Trying to forgive myself for not being more responsible in the past.
December 10, 2020 12:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping that some members of this community might be able to provide me with some helpful thoughts about how to move past my past and the ways that it has affected my present and future.

I'm a mid-40s North American, now living in a European country for the past two years.

At the age of 23 I was lucky to find a pretty good job in a city that I liked, far away from the stress of my childhood, with more opportunities for growth and personal development.

However, due to a history of depression, and a lack of education in financial matters, I failed to plan for my future. I didn't buy a house, I did minimal planning for my eventual retirement, I engaged in destructive behaviours such as smoking, drugs, and drinking. I felt like I was living in the moment at all times, and that any money I saved was an emergency fund for when I would inevitably find myself unemployed and unemployable. This was of course a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I bounced from job to job without a plan.

My parents would scream at me regularly about the way that I lived; when I got my first paycheque at a part time job, I was met with anger. It seemed as though they were projecting their own financial woes on me, and were pre-emptively angry at me for any mistakes that I might make in the future. I remember resolving to never be so pathetic, and to enjoy my earnings in any way that I felt appropriate.

My hobbies were the only thing that saved me when I was a teenager and young adult. I received a tax refund once in my teens, and wanted to spend a fraction of it on an important item for a hobby. My mother blocked me (physically) from leaving the house to go buy it, crying. I pushed past her (emotionally), but when I was downtown I decided against investing in myself. I came home and reported that I hadn't purchased the thing I wanted, and was met with a dirty look anyway. She said that she couldn't believe that I even had the idea to be so selfish. "You gotta sock it away! It could disappear at anytime!" I once told my parents that I had received a raise at work, which I suppose meant I was making almost as much as my father did near the end of his career. He called me a bastard. I have the kind of job where you can listen to music while you work. My mother begged me to stop listening to music at work, saying that they would "put you on a plane back home and then where would you be?" A plane back home? These are just some of the ways that I learned to be shameful and fearful of personal finance.

They needed to help my older brother extensively with his finances, and every step of the way made sure that I knew there was no money left over in case I ever had similar financial problems.

Needless to say, when I found myself on my own, without anyone able to monitor my bank account, I was happier, and found myself spending on things that I wanted for the first time in my life.

When I was 29 I had a nervous breakdown and ended up quitting my job and becoming a freelancer. I also started therapy at that time, which I had to pay for entirely out of pocket. This left me living paycheck-to-paycheck for most of my 30s.

Through therapy I learned that I probably have complex PTSD due to a lifetime of violent sibling abuse and parental neglect. I learned that I was not able to identify any emotion reliably, and was even less capable of reacting to them appropriately. It has been a long road to recovery, compounded by abusive relationships and situations throughout my 20s and 30s, and I still find myself engaging in periods of self-recrimination that I can, thankfully, mostly shake through exercise, proper sleep habits, proper diet, and mindfulness. I struggle to stick to an appropriate schedule.

Thankfully, I am legally required to contribute to a pension fund here in my adopted country. My path to citizenship here is long and arduous because I am a freelancer, and I am prohibited from purchasing an apartment until that is done. I work hard now, and earn more money than I did in my past, but still find myself unable to be comfortable with playing the stock market or other such strategies for financial betterment.

I find myself involuntarily engaging in long drawn-out fantasies of how I could have lived my life better from the day I moved out on my own. I resist recrimination of my past self as much as possible, but still find myself regretting past purchases. I was comfortable loaning small bits of money to friends who would then disappear. I wish I had never let on that I was able to help, because really, I wasn't; I was sacrificing my own future to help those who had other avenues available to them. I kick myself for the time that I walked past the "Bitcoin Shop" in 2011, telling myself that it was for suckers. The collapses of 2008 and before halved my retirement savings, and I found that I tacitly gave up hope in the future.

I lulled myself into a false sense that climate change would render retirement moot for my generation. Is it true? Who knows.

Friends are buying houses and even cottages, and I still find myself counting pennies, and kicking myself for investing in the hobbies that keep me happy and sane. It feels like arrested development, even though on paper things seem to be going well at the moment.

