Has Success Become A Survival Mechanism For You?

financial well-being trauma Jun 08, 2022

Success at all costs can mean different things to different people, but there’s a fear underneath it that drives it, often unconsciously. 

I have had an increased understanding of this on my own journey of healing and growth. 

I recently listened to a wonderful podcast interview with Amy Porterfield and Dr. Nicole LaPera where they talked about this very reality. 

Dr. LaPera shared how she did not even realize that she had experienced trauma and that she had to expand her definition of what trauma means to see the connection with her own drivenness towards success. 

This is the challenge with socially desirable orientations like that of being focused on success, we can miss how our success orientation leads us to miss out on high-quality relationships. 

Yet it is success that we learned how to use to survive our various traumatic environments. Whether it was that of sexual and physical abuse or being raised in a family where our connection and acceptance were based on performance and success compared to authentic and healthy relationships with yourself and others.

Unconscious Patterns

In our lives, we are propelled to create strategies to solve our traumas, these behaviors can be unconscious patterns that sabotage us today in our lives and relationships. 

We can understand them more fully when we explore them with a mindfulness approach. 

Our responses to our own unconscious patterns have become so automatic that we don’t even realize what is happening within ourselves or with others until it is too late. 

Unconscious patterns are like an iceberg; they take up most of our energy while leaving only a small amount of awareness from which to operate. 

Awareness helps us see what is happening within ourselves and others so that we can make better choices about what happens next.

For many, this means they must get to the source of their driven behavior that leads them to take on ever-increasing challenges and success. 

They find that as they check the boxes of success they feel ever more exposed, vulnerable, and depleted, instead of the expected safety, security, and acceptance they have been longing for.

Strategies To Break Free of Success At All Costs Orientation

Emotional Resilience Strategies

Making money is essential for our basic needs, and our psychological needs as Dr. Sarah Newcomb talks about her wonderful book Loaded.  

When we can come to see that this is not about becoming anti-success. Rather it’s about learning to recognize if our pursuit is to meet the unresolved needs of trauma or more of our authentic need for personal growth and self-expression. 

Of course, it would be easy if it was just one or the other, but the reality is that the orientation towards success meets a wide variety of psychological needs.

Clients often say they don’t know who they are without their job or business, or they say they don’t know what to do when they aren’t working. 

These statements are indicators of emotional addiction – not only to your business or career but also to your self-worth

If you find yourself saying these things, ask yourself: What am I really trying to get from my business? Is it safety? Security? Love? Connection? Respect? The answers may surprise you. 

Notice Where You Are Emotionally

Notice where you are coming from emotionally. Recognize if your success at all costs mentality comes from an underlying sense of unworthiness or fear. 

When we come from a place of fear, scarcity and lack (as opposed to love), we will often be striving for more rather than being present in our lives, enjoying what we accomplished and then being able to pursue ongoing growth. 

If you can’t identify where your money addiction is coming from, ask yourself:

  • If I didn’t need money to survive, what would I do with my time? 
  • What would I create? 
  • Who would I spend time with? 
  • How would I feel about myself without money as a primary source of validation and worthiness?

If you’re unable to answer these questions, it might mean that you are using money as a way to avoid feeling something else – like shame or sadness.

Self-Care Strategies

If you’re someone who has experienced trauma, shame, or insecure attachment, and you’re ready to heal, your relationship to money is just one piece of that puzzle.

The fastest way to dissolve any connection between trauma and success is by engaging in self-care strategies that help you regain a sense of safety in your life and release deeply held patterns of shame.

In order to do so, it’s essential to develop healthy habits that support your overall well-being.

Strategies like meditating, journaling, connecting with nature or spirituality, and working out can be especially effective at alleviating feelings of insecurity and improving mental health.

It’s also important to make sure you have regular check-ins with trusted friends, family members, and professionals who can serve as sounding boards for your journey toward healing.

Overcoming our need to succeed at all costs means becoming more secure within ourselves—and when we feel more secure, we are able to connect with others in healthier ways.

While learning how to overcome trauma will likely take time and some trial and error on your part, there are several proven ways you can start feeling safer today.

