The Kenwood Press
: 11/01/2018

Fear of the unknown can severely limit your money savvy

Donna Colfer

The hardest fear to manage is the fear of the unknown. Everyone experiences this fear. Itís part of life. When it comes to money, itís what you do with this fear that makes the difference.

There are two common ways we cope with fear of the unknown that donít serve us. One is trying to guarantee outcomes by being overly controlling. This may show up as being a perfectionist and placing high demands on yourself and others (Martyr money type); micromanaging employees, your children, or your spouse; and being chronically critical or threatening (Tyrant money type).

Or you may take the opposite tack by letting life lead you, rather than taking charge of your destination, going along with othersí preferences and advice instead of taking the risk to follow your passion and make a living by what inspires you. Perhaps you bury your head in the sand, ignoring how much youíre spending each month, hoping it will all work out (Innocent money type).

Fear responses are often just habits. Sometimes making a change isnít a big deal. Simply noticing subtle hesitations or anxieties in your daily money life and breathing your way through can help you shift your thinking. Putting your attention in the here and now, and being curious may show you itís a simple matter of fear of the unknown youíre experiencing. Then you can recognize and make conscious choices. One choice may be asking a friend who has an easier time with money to help you. Another choice could be taking a class on personal finance, which reduces the unknown aspects of how money works. It may take some time to dismantle the old habits and develop new ones, but itís absolutely doable.

Letís look at how past experiences impact the present. Your primal fear response mobilizes in the amygdala, which is also where memories of harmful or threatening experiences are stored. Your body is always ready to protect itself, and itís particularly responsive to anything that resembles a fearful or painful past experience. For example, I had a client who grew up with an alcoholic father who spent his paycheck drinking. This resulted in financial unpredictability and constant arguments between her mom and dad. The lack of reliable meals and moving from place to place instilled a fear of the unknown. As an adult, sheís successful in her good job but she was confused about why she had a sense of financial vulnerability and a constant feeling of impending doom when managing her money.

Itís important to know that memories are often unconscious. Theyíve been forgotten or repressed so you donít have an intellectual awareness of them. Not only is there a potential threat from the future (the unknown) thereís an unconscious threat coming from your past.

The impact of past experiences sets up patterns of behavior that donít serve you in the present. When youíre young, youíre simply trying to make sense of whatís happening to you. So, you develop beliefs to explain your actions even though the beliefs may not be true.

Managing fear helps you cope and prevents it from becoming debilitating. Fear of the unknown is a response to potential, anticipated, or imagined threat, such as losing your job. While itís understandable for you to feel fear, thereís a difference between thinking, ďOK, Iím scared, but I need to deal with this. What are my options?Ē and a feeling of panic and chaos, or a sense of doom that leads you to think ďOh my God! Iím going to lose my savings, my car, and my house!Ē

What commonly happens is the rest of the world drops away and youíre totally focused on crisis and its impending consequences. Thatís understandable. But when you succumb to worst-case scenario thinking, youíre no longer in the present, but projecting into the future. Yes, itís possible that these things could happen, but reacting as if they will happen keeps you in a state of tension and narrows your scope of thinking. Projecting worst-case-scenarios limits your access to resources that prevent the worst from taking place.