Mental Health Month: Mastering Shame About Money

A moving story in the Atlantic, titled The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans, has sparked a discussion about the struggle that many of us are having covering basic living expenses and have no financial recourse for financial emergencies.

In the piece, author Neal Gabler shares his personal financial struggles — at one point borrowing money from an adult daughter to pay for heating oil — and shares that he’s part of the 47% of Americans that a recent federal reserve study found could not come up with $400 for an emergency.

While most analysis of money and financial behavior focus on debt, income, and investment levels, a conversation is emerging about how a large number of Americans have problems paying their bills, and as Federal Reserve research found, they do not have savings available for emergencies. Even worse, due to social stigmas about financial distress, many suffer in silence.

Dr. Woodruff Johnson, an instructor at Online Trading Academy, shared with what he considers things we should all consider when confronting the emotional shame we can experience as a result of our financial lives.

  • Awareness: Through self-reflection and introspection, when you begin to feel shame and/or guilt; stop, take a deep breath and ask yourself the question, ‘What must I be telling myself or believing to feel this shame or guilt?’ This type of appreciative inquiry will begin to uncover the limiting, irrational or negative beliefs associated with experiencing these emotions. Emotions to a great extent are outgrowths of your thoughts and many times these thoughts (limiting beliefs) are out of your awareness.
  • Reality Check: When you have identified the limiting belief(s) associated with feelings of shame and/or guilt, ask yourself the question, ‘Is this true, is it absolutely true?’ Usually, the limiting belief cannot stand up to this level of examination and will show itself to be a learned limitation. An example of this would be, ‘I’m not good enough and don’t deserve good things in life.’ Is this absolutely true…No, it is not.  In this instance you are in a better position to come up with another acceptable alternative belief to replace the limiting belief.
  •  Stress Management: Feelings of shame and guilt are very stressful and can cause cascading disruptions in your thought process and your overall health. It is important to incorporate stress reduction and management behaviors in your daily routine.  For instance, getting enough sleep, having a proper diet, drinking lots of water and providing opportunities to have down-time.  If you manage your stress and keep it at a low level, when you feel the emotions of shame and/or guilt you are better able to tolerate them and choose a response that is positive and productive rather than distracting and debilitating.

As we honor National Mental Health Awareness Month, use this as a time to tune up and turn down the volume on feelings of shame that are the result of social conditioning, and no reflection on who you really are.