Many people experience setbacks or life circumstances that result in temporarily relying on others for financial help. Being financially dependent in the longer term, however, is a financial disorder. It is defined in Facilitating Financial Health as “reliance on others for non-work income that creates fear or anxiety of being cut off, feelings of anger or resentment related to the non-work income, and a stifling of one’s motivation, passion, and/or drive to succeed.”
A common form of financial dependency involves the child of a financially enabling parent. In challenging economic times as many as 60 percent of parents provide financial support to non-student adult children. Research shows that young adults have become significantly more financially dependent on their parents in the past few decades, a dynamic that is associated with increased parent-child conflict.
Financial dependency can take many other forms, ranging from second- or third-generation welfare families to wealthy beneficiaries of trust funds. Research shows it to be associated with lower income, singlehood, and less education. Individuals with financial dependence are also significantly more likely to have other disordered financial behaviors like compulsive shopping, gambling, and hoarding.
Despite the gains made in gender quality, many older couples still see it as “normal” for the wife to depend financially on the husband. Some young women are still socialized to be willing to accept this same dependency. Unfortunately, it can come with consequences. Financial inequality or dependence of one spouse on the other can create marital stress and is often a major reason for staying an abusive relationship. In one study, 46 percent of domestic violence victims reported a lack of money as being a significant reason for them to return to their abusers.
At the core of this disorder is a desire to have someone else take care of you, which ultimately is the basic human need of being seen, heard, valued, and loved. It is normal for young children to look to caregivers to anticipate and meet their needs. It isn’t normal for them to physically mature into adulthood without emotionally maturing to a place of understanding that as adults they, not others, are in charge of getting their needs met.
If you believe financial dependency might be a factor in your relationship with money, you might ask yourself the following questions from Facilitating Financial Health:
- Does a significant portion of your income come from money (trust fund, compensation payments, shares in a family-owned business, etc.) that you do nothing to earn?
- Is your first response to a financial crisis to ask parents or other family members for money?
- Do you feel that the money you receive has strings attached?
- Do you accept or receive money from family members without discussing and making clear arrangements for its repayment?
- Do you often feel resentment and anger related to money you receive?
- Do you believe or fear that you would be incapable of managing without the money you receive from others?
- Do you have significant fear or anxiety that you will be cut off from your non-work income?
- Do you believe that your receiving money from others stifles your motivation, passion, creativity, or drive to achieve?
Like other money disorders, financial dependency is rooted in a person’s financial history, childhood wounding, and foundational beliefs. Exploring those roots is the first step toward overcoming dependency, taking responsibility for your personal finances, and building healthier, more confident relationships with others in your life as well as with money.