Remembering and regretting money mistakes–instead of forgiving and forgetting–can actually hurt your efforts toward financial improvement. Anger is not a bad emotion; there are no bad emotions. However, when anger transitions from a physiological response into an ongoing grudge toward someone or something—or even toward yourself—it can destroy any progress you are trying to make in improving a specific area of your life, particularly around money. Money mistakes are notoriously enduring in people’s minds, and often they find it difficult to forgive themselves or others for mistakes long past.
The brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor explains in her book My Stroke of Insight that emotion only lasts in our bodies for about 90 seconds. After that, the physical reaction dissipates, UNLESS our cognitive brain kicks in and starts connecting our anger with past events, thinking, “I ALWAYS get cut off at this corner!” or “There she goes again, why does she always complain?!?” or “Why did this happen to me AGAIN???”
Anger is associated with our perception of how much control we believe we have over our environment. The greater control we perceive, the less angry we are likely to feel about anything that happens. The less control we perceive, the more easily we become angry. When we feel a great sense of control, our sense of personal power also increases and the less control we feel, the more victimized we tend to feel—and most people who perceive themselves as victims feel almost no sense of personal power.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (who wrote the Tao Te Ching) believed that when people do not have a sense of personal power they become fearful. However, fear isn’t always obvious in others; some of the biggest tyrants feel no sense of person power, so they try to impose their will through aggression and manipulation. Individuals who dominate others are, in fact, extremely insecure. Lao Tzu attributed most of the world’s ills to the fact that people do not feel powerful and independent.
Therefore, holding on to anger creates a cycle that feeds into the sense of personal powerlessness. When we feel like an event didn’t happen the way we hoped or envisioned, we start to become insecure and fearful that our future needs will not be met. We hold on to the point in time at which everything started to “go wrong” according to our ideal script, and we become defensive, looking to blame someone or something for putting us in our current predicament.
The problem is that you can never focus on the good things happening in the present is you’re holding on to anger from things that happened in the past. When you believe that you are entitled to have things go a certain way in your life, and/or you hold onto the belief that something “should have” happened a certain way, you are blocking yourself from happiness, personal growth and a deeper connection to the people around you.
One of the most difficult things for me to get past in my life was the idea that any potential negative motivation behind a person’s actions are irrelevant to me. I used to analyze for hours: Why was this person late calling me? Was she disrespecting me, or is she just unorganized? If she’s unorganized, she should really be more professional . . . “ Finally when I was becoming a Martha Beck certified coach, I realized that everything that happens to me isn’t a reason to become angry about someone or something else; it’s an opportunity to learn more about myself. So then the question doesn’t need to be, “Why did _____ do that?” it instead becomes, “What can I learn about myself from my anger response to __________?”
Nobody else’s decisions or actions can ever hurt you; when you start to believe this, that’s your signal to begin some introspection, to understand your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Ultimately, it’s your own thoughts and actions (or lack thereof) that are the reason for your predicament. Did your passivity create a scenario that made you feel victimized? Are you afraid someone else’s behavior is going to ruin your financial life? The other person isn’t the villain here; it’s actually your own surrendering of your personal power. When you become hyper-aware of how you’re functioning with money issues, you often realize the problem isn’t X; it’s your reaction to it. This realization helps you release grudges and increases personal power again.
According to Oprah, the definition of forgiveness is letting go of the thought that the past could have or should have been different. We don’t have to pretend that what happened was okay, just that it HAS happened and there is something we are supposed to learn not from the event itself, but from our reaction to it. Once we understand that, we can let it go and move on to new growth opportunities and a deeper sense of personal power around our financial life.
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