you know, what started in the 30s with Alcoholics Anonymous is now over 50 different self-help groups, all using the 12 step recovery programmes. People were just starting to get quite excited.
That is me. I now spend half of my time doing addiction psychotherapy and the other half helping people to set up treatment centres around the world. I’m a bit of an anorak; I’m fascinated about recovery but also I'm also very interested in what happens to people during the course of recovery. I think it is fascinating that people get well, but we know so much now than we didn’t know before. Certainly in terms of what we know is that people in recovery actually have to face many recoveries in the course of a lifetime. It's not just one. There isn’t one fixed; there are layers upon layers that the (unclear) people have to look at and I think that is fascinating.
I'm also fascinated about what happens to people at different points in their life cycle, because one in three of us can expect to get depressed at some point in our lives and actually having a recovery program does not necessarily stop that. We're all going to have difficulties at different points in the life cycle. We're all going to have a bit of a midlife crisis. It is just going to happen.
I’m fascinated by that and I'm fascinated because I trained as a psychotherapist at the Department of Psychiatry at Guy’s Hospital. I'm also really interested in other aspects of personality and treatment. I guess particularly I’m interested in what we call systemic thinking. That's because the addiction movement is very much about, and quite rightly, taking personal responsibility for self. Victims do not recover. We all know that. If you want to get well you take personal responsibility.
We also know that people in recovery exist within a system. We know that family systems also influence people's personality. So that very often the addict, for example, not only is managing their own distress but is also doing something on behalf of the family. Very often, and you probably know this, actually when the addict, whatever the addiction is, starts to get well very often something else comes up in the family system; something else shows itself.
I'm also very interested systemically in the couple relationship because what we know now is that there is never just one addict in a couple relationship. It can often look like there is only one, but very often the couple does not sound (unclear) conscious of the dynamic whereby one person wears their distress on the sleeve as the addict and the other’s distress is maybe tucked up their sleeve. I will talk a bit more about that with the financial addictions.
That was a bit of the introduction and somewhere else I went. That’s what happens. I do not use a PowerPoint for these talks. I do if I'm giving some sort of academic talk, because actually addictions are about connections or loss of connection. And recovery is certainly about intimacy and I feel that if you have a PowerPoint, you are not going to quite know what’s going on. The bad news for me is that without PowerPoint I do have to keep looking at my notes and that might be a bit disruptive for you. I do hope that's okay. There’s going to be room for questions and complaints at the end.
So, let's get stuck into it. This is called: “Money matters in recovery: a look at spending, debting and under earning.”
It is quite repetitive so if you taking notes don't worry too much because I'm likely to say the same thing several times.
Money doesn’t get talked about; we know that. If I asked one of you to stand up and tell us how much you earn I don't think you will be very keen to do that. If I asked one of you to stand up and tell me how much you are in debt you wouldn’t be very keen to do it. If you were in a recovery program, I suspect, for your financial addictions you might be able to do that because you would know that facing it and having that clarity is really important. Let's face it. We don't like to talk about it. We’d probably rather talk about our favourite sex position than how much we owe or we earn. I don’t know. It’s a close one I should think.
It is not talked about much. It is also not talked about much professionally. The UK has a symposium on addictive disorders. It is a three-day symposium. It’s been going on maybe for the last 15 years. This year was the first year that they actually had a talk on money, which got mixed up with money and work. I’d been on at them. I was a trustee for the addiction recovery foundation that puts on this United Kingdom and European symposium on addictive disorders. It took ages to take this seriously. So they put this on the agenda. Actually they put it on the agenda at the end of day three. So it was the 4:30 slot on the end of day three. People were starting to pack up to go home. There were three other options. Anyway I went along to support this, having gone on about it for ages to them. There were four of us there, just four people. You’d sort of think that this would be big. This actually is the smallest audience that I have spoken to here. You would think that this would be bigger. You would think that Debtors Anonymous would be the fastest-growing function, wouldn’t you? It is absolutely not. So there's something about money. There is a shame. There’s a stigma. There's something there that we just do not want to look at. I do certainly thank you guys for come along because I feel really passionate about this. I think it's really important that we put it on the agenda.
Money is not talked about in addictions training; it is just starting to be. In the States, there is a training called Certified Multi-Addictions Therapist training - CMAT. That is just starting. It was started by people that started the Patrick Carnes and his outfit that do the sex addiction training. They are doing multi-addiction training. But, you know, the last module to be written on this multi-addictions training was the money module. It was slightly skimped, I think, to be honest with you. That’s the thing. If you do the counselling or psychotherapy training you do not talk about money. I wonder how many people in primary treatment will sit down when they doing a psychosocial history and say: “How much do you earn?” or “What debts do you have?” I think some people will, but I think it really gets avoided. Credit counselling perhaps, but credit counselling doesn’t talk about the psychological process. Credit counselling is about: “Let’s see how much money you need. Where does your money go?” This is an attempt to get some clarity, but it’s very much about consolidation isn’t it? It's sort of misses the fact that there might be something psychological.
Also, of course, it is not taught in schools. The three things that I think which are the most important in life are not taught in school: how to have a relationship, which is a complete minefield; how to bring up a child, that's also a complete minefield - children often act like they have personality disorders when they're in their teens; and, how to manage money. None of that is taught.
There's this guy, well I don't know his full name but he has a website. Is it Martin's Money Tips? Do you know his full name?