On the plus side, I am childfree and will remain so. Supposedly I will inherit my childhood home in the future. My quality of life here is higher than it was in my home country, but I find myself unable to enjoy it.

I re-entered therapy this year to see if it would help, but found myself regretting the money I spent on it; if the thing I was worried about was saving for the future, how could I justify shovelling away that money into a Skype session?

Can anyone help me with a few words? I am scared of being destitute and homeless in the future when I could have prevented it. Thanks for reading! It helped a bit to write it.
posted by chiorlemas to Work & Money (19 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Read what you wrote
I don't know how to comfort you
I also face many difficult problems. But anyway, figure out what you live for. If you feel that some part of your life is not so good, then find ways to improve it bit by bit. Don't worry about what will happen in twenty years, live the present and do the things in front of you. One day's difficulties are enough to bear because tomorrow will have tomorrow's worries. You need to maintain a good attitude to face life. Come on, everything will get better and better
posted by manggo at 1:04 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

This resonates so much with me and my own fear of ending up destitute, despite having a good stable job and being much more fortunate than huge amounts of other folk.

Two things that have helped me:
Allocating myself an "allowance" of spending money each month that I actually spend - maybe on extra tasty groceries or a meal out or books. This helps me avoid the crippling guilt that would always come with spending money on myself, and it's also helpful to prevent the "fuck it" splurges that would happen when I held myself to unrealistic standards the whole time. And I'm still saving a very reasonable amount for retirement.

Planning. I know how much I need to fund a retirement, I have a tracking spreadsheet so I always know whether I'm on target. In my case I own my house now, but you could either factor in renting during retirement, or put an apartment purchase in your plan.

Overall, while I don't enjoy being this anxious about money, the "count every penny" attitude has been a blessing, since it does mean that I'm super organised about this, which is directly responsible for me eventually ending up very financially stable - a bonus for those of us whose families won't be bailing us out if we get in a mess!
posted by quacks like a duck at 1:16 AM on December 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Lots of thoughts from a fellow freelancer in an adopted country, who has gone through lots of regret stages. But my first reaction is: the world is full of voices telling you that the things you love are arrested development, whereas it's money that makes you a good person or a real person. Don't listen to those voices. Even if what you love might seem like the stupidest thing in the world to someone else, it's what you love and it's important.

Caveat that I've been lucky enough not to worry about poverty, but I too have combed meticulously through my 20s and re-imagined what I should have done, to the point where in my head is practically a computer simulation of college. This kind of mental time travel is not without value, but you may reach a point where you want to put that energy into "what can i do now"? I try nowadays to think of the pain from stupid mistakes as growing pains. MeMail if you want to discuss.
posted by johngoren at 1:47 AM on December 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: My gosh, what a tough time it has been for you, for a long time, trying to break away from the negativity of your parents and how they have projected their fears and other negative emotions onto you. I'm sorry you went through all that. I'm really proud of you for coming through it.

Also, I wonder if you feel this too, but isn't it so hard to find the balance point between taking responsibility for our own actions and also understanding the parts of our experience that are not "our fault", that we weren't in control of. It's too easy to fall too far one way or the other - either beating ourselves up constantly for our perceived failings, or acquiring a "victim complex". I don't think you're in any danger of the latter, I do wonder if you are edging a little too far to the former.

Anyway - here is my suggestion for you. I think that you need to rewrite your narrative - change how you tell your own story to yourself, so that it makes you feel different.

Here's an idea of how I would do it:

- I had an abusive childhood, which gradually I've been able to break away from, it's been hard and it's an ongoing journey, but I'm working on it, and gradually healing. Spending time and money on therapy is a key part of that healing, and an investment in my self and my wellbeing and future happiness

- I have worked a variety of jobs, and spent money enjoying life (as many young people do) throughout that time. I've had all sorts of experiences from that time, and they have made me who I am

- Many of my peers are buying houses and having kids. I'm not ready to do that yet, as I have other priorities right now such as gaining citizenship. This is my personal journey, and I don't need to compare it to other people - it's what I want to do.

