MONEY matters

Mark Zaifman's thoughts on money, global economic trends and politics

How Fear, Shame or Guilt Can Sabotage Your Relationship with Money

Mark Zaifman   |    Thu, Jul 10, 2014 @ 03:03 PM


relationship with money

One of the most challenging and vital relationships in your life is the relationship you have with your money. Like any relationship in life - being able to honestly assess how it’s going, making time for it, investing in it, caring about it, nurturing it - these factors and many more help determine the quality of your relationships.

So in that context, and as you read this post, please indulge me by thinking about your relationship with money as if you were thinking about and or describing a relationship with a long-time friend. Hopefully, that should not be too difficult, because after all, you and money -  you go way back. And like any long-term relationship, your history plays a large role in the status of your current relationship.

Whatever word or phrase you would choose to describe your relationship with money today, should you treat it badly, whether consciously or unconsciously, this relationship will indeed find a way to express its displeasure.

If you play the dangerous and risky game of pretending you don’t see the warning signs that your relationship is in need of dire attention - eventually, and often in ways that are unimaginable, you’ll get the message, and believe me, it will not come gift wrapped.

How can you tell if your relationship with money is out of balance? Look no further than the three usual suspects: fear, guilt and shame. It’s these three negative and disempowering emotions that will indicate how healthy or unhealthy your relationship with money is currently. Let’s take each emotion one by one so you can see what I mean.


"We become what we think about all day long." ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of the three emotions listed above, fear is by far the most pervasive and toxic emotion to your overall financial well-being. It could be the fear of losing all your money and ending up bankrupt. It may be the fear of never having enough money saved up to retire. It might be the fear of success. Yes, many people fear success so much that even when they’re on the cusp of making it big-time, their inner money demons will find a way to sabotage that potential success.

Perhaps no aspect of your relationship with money is more important than your ability to effectively manage your own negative emotions so they don't overwhelm you and affect your judgment. In order to change the way you feel about a situation, you must first change the way you think about it.

Meditation, mindfulness training, playing the observer to your thoughts - these tools and many more are needed to counter the fear-demon around money. Secondly and probably most importantly, fear lives and grows stronger in your mind the more uncertain you are about your personal finances.

If fear is or has been shadowing your relationship with money as far back as you can remember, now’s the time to slay that demon once and for all by engaging with a fee-only, independent financial planner that can provide you with an objective and independent assessment of your current financial picture.

Even if the news isn’t great, just knowing where you stand financially and developing an action plan to get your financial house in order will ease your mind greatly and limit the ability of fear to zap your energy and sabotage your success.


“When we played softball, I'd steal second base, feel guilty and go back.” ― Woody Allen

Having grown up with a Jewish mother born in Hungary, I earned my Ph.D in the philosophy and application of guilt at an early age, so this is an emotion I’m quite familiar with. How it relates to your relationship with money is fascinating.

I’ve seen guilt manifest around money in three major ways.

1) Guilt that you have too much compared to your friends or other people in your social circle.

2) Guilt about ignoring/neglecting your personal finances.

3) Guilt about secrets you’re keeping about money from your significant other.

Regardless of what’s causing you to feel guilty, those feelings of guilt are impacting your financial decisions in many negative ways. As a result, you often do really stupid things with your money and make decisions that are not in your best interest. The guilty money-demon has an insatiable appetite and will not easily go away.

If you did something wrong, made some stupid decisions, or are still keeping secrets, accept that you cannot change the past. Forgive yourself and if you need to confess, ask for forgiveness once everything is out in the open and then move on. If you suddenly hit it rich or inherited a ton of money and you feel guilty about it, then learn ways you could put your newfound wealth to good use by dabbling in philanthropy.

And the next time you begin feeling guilty about something you did, remember this saying: guilt is like paying interest on a debt that will never come due.


“Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” ― Brene Brown

Shame needs no introduction. It’s one of the most disempowering emotions you can feel when it comes to you and your money. Shame will keep you from making progress financially and it will keep you frozen and unable to make smart decisions.

If you’re a fan of the best-seller Your Money or Your Life, then you know our mantra - no shame, no blame.

Shame is one of the most challenging emotions to overcome. It can haunt you and shadow your relationship with money for your entire life. Left untended, you may unconsciously pass this destructive emotion on to your children.

If shame is your money-demon, I urge you to read or re-read Your Money or Your Life and see if the action steps and exercises help you deal with and overcome these feelings. If not, you owe it to yourself, your significant other and your family to seek counseling. In that regard, I highly recommend Spiritus Financial's favorite financial coach Pat Chambers, Ph.D.  Liberating yourself from shame and blame will be the greatest gift to you and your relationship with money that you could ever give to yourself. The benefits of that are as they say, priceless!


Photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/seven_resist/