Audience member: Martin Lewis
Yes. You know I think he’s great. He's such a great guy. He posts every day on his website? He says he's going to stop given these tips when financial management is taught in schools. Otherwise he’s coming keep going at it. It is so important that people learn about this stuff but they don't.
So there's little psychological research about money but lots of socio-economic research about levels of debt. We know that since 2008, since the credit crunch crisis and all that, the richest one thousand people in the UK have doubled their income. We know that at the moment the 30% poorest people in the UK have the same wealth test the richest 65 people. These things are far more extreme in other countries. We do know that there is a lot of stuff going on. We do know that money is tight. We know that most couples must work these days, if you’ve got children. That is because with house prices and stuff, somebody can’t stay at home. I think it has an enormous impact on childcare. We encourage our children to debt.
Michael Moore in the United States is having a big sound off about what he calls the debtor's prisons of student loans, which in the States they are massive, as you probably know. You can come out of the university in America with eighty thousand pounds worth of debt. You can come out in the UK with 40 grand, can’t you? But we are encouraging children to ‘invest’ in their future, to borrow money. I think that we should be a bit concerned about all of that. I understand there are some economic arguments but I just wonder what that does. If you invest in your debt today it’s not too much further to invest in the car tomorrow or the suit, or the idea that I can buy now and pay later. Or I can buy now and work it out later, which is what I will tell you is so much of what compulsive betting is about. Compulsive debtor is about what we describe as like taking opium. It like, I can spend this now and hope for the best. I’ll work it out later.
We do know some of these things. We know that money is implicated certainly in suicide and that for men between the ages of 20 and 50 suicides is the main cause of death. Also we do know that it peaks between 40 and 45. It is more prevalent with people at lower socio-economic classes. The Samaritans have just commissioned a brilliant study of suicide. It was published this year. It was paid for by National Rail for reasons that you might imagine - because people are jumping in front of trains. But the aim is to actually reduce the number of male suicide deaths. What they are coming up is that, certainly for men, this has so much to do with the loss of role and, of course, the inability to talk about it and the shame that goes with it. Men unlike women do not form groups and have mates that they can talk about this stuff with. There's a lot of shame involved. We know about it and we hear about it on the news about certain people who might kill themselves and kill their families, which happens from time to time. We always hear about it. There are no proper statistics but very often we are hearing about the levels of debt, aren’t we? So we know that this is a big thing.
The psychological information about debting comes mostly from the 12-step recovery method, being reflective on itself. I think the 12-step recovery method has contributed so much in this area and, in truth, it has contributed so much to all the process addictions that I’ll talk about. Trust that movement now, particularly with Debtors Anonymous, which again ought to be really big but isn’t, and Earners Anonymous, which came out of Debtors Anonymous – I’ll talk about that later, and Workaholics Anonymous, which also came out and was started by people from Debtors Anonymous. All of that comes out of the AA movement
The only book that I know of that properly addresses psychological aspects of debting and under earning are the two books by a guy named Jerald, with a "J", Mundis which some of you may know. He is a self-identified member of debtors anonymous. He wrote a book called “How to get out of debt, stay out of debt and live prosperously”. It is one of the best self-help books and one that we give to most of our clients. It's a very good book. It was the first time the people started talking about the psychological processes. He also contributed, so he deserves a mentioned today. He also wrote a book called “Under earning”. He is the guy who first coined the phrase and identified “under earning” as something pathological - people would repeatedly not earn enough money to meet their needs despite having the training and capabilities to do so. I’ll talk in more detail about that.
So there is a big contribution from him and a big contribution from AA. If you look back over the history of Alcoholics Anonymous and you read it with one eye on financial addictions, it is also very interesting. That's because the stories - and I do not know how many of you are connected to the 12 step movement…Bill Wilson is one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. When you read his story of Alcoholics Anonymous’ development, it is full of financial issues. Bill Wilson, in his story, he moved house many times, because he was downsizing because he was giving money away and not looking after himself. He had all the things that we think about in terms of compulsive debting, in terms of poor saving habits. It was all there. He also talked a lot about grandiosity and entitlement. If we look back, we can see a lot of process addictions in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous. We certainly should not knock it. Henry Kissinger said that AA was probably America’s greatest contribution to the 20th century. I think that is a big thing to say and I think it’s right.
It is there and those of you that know the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous which have been taken on by the other 12-step fellowship will know that three of them mention money, which is interesting. So one of them, tradition six, which is about not lending the AA name to an outside enterprise, not endorsing any other group, goes on to say: ”lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.” Money is mentioned there as something that can get really dangerous. Tradition seven talks about every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions. So again, some notion that actually people need to look after themselves. There is an account of a big dinner hosted by Rockefeller in the mid-20th-century for Alcoholics Anonymous, at which the hope was, before the dinner, a lot of money would be raised for Alcoholics Anonymous. By the end of the dinner Rockefeller’s son whose name I forget - I think it might be Nelson, does that sound right? Nelson Rockefeller - he said, “The only way this is going to work is if you do this on your own.” I imagine it was met by, “Shit”. Of course, it was a really important thing for self-supporting. So it’s there. The money stuff is all there.
We know the recovery movements contain massive amounts of healing wisdom. They manage shame and anxiety. They are mood-altering programmes. They focus rightly on personal responsibility, this notion that victims do not recover.