- I won't necessarily retire at 50 with a fat retirement fund. That's ok - I still have a lot I want to do with my life. Some people never retire, some people change to part time but continue working and earning. I will find the path that works for me. Not retiring might suit me very well if I find meaningful work that I want to continue, even if I scale back my hours as I get older.

^ this might or might not chime with you, but do something for me - try reading it aloud. Change bits of it to suit you. Read that aloud. And see if it starts to move the architecture of your mind a little bit, to let a bit more light in.
posted by greenish at 2:51 AM on December 10, 2020 [31 favorites]

Through therapy I learned that I probably have complex PTSD due to a lifetime of violent sibling abuse and parental neglect.

I'm glad this is a conclusion you've already come to, since this was what was screaming out at me from your question, far more than anything being wrong with your own attitude, approach to life, finances or past decision-making.

From my own experience, the type of C-PTSD that arises from growing up in an environment that is inexplicably hostile towards you as a kid/young person is also the kind that leaves you repeatedly asking "what was wrong with me? what was it about me that made the people who were suppose to protect and cherish me treat me so poorly?". Your framing "trying to forgive myself" feels like another facet of this, as though if you could just figure out what it was that was wrong with you, or what it was that you did to make your parents and siblings treat you the way they did, you could finally solve the puzzle and put this whole thing to bed.

The thing is, though, there's no puzzle. It wasn't anything about you that caused your family of origin to treat you the way they did growing up. No wonder you had a screwed up relationship with work, money and substances in young adulthood when you grew up around people who regularly screamed at you about how you chose to live your life and raised weird, hysterical threats of deportation that were totally at odds with how you perceived the culture of your then-workplace! That shit would make anyone question their own reality, their sense of self and their sense of how the world works.

The both great and tragic truth of C-PTSD caused by childhood abuse is that it wasn't really ever about you. It was 100% the problem of the people who raised you, and they managed to deeply contaminate you and your siblings with this problem, to the point where you're left feeling personally responsible and personally crushed because you weren't capable of being as personally responsible as your now-more-adult brain wishes you could have been in the years immediately after leaving that situation. The great part of this truth is that what you experienced growing up wasn't your fault in any way. The tragic part of this truth is that you're left with a brain wired to grasp for responsibility, a brain that's fixated on fitting together a puzzle that just doesn't have a rational reason behind it. It's unsolvable.

I have my own unsolvable version of this puzzle, which goes, "but society tells us that parents are supposed to love, cherish and protect their kids, and mine were incapable of doing that for me, so that means there must have been something horribly wrong with me" and if I could only figure out what it was I would finally understand the reason why my entire life has felt consistently poisoned. I know rationally that it was my parents who did the poisoning, but it still feels like it's me, my very personhood, that's stained, and that the taint has to come from somewhere within me or else the whole thing just doesn't make any sense. It is easier on some level for me to believe that I am indeed different to and worse than other people and that's why my parents raised me the way they did (because that kinda makes sense in its own twisted way), than to believe I'm just a normal person, as worthy of love and care and respect as everyone else, but my parents were sadly unable to honour this for reasons that are almost entirely to do with them and only limitedly to do with me (because who would do that except monsters, and how achingly sad is it that I got a crappy roll of the dice and ended up being raised by monsters?). It's easier to imagine this was my own fault and my own doing than to understand the truth on a deep and emotional level, that there was nothing wrong with me and it was just very bad luck.

I don't have answers, because I still get stuck in this mode of thinking all the time, including during a current period of depression. As I've said above, it feels like a deep truth about me and a deep stain on me. But I do also know, even if it's only on an intellectual level, that it's not really true. All I can do is keep clinging on to the knowledge that I'm okay, and to keep trying to make that my inner anchor emotionally as well as intellectually, instead of the stain and the shame and the not-good-enough feelings being the deepest and most core truths about me.

I realise this doesn't talk about money at all, which is kind of my point. It's not really about the money. Money is just another thing for your traumatised brain to fixate on, another aspect of life that got poisoned for you by your parents' own shit and their weird need to control their children, to the detriment of having a healthy relationship with those children and the opportunity for their children to become healthy adults.

