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Does Money Grow On Trees? How Money Can Be a Tool of Control For Parental Narcissists

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Article By Sally Davis, guest writer 


“Money Makes The World Go Around” - as the saying goes! In addition, given the world we live in with the focus on consumerism and material ownership as defining our value, many people may well agree with this saying.

However, do we ever think about where our views on money come from? It could be seemingly funny that given our attachment to money and the importance it has in our life that we rarely question our relationship with money and how we feel about it.

In this article, our guest writer Sally Davis explain how our relationship with money, like many things, often comes from our parents' relationship with it. In particular she explains:

  1. That Narcissists parents will use money to keep their children dependent on them emotionally and unable to function without them.

  2. They will use guilt as part of this control and expect their children to feel extremely grateful for giving them money which they earnt through “hard sacrifices”

  3. Emotional Boundaries need to be created through the use of money and expect resistance as a parents ability to control their children is “cut off through ending narcissistic supply”

What can we learn from Sally’s experience?

1. That our relationship with money comes from our childhood conditioning - However because we are usually only part of one family, we only know what we experience! Therefore we take what we experience as being “the way things should be” rather than “it’s the way that we have subjectively experienced” and as a result know no better.

2. Why the support of an outside mentor is critical - Because we only know what we experience - we need help to identify our blindsides from someone that is not emotionally attached to our past. So often we will defend our parents or others that we are close to because we see what they are doing as “love” when it is not at all. This can be very painful and needs someone who can challenge our existing views of seeing the world and in particular how we see our parents.

For The Love of Money

“Money is the root of all evil” I was told as a child. However, this is a misquote. The Bible quote from Timothy 6:10 actually states “For the love of money is the root of all evil”.

This is very different and learning this in my mid-twenties felt like far too late in my life to learn this. Financial currency is an incredibly powerful measure of value, but it is not the only measure of value. In my childhood, “human currency” was not something which I was taught or understood, because on the one hand, my mother would tell me that there are “some things that money just can’t buy” and yet my dad would work all hours the day sent because “he had to put food on the table”.  This was an exaggeration as my father owned his own business, we had a big house, our fridge was never empty and did not ever experience going hungry, but the exaggeration was never reality-checked and corrected accordingly, so we always did feel like all those sacrifices were being made because without them we would perish.

What money was very realistically controlling however, was my father’s perception of how he used his time, and I experienced money as being the thing that took my father away from spending time with the family. This false perception amongst others only got worse over time and particularly when I was old enough to start earning money of my own.

The Financial Burden

Breadwinners can often use the excuse that their love is shown in their action: in working to provide financially for the family and that because of that person’s efforts at work, we have all that we have. But this can also be used as a bargaining chip. As a child, I was supposed to understand time spent away from us was something I was supposed to be grateful for. Not only did this confuse my understanding of money but it confused my understanding of love. When financial strains did come, the tying up of my value as a human being, as a daughter, was very tied up with the monetary. Suddenly the little I had or was getting as an allowance was a big financial burden to my father and rather than speak to me with kindness, there were taunts, blame and manipulation.

Money As Power - The Damage This Causes

In “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”, Dr Susan Forward writes “money has always been a primary language of power, making it a logical tool for controlling parents. Many toxic parents use money to keep their children dependent”.

At age 16, I was screamed at by my father repeatedly about money which resulted in me seeking some budgeting advice from my mother and consequently presenting my balanced accounts and quarterly accounts (like a stakeholder meeting) so that my father could evaluate how I was spending my money, which he saw as his money. The emotional impact of this was an intense amount of fear, discomfort and scarcity - like I didn’t deserve the little amount I was given. Yet I was expected to be grateful, especially if my father made any other purchases for me above what my allowance was. I was grateful, but whilst the love of money is the root of all evil, there is a lot of pain that is caused in perpetuating the notion that money IS love. 

Guilt Through Money

In the book, “Toxic Parents” Dr Forward talks about a patient she had called Kim whose father would taunt her and her husband with fluctuating generosity and threats of withdrawing financial support. It is clear that a controlling parent will use money as and when it suits them but always to reinforce their idea of themselves. Either as very generous or because others aren’t expecting how you would expect them to behave or want them to behave.

A friend of mine in the US, Michelle*, told me recently about how her mother used to buy her clothes from all sorts of shops and was expected to pay back what her mother had spent on the clothes, whether she liked them or not.

When she tried to return them, her mother would get extremely upset and make her feel bad and ungrateful for the gesture. She also told me about how her parents had allowed her access to a family car when she was still in high school, her parents covered all the costs of the insurance and tax, all she had to do was pay the gas. This was a really generous arrangement from her parents that allowed her a great deal of autonomy. However, whenever Michelle would fill up the gas tank in preparation to go and see her boyfriend or go to visit friends with the small amount of money she had saved from babysitting jobs in her local neighbourhood, her mother would take that car to run errands around town, shop for hours or even take her younger sibling for driving lessons.

When Michelle got the car back she would have to fill up the gas tank again. It happened enough that Michelle was depleting her savings. In frustration that she could never raise the issue with her mother who would always accuse her of being ungrateful and, as the technical owner of the asset of the car, Michelle felt like she could never say anything. 

I found the more I was reminded that I needed to be grateful for all that I had by my parents who were controlling me financially, the more I stopped actually appreciating their support because I grew to resent it.

