It’s A Shame

Recently I read a post a financial blogger wrote describing the shame she felt while in debt.  Jana over at Enemy of Debt told how her debt made her feel in Ashamed of your debt? Me, too Here’s why.

Jana said:

Debt meant I couldn’t control myself.

Debt meant I couldn’t meet my basic needs.

Debt meant I couldn’t manage my money.

Debt meant I wasn’t making enough money.

Debt meant I was just like everyone else

If you feel like Jana does about your debt, or your weight or grades or anything else that would you like to change, we need to talk.

Shame is not a useful emotion. Feeling shame and listening to the constant critical self-talk that accompanies it, makes it much more difficult to change.

Jana needs to practice separating her Who from her Do.

Shame attacks the person, not the behavior and the two are NOT the same.

When we tell a child that we are surprised that such a generous person would act so selfishly, we are reinforcing their belief that they are a good person while discouraging acts of selfishness. If instead, we call them selfish, we reinforce that they are indeed a bad selfish person and that their behavior is not within their control.

If you are feeling shame about a behavior you are struggling to change, I challenge you to re-think its usefulness.

If you’ve had your Who and your Do bundled together for many years, it will take some time and effort to separate them.

Here are some actions you can try do unbundle your Who and your Do.

  • Tell someone or lots of someone’s. Keeping your challenge secret just increases the power it has over you and helps justify the shame you feel. Find a group of people that you can safely share with. Post your progress on the refrigerator door. Be as public as you can about your challenge. Chances are someone you share with faces the same obstacle.
  • Counter your negative thoughts and self talk with positive thoughts. Change “I can’t” to “I will”. Here’s what I’ve been doing to work on this  I Can’t
  • Try this exercise. List the top 5 reasons you are in debt, over weight, failing to achieve or whatever your challenge is. Now carefully examine each of those reasons separating the Who from the Do.  If any of the reasons have the phase “I can’t” in it, cross it out. Maybe you don’t but that doesn’t mean you can’t.  If any of the reasons speaks to a behavior, think about some   other areas of your life where that behavior is not a problem. For example, many of us face challenges with self-control. We may find it difficult to maintain self-control in the face of chocolate cake, the latest electronic gadget or a shoe sale; yet we have no problem refraining from saying hurtful things to others, pushing to the front of the line or cheating. The “I can’t control” reason you gave needs to be reworded in writing and spoken out loud. The new reason should be “while I successfully maintain self-control in most areas of my life, I have difficulty resisting eating too many sweets.” Perfect; now we have a mature intelligent person that wants to change a behavior. Another reason for lack of progress towards a goal is “I’m lazy”. This almost always comes from the mouth of those that work incredibly hard and are phenomenally successful at some other aspect of their lives. Change this shame induced reason to “although I am generally a focused and hard working person, I am finding it difficult to tackle this problem.”

Now that we have eliminated shame and separated the Who from the Do, we have a good chance for success.