I also made a lot of choices I'm not proud of as a young adult. In retrospect, I was more a traumatised child only barely able to acknowledge the abuse I experienced growing up in my early 20s, rather than a capable, rational adult. I don't look back on what I did as the actions of a responsible grown up; I acknowledge that they were the product of a traumatised child flailing around in a world designed for people who actually had half a chance of being capable adults by their early 20s. The fact that that wasn't me, and it sounds like it wasn't you either, wasn't either of our faults and isn't really reasonable for us to carry shame about. Another of the great tragedies of C-PTSD from childhood abuse is the deep and lingering shame we carry, when the people who perpetrated the abuse seemingly never have to suffer the shame that is absolutely theirs, while we carry its full burden in spite of having had zero responsibility for the way we were treated.

Like I say, I'm still on the inside of this process myself to some extent, even after years of therapy. I fully expect to need more therapy, probably fairly soon. Rather than throwing your energy at repairing your finances or fixating on another strand of your life that doesn't feel like it's working the way it ought to, can you give yourself space to mourn the childhood you had, the one you didn't have, the young adulthood you had (and the one you didn't have), and the needs that didn't get met when you were younger? From my own experience, when I focus on the deep work that needs doing in this area, the surface fixations (e.g. money) tend to clear up or become less of an intense focus for my misery, more so than if I put the same amount of energy into dealing with whichever fixation my brain is pinging the loudest about right now. The more you can heal your whole brain, the less it will keep giving you intense notifications about the surface-level pain that it's using to distract itself from the much deeper pain of not having been seen, held, heard and treated appropriately as a child.
posted by terretu at 3:04 AM on December 10, 2020 [33 favorites]

Best answer: I came here to say basically what terretu said. I really feel you on the not being able to reliably identify emotions due to C-PTSD from childhood neglect and abuse. The thing is, it's the sort of thing that's invisible to people, and (for me at least) invisible to myself for about 35 years. But it takes its toll. The burden is heavy and real and holds you back from making the sort of progress your non-C-PTSD peers make look simple - career ladder, property ownership.

The thing is - you made it through but you weren't unscathed. You did what you needed to, both during your childhood and after. Sure, you've made mistakes - haven't we all? To err is human. I find it hard to accept that I am a human and not a ParentSoother3000.

You're doing amazingly (friends! hobbies! jobs! exercise!) and I would encourage you (whether with a therapist or not - I get the money woes feed into things a LOT because money is the key to things) to keep on working through your trauma. It's hard, it's unfair, but it's the best way to help yourself build a better future. And maybe then you'll be able to see why you don't need to forgive yourself for how you acted in the past.
posted by london explorer girl at 3:33 AM on December 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, just popping in to add to the tribe here that if you were raised by emotional wolves that were essentially tearing you down as you were growing up, spending your 20s and 30s (or longer) having to do what I think of as just not bleed out while you figure out where your wounds are and stop them bleeding is 100% both understandable and really annoying.

I'm turning 50 soon and lately I've been mourning some of that lost time as well. Mine manifests differently, in a way your mirror image -- I wrote a book in my 20s, burned the disks, convinced myself that I had nothing original to say about the depths of the human soul, went into women's magazines and wrote thousands of words, some I'm proud of, most about the latest chicken pot pie recipe, had it's a pandemic and I feel like all that's important really is the human soul and understanding because so many people seem to lack that.

So I'm sitting here looking at my next half-finished manuscript that I actually think does have something to say, and thinking no one will take me seriously as a middle aged, wrinkly, first-time novelist. And I'm like, newly angry that I spent years in therapy basically literally chasing pieces of myself down, disbelieving everything about myself, realizing how much garbage I was carrying...but then throwing myself out with the garbage in a way? The baby out with the bathwater?

It sounds to me like your response to your parents' using money to abuse you, which they did, was to shove it away. Hey. That is what kept you safe then.

That is what you needed to do then, because you were raised by fucking wolves.

Now you're looking at it. None of the things you listed - stock market, bitcoin - are how I've handled money.

