Laura du Preez Money Editor
Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Money, and the things we spend it on, are all too often tied to our feelings of self-worth. When someone takes yours away, it is easy to feel more than what that loss of income amounts to.

Thousands of South Africans are facing pay cuts, reduced business income and job losses, compounding the stress that comes with living through a pandemic and lockdown.

It is hard not to feel overwhelmed at times.

It may be some comfort to you if you are feeling that way to know that an educational psychologist and life coach, Dr Tshepiso Matentjie, says that job and income losses typically unleash a host of feelings that are hard to control.

Matentjie was addressing a webinar hosted by Momentum on the impact of retrenchment and salary cuts during Covid-19.

She says being retrenched or having your salary cut is a shock that will lead to more questions than answers.

So many variables appear outside of your control - how will you pay your bond, how will you pay school fees - and you won't necessarily know how to ride the wave.

Feeling like a victim, especially when others aren't dealt the same hand, can trigger anger, she says.

Beyond that you may have moments when you feel depressed and guilty as you question what you could have done differently - lived a less lavish lifestyle, saved more, not had conflict with someone at work, and so on, Matentjie says.

Pretending nothing is wrong is not healthy, she says, as those closest to you will absorb your anxiety when they find you grumpy and withdrawn.

And suffering in silence is definitely not the way to do it.

She says the time it takes you to work through the emotions will differ from person to person, but some will get stuck in one emotional state and may need to seek help, possibly from a professional.

Ultimately, you will accept your new reality and start reinventing yourself - how you see yourself, the things you tell yourself, your behaviour and your money habits. This "elasticity" will build your resilience and lead you to emotional wealth, she says.

Emotional wealth means having a growth mindset that acknowledges that you are a lifelong learner able to cope with change and thrive.

It means acknowledging your skills, experience and networks and how these can help you, or how you can improve them.

Emotional wealth can also give you back control through changing your money habits, Matentjie says. You may not be able to control when you will get a job or have your salary reinstated, but you can act to limit the damage - like negotiating with creditors and cutting expenses.

Part of regaining control comes from recognising that your worth is not defined by your work, she says. Nor, I would add, by your employer. Some employers are good at recognising expertise, effort and even just a good work ethic. Many others, as the coronavirus crisis reveals, put little to no value on those who make their businesses work.

Matentjie says people who are emotionally wealthy recognise their weaknesses or what she terms their saboteurs. A need for instant gratification, fear of failure or loss of self-esteem can all sabotage your financial wellbeing.

A sense of gratitude, however, can bring you serenity and comfort and help you keep going, she says.

As a psychologist, Matentjie is comfortable talking about how you feel, but it isn't a topic that advisers often broach when they discuss your finances.

This week, financial planners around the world met in a Life20 virtual summit on life-centred planning that aims to change conversations from tax, investments and insurance to money as an enabler of the things that bring meaning to your life.

They suggest exploring what fulfils you and how your money can help you achieve that and a sense of financial wellbeing - which sounds a lot like Matentjie's emotional wealth.

It may not be possible to shake off the negative emotions that come with retrenchment and pay cuts as quickly as you hope - and doing so may not instantly solve your financial problems.

But if the dividend of investing in your emotional wealth is a greater sense of financial wellbeing, that should include a plan to tackle those problems when you can.