Affluenza Cocktail: Power, Money and Gender

Dr. Roni(t) Meshie Mai Lami, MSc, PhD

Roni(t) Meshie Mai Lami

Clinical Psychologist; Hypnotherapist; Org. Psych.

Affluenza Cocktail: Power, Money and Gender

Money is the single most transformational substance in our society. It is seductive, alluring, fascinating, and perceived as greatly desirable. It is everyone’s dream.

Can this dream become a nightmare? We leave in an affluent time. Never in our history have we been flooded by materialistic choices, fast technology changes and the opportunity for high number of individuals to acquire a large sum of money. In recent years more than 136 trillion dollars were passed down from one generation to another. Despite the perceived comfort and rewards that goes with wealth, it creates many challenges. It is not surprising that Affluenza “dis-ease” and the subject of Wealth Psychology has emerged in recent years and is gaining an increased recognition.

In simple terms Affluenza is the study of the effect of money, wealth and materialism on peoples lives. It is defined by: “The effect of money, wealth, materialism or success on the individual’s subconscious, manifesting itself in unbalanced (or dysfunctional) relationships with oneself, others and money” [Lami, 2001]. Such as more is never enough, obsession with externals, experiencing feeling of low self-esteem, which in many cases is compensated by the need to be in control and dominate others.

Dealing with the effects of affluence, more often than not, is difficult and debilitating.  Money presents different sets of challenges, it magnifies the roles between the genders; it creates a strong illusion of power and control and messes up the meaning of true love and good relationships. All are derivatives of Affluenza.

There are several areas where the effects of affluence amongst the genders are relentlessly observed: in the financial inequality it creates; in an increased gender’s role stereotype; when money becomes a taboo subject; where women are considered as trophy wives’ [i.e. law self esteem, law self worth and high maintenance]; where true love is replaced with money love or gigolo love; where lack of trust interferes with true relationships, and when money cannot replace woman’s pain.  

Financial Inequality: In spite of 30 years of modern feminism and more than a decade of man’s movement, men and women still have many unresolved issues surrounding money, power work and intimacy. Although we are beginning to treat men and woman with greater equality, in the world of money the inequality between the sexes is more evident.  The more money someone has the greater the possibility of disagreement and unfairness within the power dynamics of the relationship. This is particularly true in intimate relationship where even the more self-reassured man struggles to deal with a woman who is considerably wealthier than he is. Our society is deeply run with the belief that the man is the breadwinner in the family and his success and power continuously interweaves with how much money he has.  When a man becomes intimate with a wealthy woman, his covert beliefs about role and power are called into question and he is unconsciously required to find the balance in the relationship.

For the women, particularly those who consider themselves advocates of equality, it is difficult to build a relationship with a man who earns less than they do. Why should it matter where, who or how the money comes from as long as two people are emotionally and physically compatible and happy? The sad truth relies in our culture. Our deeply internalized cultural messages have taught us that it usually does matter!

We live in a culture that equates money with power and control. It sends subliminal, and sometimes direct, messages to men that they need to have both to function as ‘respected individuals’. Thus being in a relationship with a wealthy or a successful woman puts many men into a situation that they are not equipped to deal with. The situation is also uncomfortable for women who grow to believe that the man will take care of their needs for their financial security. As a result, most wealthy women are drawn to men with equal or greater wealth, regardless of their compatibility. Therefore, both genders find themselves unable to look beyond these imposed measures…

Marrying Money Developing a healthy relationship is a challenge for all of us. However, it can be more complicated for a wealthy person who has a greater need to protect his heart and his bank account from potential ‘money hunters’. The need to discerning creates a level of mistrust in any new relationship although it is exacerbated when money is involved.

In the cultural patriarchal hierarchy we have created, it is acceptable for a wealthy man to marry a woman of lesser means. This way the traditional male power remains intact and the wealth flows in the acceptable, conventional direction – from the man to the woman. On the other hand, when a financially secured woman marries a man of a lesser means, people are too quick to assume that he has a ‘gigolo’ arrangement or that she marries beneath herself, and that she married out of depression, not being able to ‘catch’ anyone with suitable financial means. For a non-affluent workingman who married a wealthy woman as a result of true love, these cultural assumptions can seriously weaken his self-esteem to the point that he may eventually begin to question his own motives for entering the relationship.

Women’s Pain and Trophy Wives Many women, who come from a wealthy family or are married into wealth, experience the feeling of being unworthy.  “You have not earned it, and therefore are not worthy of much respect!” This is a common, direct or indirect, message they receive, in their own house and in other people’s eyes, particularly non-affluent ones.

