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Mindful : October 2018
“If I make a lot of money, I’m betraying my working-class roots.” “I should be further along with my savings/earnings/debt payoff/invest- ment.” “ People who have money are bad.” “I should have more money by now—the fact that I don’t means something ’s wrong with me.” “I’m too reliant upon my parents/ husband/daughter for money. Why can’t I be more financially indepen- dent?” “People like me shouldn’t make money; it’s dirty and unethical.” “I only deserve money if I work really, really hard for it. Lazy people (like me) don’t deserve money.” “ Wanting more than ‘just enough’ money is selfish.” Back in my social worker days, one of the heaviest pieces of money shame I carried was the belief that I shouldn’t try (or even want) to earn a comfortable income: That would be too materialistic, shallow, and un-spiritual. Instead, I told myself I should just do good work in the world and be happy with that. Unfortu- nately, this shameful money belief only fed into another: I was sup- posed to earn more money and “be a grown-up” about it. Satisfying both of these demands wasn’t just difficult; it was utterly impossible. Indeed, when we look directly at money shame, we can start to recognize all of those sneaky contradictions and impossible double-binds it puts us in. EMOTIONS THAT COST YOU Suzie was convinced she’d never be able to show her face in public again. The beautiful house she had bought the previous year was falling apart around her. The foundation was cracked, and years of rain damage had begun separating the entire front wall of the house from the rest of the structure. The repairs would cost more than the value of the house itself and were far beyond her means. She had sunk her entire life savings and a generous loan from her mother into the down payment. As for many people, there was no legal recourse for Suzie; the only option she had was foreclosure and bankruptcy. Crushed and ashamed, she moved into a modest apartment a few blocks away. For the next several years, she couldn’t drive by the house without falling into despair. She cried at work, at home, and in public. She ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bari Tessler is a financial therapist, author, and creator of the online Art of Money program at baritessler.com. Money shame is an equal opportunity affliction, and it does not discriminate based on who you are. even began avoiding her favorite peo- ple and places for fear she’d burst into tears. She berated herself for creating this mess: Obviously, she told herself, it was all her fault, because she was bad with money and didn’t deserve such a nice house. Some money shame feels acute and all consuming, like Suzie’s. Yet there are also more subtle forms of money shame, and some of us only experience fleeting pangs of it here and there, when a memory surfaces or a late fee arrives, for example. One colleague shared that despite a huge leap in her earnings over the previous few years, she hadn’t saved more than a couple hundred dollars: As soon as money came in, like the tide, it went right back out. When she talked about money with others, considered buying a home, or projected long-term, her jaw tightened, her gut sank, and she wondered when she would ever “grow up” and learn how to save. If we took all of the various flavors of money shame, put them in a pot, and simmered them down to their essence, it would be something like: Something’s wrong with me. I’m not OK. I’m bad, deficient, not good enough. I’m doing something wrong in this area of life. While it’s often tempting to stuff down the unpleasant feeling of money shame, it is far more helpful to recog- nize it when it arises and call it by its name—no matter how huge or small it feels. By noticing, naming, and honor- ing even this challenging emotion, we crack a doorway into other, gentler, more reassuring states of mind. → 42 mindful October 2018 get real