Are Your Grandparents Hijacking Your Financial Success?

Are Your Grandparents Hijacking Your Financial Success?

Money was tight in the O’Keefe household. My mother had one of those black and white marbled composition notebooks that documented the family fortunes. Every penny that came in or went out was noted with great precision. The balance left over at the end of the month was very little. The notebook had one other use. It could be waived in my face if I had the audacity to ask for something other than bare necessities. It got to the point that I stopped asking. 


My Mom was born in 1920. She was 9 when she lost her mother. Then the stock market crashed and her family went from kinda poor to really poor. We’re talking mayonnaise sandwich poor. But she was resilient. She became a teacher and even drove a convertible. She learned to manage her money and even with 5 kids in 6 years and only my father’s paycheck, she wasn’t going to let our family get in the red no matter how much I wanted a BB gun. 


Her dad, my grandfather, couldn’t hold down a job and wasn’t allowed to be alone with the children ( just the idea of this is embarrassing and creepy. So don’t tell anyone.) But my mom grew up worrying about money just like her dad and his dad and his dad all the way back to revolutionary times. Scarcity runs deep in my veins. 


Scarcity, according to behavioural economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir, is the feeling of having less of something than you feel you need. And it has huge effects on your body and mind. According to Mullainathan and Shafir, believing that you don’t have enough is equivalent to dropping 13 IQ points, which is like losing an entire night of sleep. Worse yet, the more impoverished you feel the less ability you have to take the action you need to take to get yourself out of your situation. 


And before we offer some steps to undo scarcities hold on your brain and body, we need to talk about epigenetics. You know that you have DNA that transmits genetic information from your ancestors into the zygote that became you. Surrounding your DNA are proteins that both turn on and off gene expression as well as transmit a bit of something extra. 


Researchers now think that fear associations aka trauma are passed down epigenetically in those proteins for up to 5 generations. Which could account for why Will Smith, worth $200 million in 2013, shared with Oprah that he wakes up with night sweats worrying about money. It’s not just your current situation that is affecting your money situations but also the fears and pain of your ancestors thats hijacking your wealth and sense of security.  


So what do you do with this information? Well, you can either accept that you’re doomed by the money ghosts of the past or you can choose to change it by integrating the trauma that you have inherited. 


Your brain on scarcity looks a bit like this: 

  • Your transmission dies two weeks after your warranty expires. As your eyes scan the bill for $2500, the information goes up to your diencephalon and then to your amygdala where it is coded as either safe or other. 

  • If you or your ancestors have ever freaked out about a bill before, your amygdala is going to use that past experience to initiate your hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system (HPA axis) and activate a stress response. 

  • If you think you can take on this danger, your sympathetic nervous system is going to be activated and the blood is going to rush to your hands, feet and face to scream, punch or flee this challenge. 

  • If your cumulative experience has been overwhelming, you will activate your parasympathetic nervous system and shut down with all the blood rushing to your core. 

  • Now your hippocampus, the filing cabinet area of the brain is going to look for past memories of similar experiences. 


In a matter of seconds, you’ve gone from a perfectly reasonable person to either a puddle on the floor or amped up and ready for a fight – like my mother swatting her ledger book in my face when I dared to put them in the red. 

Have you ever had this happen to you: you’re having a nice day, you’re in a good mood and then you find out about an extra expense and your heart begins to race, your hands get clammy and you’re instantly an asshole. That’s your Child Brain taking charge of a moment.

So how do you get back to your reasonable, creative, problem solving self? 

Accept + Wiggle + Articulate + Repair + Engage = AWARE 

These 5 steps allow you to turn down the HPA axis and amygdala, activate the hippocampus with memories of safety, and move up into your Adult Brain (Prefrontal Cortex) where you can take action from a place of insight rather than irrationality. 

So you begin with acceptance because resistance activate the amygdala the same way scarcity does. You need to first accept that the bill exists even if you don’t like it. Next you wiggle. Move your body and release the stress hormones perpetuating the hijacking. Now you articulate how you’re feeling in order to move up into the prefrontal cortex. From your prefrontal cortex you can repair pain and trauma lodged in your epigenetics and memory systems. This is your chance to help the brain and body feel safe again, effectively integrating trauma whether it is yours or somebody else’s. And now the final step. It’s time to make that call, balance that budget, take action and engage in life with clarity and purpose. 

Want to learn more about this process? Click HERE.


Don’t just take our word for it. The next time the money goblins grab the wheel try these the AWARE process™ and see what happens. 


We’d love to hear about your experience playing with this process. Comment below.