Trauma, Food and Money...oh my.
October 8, 2013 6:43 AM   Subscribe

How would one erase or get past a childhood trauma and its effects on one's relationship with food and money?

Background: I'm a mid-forties, college educated, IT professional, male. I'm married with one child. When I was four, my mother accidently killed herself by taking too much medication to help her migraines. I was in the home at the time with my sister (4 years older) and saw her passed out at the dinner table. She died multiple days later in the hospital when my father removed life support.

Issue: For as long as I can remember, I've had issues involving money and food. I've never learned to eat like an adult. I eat a majority of (what I consider to be) junk food. I also have horrid spending habits. It's as if I HAVE to be always short on cash. I've run credit card debt up and paid it all off multiple times. I've also received large amounts of money from various sources and spent it all and have nothing to show for it.

Both issues are causing a strain on me and my relationships. Thanks for your help! Throwaway email: if needed...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry to state the obvious, but: there's nothing in this post to indicate that you've ever gotten therapy. I don't think reading a book or a couple of tips from internet strangers is going to erase this problem.

I'm also not sure I see any connection between what happened to your mother and your current issues. I'm not saying they AREN'T connected, but it's strange to me that you put these two things together without drawing any cause-and-effect relationships between them. It makes me think that you may not even fully understand the way this death affected you. Which, again with the therapy.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:02 AM on October 8, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm sorry you went through something so traumatic as a child.

However, I'm a bit unclear what that has to do with your issues with money and food. Are you certain the two are connected? Not doubting it's possible, I just need to see more of your thinking that's lead you to connect the two. It's also possible they aren't connected, and something else could be at the root of those issues; and, the first step to overcoming a childhood trauma is identifying what it is.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have your wife be the family money manager, and have her give you an allowance (cash or a reloadable debit card). Give her your bank debit and credit cards and have her change your PINs and online banking passwords. Put a lock on your credit.

Then find a therapist you are comfortable with and begin working on developing new habits. Don't spend too much time on root causes - figure them out, but focus on changing behaviors & rewards moving forward.
posted by headnsouth at 7:20 AM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you want to speculate on how these things could be linked, I'd say like this: you learned at an early age how cruelly fast life and the things we love can be snatched away, and how something you thought would always be there can be taken away without a moment's notice. So your relationship with food and money is, enjoy it while you have it and don't think about the future because there might not be one.

That means that it might not be as easy for you as for the average person to not let your past dictate your future, because you have this ingrained feeling that there may well not be one, or one worth having.

Overcoming this will take strength of will, and therapy will be a great help in getting you there. In the meantime, headnsouth has suggested some excellent steps to prevent you from falling into the traps you keep falling into, whilst you learn how to avoid them yourself.
posted by greenish at 7:44 AM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is really really really what therapy is for. Please consider finding a good therapist. Although please set your expectations: it's not really possible to "erase" past trauma. But things can get much much better.
posted by medusa at 8:00 AM on October 8, 2013

You need to learn how to budget. Set money aside for particular things, whether it is in envelopes or bank accounts or cash. Isolate your bills and make them your priority. When you can, find someone to talk to about everything else.
posted by h00py at 8:18 AM on October 8, 2013

Besides a regular therapist- do you have health insurance? It may be worth trying to get a referral to a dietician. Considering I see health problems caused by junk food among 20-somethings in my IT department, it is not a stretch that you might have some health issues and you can connect any issues you might have to your diet.

If you are lucky and don't have any health issues, it's worth seeing a health coach if some kind, maybe with your wife, who can help you develop better food habits.

It's also worth inquiring to see if you bank provides financial counseling. A lot do and they will be able to help you learn how to budget. It was my bank's financial counselor who stopped me from living paycheck to paycheck. Also getting budget software and using it like YANAB and Mint, though those in themselves are unlikely to solve things, they make it easier to adopt the advice of a counselor.

Probably because of issues from my childhood and my parenting it has been very hard for me to get out of the habit of living paycheck to paycheck. One thing that really helped was getting money put into a retirement account automatically from my paycheck.
posted by melissam at 11:34 AM on October 8, 2013

Count me as one who thinks your eating and spending could absolutely be related to what you experienced as a child. To elaborate on a phrase from your question, "I never learned to eat like an adult..." Well, many people learn to eat like an adult when they are children. Especially by watching and being fed by adults! Missing a parent can make a big difference in someone's life, in ways that are not always apparent.

Therapy sounds like a good idea. And so is looking into learning more about healthy food, and personal finance. They might seem like two independent efforts, but if they are both working, they should really complement each other and make the other go faster.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:56 PM on October 8, 2013

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