News came to me from a colleague that a friend of hers has been following my posts about my dream of mastering my personal finances. I’m touched to know that what I’m writing has meaning for someone else. Apparently, this friend finds value in reading about how I’m feeling and behaving, and what I say and do, when it comes to money.
At the same time, the friend is unwilling to comment on any of my posts, even as they resonate with her. Why? Because she is ashamed. She has her own issues with money, and she’s working through them privately, and the shame over it consumes her to the point where she is afraid of being recognized.
I can relate to that. Until about ten years ago, I felt exactly the same way. Truthfully, I occasionally feel that way now, I just have different boundaries where confession leaves off and shame takes over.
My closest friend today was my neighbor and only an acquaintance 7 years ago, when I couldn’t afford the utility bill and lived without power for six weeks. Back then I lived in dread that she would find out I was using a camping stove to heat water so my children and I could take bird baths every couple of days.
In all honesty, to this day, though we’ve laughed and cried together, wilderness camped together, gotten tipsy together, and seen each other at both our best and our worst, I’ve never really come clean with her.
She has the gist of it, but she’d be surprised to know I kept a pint of milk and some butter in a little ice chest, and read to my children by flashlight and candlelight. Or perhaps it’s that she knows all that full well, and also recognizes my shame and doesn’t want to embarrass me with what she knows.
What I went through would never happen to her, I think to myself; I am the only one I know who could find myself in such dire straits with no backup.
Even as I say that, I know how silly it is. Stand on any street corner and look around at the passers by. They all have money issues. Some spend too much. Some hoard money. Some are afraid to ask for a well-deserved raise, and some are making a sky-high payment on a fancy car whose value dropped 50% the day they drove it off the lot. Some are collecting gold against the worldwide collapse of currency. Some are in the stock market and losing their shirt, and some have cashed in their 401(k) funds to make ends meet.
Let’s face it. We’re a capitalist society, and that makes us a nation of people with money issues. It’s part of who we are as a culture.
So I say to my colleague’s friend through this post: I know how you feel in your shame, I’ve been there myself, and I visit there often enough even now. Â At the same time, Â I want to drag that spectra of shame out of the shadows and point to it for the monster it is.
Shame is the sense that how we are is in some crucial way less than what we think we should be.
My online dictionary says:Â a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior. It goes on to mention low self-esteem, loss of respect, and dishonor. Ow, that hurts.
Shame demands that we constantly compare ourselves to some ideal, as though we could ever be perfect.
Shame isolates us from others who have been through something very like what we are going through, who have wisdom and compassion to share.
Shame punishes us for things we can’t go backwards and undo, and tries to convince us we’ll never get any better.
In her wonderful book Mindfulness and the 12 Steps, Therese Jacobs-Stewart refers to Step 1 as joining The Great We. For those of you not familiar, Step 1 in the 12 Steps says:
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (choose your addiction – mine is money) – and that our lives had become unmanageable.
This step is not about admitting fault for the purpose of accepting blame. It’s about embracing our need for the love and support of others as we try to do something we’ve found difficult, even impossible, alone.
That’s The Great We.
Though each of us has our own special demon(s), none of us is ever alone unless we give in to shame. There is never shame in admitting our flaws and challenges. Without them, we wouldn’t be human. With them, we’re part of The Great We.
Writing this blog since January has been a big step for me on the journey to letting go of shame. First I admitted my money issues to friends. Then I admitted them to you – mostly strangers. Next, I admitted them to my husband.
At each of step of the way I’ve felt a little less isolated, and a little less shame. I still get mad at myself for foolish decisions, and I still wish I could get back all those years of profligacy (I’d probably be a millionaire if I could, that’s how bad I was). But the quality is different. It might be regret, but it’s not shame – not so much any more.
If anyone in the World of Dreamers has wisdom to share with the reader who is struggling with a sense of shame over her money issues, please share.