I would suggest that you a) forgive yourself and b) do the thing that (this is a theme for me this morning) c-ptsd people have a really hard time doing, which is engage an expert. Hire someone you pay (if you don't pay them, a financial company is, which isn't good for you) and sit down and work out a plan to get yourself from A to wherever you want to go. Then you can just - follow that plan, try to calm down that judgy brain. Money is something loads of people never get right. I hear you that you want to do that, and that's okay too. Just do yourself the favour of offloading both the guilt and the planning.

You're here, you're okay, it's going to be okay.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:48 AM on December 10, 2020 [14 favorites]

To build on what some of the other commenters have added, I think another thing that hurts those of us who were raised by emotional wolves (love that framing, warriorqueen) is the gap between what we feel we "should" be as adults (not traumatised, able to keep our shit together, able to name our emotions, able to handle our finances) and the adults we actually are.

I was super resistant to some of the therapy tools like lists of emotions, because I felt like I shouldn't need them. But I did.

Things got easier when I stopped fighting the gap between what I am and what I feel I ought to be. Shouldn't need years of therapy just to feel even vaguely normal as an adult. But I do. Shouldn't need a list of feelings to understand what I'm feeling. But I do. Yours might be "shouldn't need an outside expert to help me manage money", but if you do, you do.

It sucks and it's part of the grieving process (I suspect the pain of the gap between what we feel we should be and what we are is primarily a grief thing), but the more you can stop fighting it, the more you can access help and continue to help yourself.
posted by terretu at 5:09 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

As a fellow poor person living in a country different from where she was born, a person with an unruly brain and demonstrably, deeply flawed parents, allow me to say this: the only way ahead is forward. I wasted years of my life mired in regret about my earlier years. Consider that. I spent my emotional time either regretting the past or fearing the future.

I spent lots of money on therapy and it helped. The number one thing that helped me was discovering Al-Anon, the fellowship for friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts. It helped me understand, over the years of meetings, just how powerless I was then and I am now. I had no control over my parents and I today have no control over my past. The only thing I ever have is this moment right here. And I can decide to be grateful for what I have, make a plan to get what I want (after judging whether or not it’s realistic to attempt to get the thing I want), and try to enjoy my life as best I can.

In this Instagram Internet broadcast world, it is very difficult not to compare ourselves with what other people have or with what other people say we should have. Yet many people who have those things are deeply unhappy. Every day, after I wake up, I try to think of a few things that make me grateful. They don’t have to be new things, and I only think of a few. That way it’s not a burden for me to feel grateful. It’s just a little exercise to remind me that I do have things and experiences for which to be grateful. And that helps protect me against the inevitable and guaranteed hard things that I also face, as all humans do.

It’s not fair that you had abusive parents; please don’t make it worse by blaming yourself for your past. All any of us can do is start from where we are and do the best we can with what we have. In that regard, we are all the same. I found Al-Anon and it made my life better, but only after I stopped being angry and bitter that I was so old when I discovered it.

Your life literally could not have been any different than it was until now. Please try to remember that. Remembering that is how I got past the shame and rage and embarrassment and anger and all the other feelings about my own past. I became a healthier, more productive, happier, and kinder human being only after I realized I needed to be those things and was not struggling for emotional survival. I finally learned how to be those things when and only when that was possible for me. (To be fair, in my case that also required better medication.)

You are lovable. You are resourceful. You have survived nightmarish things. Please explore resources to stop hating on yourself. Message me if you want to know about some financial education resources. I am rooting for you.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:09 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have a lot of regrets about my past, mostly in the area of relationships and how I treated people when I was in my early 20s. The phrase that helps me the most is, "I did the best that I could with the tools I had at the time."

Be kind to yourself - you were not given the foundation of love, security, and pragmatism by your parents that would've enabled you to make different decisions. You worked with what you had, as we all do.

I was raised in an abusive household, with an unstable parent, and the picture of marriage that I saw was deeply dysfunctional. When I started having adult relationships, those were the only tools that I had. But I worked on myself and kept learning, and made conscious decisions to change and develop better tools, and recognizing that helps me soothe the regrets.