Having set that bit of a scene, I’m going to talk just a bit generally about what we know about addiction. What you need to know about debting: there are two ways to get into debt. One is by spending too much money and the other is by not earning enough money. So if you spend too much it is what we call compulsive spending. Some people might consider it as a sub-set of compulsive shopping. Actually I like to think of it as compulsive wanting. It is wanting the spending or shopping, or retail therapy. It is the compulsive wanting. Another way is the under earning and I’ll talk in more detail about that. I think that is just as compulsive. Compulsive debting… I don't think that people actually set out to say that they want to get into debt. Compulsive debting is a consequence of compulsive wanting by spending and under earning.
Actually with compulsive debting, there is no psychiatric diagnosis for it. It is not recognized as a disease, as many of the process addictions aren’t. The eating disorders tend to be and sex addictions are slightly.
I want to illustrate to you how actually it’s a no brainer that compulsive debting is a disease. I intend to do that. So what we know about addiction is that it is genetically composed and environmentally disposed. It is a pathological process and it begins with a search for pleasure and turns very quickly into escape from reality. We know that it is self-serving, it is anti-intimacy and it is fuelled by shame and anxiety, and it becomes a primary relationship. So actually addiction becomes the most important thing. We know that.
We know that people face many addictions in the course recovery. We’ve seen people with what you might call very mature recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Who have worked really hard and they suddenly realize that there is other stuff is going on. We know that addictions are masking. Cocaine addiction masks some of the sexual behaviour.
[Checks the Time]
We are just under half way if any of you is getting desperate. So we know that addictions can really mask. If you are heroin addict then you are going to be spending shed loads of money and you are not really going to be thinking about it because you are going to be thinking that heroine costs money. If you are doing cocaine and you are a sex addict, you may well just focus on the cocaine and miss out on the link between that. If you are an alcoholic dependent you know that alcohol has an enormous impact on impulse control. That can mask the fact that people are spending a lot of money. We know that some of the specific drugs, amphetamine use for example, can mask eating disorders. So we have people in treatment who are amphetamine users, but actually (unintelligible – break in video)
Alcohol and drugs are process addictions as we call them. The food addictions of anorexia, bulimia and orthorexia… Do you know all about orthorexia? Orthorexia is fascinating. It is the biggest eating disorder. It is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It is the fact that I've got to… To some extent, although some people do need to do this, it’s about the weighing, the measuring, I've got to have organic food, it’s got to come from here and then it becomes more and more. It is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. Again it gets really confusing. People spend, and we see that with the financial addictions, people spend a fortune sorting very expensive stuff that they absolutely cannot afford. Then they don’t go to the dentist or they cannot pay the bills because “somehow I've got to have” the right food.
The thing about process addictions is that they are complicated because actually they all involve things that we need to do. The sex and love additions - we do procreate and seek proximity. It's not like you can just give it up. It is the same as spending money. We all need to eat. So it is a complication.
So, I’m going to tell you about how we classify addictions. The American Psychiatric Association uses a manual called the DSM; it stands for the “Diagnostic Statistical Manual”. The World Health Organization has a little booklet called ICD, which is the “International Classification of Diseases”. What you do with this book is you open it up, then you read all of the symptoms and if you meet certain criteria you diagnose an illness. That is how it works. Now substance misuse, or substance dependence actually, as there two categories… I want to tell you the criteria for substance dependence and then we’ll think of it in terms of actually debting.
So, substance dependence requires certain criteria to be met. Firstly it is a preoccupation: “I can't stop thinking about the heroin; I’ve got to get stoned; I can’t stop thing about drinking. I don’t get the weekends off. I wake up thinking about it and go to sleep thinking about it.” It’s there. It's a preoccupation.
Another criterion is the loss of control. “Once I start I cannot stop: I only meant to have one drink and, gosh, and I can't remember what happened next and I came back three days later.” It’s the once I start I cannot stop, It is the tolerance: “I need to drink more to get the same effect; I need to take more of this drug to get the same effect; it used to be 10 mg diazepam now, two weeks later, it is 20 and that's not enough.” So there's a whole notion of tolerance.
There’s another criterion, which is the unsuccessful attempts to control it: “I'm definitely not going to do it again; I'm going to throw it all away; I'm going to get all the names of the dealers out of my address book; I am not going hang out at this location; I’m going to change my playpen and make a change in my playmates; I am not going to that club anymore.” And of course it happens again – so the unsuccessful attempts to stop.
Another criterion is an impact on functioning. It may be legal issues. relationship issues, family issues and health issues. When we think about that, we think about heroin addiction. We think about the risk of sharing needles, hepatitis C. When we think of alcohol addiction, we think cirrhosis of the lever, wet brain…all the sort of thing physically. In addition is water retention..(unintelligible)… cholesterol.
The next criterion is continued use despite the fact it is not my best interest to do so. So there's a whole bunch of stuff. “I know this is not good for me, I know it does not make in a sense, I know that if I do this such and such is going to happen but I want to do it anyway.” Now, I've mentioned a whole lot of criteria. You only need two of those to diagnose substance dependence.
So let's just think of that in terms of debting - a preoccupation. The people that we see... I work in private practice now, although we charitably give away… not very much but we do each give half a day of our time for a very low cost. Typically you not see people with financial addictions in private practice. It is the last place they can have money to spend it on. I think that is such a pity. There's a real need to rethink that and really help people, certainly for Citizen’s Advice Bureaux and credit counselling to really think about the psychological components here. There is a need for more people to donate their time. It's just that in those circumstances you really can’t charge money. The people will not turn up, which is just awful.
Think about the preoccupation. If you have financial addictions, the people that we see wake up thinking about money. "I owe this money. How I am going to do it? How I am going to get out of this?" They are screaming about things to do. They say, “Maybe if I do this then that will be okay. If I work really hard…, if I cut down on this service for this month". There's an enormous preoccupation. There are no weekends off. There are no bank holidays. It’s there all the time.
There is a loss of control. “I will just spend a little bit. I will go out and buy this. The go into Boots to buy a toothbrush but they come home with a whole store". There is a loss of control. There is a tolerance. There is this sense of saying things like "okay my credit card is 2000 pounds. Woe that is a bit much. A couple of years later it is 5000 pounds. They say well that's okay. 10,000 and the loans. That’s alright. I can manage that developed tolerance.
Unsuccessful attempts to control it: “I'm going to cut up all my credit cards. I'm going to get one card and consolidate the debt. It's all going to go into one thing.” What tends to happen is that people consolidate and bring up the credit cards again. Everything comes back again. People end up with more debt in the long run. We have clients that have more credit cards that can fit into the pockets in their wallets. It becomes part of their preoccupation, moving money around - paying for this debt by creating another debt.
The impact on functioning: As we said before people kill themselves over this debt. There is a lot of shame that cannot be talked about. The impact on relationships - the secrecy is really there. Although I would argue that in the couple relationship where there is financial addiction, actually there are as there are with all addictions, there are two sets of financial addictions, because for one, for him or her, to act out financially the other has to turn a blind eye in some way. Do you know, we always say this. We say this in couple’s counselling, when someone comes along and says, "Look. She's doing this. She spends this on the credit card. And this and that.” And she's complaining about him. But at some point you have the say. “Well, at what point did you actually decide that you going to give the other person all this control over your joint money?” Because for that to happen there has to be a bit of collusion.
In couple’s counselling, very often one party brings the other for what I like to call "realignment". That is very often what tends to happen. “I'm going to bring her because someone needs to have a good talk with her and sort her out.” Of course it’s not like that. It's quite difficult when you start saying to people, “I think money is an issue for both of you. You’ve got into a muddle and this is an issue that (unintelligible).” But it’s there and continues despite knowledge that it is harmful, continuing spending without control despite the knowledge that there are unopened letters, there are people ringing up and wanting their money. It’s very stressful. It's a no-brainer isn't it. This has all the hallmarks of addictive disease. The criteria for substance dependence are the same criteria that can be used for compulsive debting.
Now I’ve said there are two ways to get into debt. The first is compulsive spending, which as I said is more about compulsive wanting. The second is under earning. Compulsive spending or wanting is about a lack of impulse control. It's about spending on a whim. It's about inability to say no. It's about inability to delay gratification. It's a sort of work it out later. It’s the “hopium” thing that I’m talking about. It’s about; “Spend it now, we’ll work it out later.”
Compulsive spenders who are not in debt are people who just haven’t run out of money yet. Compulsive spenders who are not in debt are people who also may not have run out of their neighbours’ money or people who bail them out. That's because compulsive spending, if you continue to do it, it’s a no brainer that you will end up in debt. Under earning is repeatedly bringing in less money than you need despite having desire to do otherwise. It's not about being lazy. Actually under earners tend to be very smart people. They tend to be very good at working for others and helping other people increase their fortunes. They really do but actually find it very hard to do it for themselves. It's about working below one’s capability. I've had clients who’ve been considering doing their third PhD rather than get a job. Because it’s: “Somehow I've got to put this stuff off.” And, of course it does make sense because “If I have the skill, when I've got it then I can do this.” But we all know that when you have it, there will be something else that you need to do. It involves quite a bit of mental gymnastics, this stuff.
It's also about saying no to money and turning your back on money. People who are self-employed, the under-earners who are self-employed, it often looks like they are living amongst clutter; being an organized person but having a lot of personal clutter. We see a lot of that. They keep everyone else's life organized but they cannot find anything and they haven’t cleaned the office in the last 10 years. It's that sort of stuff. It's about not charging appropriate fees, invoicing late, just not sending them out and not chasing up debtors, the people that owe you money. It's about not charging appropriately. It’s about not following up inquiries, opportunities. Work comes in and instead of getting on the phone, “Thanks for calling. What can we do? Can we set up a meeting?” That stuff does not happen. Now a lot of people do that but the point about under earning is that this is something that people repeatedly do.
You sort of know that if you did not have an addictive process, if you did not follow something up, if you do not send the invoice you are not going to get paid, you might do it once and be a bit late. “I need this money now. It's my fault.” If you're an under earner, actually, that is something that happens repeatedly. So there's two ways to get into debt: compulsive spending or wanting and under earning. The other thing about under earning is that most people actually have an idea, probably once a day, about something that they could do to increase their income or to be happier and more successful. We’ve found that most people in recovery on whom we have done psychometrics and IQ tests are actually way above average.
I say in recovery, people from primary addictions and are then struggling with under earning tend to have all sorts of ideas. “Oh I could do this or that. I’ve got this talent.” But you know what? It’s “I haven’t got the time.” The rationalizations are really there. “I haven't got the time. I haven’t got the time to do it, maybe another time. I had the same thing. I did this talk. I'm very interested in early psychological whims so I did this talk on adoption and addiction and how the adoptees are overrepresented. The one that was filmed here that was put on YouTube, got 10,000 hits. I get an email about every two weeks from somebody saying do you have any more information? Have you written a book? Now they have been saying that for about three years. Have you written the book? No! However am I writing my book? Yea! So I would like to think that I'm slightly in recovery. You know I say that as an illustration, you know what I mean. It is so easy and addiction is like that. This ability to act against our best interest, it's very powerful.
To under earn and compulsively spend you have to have some core beliefs and you have to have some quite delusional thinking to keep it all in place. The delusional thinking is often around… “Well, actually this is what men's do. They spend money. This is what women do. I'm waiting for my big break. When this piece of work, particularly for the creators, when this thing comes in, when I've done this, everything will be okay. I'm just waiting to be discovered.” People delude themselves. “I'm helping others.” It's a bit like on the aeroplane. You put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help anyone else. You see a lot of people who think that they have a big heart but actually they are already debting. If we deprive ourselves to give to somebody, that is not keeping what you have by giving it away. It's about never having it in the first place.
So there it is quite a lot of delusional thinking, but there are some core beliefs that are behind this stuff consenting debting. One of the core beliefs is that “if I have enough money all will be well” or “if only there was enough money everything will be all right.” That is quite persuasive for people. “If only there was enough everything will be okay.” But what we know about addiction is that it's never enough. It is never enough.
The other core belief, big belief for people that are sex and love addicts particularly and their co-dependents: “I cannot manage on my own. I can only survive if I am looked after. It’s going to need to be a windfall, an inheritance, a lottery win, a sugar daddy, a rich woman. You know, I cannot actually manage on my own.” It’s a core belief.
Now the thing about these core beliefs they are what the psychologist Bollas called "unthought knowns". They are if you like something that we know what but we don't think about the fact that we know them. They are held in a part of the brain, which is part of the limbic brain. The brain is divided into three parts. The part that does the most logical stuff is here. It is a cortex. Behind that, much deeper, is the limbic brain, which is online and active much earlier than the cortex. These “unthought knowns” are held in the limbic brain. So actually if we stop and think that we sort of know them but we are not thinking it all the time. They are just there almost like an operating system of a computer that is driving at all. “If we only have enough money everything will be okay. I will only really manage in this world, find my feet, if somebody looks after me or if there is a windfall, a miracle, a lottery win, or inheritance of some kind.
Now there is another core belief, which we talk about as being a visibility issue. For a lot of people the idea of being successful - they are ambivalent about success. They really want to be successful and yet they really do not - is an enormous conflict. It is particularly true for people, again, with quite early wounds. If you have been bullied or sexually abused, there will be something stored in the limbic brain about “if I stand out I'm going to be in trouble.” And yet, also there is going to be feeling of “I’ve got some talent and I want to make something happen and, what’s more, it will be nice to stand out. I might be in control. I don’t need money. I want to be famous. These things will happen.” So what you've got is an ambivalence. You’ve got a conflict between this fear of being visible and standing out and this desire and capability to actually be successful. Again, these issues tend to be held at a very limbic level, these “unthought knowns.”
Once again, to be a compulsive debtor or a compulsive spender there has to be something going on much deeper than that. We know that it is a disease. If we think about alcohol and drug addiction, we know that we think of them as diseases. We also know that this is behind the disease. If we have an addiction, there are two diseases. There's the complete loss of control with the substance of the process. But there’s also a disease which I guess a lot of the time now we’re thinking of calling co-dependency, which is behind in holding up these addictive processes.
So these core beliefs, and I think this is really important – I think the visibility one is really important. Particularly, we see people who identify themselves as under earners. There tends to be a real issue and conflict about standing out and it’s quite painful to see people who are having the potential to be really successful and can't quite allow themselves to do it. What it means is that when they do do something they tend to procrastinate and leave it to last moment and maybe only do half the job they are cable of doing. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do you follow that? I think it is a really important point.
We also will have money scripts. We have things that we've learned from our parents about what money means. We just do and it is very important. Those of you who are therapists, it is really important, not only to ask them how much money that earn and what debt they have and about their relationship with money, but also what were mum and dad and what were their caregivers like with money? What were they like? Did they act as if there was plenty? Or was it really tight-fisted thinking that there will be none tomorrow.
Because the chances are that what we tend to do as children is one of two things: we either internalize exactly what our parents are doing or we internalize the opposite.
It's a bit like "my dad used to smack me around the ear. I'm not going to do anything like that to my children. It's just going to be all hugs and yes to everything.” What we know is that 180° from dysfunctional is still dysfunctional. It’s not resolved. This is an important point.
So money scripts are really quite important for people to think about what have I learnt? What have I learnt about money?
How are we doing with the time?
[Discussion pause] Audience member: about 40 minutes at the moment.
Thank you. This a bit much isn't it. 7 till 9. I am capable of talking for a long time because I often say this. I do not know if you know this but if you are in a state of trauma or you are adrenalized, the part of the brain that mediates time closes down. Do you know that experience? So that actually I’m capable of talking for two hours and thinking that I’ve only just started. You guys are then looking at your watches trying to find some polite way to get out because you just lose track your time. It's a very interesting thing that happens when you are adrenalized and in trauma. That's mainly because is not needed. Let's face it, if a man-eating tiger comes into the room we do not have to worry about dinner in 20 minutes. It’s like “let’s get out of here.”
I'm only going to talk for 50 minutes and then we’ll have some questions.
I hope it’s making sense to you. I really do. It's just great that you are here but it is the smallest audience that I have talked to. You know what, I'm not going to take it personally. I'm really not. Particularly when this poor chap at (unclear) the other week had four of us in the room. He spent ages on this presentation. It was nothing like this. He had a display board and slides and he had video clips. I said to myself 'gosh this is really sad'. This has got to be thought about because it's a major problem, particularly as we are teaching our children to debt with student loans. It is really important that we get our heads around this stuff.
Now let's go over the indications of compulsive debting spending and under earning. I'm going to talk a bit about recovery because let's face it that is really important, isn’t it? I don't wanted to be like one of these self-help books where get to the end and you completely understand the problem but still cannot work out what you are going to do. We certainly don't need any of that. In a way compulsive debting is a progressive illness like any other. It begins with some sort of behaviours that are just sort of okay things that people might do. It's a bit like alcoholism. Have a drink when I get home from work, a bit of a relief drinking. The new becomes habitual and goes out of control and goes down. So the sort of things that we are looking for we are seeing in the progression of this disease is first of all we are looking at people who are living quite hand to mouth, pay check to pay check. Actually there is not enough month left at the end of the pay check. It's just like it's always getting used up. We’re looking for people who have poor or no saving habits. That's because for compulsive debtors and spenders it’s all about now. So the fact that actually once a year I have to pay my car insurance, there isn’t like “well let divide the year by 12 and think about how much I have to put aside.” The notion of accruing or saving is just like "what are you talking about?"
There’s a lack of clarity. There’s a vagueness around money, a vagueness about interest rates and about what’s owed. There’s a vagueness about how much money do I earn, what do the utilities actually cost and what do we need to live? This is a lack of clarity. We look out for the word "roughly". When somebody says it is "roughly", well “roughly” is a four-letter word when it comes to financial addictions. This is all about clarity. The serenity is in the clarity. Without clarity there is anxiety. That's the truth of it. But it’s hard to face. We are looking at indications; comfort spending so the retail therapy, making ourselves feel better. I think it's interesting that mummy and money are so similar. Don't you?
I don't know what the rates are (unclear) but I think that’s fascinating, because I think there is so much about comfort in spending. There’s also a lot of other stuff. You buy stuff and maybe you get some attention from people who are selling it. The more that you spend the more that would tell you … (unclear)… you get their permission.
It is the comfort thing. They can’t pass up a good deal. They leave price tags on items and not returning them. Buying things that do not get used. A lot of people with these sorts of issues have stuff that they haven’t… they’ve got wardrobes full of stuff that they really thought they needed but it doesn’t get used.
We often notice an avoidance of conversations about money and debt; it feels just a bit uncomfortable. There’s a fantasy of being rescued, of having a windfall “When I get my break” and “if only…” and, you know, working out the odds of winning the lottery. There’s often overwork and that’s an addiction interaction, just working really hard to try and manage. But actually when people who are compulsive debtors overwork, they tend to not actually be that focussed in terms of what they are doing and we find that, and this is the interaction with work addiction, work addiction is not about working, it’s about busyness. Work addiction is about managing anxiety by keeping busy and focussed on a project, believing that when that project is done all will be well. But actually what happens when that project is finished? You need another one it’s about an inability to relax and be yourself; it’s about adrenaline. So often the working with these people keeps the anxiety at bay rather than earns them money. And it’s certainly not creative because the preoccupation that goes with compulsive debting means your creativity gets knocked on the head. All the good thoughts don’t get managed and processed.
We see increased use of credit cards to solve problems. You know, “we’ll work it out later.” Entitlement. Late payments. Missed payments. Not opening envelopes with bills – “anything brown, don’t open it.” They pile up as if, if you don’t open it, it doesn’t affect you. But we know all about that.
We start to see physical and psychological ill health in terms of depression, high levels of anxiety, pre-occupation and distraction - a lot. Whenever people are with somebody they can't quite think straight because the thinking about money. Other addictions also tend to take off. We often see binge and purge. People will "all right, I won’t spend. I won't spend. I won’t spend.” Then they blow up and spent a lot. Just like that, they are coil and spring. Bankruptcies occur of course. For compulsive debtors bankruptcies are not a solution because there is no such thing as responsibility and a lot of compulsive debtors are recidivist; they get bankrupt again. So it is a vicious cycle. It goes down and down until we get to the cycle of debt, anxiety, and some craziness and some real desperation.
So let's talk about recovery. The goal of recovery from compulsive debting, compulsive wanting or under earning is not getting rich and it is not getting out of debt. A lot of people come into recovery programmes thinking if I only get rid of my debt everything will be okay. I have seen people get rid of hundred thousand pounds of unsecured debt. By the way there is differences in debt. Secured debt is fine because you are borrowing money against something that you already own. If you can't pay it back somebody comes and takes the house away. The problem with compulsive debting is unsecured debt. It is not your money. You are borrowing somebody else's and you have nothing for the collateral. I’ve seen people focus on getting rid of debt. This person got rid of $100,000 worth of debt and, you know what happened, it just happened again. In a movement they incurred 30,000 pounds worth of debt. It's almost as if because they were not addressing the underlying issues, the anxiety, all the anxiety is managed, if you like it’s hung on the hook of “gosh if only I get out of debt everything will be okay", you get out of debt but the general anxiety disorder that is so often there behind addictions suddenly is there so you think “I have to do something else with it". So either you go into another addiction or it goes back into "let’s create some more debt".
We actually know that with the process addictions, there are three things that get craved for people in recovery from process addictions. Actually everybody in recovery is on a spectrum of all the addictions. That is the truth of it. It's like a fingerprint. Everyone has a slightly different fingerprint. Some people think, “oh, I haven’t really got any food problems.” But you know what? You're probably sugar sensitive. Some people say, “I do not have any financial problems”. But you know what? They’ll be something there. It's just like a fingerprint. It’s an individual thing.
I've completely forgotten what point I was trying to make actually.
Audience member: Three things craved.
Thank you very much. That's the great thing about small audiences.
Audience member: The three things craved and process addictions.
Sugar, spending and romance, which actually is sex. These are the things they get crave in different amounts particularly for people who are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. You actually often don't experience a craving for alcohol and drugs. The cravings go into these three areas and they have the ones to watch in times of stress. I was walking along here from the tube and I suddenly felt I was looking in a few shop windows and thinking that maybe I need a pair of those "Timberland" shoes.
I think that one of our puppies is going to eat my other ones. Then I think, “Wait a minute what is it about?” It is a bit of anxiety. You know it is there. Now actually spending and buying things appropriately is absolutely fine but that is what tends to happen for people who are a recovery. Those are the things to look out for: the sugars, the spending and a desire for romance.
The goal is not to get out of debt and it is not a get rich. Although I see that happening for people, if you make that the primary purpose it won’t happen. The goal, and in fact this is the same for all the process addictions is self-care and peace of mind. It is the ability to look after ourselves and find some peace of mind. It is a really important point. People come in to work on their … (unclear) … and they love addiction and they think the goal is to have a really nice loving relationship. If you make that your goal it is not going to happen. It is putting the cart in front of the horse. It is about being able to take care of yourself and have peace of mind. These other things will follow.
We know that in order to recover there are certain things that people need to do. The first thing need to do is admit that they have a problem. It's a very difficult thing, particularly for people who are already recovery movement, to say, “I think I am an addict in another area.” I see a lot of people, and for those of you who understand the 12 step movement, I see a lot of people coming along who so want to believe that the financial addictions are what they might call in their AA programme or their NA programme, a step six and seven issue; somehow that this is a little character defect. It's really important that this is seen as a back to step one issue. It’s about “I need to admit that I've lost control of this.” This is a problem that is hard and shameful. We don't talk about them. We don't talk about money. We do not make it okay.
Of course, this where the fellowships are so useful because if you admit something you let it in. In order to let that proof in you tend to need another person. It is relational thing, the idea of admitting. It is so important to have other people around you. So if people are recovering and you do not belong to a 12-step fellowship, there are other ways to do this but you are certainly going to need a team. You know we get ill in relationships and we get well in relationships. It does not happen on its own.
Very obviously you do not get out of debt by debting, in the same way that you do not put out a fire with fire. You have to stop debting one day at a time. That can be very difficult. People say what "I've got to. I am going to have to do this. What about this or that or the other?". We often say to people, “If you were an alcoholic is there some circumstance in which you think it is okay to have a drink?”. So actually if you suffer from the financial addictions, very honestly, is there a circumstance in which you can justify having one? Because if you have one, what we know about addiction is that once you start you do not know when you are going to stop. It is very difficult for people to get their heads around that.
We encourage people to use cash at first because with compulsive spenders, if someone says check the amount and put it on your pink card. They will do it without looking at the amount on the screen. They just do it. We encourage people to use cash and then debit cards but not credit cards. We encourage people to keep records. If you are a spender you are going to keep a record of your money and a record of what you’ve spent. People say, “Do I really have to do that? Do I really have to count the pence if a cup of coffee is £2.62? Do I have to do that?” The answer is yes. You want clarity and you want real detail. For under earners it is important to keep track of time, because people who are under earners are very good at keeping busy doing the wrong things or just losing hours surfing the net.
Actually, the fantasy and intrigue for the spenders is quite big. We used to think that fantasy and intrigue are something that only the sex and love addicts did; they would just be dreaming of some perfect relationship or getting involved in something intriguing. It is actually we know that with debtors there is a lot of fantasy and intrigue. They are cruising along. They are looking at the smart cars. They are looking on the net, thinking to themselves that if I just had this item in my living room everything will be okay – which actually takes up a lot of time. We really want to encourage people to bottom line that, to stop themselves going into fantasy.
You cannot help the first frame. Take the analogy of sex and love addiction. If you are walking down the street and somebody is drop dead gorgeous to you, you cannot help the first notice or the first frame but what you can stop is the movie, which then goes on. It is the same. You can't stop noticing the Audi S5. You can’t stop noticing the window or whatever. But actually the responsibility is to not go into the movie; that is to bottom line the fantasy and intrigue. Once you tell people about that they catch themselves doing it. They say, “Okay, I know what I’m doing.”. You are bringing this stuff into consciousness.
As for keeping records - the time records, the money records - that is about people recording their income, recording their spending, recording their savings and recording their debts, and seeing it as a spiritual process. People who have a spiritual belief - if there is a time that they do a daily reading, meditation or say some prayers - we encourage people to do their numbers and do their record-keeping at that time. Don't think this is not spiritual. If you are a spiritual person, chances are that God wants you to be solvent. It's a good time to do it. Also it should be done on a daily basis. It does not take any time at all.
We encourage people to get spending plans and to start to plan what they spend. The word budget is not in the recovering debtor’s dictionary. Budget is about constriction and constriction leads to binge. We encourage people to think about how much money they're planning to spend. This is really important and that becomes an enjoyable thing. And they are doing it actually having thought about it rather than just being impulsive.
