Whether you’re in debt or trying to climb your way out of debt, shame can be a paralyzing influence that keeps you from making progress toward your goals and creating a better life. Knowing the difference between shame and guilt can be confusing because so many of us hold both of them when it comes to money. While noticing when these emotions come up can be helpful, letting shame rule your life can keep you from adequately dealing with past trauma and moving forward with your life.
Listen to this week’s episode of the rich & Regular podcast and keep reading below to learn how to work with shame instead of letting it rule your life.
Is it shame or guilt?
Shame and guilt are often confused with each other. The two can feel similar in the body, but the difference is that feeling guilt usually means that your actions were wrong and can be a signal that you need to apologize or make amends. For instance, if you set a holiday budget and then went way over that, you might feel guilty and start looking for ways to cut back in other areas.
When you feel shame, you’re saying that you, as a person, are wrong. When shame appears, you can start to believe that everything you do and touch is inadequate or worthless, which can stop you from making any progress toward reducing shame or improving your life. In the same example, shame would have you believe that blowing past your holiday budget makes you a horrible person—not that you made a mistake or need to course correct, but that you inherently are flawed and cannot be redeemed.
Often, shame will manifest in a variety of ways, especially where money is concerned. Feeling shame around money might look like:
Avoidance: Being so overwhelmed with your finances that you just ignore the bills and statements that arrive, irrationally hoping that it will all go away or trying to convince yourself that it’s not really that bad.
Overspending: Thinking that you’re so deep in debt that what’s one more charge on the credit card or one more night out, so you just keep digging yourself a deeper and deeper hole.
Hiding purchases: Hiding purchases from your significant other to maintain some type of appearance of control and responsibility might look like physically hiding purchased items, but it might also mean opening a separate credit card that your partner doesn’t know exists and then racking up the charges.
Healing shame is usually long and painful, but it will ultimately be worth it if you can change the narrative in your head and your actions in the world. Consider talking with a therapist to help you work through your shame and confusion around money. There are even certified financial therapists who can help you specifically with money issues.
If you feel shame about going to somebody for help, remember that everyone needs help from time to time, and no one was born knowing how to manage money. Having the strength to ask for assistance takes courage and wisdom.
As you begin to pay more attention to the shame in your life, start to notice all of the times you shame yourself throughout the day. If it feels comfortable, consider making notes or hash marks on a piece of paper so that you have visibility of the times you speak negatively to or about yourself during the day.
Once you see how many times a day you’re talking to yourself with shame, start to get curious about it. It can be helpful to spend some time with a journal and let yourself free-write everything you can remember about the messages you received growing up. Try asking yourself:
- Where did these ideas come from?
- Who’s voice do you hear in your head?
- How old does this shame feel (i.e., how old were you when you first became aware of shame)?
While these questions might feel a little odd if you’re not used to self-reflection, they can give you some insight into why and how you approach the issues in your life.
Develop compassion for ourselves.
As we begin to see where our shame comes from, we can offer ourselves compassion and forgiveness. We may be in a lot of debt and have many issues to face, but as we learn to listen to the stories we tell ourselves, we can develop a plan to fix the problems and ask for assistance.
Healing shame takes time and effort, but giving ourselves compassion is the first step in giving ourselves a better future.