3 Signs You Grew Up With Poor Parents — And It's Affecting You Now

Growing up without money can be so impactful there are even therapists who specialize in what's called "financial trauma."

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Trauma has become such a buzzword in recent years that most of us are far more familiar with it than previous generations.

We tend to think of trauma as coming from discrete events like natural disasters or incidences of abuse, but there's another form that might fly under the radar for many people, despite being just as insidious —financial trauma. 

If you grew up with poor parents, you likely have some form of financial trauma, and it's probably affecting you now. 

Financial trauma is a common experience, and only becoming more common as issues like inflation, wage stagnation, skyrocketing housing costs and plummeting housing availability eat away at our wallets at the same time issues like war and climate change bode poorly for the future.


But financial trauma is more than just jitters about the economy. For many people, it goes way, way back — all the way to childhood, in fact, and many therapists say your first memory of money or finances can shape the way you view and handle them throughout your life.

Writer D.E. Anderson recently tweeted about both how little-known financial trauma is to many people and how deep it goes. "I heard a new term today that stuck with me: 'financial trauma'" Anderson tweeted, "like you know patterns that people who don't have a lot of money have to break when they finally get a steady paycheck? That's trauma."


D.E. Anderson financial trauma tweetPhoto: Twitter

That trauma is very real. In fact, some in the mental health field have been advocating for poverty to be added to the list of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, traumatic events in childhood that are related to poor mental health and social outcomes — including, in a vicious bit of irony, long-term poverty that extends well into adulthood.

In short, if you grew up with poor parents, it's probably had a profound impact on you — and likely is to this day.


Here are three ways financial trauma might be affecting you now.

1. Anxiety, avoidance and PTSD-like symptoms that arise when confronted with financial matters.

Yes, the impact of financial trauma can be that pronounced. Research psychologist Galen Buckwalter, an expert on financial trauma, says the impacts frequently mimic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "It interferes with the person’s ability to carry out normal work and home life functions, and manifests in multiple areas of the person’s being," he told Forbes.

For some, this could manifest as true PTSD symptoms, like panic attacks. For others, it comes up as anxiety and avoidance — refusing to open your bills, to make a budget or, in some cases, to even talk about your finances.

2. Overspending or underspending.

People who grew up with poor parents often end up compensating for the stress and deprivation their parents' financial woes caused them as kids. Some become spendthrifts — the good ol' "bad with money" types. Some people with financial trauma will try to make up for the scarcity they endured as kids by letting themselves have whatever they want as adults, even if they can't afford it. 



On the other hand, others with financial trauma become tightwads and cheapskates — or "frugal," if you feel like being more charitable. Either way, these types compensate for their upbringing by either not spending at all except on necessities, or becoming deeply anxious and avoidant whenever they do. 


3. Not setting financial boundaries and inadvertently sabotaging your future.

Setting boundaries is uncomfortable in any context, but for people with financial trauma who grew up with poor parents, money can be one of the hardest ones. This means that when it comes to things like setting up clear terms in financial arrangements or things like salary negotiations is something they'll avoid at all costs. 

Likewise when it comes to advocating for themselves in situations like job searches or asking for raises. People with financial trauma are more likely to remain in a dead-end job or keep quiet about their desire to be paid more for fear they'll mess up what they do have and end up out of a job entirely. Better the devil you know, of course. 

Judging from the replies to Anderson's tweet, there are a lot of people out there for whom the concept of financial trauma resonates, and the data tells us why.

Studies have shown that 25% of Americans have financial trauma.

And, surprise surprise, Millennials have it even worse, with 1 in 3 experiencing it.




Luckily, there are ways to move beyond it. Recognizing financial anxiety for what it is and learning your triggers is a good first step, according to experts, as is pushing back against avoidant behavior when it comes to money. And if you need a bit more help than that, there are mental health professionals who specifically focus on financial trauma. 

John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.