I think this can also help with your concerns about therapy - it does cost money, but it will help you develop better tools, and working on yourself and growing can help put the past into perspective.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 6:25 AM on December 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

I relate to this question a lot, having had some VERY VERY VERY irresponsible financial behavior in the past for which I feel extensive shame which is compounded by having very wealthy siblings who are, like, considering their 3rd vacation home and consider a quick jaunt around Italy by sailboat to be a casual low-key vacation.

So, I thought I'd share with you a visualization/mental approach I use to help myself and maybe it works for you, or inspires your own approach to it.

I think of my irresponsible financial habits like one of those HUGE container ships carrying tons and tons of cargo. Once they get going, it's hard to slow them down. Hard to stop them. Hard to turn them around. Hard to pick up momentum again. But once that momentum gets going, it makes pretty good progress pretty quickly!

So I identified my "financial turnaround" plan - my plan was very similar to the Dave Ramsey stuff in some ways but not a total fit. I identified the changes with different parts of the ship turning around. Learning to keep to a budget was slowing down the ship. Paying off credit cards every month/never carrying debt/never paying consumer interest was turning them around. Creating an emergency fund was beginning to pick up momentum, paying off old consumer debt was speeding up, and now I am chugging along with little-to-no-consumer debt, and contributing significantly to cash savings and retirement.

This was about a 5 year process!!!! Each individual part moved very slowly! And I still feel bad sometimes - I don't have enough. I'm not close enough to the finish line. Etc. etc. But I remind myself HOW HARD it was to turn that ship around and at each stage I have tried to give myself immense credit for even starting that process. So that now, when I still feel I don't have enough, it's a pretty ingrained habit to think about how hard that ship was to turn around at all, and pat myself on the back for what I have done so far.
posted by MustangMamaVE at 7:27 AM on December 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear you are struggling with this, but the awareness of what is going on with you is a huge win for you!!

I spent my childhood surviving an alcoholic and abusive father in a house that never talked about money. My relationship with money in my teens through about age 35 was awful becasue I was still in survival mode through much of my early adult life. Decades of bad decisions and frivilous spending led to a breaking point. Back in the day when Suze Orman was prominent on shows, we started listening to her and the ways she talked about your relationship to money being an indicator of a worldview. We started then on what we called lockdown. A strict budget for necessities only and paying off credit card debt. We spent close to 15 years telling friends, sorry, we can't go out to dinner with you, or if we do it has to be pizza, telling ourselved not to feel guilty about not buying extravagant gifts for the nieces and nephews for christmas, facing the hard reality of questions like "sure $10,000 to the vet would give us another 6 months with an old ailing dog, but is that the best decision?" I vividly remember an argument we had because I spent $6 at a used book sale.

Every debt that zeroed out felt better than anything we previously spent money on. I've been fortunate to have a good career path and have been working steadily since a teenager, but there were an entire decade where I took side jobs waiting tables at night and stocking shelves on the weekend to earn extra money to PAY OFF THE DEBT. It was a rough 15 years but I can happily say now that it is over, it's the best feeling ever.

I still worry that all of my 401k saving are going to be wiped out a la an Enron-type situation, but no one can predict the future.

If you are saving any money, even $10 per paycheck, that's something. It will grow and you will start to feel better seeing it grow. I highly recommend working some side jobs even if they are outside of your profession or even interest. I might still be digging out of debt if it weren't for those tips!
posted by archimago at 8:10 AM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

This isn't about money at all, in my opinion. Money was a major part of the abuse you suffered, and has become the proxy for that abuse. Because of that abuse, you've developed money issues and are now beating yourself up for that.

