It was a conversation with a friend I’ll never forget. Her family was dirt poor. Mine was quite wealthy.
Our childhoods were starkly different, but we shared a startling similarity. Growing up, we both felt a lot of shame around our family’s finances.
I hated being different from my friends. She loathed feeling less than her peers. I never knew if people liked me for me or my rich parents. She always suspected others pitied or looked down on her.
That’s when I realized: Money Shame is ubiquitous regardless of one’s economic status.
Recently, I’ve also realized: Money (or lack of it) is not the source of our shame. Money simply magnifies the shame we’ve always carried.
Shame is the intense pain of feeling so awful, so flawed, so defective that I’m worthless and unlovable.
I’m convinced that unhealed shame is perhaps the major reason smart, capable women struggle financially.
Here’s why. When shame is triggered, the logical thinking part of our brain virtually shuts down.
“It’s like our IQ drops 30 points,” Bret Lyon, founder of the Center for Healing Shame, told me. “We can’t think. We freeze. We feel stupid. We’re at a loss for words.”
Bret noted, during a workshop I attended last week, that because shame is so unbearable, we’ll do anything to avoid feeling it. He described 4 common reactions:
- Denial—numbing the pain, often through addictions (compulsive spending, chronic debting, and codependency).
- Attacking others—lashing out or blaming another, taking the onus off ourselves
- Attacking ourselves—slipping into brutal self-flagellation for being less than perfect.
- Withdrawal—isolating from others, going within to lick our wounds,
Each reaction, if left unchecked, can radically erode one’s financial stability. Which confirms my suspicion: the secret to financial security, for many women, lies in transforming toxic shame (self-loathing) into healthy shame (self-compassion).
To demonstrate how to do this, Bret led us through a 2-part exercise.
First, we adopted a shame-based posture: head bent, eyes lowered, shoulders slumped, heart heavy. Honestly, I felt horrible!
Next, we paired up and shared something we were proud of. The difference was astounding!
Recalling a past success quickly shifted my feeling horrible to “Yeah, I’m a flawed human being like everyone else and I have strengths.” That, in a nutshell, is the definition of healthy shame.
Shame and money is a relatively new topic I’m exploring. I’d love to know if you can relate. Leave me a comment below.
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