Dealing With Shame About Your Personal Finances (And Anything Else)

When I first started sinking into a mire of debt, I began to really feel ashamed of my actual financial state. I would avoid the topic and when I couldn’t avoid it, I’d bluster my way around it while feeling really guilty and ashamed inside. Of course, I’d put a balm on this by going to the store and buying some stuff I didn’t need.

What I’ve found over the last few years is that shame is almost always your conscience trying to tell you something. On some level, you are aware that you are making some big mistakes, but your day to day actions are just perpetuating those mistakes.

How can one take the negative feeling of that shame, though, and turn it into the groundwork for positive financial change? Here are some tips for turning those negative feelings around.

Realize that your sense of shame is actually a good thing. Your mind is able to evaluate your situation, notice that something is wrong, and is alerting you to that fact. That’s a good thing, a response that helps you avoid bad situations. Listen to it.

Don’t cover it up with a balm. If you feel ashamed of your choices, don’t make another bad choice to cover up that bad feeling. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my life was the conscious decision to buy something in response to a bad feeling. This was a very weak method for covering up my shame,

Figure out what exactly caused the shame. Look at the situation that caused you shame and piece out what exactly brought it about. Focus on determining the root cause of that feeling, whether it be how you spend money, what you eat, and so on.

If you can take action to fix it, start taking action now. If you’re ashamed of your weight, ask a doctor for help on a simple diet and exercise plan. If you’re ashamed of your money, learn about frugality and controlling your spending. If you’re ashamed of your lack of understanding of a certain topic, read up on it. Take action now to kill that shame.

If you cannot take action to fix it, spend some time thinking seriously about why you’re ashamed of something you cannot control. I have at least one friend who is ashamed of the social actions of his parents and it hinders him greatly in society, for example. He has yet to really figure out that his father’s actions do not reflect on him. He is not his father and he has all of the freedom in the world to step away from that shadow – he can’t change what his father has done, so it’s a stationary shadow that only he can step out from under.

The real key is to not let shame persist except to motivate you to change. If you let it persist without changing the root cause, especially if you just look for quick ways to feel better immediately, that shame will stay with you. Instead, always look to how you can change things – or concentrate on gaining a deeper understanding and acceptance of the things you cannot change.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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