I’m still processing the backlash I received on my recent article in The Financial Diet. I’m trying to understand the level of anger/frustration/illwill behind some of the commenters’ words. Initially, I thought that their inability to understand financial wellbeing as a concept was perhaps making their heads hurt. Upon further reflection, however, I can now see that the shocking level of rudeness/meanness behind their words probably stems from unacknowledged money shame.
Money is a deeply personal thing for most if not all of us. Which is why, I think, that people get so judgemental when they hear about money stories that are not their own. Inject the way that capitalism has conditioned us not to talk about money and it makes sense that people’s reactions to it become twisted and amplified. Case in point, the trolls in the comment section of my article straining themselves to a ridiculous degree in an attempt to shut me down.
Shame—especially the kind that’s triggered by money—affects us in two ways. First, it closes us off to curiosity. When money shame shows up, we flush with embarrassment or even anger and our ability to stay open to new possibilities and perspectives collapses. Second, money shame disconnects us from our capacity to be empathetic. In an attempt to affirm that we are good and okay, we judge others for their financial choices and realities.
Like Foucault’s theory of panopticism—whereby the possibility of being watched and disciplined for stepping out of line causes those being observed to self-police—money shame prevents us from approaching financial wellbeing in a way that is liberating. Instead, we react to our shame around money and try to impose that discomfort on others. The result is a lack of supportive dialogue about money and the sustainment of oppressive financial power structures.
While I will be exploring this in greater depth in the coming months, I have a feeling that money shame is prevalent in really specific ways in the creative world. On the one hand, many of us would like the opportunity to support ourselves financially off our art. On the other hand, a lot of the work that we do might be about dismantling the systems that would ultimately allow us to profit. Like most things in our world, our relationship to money is complicated.
This complexity is something that was obviously lost on the trolls who thought that a valuable use of their time was to saturate the comment section of my article with snark. The irony of this of course being that with greater access to financial wellbeing, they’d be more able to find empathy for their financial experiences as well as other people’s. What’s more, they might spend less time reacting to different money stories and more time learning from them.
So, how does money shame show up in your life and work?