One thing I heard a few years ago that really resonated with me is that middle-aged life is about the grief and mourning of coming to terms with the future that hasn't (and won't) happened, and being at peace with it - this also includes the decisions that lead to your current situation. It's sometimes hard to see the good things that have happened or choices we've made and I think it's somewhat human nature to dwell on what isn't, wasn't, or won't be, and the decisions we made along the way that caused it. I'm a huge proponent of counseling/therapy - maybe I just grew up in an environment that wasn't emotionally fostering, but counseling/therapy was the key to my being able to recognize and cope with certain emotions. Please continue down that path if you have the ability to do so - it works wonders and I can't recommend it highly enough

Middle age disappointment (especially in the choices we made/didn't make) and fear is a thing - you aren't alone. Quarantine probably isn't helping any but I'm hoping we're approaching that light at the end of the tunnel. Stick with it, don't be too hard on yourself, and remember that what you are feeling is normal and probably way more common than you think. Do the best you can, and that's enough. Talk it out, don't be afraid to name and acknowledge your feelings, and above all, learn to love yourself as you are.
posted by _DB_ at 8:47 AM on December 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

- Your friends were lucky in ways you weren’t. Decent mental health is a privilege.

- Lots of people have had to start fresh in midlife. People on the losing end of divorce, those who’ve been unlucky in business (imagine being a high-overhead small business owner affected by COVID), immigrants, people who’ve been injured or ill. (Abraham Lincoln too, I understand?) Also people affected by natural disaster (eg flooding). Like them, and unlike the people you’re comparing yourself to, you’ve been deeply affected by trauma for which you’re not to blame. Like them, you need to focus on what you can do going forward.

It’s appropriate to grieve lost time and unfairness - to a point (which would be, not for an inordinately long time, not to the point of severe distress or dysfunction). It would benefit you to shift framing and focus on your internal resources at this point. It sucks that those years were lost. What can you do NOW? (A lot, by the sounds of it!)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:02 AM on December 10, 2020

Oh my. You spent your 20s doing what was most important: clawing yourself out of an abusive and terrible family situation and reclaiming yourself as a human with worth. This sort of baseline work is so important. Your mom spent years telling you you were terrible with your money; now you are telling yourself you were terrible with money. Don't let her message become your self-talk.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:23 PM on December 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

You should, if you can manage it, be a bit proud of yourself just for getting through all of that. Because that's awesome, YOU are awesome and I'm in awe. Seriously, I'm impressed.
You are a good person, you are worthy, and it's going to get better. You're resourceful and resilient, you have proven as much; if misfortune comes your way, you'll find a way to deal.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:52 PM on December 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wow, have you ever been gaslit into hating yourself. This is painful to read. I don't want at all to sound mean here -- I want to give you the biggest gentlest hug possible. I'm so sorry that you believe so thoroughly in someone else's idea of "responsible".

It sounds very much like that whole idea of "responsible" had nothing to do with responsibility or finances, it was just another tool in the toolbox of controlling you.

There are other people here who've given you great ideas about how to deal with the PTSD from what you were raised in. I just wanted to point out: you seem to have fully bought into an external idea of what "responsible" is, and that in my humble opinion you should work on wiping the idea slate clean and start over. Find and develop your own independent idea for that word that has nothing to do with where you started from.

It sounds like you've successfully supported yourself financially for your entire adult life. That's a pretty big check mark for "responsible" in my book.

"Counting pennies" does not make you irresponsible, by the way, and even people who own houses still count them, you just don't see them do it.

But most of your post isn't about finances. It's about this self-hate you've been taught. Please, please replace that idea in your head. Close their toolbox and open your own.
posted by Dashy at 3:04 PM on December 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

Mid-forties is not too late to achieve financial stability. You've spent the first half of your life living one way, and you can spend the second half of your life living another way. There are long decades ahead of you, and you can choose to spend those decades living in the past, beating yourself up, and telling yourself the words your mother told you when you were younger. OR you can choose to spend the decades ahead working persistently and diligently to create the life you want for yourself.

If you so decide, you can change your life. I don't know enough about you to tell you how (and likely couldn't tell you even if I did know you), but there is always a way.

Can you figure out a way to generate revenue from your hobbies? Can you invest in real estate in your home country? Can you try selling one thing on the internet and treat it like a game? Not sure these will work for you, but they're examples of how you might be able to think creatively, side hustle, and invest the side hustle money to create the cushion you want.
posted by saltypup at 5:16 PM on December 10, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. I have read and re-read all of these answers many times over the last few days and appreciate the effort that everyone made. I found some real wisdom here and will now look for ways to find a path forward that is true to who I really am.
posted by chiorlemas at 1:02 AM on December 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

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