A Radical Mother Breaks the Silence on Financial Violence, Trauma and Being a Rugged Individual

Financially induced trauma has consumed my life. It’s taken me a long time to recognize it, even though I have not been alone in this experience. Since the 2008 economic collapse financially induced trauma has fueled untold personal violence against good people who have lost jobs, investments, security, retirement, homes and lives.

As an artist, a mother, and a grandmother, living both a more risky (and therefore outside of the box life) it is easy for me to point the finger at myself or heartily accept the blame if someone else points it at me. After all, the dominant rhetoric says we are responsible for everything that befalls us. And I’ve heard it all my life: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you get a real job? Why don’t you put your kids in school? What makes you think you have the right to try and live on a single income? You never had a real job in your life, why should I hire you now? Why didn’t you save for a rainy day? Why do you cut things so close to the edge?

Unlike many of the people who followed all the rules and lost everything anyway, I’ve broken most rules and somehow that means I shouldn’t have the right to complain because it’s my “own damned fault”. Yet because I have lived on the outskirts of a monetized system as a stay-at-home mom, I can be either the perfect scapegoat or the canary that has figured how to fly out of the coal mine. It’s all embedded in what I told my kids as they were growing up:

Be kind and ask for help if you need it.

Being young children, I told it to them as one sentence because the two concepts were inseparable. Kindness has far reaching possibilities— being kind to yourself might mean eating good food, but if you need to create a scaffolding of chairs to reach the cabinet that contains the peanut butter— you better ask for help. If the kids and I could follow these rules, then we were well on our way to holding untold freedom within safe perimeters.

When it comes to the concept of personal responsibility and social connections we all buy into the idea that it is taboo to talk about finances; that is, unless we are bragging about how much we made. Especially in America where young lovers are actually checking the credit scores of their dates, we are expected to keep the trauma of our a financial burdens hidden away, something more dirty than perhaps being raped, because somewhere deep down, it had to have been our own fault. Financial flaws, economic insolvency, and economic illiteracy are paramount immoral sins. They are catchall phrases reserved for deviants because to speak the word forgiveness, or jubilee, or to ask for help is unheard of.

I watched a you tube the other day with a talking head saying one shouldn’t forgive student loan debts because “they knew what they were getting into when they took out those loans.” Really? If a man falls out of a boat and is drowning we shouldn’t throw a life preserver because he knew that water could be dangerous? If an elderly woman who doesn’t walk well asks for help to reach a door, should we tell her she should have known better that she would be old one day? Does it matter if she had a retirement account that just up and disappeared so she can’t afford that wheel chair? Who here has never made a mistake? And who here has NOT been hurt by the economic crash?

Regardless of anything I may have been able to have done differently to create a larger safety net, there is no denying that I would NOT be in this position if it weren’t for forces outside of my control, (and yes we did save for a rainy day and it’s the degraded value of those investments that have kept us afloat this long— that, and a lot of help from my family.)

When Ron lost his job I was filled with fear, anger, and feelings of betrayal. It came unexpectedly. As a rugged individualist, I scrambled for any crack I could find: from taking out-of-state jobs, to getting yet another degree because the financial aid might help pay for the mortgage on the farm, or at least hold us over until something better came along. It never occurred to me that I was traumatized, and like any other kind of trauma, it would’ve helped to talk to a kind listener. It would have helped if that listener didn’t give me a laundry list of things I might have done to avoid the trauma.

Now as I stand here, the kindest thing I can do is to end the silence of financial trauma and to recognize that it is best to ask for help, because I am NOT super woman, and the scaffolding of insane complexity to save my farm will not hold another chair. So, if you can help, please do. But even if you can’t, please share my story, because it might help someone else break the silence of financial trauma. I am not a fool. I know there are others who are hurting more than I am, but I hope my confession of dealing with a mortgage default will get others talking. By sharing this story, I hope you might open a floodgate of countless confessions, one that will bring loving and kind dialogue between family members about their financial dealings, because in spite of what the dominate narrative says, it is not their moral problem.

It is not a sin to need help; nor is it to ask for it. If that were the case, no one would ever be born. Human beings need one another more than any other species. It’s the part of Darwin’s theory that gets little spotlight. The only negative morality belongs with the ones that call Wall Street their financial home, the ones who think they are fittest to survive, and all others be damned. In a family we help one another. We take turns in a partnership for the good of us all, and if one of us falls, we lend a hand.

Wake up, dear friends, we’ve all just had the financial shock of our lives, and we need to stop pointing fingers at ourselves. We’ve all been shocked and traumatized— and if you are looking at the ones who are scrambling to make ends meet as the bad guys, you are looking in the wrong place.

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2 thoughts on “A Radical Mother Breaks the Silence on Financial Violence, Trauma and Being a Rugged Individual

  1. Yes, Karen, thanks for adding your strong voice to one of the most pressing crises of our time. Your story beautifully illustrates what a crisis is – a time of danger and a time of opportunity. You are so right about the urgency for us to awaken and to use this as a time to band together, to stand with each other – from your lips…

  2. Thanks, Jo. Coming from a therapist who specializes in trauma I consider that a very deep compliment. I have been one who has examined my motives throughout my life, always checking if I am acting from a place which is grounded in love and life-honoring thinking. The thing that surprised me most during this recent situation was how long it took me to get my head above water to recognize how traumatized I was about our finances. I even took a college class on debt and culture, and still my vulnerability was so raw I wasn’t willing to admit it, never mind share with others. in addition to saving the farm from default, I truly hope I can spark a values based dialogue about money.

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