In this article I want to touch a psychology effect of wealth. Scientists found that children from homes with an annual income of more than £100,000 were suffering anxiety, depression and somatic symptoms twice as often in comparison to their peers. Also children from multi-generational wealth are more at risk for criminal behavior, eating disorders, and addictive disorders. It is important to emphasize that it is not the wealth per se causing the higher risk of mental disorder development but also the cultural context and environment.
Traps that occur by raising a child in privileged environment
• Unfortunately, many wealthy parents neglect their children. They are too busy to pay emotional attention to their child. The child may have been over indulged with material things while starving for parents love and attention.
• Rich parents may intrude excessively into the lives of their child. Meaning that they are crossing the child’s boundaries and not letting him develop his own ways. They are doing things instead of him and also telling him what and how to do things. Which can later in life lead to a loss of self-sense.
• Impossibly high expectations are transmitted not only by parents but also by the entire community-teachers, schools, coaches, and peers. The child can feel the pressure of succeeding in larger than life terms but on the other hand very little is expected from him in a sense of responsibilities. Parental expectations can be particularly excessive if the family has an established tradition of wealth and position. While this works well for some children it doesn’t for others. This is especially true if the same standards are applied across all the siblings. There is no space for individual identity-family and others sees you as part of the family dynasty.
• Kids aren’t required to support themselves. Which can give you a feeling that you are incapable of such a thing. That makes you dependent on your family even if you don’t want to be. To learn how to provide for your self plays important role in self-esteem.
• Envy from others plays significant role in wealthy child psychological development. We don’t only have pressure from inside of the family but also outer world is putting pressure on our personality development. Wealthy children are often target of envy. They are seen as successful by their peers simply for being born in wealthy family. They can respond with feeling guilty to have so much. Consequently many hold back and stay beneath the radar so that they won’t feel over exposed. Also it is hard to distinguish if people pay attention to you because of your wealth or because of who you are.
• On the other hand they can gain a lot of admiration from surrounding. People don’t admire their true self and accomplishment but what they have. Which makes your personality connected to the family wealth and is hart to feel stable without it. They often feel like they have only one way out-continue the tradition. Also being admired all the time makes you feel lost when someone is not responding to you this way which can show up as anger or self-doubt.
Personal characteristics that wealthy children often develop
To grow up in wealthy family encourages development of certain characteristics that are not excepted well elsewhere. Behind their backs people may resent them for this type of behavior but they are rarely faced with direct disapproval due to their status. It is hard for this children to develop realistic identity if they are not confronted whit their dysfunctional behavior.
Among those characteristics are:
• Lack of empathy/awareness of others. They can believe that they are empathic person and are surprised to learn that people see them differently. They often mix their charity work and materialistic help with empathy. From their perspective this is familiar behavior because in their home they got material things instead of emotional support. At the same time they secretly expect praise for this kind of help and are wearing it proudly.
• Selfish, insensitive behavior which they feel is justified or they are not aware of it. They refuse to face how people respond to them. Although in same level many of them can see that people are not sincere to them.
• Feeling of entitlement.
• Difficulties with taking interpersonal responsibility.
• Elitism and materialism infiltrate their character, their relationships, and their quality of life.
• They can have low capacity for tenderness in close relationships, high capacity for chauvinism and narcissism.
• The wealthier people become, the more they believe that they can control many aspects of their life and design exactly the kind of life they want. They come to expect perfection and submissiveness from others.
Problematic areas that are hidden behind mental disorder
• Lack of self-discipline: Wealthy children have problem focusing and sustained energy, as well as postponing gratification for ultimately higher rewards. Lack of consistency and following the rules (that were agreed ahead) also shows in therapeutic relationship. Last minute cancellations and arbitrary requests to re-schedule are commonplace.
• Delayed maturity. Living in a cocoon of wealth often prevent a person to mature. Most overprotected children eventually do grow up, but many delay or even avoid the process.
• Low self-esteem: Person that was raised in wealthy family describes well how low self-esteem is built: “You’re not taught to do practical things, because everything is done for you. Being denied the opportunity to fulfill developmental tasks and experience the ebb and flow of triumph and mistakes breeds the narcissistic expectation that all things should be simply handed over on a silver platter. But inside it feels like you are incapable to do it alone.” Children that are high in the spectrum of Narcissistic personality disorder doesn’t realize their low self-worth. They are covering it up with narcissistic behavior which is only a symptom of their very low self-esteem.
• Week identity: Children of wealth often begin life with prescribed identities and a sense of social and financial superiority. Expectations of what they should become are preventing them to development a firm identity.
• Suspiciousness or even paranoia: to not to trust others is probably how they were raised. “People want you for money”. It must feel really horrible that you are haunted by the feeling that it is never you but your family money. “What does he or she really want from me?” Consequently there is a fair amount of isolation. “We grew up hearing warnings about every girlfriend and buddy we had. So I learned to be suspicious, and it has been hard for me to overcome that legacy.”
• Fear of failure runs high among inheritors. The child of wealth may feel that nothing they can accomplish will ever match the huge accomplishment of the money makers. They suspect their successes are due to wealth and position. All of this can undermine the self-esteem. It’s hard to be sure they have achieved anything, or are really liked by others.
• Lack of motivation: “My biggest hurdle is my laziness and the fact that I know that I won’t be ruined if my art doesn’t work out.” Available wealth makes it hard to stick to goals in the face of setbacks and frustrations. Sometimes inheritor’s goals are ill-defined, particularly when it comes to career. Inheritors are not driven by life’s necessities. Their motivation is often short-lived and lacks intensity. “You might want to and you might make the effort, but you don’t have the same pressure to earn enough to live on. And that takes away a lot of the incentive to find meaningful work. The biggest curse of intergenerational wealth for me and many other people is the illusion that you don’t have to do much with your life.”
To rise psychologically healthy children it is essentially to give them emotional and not just material attention. This is far more important for healthy development then material things. Moreover it is important that they take responsibilities suitable for their age. Taking responsibility away have negative influence on positive identity and self-esteem.
Teach your child about finances, responsibility and work. It doesn’t need to be hard work, just work. So they learn to put off gratification and enjoy in their own achievements. Also realize that they are individuals just like you and I. They have their own wishes and they are not obligated to follow your lead as well you are not obligated to support them once they become adult.
For the child raised in wealthy family that feels lack of motivation, anxious, and depressed it is important to find help. In therapy proses with them the privilege is “taken away” which can be really hard for some. Pushing through it brings something far more important-the sense of self.
Base of this article is a book by Madeline Levine: The price of Privilege and my personal experience working with privilege clients. We often think that where is money there is no problems. As seen from this article privileged children have far greater possibility to develop mental disorder in comparison to their peers. Their problems might be different from ours but that doesn’t make them less serious. In therapy it is important to work with them on distinction between them and family inheritance, on feeling that they are capable of taking care of themselves, give them sense of how they come across, on learning to take responsibility and help them to become their true self.