We need to talk.
If you saw Pete’s last article for the Indianapolis Business Journal (here), you may have been confronted with a reality you hadn’t considered or didn’t want to confess. For a great number of people, including some reading this right now, money and shame seem impossible to separate. Many of us have allowed our personal self-worth to be dictated by our net worth and month-to-month financial decisions. If we’re aware of this particular situation, we’re too embarrassed or ashamed to come forward and seek help.
What will my spouse think?
My friends will all talk behind my back.
My kids might get made fun of at school.
And on, and on, and on.
Please hear me. You are not your net worth. You are much more than numbers in an app or transactions in an account. Sure, these two things are reflective of your previous decisions and actions, but they are not you. This is crucially important. If you’re looking at a balance that won’t seem to go away on a credit card statement, you’re looking at a record of your decisions. Some of those decisions may have been neutral in their impact on your psyche, while others may be quite negative. The gut wrenching emotion you’re struggling with could probably be better defined as guilt rather than shame.
You’re yelling at me in your head, “what difference does that make?!”
Guilt says you did something bad. Shame says you are bad.
Take a deep breath and read that again. This is important.
You did something bad versus you are bad. Understanding, and believing, the difference between these two positions will be the first step in overcoming your obstacles.
Practically, what can you do to deal with the weight of guilt/shame you’re experiencing? Here are some ideas:
- Unload it. This may seem like a nearly insurmountable (and uncomfortable) task, but I promise you it makes a huge difference. Over the course of my career I’ve watched the facial expressions and body language of people who are telling me about their financial stress and struggles change during our time together. For many of these people it was the first time they’ve ever discussed their challenges and emotions around finances. You can see their countenance change from despair to one of hope and relief. Talking about what you’re experiencing is crucial to overcoming it.
That being said, you shouldn’t walk around with a scarlet “S” on your chest for the world to see. Choose a handful of people you trust to talk with. People who will be empathetic with you and help by being there for you in the future as well. People who will ask straightforward questions when they need to be asked, and that you’ll welcome to be asked because you know they care for you. People who will allow you to tell, and work on, your story. In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown writes, “The less we talk about shame, the more power it has over our lives. If we cultivate enough awareness about shame to name it and speak to it, we’ve basically cut it off at the knees.” You’re going to be vulnerable with these people and you’ll become stronger for it.
- Acknowledge it. You will be faced with recurring feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, humiliation, etc from time to time. All of us are for one reason or another. The challenge you will face is, “what do you do with it?” Your best option is to see it for what it is and why you’re experiencing it. Then, either choose to not let it affect you or talk through it with someone from your group above if needed. The worst option? Allowing yourself to hide from or repress it because that will only lead you back to where you came from.
- Challenge it. If you catch yourself sliding into negative thoughts, challenge yourself. Rather than accepting what you’re telling yourself, focus on evidence to the contrary. You’ve already established that you are separate from your finances and you need to remind yourself that you’re much more than just this part of your life.
Another way to challenge these emotions is to root them out. For example, if you know that certain places or people tend to bring these feelings to the front, consider avoiding them until your confident and comfortable enough to not let them negatively influence you. Yes, this means that you may have to avoid people and places you frequent for a time. It will be worth it. This could be a temporary step, but what if it isn’t? Maybe some situations are toxic to you and would best be avoided altogether? For some issues, this is a consideration that needs to be taken seriously. If you don’t think this is a viable option for whatever reason, look for ways to mitigate the influence that person or scenario has on you. Talk with your group and/or consider seeking professional guidance and counseling.
You’ll need to take a leap of faith that being vulnerable in this area is in your best interest. You’re not exposing your weakness by revealing your struggles in this area, you’re displaying your strength. And just like exercise, what starts out as difficult becomes easier and more familiar as time goes on. You’ll have victories and losses and you’ll have work to do to help correct whatever financial issues you’re dealing with. But, you’ll look at life, your finances, and yourself in a much more positive way if you choose to change.
Damian is the lead Financial Concierge on Your Money Line, the financial help line serving all Pete the Planner® Financial Wellness clients. Damian is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and loves answering your money questions. Despite sharing a last name and sense of humor, Damian and Pete are not related.