Essays & Confessions

Money Shame: What It Is, Why You May Be Feeling It, & How To Cope With It

By | Tuesday, January 22, 2019

According to research professor Brené Brown, there is a big difference between shame and guilt. She says that “…guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” Shame, on the other hand, is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” To simplify that for you: guilt is the feeling that we’ve done something bad and shame is feeling that we are bad.

Why is that distinction important? According to Brené’s research, shame is actually not helpful at all. In fact, it can lead people to destructive and hurtful behavior. Contrarily, guilt can be a motivating emotion. It can encourage people to make more beneficial decisions and change their behavior for the better. Understanding the distinction can change how to speak to our loved ones and influence the language we use when talking about ourselves.

And what does this have to do with money? Well, shame comes up a lot when it comes to money. In our society, we put a lot of value on financial standing, and we tend to blame ourselves if we aren’t keeping up with our peers. When we shame ourselves for our past financial decision or our current financial situation, we can feel incapable of making any changes. If you want to move forward and get yourself into a better place, you have to learn how to cope with your shame in a way that means it will lessen over time.

How can you do that?

Talk to Your Loved Ones About Money

The more we open up about something, the less isolated and ashamed we will feel. I guarantee that you know people who have made the same decisions or been in the same positions as you have. But you won’t know that if you don’t open up about where you are and where you’ve been. Feeling alone in our experiences means we will feel isolated and more likely to beat ourselves up. Opening up about our money struggles will help us find people who are going through the same things, and it will also help break the money taboo within our social circles.

You can start this by just being honest when you can’t necessarily afford to do something. Tell your friends that you’re trying to pay down your credit card, so you’re cutting back on dining out. Suggest more affordable socializing options. You might be surprised at how many people you know who are struggling with the same things.

Forgive Yourself for Your Past Decisions

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you have to forgive yourself for the financial mistakes you’ve made in the past. It’s normal to be frustrated and wish that you’d done something different, but it won’t actually change what happened. Now, this is easier said than done. Forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, isn’t just a switch you can flip.

I recommend coming up with positive affirmations and repeating them to yourself daily. Here are just a few I can think of:

  • I am not defined by my past decisions.
  • I am capable of improving my financial life.
  • I deserve to be free of money shame.

What are a few affirmations that you can repeat to yourself to help you move on from the past?

Make a List of Everything You’ve Done Well

It’s easier to focus on the things we’ve done wrong and forget about the things that we’ve done well. I know that I tend to agonize over my perceived shortcomings more often than I praise my successes. So I’m willing to bet that you do the same. Sit down and make a list of all of the things that you’ve done well in your life. These things can be big or small.

It doesn’t just have to relate to money, it can be anything. However, an additional step can be to show how you can apply that action to a financial activity. If you’re really good at finishing your tasks at work every day, maybe you can add a financial task to your to-do list at work.

Recognize That Your Mistakes Can Teach You How to Do Better

If we never mess up, we can’t learn how to do things better! Of course, we often wish we never had to learn our lesson, especially when it comes to money, but using your mistakes as a guide will help you. If you look back at your past financial behavior, pick out the things that hurt you the most. How can you make sure that you don’t repeat those behaviors in your life moving forward? Instead of punishing yourself for those mistakes, let them show you what you don’t want to do now.

Choose Small Things You Can Start Doing Now

Progress doesn’t always have to mean making huge changes or reaching big goals. In fact, making progress often means making small, incremental changes that will lead you to a different circumstance. You can’t expect yourself to be a completely new person overnight. You have to take small steps towards your bigger goals and be patient with yourself. What is one new thing you can start doing this week that will help to improve your financial situation?

Here are some ideas:

  • Make a list of all of your monthly expenses, so that you know exactly how much needs to go out every month.
  • Sign up for a budget tracking platform like MintYNAB, or ClarityMoney.
  • Take a money minute at least once a week, where you sit down to review your spending and compare it to your monthly budget.

Work With a Professional

Whether it’s a therapist, a coach, or a financial planner, sometimes you have to hire a professional. If you’ve tried to do the things I mentioned above, and you still can’t relinquish your money shame, you might need to enlist someone to help you. If there are deep, painful issues that you need to work through, a therapist is probably your best bet. If you want to focus on moving forward and identifying and implementing solutions, a coach might be best. If you just want someone who will tell you exactly what to do with your money, a financial planner will probably be the most help.

Good luck!

Maggie is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women. She founded Maggie Germano Financial Coaching with the mission to provide women with the support and tools they need to take control of their money and achieve their goals. She does this through one-on-one coaching, monthly Money Circle gatherings, writing, and workshops. Follow Maggie on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook, and join her Money Circle group! For more information, or to contact Maggie directly, visit her website.

Image via Unsplash

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