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Shame & Money

For many, money brings up feelings of shame, inadequacy and guilt.  Shame is defined in the Webster dictionary as "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety."  In order for people not to see our shortcomings and faults, we cover up our shame with a false image of ourselves.  The false image of ourselves can come in many different forms including:
  • Telling lies about money
  • Hiding purchases or money from one's significant other
  • Avoiding discussion about debt or investments
  • Going out for drinks and dinner with a group of friends when one can not afford it
  • Buying a car or house that is beyond one's means
  • Boasting how one stock doubled in price while avoiding how another investment tanked
  • Keeping up with the Jones

Another way that I describe shame is wearing a mask to hide oneself.  The mask is to cover up who you really are because you do not want others to know your financial situation.  So one buys a nice car or a big house to show friends how financially prosperous they are, even though they may be hiding mountains of debt.  How widespread of a problem is shame and money? 

Per Money/CNN survey, "71 percent of those polled owned up to one kind of money secret or another. Perusing the survey results, you quickly see that these household secrets have less to do with greed than with simple insecurity. We want people to see us as we wish we were rather than as we fear we are."



Some of these money secrets are:

  • 13% put off paying bills
  • 16% avoid financial news to avoid unpleasant feelings
  • 17% avoid looking at their bank and financial statements

And, some of the problems may not even be owned up to by the individual.  In a Genworth Financial survey, 80% of respondents said they recognized when others spend more than they can afford  (e.g., to keep with the Jones) but only 10% admitted this about themselves.  With the high level of credit card debt and low savings rate, the actual rate should be more than 10%.

As discussed in the self-worth section, Americans have used money as a way to try to build up their self-worth.  Lying about money or using money to build ourselves up does not make one feel better, it actually makes one feel worse.  Because what one resist, persists.  If one ignores bills or financial statements, time will not correct the problem; inaction will make the problem worse.  Or, if one has a shopping spree to make them self feel better, they will feel worse later, especially when the bill comes.  In addition, the energy that it takes to keep the mask on is depleting the energy that can be used to get out of the financial turmoil.

A key step is to recognize the issue of shame and address it.  Because shame is a mask one wears to cover themselves up, a key to overcoming shame is to be more open to who you really are.  When you hide who you really are, the shame actually grows and becomes more powerful in your lives.  The real issue tends to be over exaggerated.  You spend more energy trying to hide who you are than to fix the problem which gets you into more of a problem.     

But before you tell others about your money secrets, you first need to be open with yourself and actually love your money imperfections.  Instead of covering up who you are, you should love and accept the issues.  So what, if you have credit card debt?  So what, if your investments tanked?  These are material issues, yet will your grave stone read that you had credit card debt.  How you got yourself into this situation is the past.  You can fix the past by moving forward, if you stop beating yourself up over it.  So, get up on a stage and celebrate your mistakes.  So you messed up, we all have.  Celebrate these mistakes and get the anchor off your back.  The key is not what you did in the past, but what you do in the present.  If you are paralyzed due to the past (by beating yourself up), you can not fix the present (like by paying off the debt).  So, love it instead and take the energy out of the situation and put it instead into fixing the situation.

How do you get rid of Shame?  It is difficult to do, so do not expect this to happen overnight.  The process is

  1. Be honest - especially with yourself (look at your financial situation with a budget and net worth statement)
  2. Be able to celebrate your past mistakes (your debt, your investment decisions, etc.)
  3. Let your past go and take action to correct it in the present (e.g., come up with plan to get out of debt)
  4. Look in a mirror and say that you love you are, especially for your imperfections (mistakes you made)
  5. Be open with others about what you may have done in the past

It may sound strange to look in the mirror and say that you love your imperfections.  By loving yourself because of _____ (e.g., got into debt), it starts removing the shame off of being in debt.  It allows you to be open to learning about getting out of debt and how to avoid it in the future.  I use the word love because it is the opposite of hating your situation.  If you tell yourself thank you for getting into debt because it will teach you how to be more fiscally responsible, then it is a valuable lesson.  So, use either "like", "love" or "thank you", and you can start turning the situation around.

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