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The Curse of a Wealthy Upbringing

“Thankfully, it’s possible for families seriously affected by addiction and trauma to use the benefits of their resources in a positive way, enabling their loved ones to access the best and most appropriate forms of treatment.”

– Addcounsel

Suffice to say, immense wealth presents an abundance of opportunities usually denied to those from less privileged backgrounds. Independent schooling, luxury holidays, grand homes, premium health insurance and access to influential people are just a few of the perks of growing up rich. For most, having everyday mundane tasks removed from one’s schedule is a luxury to be fantasised about, especially among those struggling just to make ends meet. Economic journalists have reported on the world’s ultra-rich individuals increasing their wealth almost two-fold during the first two years of the pandemic.

But what if growing up wealthy sows the seeds for poor mental health, fuelling all kinds of destructive and addictive behaviours? The saying, “The more you own, the more owns you,” has much truth to it. While material comforts such as living in a safe home, good nutrition and nice threads are important, there comes a point when owning thirty sports cars isn’t going to make an individual any happier than the person who owns one. The same could be said of an individual managing a portfolio of fifty family homes. The amount of stress involved is unlikely to enhance good mental health.

A good education can count for a lot. Academic or otherwise, there seems to be a general consensus that life is much more fulfilling having learned how to think, to reason, to debate, to critique and absorb information. By and large, a sought-after private school will attract the brightest and most engaging teachers. However, attending an independent school or studying at a prestigious university won’t shield someone from peer pressure, or the chronic anxiety of needing to be accepted. On the contrary, poor mental health and addictive behaviours are increasingly associated with high achievers desperately trying to excel academically. Trying to buy popularity doesn’t work either; it often has the opposite effect, laying the foundations for people pleasing, jealousy, resentment and self-loathing to ensue. No one likes to feel used.

Feeling trapped

Contrary to popular belief, a person born into extreme wealth oftenfeels trapped. The concept of freedom seems like an unattainable dream farbeyond reach. Frustratingly, they can feel baffled as to why their so-called good fortune isn’t bringing them any joy or peace of mind. This can be a very lonely place. The wealthy individual becomes aware very early on in life that their upbringing is completelydifferent from 99.9% of the world’s population. Alas, a significant economic and social barrier has been established in childhood. Many of our clients at Addcounsel have struggled to come to terms with economic and social divides such as these.

If the cushion of plentiful resources and luxury can’t silence unpredictable or unsettling thoughts and traumatic memories, then what? The shame of not living up to the high standards of previously acclaimed family members and their achievements can take its toll. How does one compete with a family patriarch who has made a fortune from scratch, paving the way for future generations to live off the proceeds indefinitely? Even John D. Rockefeller Jr. (son of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil and America’s first billionaire), struggled to find his way working at his father’s company. Such was the chronic stress and anxiety that came with the job, Jr. left the oil business and eventually charted his own path as a full-time philanthropist.

The stress of sustaining family resources

The pressure of preserving substantial wealth for future generations is often an onerous responsibility for those entrusted with it. Especially so when there is a death in the family and the transfer of assets is complicated. This can take its toll on the emotional wellbeing of other family members or even result in family rifts or burnout.  When middle income or affluent families are dealing with bereavement, the transfer of assets to the next generation may be stressful, but relatively straight forward. However, if an ultra-high-net-worth individual with already poor mental health and untreated trauma has to manage a complicated transfer of assets whilst trying to cope with grief, a meltdown is likely. This is especially problematic if there is a history of alcohol and drug addiction in the family. Fortunes have been wiped out because of addiction and havoc wreaked for future generations.

For someone benefiting from a generous trust fund, which negates the need to generate income, a lack of direction is quite common. Such a person often resents their fortune while simultaneously feeling hopelessly attached to it.  There is often a sense of duty to preserve the wealth as a trusted custodian, while needing to sustain a certain lifestyle, which can become a burden in itself.

The pain of intergenerational wealth  

Too much too soon” is a challenge presented to many offspring in wealthy families, making it difficult for them to feel incentivised to make their own way in life. With a guaranteed fund to cushion them, it’s perfectly natural for such individualsto take a step back and dip into the pot. This can only breed an expectation which many describe as “entitlement.” Without a deliberate effort to encourage gratitude regarding the wealth bestowed on them and an understanding of the value of money from an early age, insecurity and low self-worth may manifest. Family meetings, often orientated around tax, financial planning and legal disputes can be productive, but all too often financial matters take precedence over mental and emotional health. Attitudes are gradually shifting with respect to the importance of mental health among more enlightenedbaby boomers and Generation X custodians, nonetheless those born into wealth are increasinglyseeking professional medical help for addiction and trauma.   

Lacking purposefulness

Mansions, servants, private jets and five-star hotels don’t quite make the grade if a person lacks a sense of direction and purposefulness. Combine that with drug and alcohol dependency and life can become too much. Tragically, suicide has been the last resort for some individuals living under such conditions.

