The Emotional Charge of Money and Currencies of Worth

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Money as we know it today is a system of exchange — but it is no longer a neutral system. It’s a sprawling, dominant monopoly that can leave individuals feeling worthless. Is there another way?

Money is a medium of exchange, representing time, effort, service; fundamentally speaking it’s an exchange of energy. Money is a marker of value, and has become such a dominant method of exchange that it now enables our survival. It is inextricably linked to deep emotions, anxieties and fear. It’s an area which, strangely, tends to be ignored in therapy, as people categorise emotions as within the territory of relationships, while money is a purely practical issue, or a kind of neutral, objective source of stress.

The money narrative we’ve constructed for ourselves throughout our lives is every bit as complex and foundational as our stories regarding love. Hence it requires engagement on a personal level, and to be called by name. It’s worth investigation on the micro-level, as an integral part of people’s lives, inextricable from matters of worth and power. Unfortunately, though, sticking to this level can lead to an overly simplistic view in which taking your worth into your own hands leads to abundance, without considering the macro-level critically. While any internal blocks to making money may well be removed in this way, we no longer actually live in a world in which money is simply a neutral means of exchange. The kind of voracious global capitalism which has pretty much a monopoly on means of exchange at this moment in time is not neutral, but has hijacked the system of exchange in the interests of the few, relatively speaking.

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Money becomes the be all and end all, the central value of life in a capitalist society which is all about individual accumulation. On the other hand, the crassness of this leads to an opposing view that it’s somehow irrelevant to ‘the real stuff’ of life.

The ‘real stuff’ of life is about human relationships, about universal human experiences like birth, sickness and death, and how humans help and support each other. The separation of the realm of money from the realm of caring has huge implications. Work which involves caring for others is some of the worst paid and least valued that there is. Urging women, who disproportionately do this kind of work, to value themselves, become empowered and therefore have more to offer others by getting out of this line of work, is fair enough on an individual level, but if everyone were to do so there would be a serious lack in society. In fact there already is. Also, not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. It seems to me that people should be valued for what their skills and desires actually are, rather than creating a two-tier system of ‘those who value themselves’ and make money, and those who, by implication, don’t.

Bernard Lietaer, the leading economist responsible for key features of the euro, holds the view that the present almost total dominance of the monetary system is a major factor in the plundering and depletion of the earth’s resources. He claims that monetary diversity is as vital to human survival as bio-diversity is to the planet; he advocates the use of different currencies for different purposes, such as business to business currencies, and community currencies based on collaboration rather than competition, including bartering and other kinds of exchange. This, he argues, would enable resources to flow in the direction of the kind of activities which strengthen the social fabric and nurture and repair the environment — activities which are vital in order to create a sustainable world, and those which tend to be the most constrained by lack of funds.

While I am no expert on financial matters and have not followed Lietaer’s extensive research in any detail, I think his general point makes a lot of sense. The fact that caring roles are recompensed in exactly the same way as the provision of goods and that scientific research and health care are increasingly dependent on funding from drug companies who make and sell things might be interpreted and solved in various different ways. But separating matters out into different types of currency and strengthening those involving human bonds and our relationship to the natural world within their own sphere, seems like a very good idea. It could not only improve human chances of survival on the planet, as Lietaer argues, but could also dramatically improve the quality and engagement with life of many anxious and depressed people suffering right now in a system which effectively designates them and their values as worthless.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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