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April, 1999

Richard Trachtman, Ph.D.

Cuttings and Trimmings

Tax season has arrived and many of us are beset with anxiety about how taxes will affect us. Reasonable financial concerns may resonate with our deepest insecurities, causing us to overreact. Our reactions may vary from a vague sense of unease to dread. We may have vivid fantasies about how taxes will affect our futures. Not only anxiety, but depression and a general sense of inadequacy may be the result. Irritability may lead to arguments, problems with intimacy, and may even affect sexual performance. But tax time can also be a time for partners and families to pull together, support each other, and reassess their priorities and goals.

How can we get a grip on our anxieties and face tax season calmly? The key is to understand our real needs and to counteract irrational fears with a good dose of rational thinking.

Here is one way. Think about what your needs really are and then consider whether even the worst tax bill you can imagine can possibly keep you from getting those needs met.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow ranked human needs from the most basic to the highest level as follows: Physiological Needs - such as food, clothing and shelter; Safety and Stability; Belonging and Love; Esteem; and, Self-actualization. How likely is it that any of these needs will not be met if your tax bill is greater than expected?

  • Physiological needs & Safety and Stability: These are the two levels of need that are most basic and most likely to be affected by money. But, it is usually only the very poor whose quality of life is seriously affected by not having enough of it. If you don't have money for food, have no heat in the winter, or live in a dangerous house or neighborhood where you must fear for your safety, then having more or less money is likely to affect the quality of your life significantly. Health is one area where being more or less wealthy can also affect the quality of your life, even if you are not actually poor. If you can't afford health insurance, or are forced to choose a managed care plan where you can't get access to a good physician or specialist, your safety can be compromised by not having enough. Ultimately, though, it is important to remember that we are all vulnerable to health problems and even the rich are not immune. To imagine that lots of money can make us safe is wishful thinking. Money can make a difference, but real security comes from within.
  • Belonging and Love: It is said that money can't buy love. Do you believe this? Most people, if they think about those who love them, will conclude that they will still be loved if they have less money. A sudden drop in financial resources can lead to strife in a family, but people don't generally stop loving each other because of a large tax bill.You may, on the other hand, alienate someone close to you because of the way you handle your financial worries. If you can continue to love yourself and to love others, you will not fear loss of love because of money problems. Indeed, love will help you through tough financial times, and this can make your relationships stronger.
  • Esteem : We all need to feel valuable and worthwhile, both to ourselves and to others. It is an unfortunate fact that many people esteem others and themselves based on how much money they make or have rather than on who they are. Does your self esteem depend on your current financial picture? If you can think well of yourself, even during hard times, those who matter most to you are not likely to think less of you if your tax bill puts a squeeze on how much you can spend or save in the next few months or year. Only those with low self esteem are likely to fear this will happen. If you don't have good self esteem, having more money won't help you feel better about yourself for more than a brief time. If you do feel insecure about your self worth, don't look to money to provide an answer. Find a way to do something worthwhile and cultivate friends who share your values and who can accept you for who you are.
  • Self-actualization: People who are able to get their more basic needs met also want to be able to express themselves and develop their potential. It is possible to do this without much money, but money does increase your options as to how it is done. Taxes may cramp your style, but they can't keep you from self fulfillment.

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