Growing Up Rich: How it Shapes Identity

Growing Up Rich: How it Shapes Identity
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It is no social secret that having wealth can provide a person with status, power, and open the doors to acquiring education and polish. If the rest of a person is attended to by maintaining healthy moral and personal values the wealthy person will generally have a strong enough inner world to sustain their core needs for belonging, self esteem, contribution and love. In this case, wealth can be a great blessing. But when wealth subsumes the self and substitutes for what we need on a deep, human level; it can become a Faustian bargain.

Children of wealth often begin life with prescribed identities and a sense of social and financial superiority, they are targets for jealousy and often seen as a success by their peers simply for being born where they are born. This can make it difficult to form a personal identity. The world that their family likely inhabits socially comes with an already established set of rules and expectations that the child of wealth is tacitly expected to buy into. And having too much of everything can undermine personal dreams as well. They may reason that they deserve no more and have no right to extended personal success. They may give up their dreams before they get a chance to even formulate in their minds. Who are they to want anything when they already have so much? And, on the other side, why should they go through the tedious and frustrating experience of being on the bottom when they're already at the top? But it is often just this experience of being a worker among workers that the child of privilege needs and craves.

Self esteem is built through mastery of many small and large challenges, not simply inherited. In wanting to prove themselves not necessarily as better but as good enough the child of wealth encounters the same fears of failure that any person trying to succeed does, though in their case, the stakes can feel much higher. What if they try and fail? What if their deep fear that they can't create a success equal to what they have inherited is confirmed and their guilt over being handed a life and shame at feeling they both don't deserve it and couldn't do it for themselves is correct?

Some issues that children or wealth may have are:

Entitlement vs Feeling Undeserving

Entitlement is one of the most commonly cited qualities of the child of wealth (though it can emerge with equal force at the opposite end of the social spectrum). Things have always magically appeared for the child of wealth with or without effort on his part and his family money has generally provided him with layers of service that grease his path through the world and remove frustrating obstacles that others have had to learn to cope with and accept. This can become a habit and an expectation that gets layered onto most situations.

On the other hand he may reason, "I have so much I don't deserve to want any more - I will foreclose on my own dreams. I will play small so people won't hate me; I'll be self deprecating and hold my wants back so that no one can point a finger at me and call me over indulged." The sad truth here is that the child of wealth doesn't allow themselves to be as big as they naturally are, they hold back and stay beneath the radar so that they won't feel over exposed. They play small and withhold their own desire for success. Sibling order may play a role here, perhaps the first follows the family founder and the second or third look for other roles.

Low Frustration Tolerance vs Not Knowing What " Normal " Is

Children of wealth may not have had to learn to wait to get what they want, they may have had too much too soon and too much too easily. Because they have not had to put off getting what they want they have trouble delaying gratification. This is a set up for addiction as the drug mirrors this cycle, supplying a high, a calm or a quieting of inner turmoil with no effort or exertion of will.

On the other hand they may have learned to tolerate anything and everything from demanding, perfectionist, narcissistic parents who over-value money and status. The child of wealth may have trouble with boundaries and regulation because they have not had the usual limits and constraints that a normal budget would impose. There may have been a constant flow of money while at the same time their parents were busy "buying out of parenting" turning the job over to hired people. The children may have been over indulged with things while feeling starved for love and time. They had too little of some things and too much of others and lacked a sense of what was "normal" to want or expect. The combination of feeling both over valued and under valued simultaneously can leave them feeling torn inside.

Low Self Esteem vs Grandiosity

The child of wealth may feel that nothing they can accomplish will ever match the huge accomplishment of the money makers. In addition, the money makers may tend not to value professions that don't lead to wealth or a high profile. All of this can undermine the self esteem of the child of wealth.

And people worship other people with money, money in our society buys anything - houses, cars, clothes, social status- spouses, friends. These are the people who tip big, pick up the check and donate to causes, schools and museums. The child of wealth and addiction may opt for the easy way of feeling good about himself, depending on what his wealth can buy rather than what he can accomplish on his own. He may become grandiose as a defense against darker emotions that threaten to protrude into his consciousness.

High Expectations vs No Expectations

The child of wealth can be caught in a painful bind between feeling the pressure of succeeding in larger than life terms, trying to reach an ever heightening bar of success and having very little expected of him or her. This tends to be the child who has a summer program rather than a summer job, who has no practical needs that drive them to work. Getting a job and contributing to one's life in needed and practical ways can be a real source of self esteem for any growing person. The fact is that the child of wealth does not have these needs, whatever he will earn as a young person will probably be less than he has easy access to through his parents.

This means that both parents and children will need to find activities that are meaningful for other reasons. The freedom to choose can be both liberating and overwhelming. Busy hands are happy hands as the old saying goes. All of us need to feel that we are making a meaningful contribution to the world in which we operate.

Relational Issues

People of wealth may want others to conform to their world rather than conforming to the other person's, to dance to their tune, so to speak, which can become controlling. The natural give and take and compromise of relationships can feel foreign to the wealthy person who is used to having things his way. This population is used to getting what they want, when they want it, whether it's good food, services or things. Personal relationships are a different story, however and the wealthy person can find themselves confused with the dynamics of intimacy. Friends, spouses and children are not employees, they don't collect a pay check and don't like receiving a bulleted list of tasks and objectives. Though the person of wealth cannot fire blood relatives they may fire them emotionally if they become too demanding, preferring the types of relationships where they are more in control, less challenged and feel more "appreciated". This can especially be true of the person who holds the purse strings; why should they endure interpersonal demands and disappointments when the rest of the world writes them thank you notes, gives them awards and does what they're told?

On the other hand, there is always what psychologist Carl Jung referred to as the "shadow" or the part of a person that is the submerged opposing aspect. The same person who feels overly entitled and impatient can have a shadow that feels small and anxious; they may feel guilty and out of balance and can yearn for someone to depend on, to "put them in their place" and feed them emotionally; the shadow side of the demanding part, where feelings of being insecure and undeserving live. On the other end of being controlling is feeling out of control and on the other end of feeling over entitled is feeling under entitled. In personal relationships wealthy people may tolerate too much, their guilt allows other people to use them and take advantage of them. They tend to have a hard time feeling entitled to personal boundaries, they have trouble saying no and yes. "No," I am doing too much of the giving here and "yes" I will compromise and release control. Their guilt and shame around having gotten too much too easily immobilizes them and their issues around regulation keep them from knowing what "normal" is. They dare not ask for more and they feel undeserving of more while simultaneously entitled to the superior treatment they have always had.

All of these represent swings in thinking, feeling and behavior. Growing up in a world of privilege can both open doors and close them. It can make the day to day work of developing a career and a relationship seem like too much work; when it doesn't happen easily, the child of wealth may want to give up. America has been in a period of much wealth creation and our worshiping the millionaire seems at an all time high. But when money becomes the only yard stick of success, we open the door to all sorts of problems that surround those values. (for more info log onto Deprivation)

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