Money conversations can bring up a wheelbarrow of issues, including shame, fear, and isolation — the trifecta of emotions. For “Susan,” these hidden feelings were beginning to wear on her relationship with her partner because she was never fully present in the moments they shared. The shame and fear of being in debt were taking control of her life.
She pulled away from her spouse, avoiding certain conversations and situations that might expose her secret. Then the little lies started. When asked how she was, she would answer “fine,” even as her stomach was churning because her student loans were overdue.
The secrets also began to affect Susan’s relationships with her siblings, parents, and friends. She had moved past the place where her debt was simply an issue of spending more than she earned. The shame was keeping her in a vicious cycle of debt and isolation.
Where did we learn to hide our issues about money? Well, people have a tendency to hide the things that make them feel ashamed. We all have done it at some point, but the key is to get hold of those self-destructive behaviors and take back control of our lives, so we can be happy.
Shame is taught to us by those we have the most contact with when we are very young. It is passed from generation to generation, and as we get older, we take that shame with us like the proverbial teddy bear, keeping it out of sight until someone gains enough self-awareness to break the cycle.
So, how do we solve financial problems by admitting our shame? We have to free ourselves to begin tackling the problems from a safe, honest place. If you feel like shame is taking over your life, try these three steps to get back on track.
1. Communicate with those closest to you, the people with whom you feel safe. As you start sharing your financial situation, you’ll see those people staying with you and not judging you. (If they scorn you, dump them. They are toxic and don’t have your back.) You will feel a bit more courageous and more secure with yourself.
2. Get a grip on repaying the debts. Commit a sustainable amount to repayment, even if it is only $25 a month. Keeping your commitment is the starting point to building self-respect and self-trust. When you "own your stuff" and recognize where your weaknesses lie, you respect yourself, and there is no more room for fear, isolation, or shame.
3. Keep a journal and be compassionate with your efforts. The negative messages of a lack of worthiness were imprinted long ago. They will not disappear in a month or a year. You have to be patient and vigilant, and believe in your heart that you are worthy. It is your responsibility to understand who you really are and make healthier choices, which includes being present and in control when spending money.
YOU need to be the best caretaker of your mind, heart, and body. It’s an old, but true saying: If you don’t put yourself first, no one else will. You have to rid yourself of the shame that’s holding you back if you want to make yourself a better partner and have richer relationships in your life.
Be a full person first; the rest will follow like dominoes.
Find tools to help you on your journey of getting control of your life on my website. And, you can sign up for your 30-minute free session and get “What’s Holding You Back?”, chapter two of my book It’s NEVER About the Money … Even When It Is, by signing up for my newsletter at The Financial Whisperer. Twitter: @emotionandmoney.
Pegi Burdick is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.