Do Money Disorders Exist?

What it means to have a dysfunctional relationship with money

If you have a chronically dysfunctional relationship with money, you might have a money disorder.

We recently had a heated discussion around the Black Enterprise offices about money disorders and whether or not they truly exist. On one side, those who believe they do; on the other, those who vehemently dismiss the existence of money disorders and propose that people who are diagnosed merely lack self-control and are attempting to self-medicate in response to some other problem. Ironically, this latter line of  reasoning supports the fact that money disorders are real. If you frequently attempt to self-medicate through excessive shopping or spending, then you have a problem with money. Depending on the frequency and severity, it could very well be a disorder–in this case, a money disorder.

I have a master’s degree in communications and I’m about to complete a certificate in financial planning; but I also have a degree in psychology, so I’m familiar with the subject area of addictions and how they play a role in disorders. And money disorders do exist.  I question the reasoning that says shopaholics and compulsive spenders only need will power to stop spending,  and that they should just behave themselves. Lack of self control could be a sign of an addiction, which proves that someone who cannot gain control over their spending might have a money disorder. Money disorders fall under the category of impulse control and addiction disorders. It’s a lot deeper than saying someone is just being lazy or irresponsible with their finances. Someone with obsessive compulsive disorder might repeatedly wash their hands, flick a light switch, or obsess over something else—like money. Addictions and obsessions can manifest in many ways. Extreme dysfunctional money management is one of them. I recently spoke with clinical psychologist Sally Palaian, who states, “Financial disorders are classified as such because money is the substance as opposed to alcohol, drugs or sex. The object is money.”

If we continue to deny the existence of certain disorders, we will never get the help we need. This is especially true of members of our community. For example, we’re famous for saying depression isn’t a real problem and that we just need to toughen up. No, sometimes you have to call it what it is and get help.  While we’re busy being angry at mental health professionals and accusing them of making up new disorders, we’re ignoring the problem.

You could say someone doesn’t have an eating disorder and that eating disorders don’t exist, but if that person vomits after every meal, and obsesses over gaining weight, there’s obviously a problem with food—an eating disorder. The same goes for someone who has a dysfunctional relationship with money. If all the signs are there, you can’t say money disorders don’t exist.

Read the counterpoint: “Making the case against money disorders.”

Tell us what you think. Do money disorders really exist?

Sheiresa Ngo is the consumer affairs editor at Black Enterprise.

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