Connection Strategies

Our chronic need to make increasing amounts of money or wealth can grow out of a deep absence or a felt sense of safety in our life.

Restoring our ability to experience connection is a pathway back to balance.

Some strategies for connection include bids for connection, eye gaze, face-to-face contact, financial empathy, and financial therapy to help facilitate these processes.

Bid For Connection

We tend to bid for connection through whatever is currently going on within us (usually our emotions).

This means that if we’re feeling sad, we may reach out to others by saying something like I’m so sad! If we’re feeling anxious, we might text someone and say I feel really anxious right now! And if we’re feeling angry, well... you get it.

There are lots of ways to learn more about bids for connection:

One way is to try an exercise called loving-kindness meditation where you send love and compassion toward yourself, followed by sending it toward people who are close to you (friends, family members), followed by sending it toward people who live far away from you (like celebrities or people from other countries), followed by sending it toward all living beings on earth.


Another great way to become more aware of your own feelings is journaling about your day-to-day experiences.

Part of this journaling process can include financial empathy.

For example, maybe you have $50K saved up in your savings account but still don’t feel safe because you fear losing everything at any moment—this is one type of disconnect. You may have thought the success of having $50k saved would finally create a sense of financial security for you.

Financial empathy in a journal response might read something like this.

“Hello Ed, I can see you feel disappointed that you still don’t feel safe with the success of $50k in savings. I know you were really hoping it would provide you security. I wonder if this has to do with not feeling like you are good enough. (Deep breath) Yes, I often feel not good enough. Is there something about having $50k in savings that can feel good for you? Yes, it represents my work and the new skills I have learned about savings over the last couple of years. I can feel good about that. (Deep breath).

I also know you have been working a lot of long hours to get to this point. Do you think you can start to slow down a little bit now that you have reached this milestone? Yes I suppose so (Deep breath) It scares me to think about slowing down, but I know I need to tend to time with my wife, she has expressed that she and the kids have been missing me.”


In doing this short journal entry for this blog I was practicing an internal dialogue of empathic observation and question and then writing a response.

As I allowed myself to go through this process I could feel myself letting breaths out which I noted.

This is a fictional $50k savings, but I could still feel myself in these shoes.

Learning to therapeutically journal is an incredibly powerful way of re-establishing a connection with yourself and gaining insight into how your partner feels and thinks about your compulsive success orientation.

Letting Your Financial Plan Support You

Every person’s financial plan is unique to them. Yours may involve fine-tuning spending habits and cutting back, increasing your income, or working on getting your balance sheet moving into a more positive net worth.

The beautiful part of financial planning is it helps you connect with your financial reality and recognize where you are at financially and what you need and can do to nurture yourself now.

Recently my wife and I were cleaning out some old art we no longer wanted and she said we could resell it.

I responded that I was not interested in reselling the art. That it would take up more time and cut into our time to spend together as a family.

There is a lot of context around this reality, part of it is the resale value of the art (not much) and our family’s wealth path. It is not a good trade-off of time and energy for the financial impact on our lives. Yet it is both parts of our old success at all costs story that leads us to continue to consider trading off valuable time with our young family for just a little bit more money.

Finding the right amount of money for you and your partner is about allowing your finances to support you in the way you need them to.

You can be working towards not only being financially stable but also relationally satisfied and enjoying your life.

A big part of happiness is having a sense of security, which allows you to make smart decisions without feeling like they are threatening your livelihood.


Working on your mental health alongside your financial planning can reduce the need for success at all costs in your life.

Both working on your mental health and financial planning provide valuable insight into your current reality which may not be the same as the environment that originally created your trauma. 

Unraveling the trauma response of success at all costs is an ongoing journey of increasing awareness, healing, integration, and growth. You are not alone and I hope you enjoy the amazing interview with Amy Porterfield and Dr. Nicole LaPera to deepen your own understanding of how success at all costs may be adversely affecting you. 

If you're ready to do your own deeper work then Therapy Informed Financial Planning is for you. I invite you to schedule your free 30-minute discovery call today

Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,

Ed Coambs,




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