Reset The Money Shame Game

“I knew I’d screw it up.” “I should’ve listened to my dad.” “Only losers end up paying for financial advice.” “I’ll never be good with money.” “If I can’t manage my own finances, I’m a failure.”  “Why am I so stupid with money?”

Painful statements, these are. While I’ve heard them spoken out loud, I would bet they are spoken silently far more often.

Where do they come from?  It could be one traumatic event, or a repetition of harmful moments, that lead to shameful beliefs about our financial capabilities. Without a counterbalancing mantra of, “You are still good. You just made a mistake, that’s all,” the message delivered can be, “You’re a screwup. You’re a failure. You will never get it.” When we are young, after all, there is only good and bad. It’s impossible to grasp that it might be neither.

A few examples: Being left out of the family business discussions, while siblings are groomed to take over. Hearing parents fight over money, even though they seem to have plenty of it. Being told repeatedly, “You don’t need to know that. Your father/husband/brother/uncle will take care of it.” These can entrench the “I’m flawed” belief that is carried into adulthood. Without realizing this belief exists, we allow it to influence what actions we take or fail to take. It can even affect who we allow into our lives, and who we don’t.

If you’ve been operating under these assumptions, and now you know it, you’ve taken the first step to reset your relationship with money.

What else can you do? Here are two suggestions to start:

1) Be wary of those who are all too willing to reinforce these messages – family members, spouses, or even financial professionals. Their aim is to create dependence. Seek the company of those who say, “I have no doubt you can handle this,” and will work alongside you, not put themselves ahead of you.

2) Be aware of your body messages. Shame has a certain feeling to it – it might be tightness in the chest, or nausea in the stomach. Pay attention to the start of that feeling – then stop, breathe, notice, and redirect your thoughts to the positive. Call someone supportive to talk about it.

Undoing money self-doubts can be one of the greatest gifts we give ourselves to reach peace and security about our financial future.

For more on unspoken money messages, both negative and positive, see Chapters 2 and 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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