Money shame impacts nearly everyone; redesigning our relationship with money opens the doors for greater peace and prosperity
It all started with shame, for me.
It was the shame of holding my first student loan bill in my hands, shocked by those mute, unforgiving numbers. How on earth can I pay this, every single month?! I should be farther ahead, by now. How can I possibly earn the money I want, while having the life and career I want?
It was the shame of not knowing how to “do” all this money stuff. Bank statements would arrive in the mail and I’d shrug, tossing them straight into the blue recycling bin. (What do people even do with those?) Surely, money was too ho-hum, too complicated, and too mundane for an African dancing, somatic psychotherapist-in-training, authentic movement gal like me, right? (And yet, the not-knowing nagged at me, making me feel less-than and unsettled, more often than I admitted.)
More precisely, it was the shame of feeling like I would never be able to figure out money. Because I was “bad at math.” Because my parents had never sat me down and had clear, loving money talks with me. Because I had grown up with all the paradoxes and unspoken rules of the middle class. Because being spiritual and creative meant being bad with money (obviously). And because I couldn’t yet dream up a career that served others, made the world better, drew on my superpowers, and earned me a comfortable living.
And perhaps most of all: it was the shame of never speaking about money. Hear no money, see no money, speak no money. Not in my middle class upbringing (even though money was the elephant in the room during countless arguments and stressful decisions). Not even in my incredible, somatic psychology graduate program, where we could talk about sex, drugs, God, and everything under and beyond the sun — money simply wasn’t talked about.
If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.
~ Brené Brown
In the years since I first had that hot flush of money shame, holding that student loan bill, I have learned: I’m not alone. Far, far from it.
In my well-researched opinion: we all carry money shame. It’s an equal opportunity affliction, affecting women and men, gay and straight, trustfunders and struggling students, finance geeks and numberphobes.
It doesn’t matter how good at math you are. It doesn’t matter how responsible and “on it” you are. It doesn’t matter what economic class you were born into or if you never held a frightening student loan bill in your hands. It doesn’t even matter how much or how little money you have in the bank — we all carry some sort of money shame.
In my work as a Financial Therapist, I have talked about money shame with people who earn under $20K per year and people who earn well over $1M per year. Every single one of them carried some sort of money shame. But it can shapeshift into many different forms:
- That hot flush in your cheeks when your uncle asks over Thanksgiving dinner, “Wait, you’re still working at that job?! Why aren’t you at a higher level, yet?”
- That dreamy, queasy, numb feeling you get in the checkout line, worried your card will get declined.
- That desert in your mouth when your prospective new client asks what your rates are … and you panic. Am I worth it?!
- When you give your sweetie the coldest of shoulders when the mortgage payment is due, acting out your family’s dynamic of guilt, silence, and twisted communication about money.
- In those vicious things you say to yourself the month before Tax Day, because you feel so confused, so scared, and so alone.
Money shame is all of these things, and more. And if we ever hope to break its chains, we must break the taboo…and talk about it. And to do that? We have to feel it.
That’s right: the only way out of money shame…is through it. We have to get brave and patient enough to drop in and really feel what’s going on, inside ourselves. Yes, it’s scary. But it’s a radical act of self-love. And it starts with a 60-second practice I call The Body Check-In.
The Antidote to Money Shame: The Body Check-In.
Pause. Listen. Notice:
. . . body sensations
. . . emotions
. . . the state of your breath
. . . 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 curiosity.
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.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Before, during, and after . . . everything. In every possible moment. In tough times, when you’re triggered, when you’re stressed, when you’re simply feeling ‘off’:
- In the grocery store.
- In the parking lot of the mall.
- When you are going online to look at your balances.
- When you are going to your mailbox to get your bills.
- When you are reviewing your income and expenses at the end of the month.
- As you are about to have a money conversation with your loved one, your parents, your client, your children, your business partner.
… and so many more itty bitty money interactions throughout your day.
The Body Check-In is extraordinarily simple — and extraordinarily difficult. It’s my favorite tool because of its simplicity, elegance, and profound power to uncover your money story and open you to so much more.
And, it is utterly life changing and supportive. Pinky swear.
So, whatever happened to my money shame?
I learned that even an African dancing, somatic psychotherapist-in-training gal like me could “do” money. I learned that my creativity and spirituality weren’t actually detriments to money work — but crucial ingredients, my own “secret sauce” that transformed money from icky drudgery to a life-affirming, empowering self-care practice.
We can bring all of our smarts, creativity, spirituality, and personality to our money work. In fact, we must.
I learned that honoring my special gifts (my “superpowers”) actually helped me break through money ceiling after money ceiling … until finally, I created a sustainable business model that shared my gifts with the world.
I got brave and learned a bookkeeping system — and learned that, lo and behold, that half of my brain associated with numbers actually did work! (Yours does, too. I promise.)
I learned that we don’t have to do all this money stuff alone…and sometimes, asking for help (and truly receiving it) is what the strongest, smartest people do.
I learned that I could forgive my father, forgive my culture, and forgive myself…forging more compassionate and true bonds than ever between those I love (including my dear son), through honest, vulnerable money talks.
I learned that money is one of life’s gardens: when we tend to it, with love and patience (and homeopathic doses of dark chocolate), it bears fruit for everyone in our lives.
Most importantly, I learned that our “money work” is never done. It continues to grow and evolve, right along with us, for a lifetime. Money shame will always arise, in subtle moments or before scary leaps…but by practicing The Body Check-In regularly, we notice this shame, rumble with it, and emerge more centered and connected to ourselves than before.
Here’s to your money journey, then…wherever you are, along it.
Here’s to taking those brave baby steps.
Here’s to drenching yourself with more compassion and patience than you thought possible.
Here’s to un-shaming, layer by layer, moment by moment.
Here’s to all you are capable of (which is so much more than what money shame tells you).
And here’s to treating money shame, itself as a sacred portal: into the empowerment, confidence, peace of mind, and joy you’re really craving.
All of this…this is how to heal money shame. It is the journey of a lifetime. And it starts right here, right now, with your next, precious breath.
>Listen to an 8 minute audio recording of Bari discussing money shame and her ‘body check-in’.
>Learn more about the author at baritessler.com.