We all have money shame. Women, men, young, old, short, tall, gay, straight, spreadsheet enthusiasts and number-phobes, billionaires and paupers, self-made entrepreneurs and trust fund beneficiaries. No matter how much money you make or where you’re from, everyone has money shame. Everyone. Over the years, I’ve worked with people who earn $20,000 and people who earn $1 million. I’ve worked with people from different kinds of family and socio-economic backgrounds. Everyone has money shame.
The specifics are always unique. But this thread of shame shows up in stories and beliefs we all tell ourselves:
- “I’m just not good with money.”
- “I totally screwed up, made a mess, and now I can’t go back.”
- “I still feel strong sadness/guilt/anger/anxiety around such
and such money experience or memory or pattern and I can’t move on.”
- “I should be better at this by now!”
- “I used to be so good with money, what happened?!”
How money shame surfaces
Money shame can surface in many ways, at different times in our lives. Here are some of the ways in which we can experience it:
- as old stories that are still tangled, waiting to be understood and honoured and forgiven
- in your lineage, perhaps kept alive through a family dynamic of guilt, painful silence, or twisted communication
- hidden in lost memories, triggered by sudden remembering or ah-ha’s or a gradual waking up
- right here and now in your money relationship, as you play out familiar patterns that feel “off” or unconscious or un-aligned
- in little [or big!] moments where you feel unsettled with how you’re showing up in your relationship to money—perhaps you feel queasy or headachy or sleepy, as your body is telling you that something’s not quite right here.
Your money shame could be hidden in lost memories, triggered by sudden remembering or ah-ha’s or a gradual waking up
Why does money shame exist?
While growing up, most of us were not taught skills and tools for understanding and relating to money. We simply were not instructed how to manage money or how to talk about it. The concept of money is a huge territory, where so much is happening: emotionally, psychologically, practically, spiritually and inter-personally. And, whether we admit it or not, whether we love it or loathe it, we all live in this territory, every single day: earning, spending, giving, receiving, losing, borrowing, lending, investing and exchanging money. But we simply weren’t taught how to make sense of any of this in a conscious, healing way.
It’s time to give ourselves the permission, tools, and support we need to bring money back from the taboo-lands and heal our money shame.
There’s a conscious money movement afoot, working to bring money out of the shadows and into the light. It’s bringing awareness, forgiveness, alignment and practical tools to the money conversation. And it’s growing every day.
Gather the courage to face the shame
We all have unique strengths and challenges and growing edges with money. Each of us has places to grow, steps to take, healing that’s ready to happen.
While growing up, we were not taught the skills and tools for understanding and relating to money
In my work, I have asked people what they’re currently working on in their money relationship, and their answers have ranged from healing old wounds to setting up accounting software to having conversations with their children. At a certain point, we wake up and realise that it’s time to face the shame, the unhealthy habits, and have those tough conversations. Many of us avoid this for a long, long time. Money tends to be the last frontier, even for the personal growth aficionados. But after the whispers, or the call, or the giant red flag screaming for attention, one day we decide it’s time to open. It’s time to be brave. It’s time roll up our sleeves and take a real look at our money relationships.
The good news is that once you face the shame, you may realise that it is not that big, hairy monster you imagined it was. You may realise that you’re more on top of things than you thought. Remember that we all have aspects of our money relationship that need ongoing growth and continued exploration. Want to hear some of mine?
- Each year I update my systems or add a new person to my money support team.
- Each year I understand more and forgive more.
- Each year I take new baby steps on this money journey.
When you make the decision to start working with your money shame, soon [sometimes immediately] you will start to see a teeny glimmer of possibility, a path into the other side of money shame.
Money tends to be the last frontier, even for the personal growth aficionados
Words to the wise: we need to add big doses of gentleness here. “Tough love” is not the mode of operation for healing emotional wounds. Shaming ourselves is an old pattern. Telling ourselves, again and again, that we are not doing it right, that we’re not good enough, and that we’re unforgivable is self-directed violence. It’s unhelpful. And, actually it’s flat-out inaccurate. We all make mistakes sometimes in life and in money.
Let’s be gentle with ourselves, especially in these tough moments. Let’s learn some creative ways to respond differently, more lovingly.
How can you attend to your money shame?
Let’s begin with a technique I consider my “trusty tool”, the Body Check In. It’s a simple, fast, and elegant way to work with money shame [or any challenging emotion] when it arises. Here’s the short run down of how to do a Body Check In:
- Pause. Listen. Notice body sensations, emotions, the state of your breath, and
any thoughts that are passing through your mind.
- Gather data. Info. Clues. These are the keys that open your access deeper into your money relationship.
- Be open and curious. Let yourself get in there, into your body, into your Money Shame. Pull it apart.
- Name some of its tentacles.
- Add more doses of compassion and
- Move it to the side. See it next to you: “Hello money story/money pattern/money shame. Who are you? What do you have to say?”
- Breathe. Add another dollop of compassion, and two more teaspoons of curiosity. Breathe.
Telling ourselves that we are not doing it right, that we’re not good enough, and that we’re unforgivable is self-directed violence
What to do next
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Do this exercise as many times as you can throughout the day. Do it when you find yourself in tough times or stressed out, or simply feeling “off.” You can do the Body Check In at the grocery store, in the parking lot, getting the mail, reviewing your income and expenses, or even when you are about to have a money conversation with someone.
The Body Check In is extraordinarily simple and extraordinarily difficult. It’s my favourite tool because of its simplicity, elegance, and profound power to uncover your money story and open you into so, so much more. And, it is utterly life changing plus supportive.
Finally, remember always that money shame is big and beautiful, tender and taboo, personal and universal—and bursting with potential. Everyone experiences it. However, you do not have to remain trapped inside these negative emotions or feelings about money. Through understanding and practice, you can break-free from the shame, and grow to have a meaningful relationship with money.
This was first published in the August 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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