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    I Talked To A Financial Therapist To Learn More About "Money Shame" — And How To Cope With It

    "Mistakes are a part of engaging with money. We get to decide if we want to learn from those mistakes or if we'll allow them to take us down a shame spiral."

    The way we think and feel has a huge impact on our wallets, even though it's not always obvious. But unfortunately, many of us experience a lot of negative emotions when it comes to our cash, like anxiety and shame.

    So how can you spot your money shame, and what can you do to heal it? I reached out to financial therapist Lindsay Bryan-Podvin to learn more.

    To get started, let's make sure we're all on the same page about what exactly money shame is. "Shame is an internal feeling that comes when we believe we are bad," says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin.

    Woman looking at her bills holding a sign that says help
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    "We often use the terms 'guilt' and 'shame' interchangeably, but there is a subtle and powerful difference between the two. In a nutshell, guilt is external — 'I did something bad' — whereas shame is internal: 'I am bad.' When we apply what we know about shame to our relationship with money, a similar pattern emerges. Money guilt is 'I made a mistake with my money,' whereas money shame is internal: 'I am bad with money.'"

    You might also feel money shame when you read advice about how much you "should" have saved at your age or when your boomer uncle asks (again, ugh) when you're going to stop "wasting money on rent" and buy a house.

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    Similarly, restrictive financial advice that tells you that all debt is bad or that getting a latte is wasteful can also contribute to feelings of shame. Basically, applying moral judgments to your income, spending, credit score, whatever, can trigger feelings of guilt and shame that can have big emotional and financial consequences.

    According to Bryan-Podvin, money shame can cause us to freeze up and avoid our finances, which keeps us stuck.

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    "Our internal shame can hold us back financially because it prevents us from taking action," Bryan-Podvin says, and it's easy to see why. If you think that you're inherently flawed or "bad" at money, you might shy away from looking at your finances to avoid experiencing more negative emotions. "For example, if a person struggled to adhere to a spending plan (my reframe for the shame-based term 'budget'), they might automatically discount trying to save for retirement. Shame leads us to judge ourselves and compare our financial situation with others," Bryan-Podvin says.

    If your relationship with money involves shame, Bryan-Podvin says your first step to healing is taking a clear-eyed look at your feelings and where they come from. "Acknowledge the shame is there and that it's multifaceted."

    Young woman writing in her journal at home
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    "Our money shame comes from us, our families, communities, culture, and government policies. We don't cohesively learn about money, so it makes sense there'd be shame around money," she explains. "Once you acknowledge your shame, it's time to start saying goodbye to it."

    A great place to start healing your shame is by redirecting negative self-talk about your finances, particularly things like, "I'm bad with money." These thoughts reinforce your shame and disempower you from making changes.

    Also, steer clear of financial advice that tells you "all debt is bad." The truth is, most Americans have debt, and it's nothing to be ashamed of.

    Person throwing their bills in the air
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    Is dealing with debt fun or easy? Lol, no. But debt still doesn't deserve the kind of moral judgment that often accompanies it — especially when it comes to higher education and home ownership. How else is a person who wasn't born into money supposed to pay for college or buy a house these days? So instead of thinking of your debt as "bad," you can reframe it by saying something like, "This debt is challenging, but I'm making a plan to pay it down." This statement takes judgment out of the equation and instead focuses on what you *can* do.

    And look out for judgments you might hold (or hear from others) about what you spend money on, like the classic "You're wasting so much cash on coffee." If a purchase sparks joy and fits in with your spending plan, it was a good buy.

    Bryan-Podvin also recommends finding shame-free spaces to learn and talk about money. "Nowadays, there are more personal finance experts to learn from that aren't rooted in shame."

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    "Take the time to 'shop around' for a personal finance expert who has an approach that resonates with you," she says. "A lot of personal finance is about 'cutting' or 'restricting.' While some of that advice can be helpful, I encourage clients to advocate for their financial needs. That often looks like negotiating a raise at work, interviewing with a better-paying company, or for the self-employed, raising their prices." 

    If you find that shame pops up when you're comparing your finances to other people's, pump the breaks and refocus on yourself. Your money is personal, and you're allowed to make decisions that work for *you*.

    Person looking at their phone in a dark room and feeling bad about themself
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    "One of the things I try to do in all of my financial therapy work is remind folks that personal finance is personal. So many new clients want me to tell them what to do with their money because their shame has made it so difficult for them to trust themselves to make their own financial decisions," Bryan-Podvin says. "Just because my friend prefers to own a house and walk to work doesn't mean that my choice of renting and taking public transportation is bad." Plus, the person who you think is sooo successful could be secretly struggling too. 

    Finally, accept that you will probably make some money mistakes at some point. Everyone makes mistakes (even money experts), and they don't mean that you're bad.

    Is shame part of your relationship with money? Shame thrives in secrecy, so share your money shame in the comments. Whatever you're feeling, you're not alone.

    And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts