few years ago at a Haymarket People's Fund conference
for inheritors, I participated in a group warm-up game.
One by one, people went into the center of our circle
and told us something about themselves. The others who
shared that experience joined them in the middle. When
one woman stood up and said she'd been in therapy, the
entire group of some hundred and fifty heirs rushed to
the center with her.
We inheritors are no strangers
to therapy. It's rare to find heirs whose emotional upbringing
and financial preparations were solid enough that they
can move gracefully into adulthood without at least occasional
counseling. Even more rare, it
seems, are inheritors whose therapy has helped them work
through their issues about being rich.
The taboo against talking
about money is so strong that many therapists are apt
to shy away from the M-word. And those who do address
the topic head-on with their wealthy clients can find
themselves prone to a variety of countertransferences,
from the subtlest envy to the most stereotypical assumptions.
I recall a painful session
with a therapist I'd been seeing for about four years.
I had come to trust him because he consistently responded
to me with objectivity and compassion. One day I started
exploring the connection between my inherited wealth and
my struggle to find meaningful work. He listened with
interest, nodding encouragingly then ended the session
by telling me an off-color joke about rich people. I left
with my head spinning, completely disoriented. Where had
that come from?
To his credit, he apologized
at the beginning of the next session. Having grown up
dirt poor, he admitted to a lifelong resentment of rich
people. Conscious of his own unfinished business about
money, he was committed to looking honestly at himself
when those old buttons got pushed.
I appreciated his candor.
He regained my trust, though it soon became obvious to
me that he couldn't wrap his mind around how it really
felt to inherit an unearned fortune. Even though the difference
in our resources didn't prevent him from helping me significantly,
it did limit the depth of our work when I needed to explore
being an heir.
After talking with other
heirs, I realize that my experience was not unusual. Some
inheritors feel their therapists
discount, or ignore altogether, the emotional challenges
of wealth. Others pick up subtle pressure to handle their
money according to the values of their therapist. Still
others are stymied by an atmosphere of quiet disdain when
they bring up their wealth.
When therapists have unresolved
personal issues about money and ewalth, they may miss
crucial opportunities to guide their inheritor clients
toward clarity and emotional freedom regarding money.
In the worst cases, a therapist's projections can wind
up being destructive, reinforcing the client's gloomiest
assumptions about having wealth, and recreating his or
her most painful experiences as an heir.
As clients, heirs may contribute
to the static which can develop in therapy. Some may treat
therapists with condescension, lumping
them together with all the other 'service people' they
pay. Others may unfairly suspect self-interest if their
therapist asks them about their wealth. Those who grew
up with nannies may act out about paying the therapists,
feeling resentful that, once again, they have to pay someone
to be cared for. Whatever its souce, this static scrambles
the clear communication essential to productive therapy.
- anonymous author
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