The Connection Between Your Brain and Credit Card Debt

This is a guest post from Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil. Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil has been an internationally acclaimed relationship therapist for thirty years. New York magazine named her one of the city’s top therapists and Psychology Today named her one of America’s best therapists. Her most recent book, Financial Infidelity, is available on her site at DoctorBonnie.com.

There’s an emotional connection between your brain and your credit card debt ‒ between your thoughts and feelings and why and how you spend money. It’s likely been a connection years or even decades in the making. It helps explain your views on money and debt and why you react to these things in certain ways. While this may help explain problems you face, it usually doesn’t excuse you from the consequences of these problems. But by knowing yourself and your money patterns, you can help nip these problems ‒ and any repercussions they might have ‒ in the bud.

I call this connection the “Biochemical Craving for Connection.”  It starts when stress from childhood causes thrill-seeking behavior. This behavior can be in the form of financial or sexual conquests and infidelities. You’re looking for ways to self-medicate and to help calm stress levels down. At the same time, these indiscretions give you another kind of high and the cycle starts: Give into sexual or financial pressure to help relieve stress, feel a “high” for a moment, then return to stressful feelings about the situation. Eventually, the only thing that can help your problem is the problem itself!

There are several areas in the brain that communicate with each other to influence emotion. When it comes to dealing with extreme behaviors ‒ such as addiction, infidelity and poor decision making, these areas may be involved:

  • The limbic system is made up of several structures that work together to control emotion, hormonal secretions, moods and pain/pleasure reflexes.
  • The hippocampus is a structure within the limbic system and plays a role in emotion. If this area is damaged, it can reduce your ability to distinguish safe and dangerous situation, leading you to seek out situations that may FEEL safe, but in reality, aren’t ‒ things like sexual affairs or financial infidelity.
  • The ventral striatum and the nucleus accumbens help process satisfaction and happiness. These areas are also associated with assessing risk reward and gratification. When these areas aren’t functioning properly, people may get involved with addictive behaviors ‒ leading to things like gambling, affairs, etc., in order to stimulate pleasure responses.

For people struggling with things like debt  and/or financial infidelity, it’s helpful to figure out if these areas of the brain are coming into play. If they are, re-balancing any deficiencies can do wonders for helping to sort out financial and emotional problems!

Author: Jeremy Vohwinkle

My name is Jeremy Vohwinkle, and I’ve spent a number of years working in the finance industry providing financial advice to regular investors and those participating in employer-sponsored retirement plans.

6 comments
Debra Watts
Debra Watts

Great article. Would be nice to know how to fix that part of the brain.

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LMJ
LMJ

It's all well and good to say not to spend more than you have, but when you don't have, the pressure to get can feel intense. A friend of mine is about to lose her house because of trying to live up to a standard she can't afford, a standard set by her parents (who are about two paychecks away from homelessness themselves) and our consumer culture. She's finally figuring it out, though. I've fallen for this one myself, but nowhere near the extent she has.

Sofia Kim
Sofia Kim

Credit card debt is on its all time high with today's economy. Hopefully people can obtain the help they need to get out of debt. Thanks for the article!

moneymonk
moneymonk

In other words, don't spend more than you have