There are different ideas. We talked about outreaching about money - making phone calls, maybe having a 72 hour rule on something that they see, that must-have sofa that they’ve seen in a sale. Give it 72 hours to see if these feel the same. Tell someone what you're planning to do. The chances are that if you do not want to tell someone then it's probably not a good idea. Which is true for everything involved with addictions. Let's face it, if you have a keep it to yourself chances are you in an active addiction.
Visions are really important for people because actually people who suffer with addictions are so focused on the now, it’s so pre-occupying, that they are not thinking about what they want to do. We are talking about an enormously talented group of people who need to start to have some visions. If you have a vision about where you want to go and you’re not solvent - you know what they say – it’s an hallucination. But actually, if you have a vision and you’re solvent and you can manage your money, then these things start to become possible. You see people do all sorts of stuff in terms of their self-care. People say, “I want to play the piano. I always wanted to ride. I always wanted to do this, that or the other and I always wanted to learn another language.” Actually people find they are starting to be able to do that because they have a vision and there's a plan for it. There’s a solvency. That is part of the self-care development that we’re looking for. If that focus is there for the self-care, the debt and earning, those things all change.
Action plans are very important, having buddies and getting some coaching. I think therapy is a useful thing here, but it in no way replaces self-help or getting help from other people. I like to think that addiction therapists are people who teach people not to need therapist. That's because it's an awful lot of dependence that can go on and ...unclear.
The point of the therapy, and probably the best purpose of the therapy, is to identify the core beliefs that I was talking about. So if people have issues about visibility and success, it is to really help people understand that stuff. “What is it that stops me, that makes me so capable and so want it but still turn my back on it?” So I think identifying that and then some of the therapists work on the limbic system rather than the frontal cortex. A lot of these core beliefs are not things that respond to CBT - cognitive behavioural therapy. CBT works on different parts of the brain. CBT is good for many things in addiction but not for these core beliefs. You want to have therapies that actually work on the limbic system. There are certain things that people are doing like EMDR, which might have heard about - eye movement desensitization and re-processing. Yes it is a big mouthful. It is a technique for turning down the volume of some of these core beliefs.
Equine therapy is a big one. We do that technique down in Dorset. I found that people still think it's silly to use horses but horses are all limbic and have an enormous impact working with people and turning down the volume on the human limbic system. I can talk for ages about that.
Audience member: How does it work?
I’ll answer that question later. We need to get through otherwise we will be here till 9 o’clock. There’s no clock in here for me at all.
Also to clarify family scripts is really important. If people can do this, if people can say, “You know what? I've got a problem and there's no shame in this. I just have it. I'm an addict in other areas.” This is going to happen. There's no way that it could not happen. If we could just be a bit kinder on ourselves and on others who talk about these things and if we can find some compassion, I think people can make some enormous changes around the money. I see the biggest changes in the circumstance and psychological functioning in this area around the financial addictions. I see so much change so fast the time but I also see a lot of people give up before the miracle happens. That's because it really requires …
The trouble is if you come along with an alcohol or drug problem, you stop using alcohol or drugs and actually that’s is gone. But if you coming along with the debt problem that can stay around for years and years. You’re really sort of managing it. There is not a quick fix and people in recovery are not that keen on things that do not have a quick fix. In Debtors Anonymous, a lot of people come in and go out before the miracle happens, which is a real pity. Then they often come back later in terrible situations. If people can do this, there's a real end to despair and there will be an ability to delay gratification. With that will come an ability to take care of oneself and to find peace of mind.
With clarity there will be confidence. The serenity is in the clarity. People will live within their means and they will also, this is a DA phrase, “Their means will not define them.” Because for a lot of people what I have, what I own and what I’ve got somehow defines me. Without my Land Rover Discovery, for example, people would think that I am no one actually. People will think that I am a twat for not having one. It's amazing the things that we tell ourselves. “I need to have this to look such and such.’ Actually the evidence is that people do not see us as such and such. To live within the means that means we are not defined. I think also ceasing to compare, because there's a lot deprivation mentality in compulsive debting, where people are comparing – “If you have something, you have my share.” Rather than actually thinking that there may be an abundant universe…”If there is only one cake and you have a slice, then you have got mine.” That's sort of stuff goes on. It becomes a real preoccupation.
Next is an ability to value oneself and value one's contribution, which I think is a really important. To start doing the things that people have always wanted to do: to learn the piano; to ride a horse; to learn a language, to plan to stop working; to write a book. And it’s so moving to see these things happen. The saddest part of it for me is that most of the people who suffer like that we do not get to see in our consulting room. We do not get to give them this information. An addiction psychotherapist is different from a general psychotherapist. Those of you who are therapists will already know this. Because with addiction, you are a coach, you’re often a bit of a policeman, you’re an educator and also an interpreter. It's very different from psychotherapy. There are a lot of roles.
But these things cost money and I think is such a pity. We’ve got to find a way to solve that. There are two things that I like to change. I would really like to look at the student debt situation that we’re setting our kids up for. I'm not sure what the solution is but it concerns me. The other is that I would really like you guys to go from here and, if you did not know this already, and hold this information in mind and pass it on. The biggest problem with money is not recession, it is our attitude. Does that make sense?
Thank you so much for being here. It's really nice. I enjoy doing this every year.
Audio End Transcript