May 31, 2022 – Psychologists often classify the preoccupation with wealth as a “process addiction,” a category that also includes a fixation on gambling, sex, or even exercise (though the psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, doesn’t specifically outline a “wealth addiction”).

It’s not a diagnosis triggered by an arbitrary net worth figure or brokerage balance but rather how it affects your emotional well-being and your relationships. “What turns habits into addictions is their compulsive and harmful nature,” says Stanton Peele, a Brooklyn-based psychologist. “For example, if someone is accumulating wealth yet they’re spending all their time apart from their children, we are entering the realm of addiction.”

One of the hallmarks of an unhealthy obsession with financial success is the single-mindedness that accompanies that hunt. “It’s a ‘winning’ that’s ultimately about losing, particularly since no amount of wealth will be enough if the pursuit becomes about producing dopamine in order to feel pleasure and be motivated to action,” Seltzer says.

Family and friends take a back seat and even become an obstacle toward the larger goal of building financial assets. “It’s impossible to ‘be there’ for anyone else if you’re preoccupied with the pursuit of wealth,” Seltzer adds. “It can’t not affect your relationships, and it certainly won’t affect them positively.”

Fundamentally, what’s driving that unyielding drive for more money, Seltzer suggests, is the need to treat deep-seated insecurity, albeit using the wrong medicine. Any number of factors can give birth to those self-doubts. For some, it’s a sense from friends and family, or even the media, that you’re somehow not good enough. You need to prove yourself by becoming rich, he says.

Those feelings of inadequacy can be particularly painful if you grew up in a neighborhood where everyone else seemed to enjoy greater financial success. Says Seltzer: “You may have felt inferior, and decided that you could only compete with others by financially being on par with them.”

As with chemical dependencies, Peele says process addictions like wealth can be a way to mask those perceived shortcomings. The problem is that those compulsive pursuits bring a fleeting moment of pleasure that gives way to even greater feelings of guilt or sadness. “Whatever you’re trying to avoid is getting worse,” says Peele, whose online Life Process Program helps clients overcome various addictions.


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