Living a purposeful life can greatly enhance resilience and optimism, both essential components for long-term recovery from trauma and addiction. When someone is overburdened by responsibility, they are more likely to show signs of resilience if they have a positive direction and sense of purpose in their life. Anthony L. Burrow–Human Development, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University, has studied the human benefits of living a purposeful life: “We are confronted with the ups and downs of life, but purpose is an active ingredient that helps us stay stable.”

Hiding

In many ways, it’s much easier to mask one’s trauma while shielding behind a gated estate with employees wedded to a confidentiality clause in their employment contract. An effective PR company can gloss over most things. Public figures, some of whom are leaders in business, industry, sports, show business and politics, often remain completely under the radar. However, this can delay or even preventbreaking those long-established trauma bonds and seeking treatment. It only takes one family doctor or psychiatrist, to deter an individual from seeking help outside the family bubble which they find themselves in.

In some cultures, drug and alcohol addiction and mental illness are still deemed a taboo. In such cases, extremely wealthy families have resorted to sending their drug-dependent relatives to live in countries on the other side of the world. London has long been the location of choice for high profile families in the Middle East to send their loved ones because it presents the perfect (and more anonymous) environment to get them the help they need away from the insular and sometimes stifling circumstances at home. Royal princes, aristocrats, and sons of powerful merchants often followed a similar fate, exiled, and rejected. However, this frequently backfired, causing the shunned individual to feel deep rejection, anger and hurt, resulting in even more extreme addictive acting out. Over the years, Addcounsel has worked with clients from such environments assuring them a programme tailored to the individual needs of the patient.

Parents born into wealth may struggle not to spoil their offspring

Parenting is hard regardless of one’s economic station in life. The challenge for the wealthy parent is how to raise their children in such a way that they live well but can still chart their own destiny. “How much is too much?” is a question many ask when planning for their offsprings’ future financial security. In many cases such decisions were taken out of their hands by the family member who had made the fortune in the first place, by establishing trusts for grandchildren and their children (this alone can breed resentment for the parents who themselves felt trapped as trust fund recipients).

By the time the married couple have made it to parenthood, they would have likely seen the destructiveness extreme wealth can bring to those they grew up with. A friend or two had OD’d, suicides, family feuds and irreparable breakdowns in friendships are commonplace. The couple want to shield their children from the ills of poverty but are terrified of raising adults who can’t manage in the world. This paradox often causes many sleepless nights.   

The challenges of seeking help

An ultra-high-net-worth (UHNW) individual struggling with mental illness may find it challenging getting the appropriate help to treat addiction and long-established trauma bonds. They, themselves, are often isolated from a wide support network. In such an environment, the person struggling with addiction could be prone to potential exploitation and manipulation. Employees with an economic dependency (directly or indirectly) on the UHNW individual are more likely to enable their employer’s dysfunctional behaviours. It’s highly unlikely that an employee of a UHNW individual will challenge their employer if their own livelihood or career prospects are at stake. Which begs the question, who will say no to them? Who will challenge them? Who can the UHNW individual trust to have their best interests at heart under circumstances such as these?

Group therapy is problematic for an UHNW individual whose life experience is vastly different from even that of an everyday millionaire. The person will likely find it hard to relate to (or find any identification with) their peers, which is an important component of group therapy. For prominent families and entrepreneurs who have built unicorn businesses, group therapy isn’t appropriate because of the lack of discretion and security. The risk of harming the family reputation or leaks to press are a potential concern within a group therapy setting. This is why the one at a time care model is becoming increasingly trusted among the ultra-wealthy.

Summary

Addcounsel has a unique team of health professionals assisting UHNW individuals experiencing addiction, long-established trauma bonds, depression symptoms and a wide range of neurological disorders. This allows us to provide the highest quality treatment to our VIP clients from all over the world.

Thankfully, it’s possible for families seriously affected by addiction and trauma to use their plentiful resources in a positive way, enabling their loved ones to access the best and most appropriate forms of treatment. Great outcomes can be achieved when denial, secrecy and stigma are treated effectively like any other illness.

Essentially, the impacts of poor mental health and trauma are the same regardless of background and wealth. It leads to sadness, loneliness and sometimes destructive behaviours that can’t be generalised, because we’re talking about here the fragility of the human condition and healing.

Our team of experts are ready to talk to you. We understand. Please get in touch today to start your recovery.

Resources:

https://www.ft.com/content/747a76dd-f018-4d0d-a9f3-4069bf2f5a93

https://www.forbes.com/sites/chloesorvino/2016/03/05/aubrey-mcclendons-sad-death-and-eight-other-tragic-stories-involving-the-super-rich/?sh=61b371126b55

https://research.cornell.edu/news-features/benefits-having-sense-purpose

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/July-2022/Barriers-to-Mental-Health-The-Middle-Eastern-Experience

https://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/hall-of-fame/john-rockefeller-jr/

 

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