As a result, the psychological effects it has created are damaging. Learning to accommodate their husbands and families and at times with their non-realistic demands and needs, developing a sense of deep boredom which leads to discontent, love affairs outside the marriage, their spouse’s constant absence, or their children lack of respect. It is not surprising that in a research conducted by Steinem, those women identified strongly with the following 2 groups: prostitutes and domestics. Their self-esteem was as low as that of the women in those two professions. Since it is not easy for them to change ‘employer’ as in the other professions their sense of dependence was painfully high.

Most of these women’s feelings and needs are suppressed. The unspoken message they have absorbed is that society in large does not accept, allow or understand their discontent or dissatisfaction. “You have all the comforts that money can bring, what else do you want?” The fact that they are not encouraged to find their own purpose in life creates a need for a substitute, mostly with materialistic effects. It appears that their only interest is getting involved or attending charity functions, shop, travel and ‘gossip’ with other affluent women who are in a similar position. The hidden truth is not expressed and the place where they allow their repressed pain to be expressed is in the therapy room. 

The longer those privileged women are married, the more they feel self-deprecating, lost, and fearful of losing their looks, or their husbands. They might be taking courses, but it was more to fulfill their time or increase their self-esteem. Generally they seem uncertain that they could be independent, much less have an impact on the world.

The Genders’ Role In our culture we grow up constantly bombarded with messages that men should have more power than women. As we have mentioned before, we view money as equated with power [in many cases on a subconscious level]. In the world of affluence, gender roles are even more clearly defined. From an early age your heirs are expected to excel in subjects that will ensure their ability to carry on the family fortune. However, young females are encouraged to develop talents that will attract a suitable marriage partner, for example looking good and being a gracious hostess. Any musical or artistic talents are accepted with great approval. But any signs of interest in science or business are discouraged or looked at with embarrassment. After all, in a male-domineering financial arena, it might be unacceptable for a young lady to know more than her future husband.

As J O’Neil describes in her research, the consequences of these socializations are appalling. Affluent women unconsciously choose a less financially successful path to ensure that their odds remain favorable in the relationship arena. Women with inherited wealth may downplay their financial acumen in an attempt to appear less powerful to prospective partners.

On the other hand, for a potential husband heir the cultural pressure to achieve is even greater than it was before. The level of the individual’s social acceptance no longer defines his success. It is no longer sufficient to have money and live a life of leisure. Men are expected to continue to cultivate their wealth in a manner that makes it clear that they are educated and involved in the process of making money. As their financial worth increases, so does our cultural regard and esteem for them. Therefore, the cultural pressure to achieve success has a deeper effect than what meets the eyes.   

Trust In our culture, we were ‘trained’ to trust what we can see and touch, material things, things that are attained only with money. The truth is that a person’s financial worth is only part of who they are. As we have mentioned before, affluent people have a difficult time in learning to trust when it comes to an intimate or true relationship. There is always the conflict and fear of either being desired for who you are or for your financial worth.

The fear of being ‘financially exploited’ is a great impediment in finding true love. In most cases heirs are wormed, since early stages of their lives, by their parents, that others may want to marry them for their money.  If not well accompanied by instilling self-esteem of the child’s true self worth [which is not defined by their financial worth], the consequences might be harmful. The grown up heir/heiress will not be able to form and implement a realistic judgment about the women/men they meet. In these cases, they usually make the wrong choices with whom they ‘fall’ in love with [i.e. fear attracts what you fear of…] on the one hand, on the other hand they are incapable of recognizing a true partner [i.e. fear makes you blind to the truth].

Wealthy women seem to have an especially difficult time finding balance and trust in an intimate relationship. Their money becomes an impediment rather than an asset. In her research O’Neil’s has found that it is preferable for a wealthy woman to find partner of equal or greater wealth. This is due to two different reasons. One is the fact that in our culture most men have not yet learnt to feel comfortable with women who are more successful then they are. Second is the fear that they are wanted due to their money – although there is a trend for young women of this current generation to break this pattern and marry out of love.

Wealthy men on the other hand, are found to have greater choice. For them it is socially acceptable to marry a woman of lesser means, usually young and beautiful or with equal wealth, thus increasing the disparity between the sexes.

Closure: This article has briefly touched on some of the issues that affluent people face in the context of our society. It is hoped that in a more aware world men and women would acquire their power from their inner resources, and not from outside themselves. True power comes from within, with the knowledge of self and speaking out truth. With acknowledging our feelings and taking responsibility for our actions, rather than merely hiding behind our financial success and material gains.


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