When my dad’s corporate phone contract included my phone, I absolutely hated that I had to call my dad to check the account every time something went wrong with my phone. It wasn’t a benevolent act which I could be grateful to receive, it was treated like one of my expenses for which they were footing the bill and my father in particular never let me forget it and which granted him emotional and manipulative control over me. I was provided for and given certain luxuries, like having a phone in the same way that Michelle was provided with a car but the small print always meant that there were emotionally damaging drawbacks to the whole transaction.

At the end of the day, it didn’t strengthen the relationship with trust as it ought to have and it wasn’t like the providing of those financial or material assets worked out as an investment that would be paid back in kind, instead, it ended up being a drain of financial resources and a large withdrawal from the ‘emotional bank account’ of our relationship. 

Creating a Boundary

Michelle’s experience of her parent’s financial control was more in the struggle of who pays and who owes, whereas my experience was my parents’ expectation to maintain total financial oversight and transparency from me. The lessons I learned about budgeting off the back of learning how to do basic accounting (so that my father wouldn’t shout at me though remember) did hold me in good stead in my personal life and in my career whenever basic accountancy skills were needed for office expenses or business trip expenses.

However, even becoming fully financially independent from my father or any other member of my family still did not stop my parents and eventually even my siblings from getting involved in my finances for many years. Questions like “are you managing to build up your savings?”, “do you have savings at the moment?”, “do you pay for your own council tax?” or even “do you think you’ll be saving up for a deposit or getting a mortgage soon?”I have realised were subtle narcissistic ways of ‘marginalising’ me and sussing out where I was financially.

What was revealed was that these questions were not actually about my wellbeing but were instead about narcissistically controlling me when I started creating and implementing boundaries to reclaim my financial independence and privacy. Saying to my family, “look you’ve been really interested in my finances for the last few years and you’ve had your opinions about it, but really that’s my business, I am an adult now, so I don’t really want to talk about it anymore”. Immediately this was a problem and they got really upset, they weren’t used to not being able to meddle in my business, because their narcissistic control and supply was being cut off. I wasn’t financially dependent on them so they had no reason to get involved in my financial affairs either. 

Your Finances Are Your Business, Get Advice From Someone Not Attached To You

In his TEDtalk about schools killing creativity, the late Sir Ken Robinson makes a small but powerful comment about education running deep with people along with religion and money. I have observed that he is absolutely right. Talking to someone about money, how they view investments, savings, scarcity or abundance, spending a lot or nothing at all, it all reveals a lot about a person and often a lot of judgement can be attached.

Whether it’s thinking that people around us spend too much money or not enough, or not on the right things. Everyone has their opinions. Because of this, when growing and developing ourselves, we need to be all the more aware of how we may be taking on someone else’s financial advice or developing an understanding of monetary value as our own. 

You can still practice gratitude for all that you have been given and all that you have in a healthy way, not in a way where you experience guilt or shame in relation to your financial situation as a result of anyone else’s opinion. The best thing I did to gain full financial independence and freedom from narcissistic monetary control from my parents was seeking independent advice.

I was able to save money, make financial investments, take risks in a way that was based on my own flourishing financial (and with that mental and emotional) independence. This is still something my family struggle with today as they try to project their own view of finances onto me, but I now simply reply with a polite and humble “that is my business.”

*Names in this article have been changed to protect identity.

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10 comentarios

James Mills
James Mills
06 may 2022

Thank you Sally for sharing your personal experiences. It's tragic how parents will use money as a means to manipulate and control rather than teaching them how to use it wisely. When I used to do workshops on budgeting in schools what we very evident was how pretty much no children had their parents help them with this. And then I read your example where even teaching you about money was used as a manipulating tactic! It's sad how so many children feel that money is more important than them... no wonder so many suffer from self-esteem issues.

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06 may 2022

Thank you Sally, I have never even heard of anything like what you went through with your family and by educating people out there who are going through this right now, they can understand what they are going through is NOT normal and is toxic and damaging.

I think what you shared about questioning where our opinions on money come from, and anything actually, is something we are not even aware we ought to do. Money is used manipulatively within and outside of families and I think most people will have done things, said things, been involved in things, sold out, stayed silent and so much more because of their attachment to money or the threat of it being used…

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Daniel Schmitz
Daniel Schmitz
06 may 2022

Thanks Sally for writing about an area that causes a lot of pain and suffering in the lives of people, often because of our own conditioning in regards to money. I like what you are sharing about just having one pair of parents and so we often believe what our parents teach us is the truth. This can limit us massively later on in life. So, your article makes me question, what is possible if my understanding of money and the use of it as accurate. Thank you so much!

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Jai Singh
Jai Singh
06 may 2022

Thanks for sharing so honestly Sally unfortunately money has been used as a weapon in my family and at the heart of the online trolling on Reddit and the tiny handful of people who went to the mail it’s all about money and bitterness. Parents who aren’t successful seem to think that they have a right to decide what children do and don’t do with their money. I appreciate you sharing how controlling this is.

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26 ene 2022

Money is a very emotive topic and as you shared, everyone has an opinion. My attitude and relationship towards money has been a big area of learning in my own mentorship. I definitely learnt my attitudes about money from my parents. Although we always had enough to live comfortably, my Dad would always say things like money doesn't grow on trees, so I had a wry smile on my face when I read the title of the article! The help of my mentors Tom and Warren has been crucial to help me understand my conditioned programmes about money and to start to develop a healthier relationship with money.

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