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Money Shame: We Don’t Need Her!

When I talk to anyone about money, the most common emotion I hear around the topic is shame. In general, shame is an overwhelming kind of emotion that compels you to hide your mistakes or flaws, many times to your own detriment. And when we’re talking specifically about money shame, this can keep an individual from asking for help when they need it the most.

Emma Newbury, a financial journalist, sees money shame as “a painful feeling of embarrassment or distress caused by aspects of our financial lives.” We may have experienced any degree of financial trauma as children – perhaps our parents fought about money frequently, maybe we lived through extreme poverty at some point, or we might have made a big financial mistake that we haven’t fully recovered from. Sometimes, you may not even know the source of your money shame.

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Whatever the source of your money shame, it can keep you from talking about money, even to your closest confidantes. This inability to talk about your most pressing money issues compounds the issue itself, ballooning it to a bigger and bigger monster that you are that more afraid to face. The more time you give your money shame to grow, the harder it is to confront it and, in too many cases, the more it costs you in actual dollars.

I was speaking to one of my peers, Stacy, about money and she confessed to me that she was afraid to talk about money aloud because she didn’t learn know how to manage it well when she was younger. She also confessed that she should be at a certain place in her retirement savings at the age of 40, but she didn’t know much about investing either. And the older she’s gotten, the more and more afraid she had become of admitting these things out loud, especially because of the opportunities of money growth she had missed out on.

After her money confession, Stacy sighed heavily as if she had just unburdened herself with a heavy load. And she actually did! Just by sharing aloud what her money shame was, she became braver and braver to say what she had been afraid to share with anyone else. Her demeanor physically changed and her shoulders straightened. It was as if she was actually carrying a heavy bag, and speaking her shame aloud made the bag lighter and lighter as she spoke more.

The antidote to the money shame many of us feel is to literally expel it from our bodies. How do we do that? We speak the words aloud to someone who will hold nonjudgmental space for you. Speak to someone whom you trust completely. It may even be speaking it aloud to yourself first. Speaking with a professional, like a financial counselor, is another forward step you can take to expel your money shame.

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Addressing money shame through journaling can also be a powerful way to explore and heal your relationship with money. Here are some journal prompts that can help you process your feelings around money shame:

  • What specific events or moments in your life contributed to feelings of shame or guilt surrounding money?
  • What situations trigger feelings of shame or guilt about money? What recurring thoughts or patterns emerge when you think about your financial situation?
  • What negative beliefs do you hold about money? Where do these beliefs come from? How can you challenge and reframe these beliefs?
  • How do you talk to yourself when it comes to money matters? Are you overly critical or judgmental? Practice self-compassion by writing a compassionate letter to yourself, acknowledging your financial struggles and affirming your worthiness, regardless of your financial situation.
  • What external pressures, such as societal norms or cultural expectations, do you feel that contribute to feelings of inadequacy or shame around your finances? What comparisons do you make, such as comparing your situation to that of your peers, that exacerbate your money shame?

As you journal, my big tip for you is to write whatever comes to mind without judgment or critique. Write it down, even if it’s your stream of consciousness. I believe that, just as a Pensieve can hold your deepest memories (shoutout to my fellow Potterheads!), your journal can hold your deepest insecurities so that they don’t poison your mind.