The Antidote to Money Shame

Bari Tessler

If you have regrets or doubts about your money-handling skills, you have the entire human race for company! Try this financial therapist’s Body Check-in technique whenever money shame arises.

Here’s a money paradox for you. On the one hand, you are absolutely unique when it comes to money. Your personal collection of money stories and beliefs, gifts and challenges, are as unique as your fingerprint. Yet, on the other hand, we all share universal patterns when it comes to money—deeper themes and truths and desires that connect us all.

There’s one feeling that encompasses both sides of this coin. We all share it, but in our unique way. And it’s the perfect place to begin healing and deepening your relationship with money: money shame.

In my 17+ years as a financial therapist, I have worked with thousands of people, and every single one of them has carried some kind of money shame. Women and men, black, white, and brown, young and old, tall and short, gay and straight, billionaires and paupers, spreadsheet enthusiasts and numberphobes, self-made entrepreneurs, welfare recipients, trust funders, and financial planners.

It doesn’t matter how much you earn, how much is in your savings account, how early you pay your taxes, how high your credit score is, or what your cultural or religious background might be, money shame is an equal opportunity affliction.

Often we sweep money shame under the rug—because surely it can’t hurt us there, right? Sometimes we shame ourselves for even feeling money shame (Who am I to feel this way, and why can’t I get it together?). Too often, money shame holds us hostage to old, unhelpful patterns and criticism, keeping us scared to start our
money healing journey.

But when we get brave and look money shame in the eye, it can be a doorway into a new, happier, and refreshingly honest relationship with money. All it takes is an open heart, a lot of patience, and one simple tool.

Money Shame, I Know Your Game

First, we need to un-sweep this shame beastie from under that rug. Because while shame might be a universal human experience, we all carry it in different ways and forms and flavors, including:
• That inner voice saying, “I’m just not good with money—what’s wrong with me?” or, “When am I gonna be a grown-up with money?” or, “Wanting more money is selfish/materialistic/nonspiritual”
• Feeling guilty, afraid, or unworthy because you don’t have enough money
• Feeling guilty, afraid, or unworthy because you have too much money
• Getting hot, sweaty, and anxious when a money conversation comes up with your friends, family, or colleagues
• Being haunted by self-doubt, old resentments, or a lack of self worth
• Procrastinating, “checking out,” or getting sleepy, bored, or numb when you deal with money
• Rage toward the world, your family, your company, or the economic system because you even have to deal with this part of life

So, Where Does Money Shame Come From?

I’ve asked thousands of people, “Were you given a financial education, in age-appropriate increments, from childhood on up?” The crazy-ubiquitous answer? “Nope.” Money is a vast, complex territory, involving practical, emotional, psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual concerns. And whether we admit it or avoid it, love it or loathe it, we all live in this territory.

We earn, spend, give, receive, and interact with money constantly. But most of us were simply never taught how to manage money, let alone our feelings about it. For most of us, money is the ultimate taboo. See no money, hear no money, talk no money. And when we don’t somehow magically know how to deal with it, we shame ourselves for not being “successful” or “mature” enough. Is it any wonder so many people are floundering and suffering here?

Here’s some good news: simply naming your money shame aloud, even if just to yourself, is a huge first step. As shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown explains, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.”

The Only Way out of Money Shame: The Gentle Path

Shaming ourselves is an old, unconscious pattern. Telling ourselves over and over that we’re not doing it right, we’re not good enough, or we’re unforgivable is self-directed violence. It is inaccurate and unhelpful. Shaming yourself harder will not liberate you from shame. Tough love is simply not an effective way to heal emotional wounds.

You might be scared to be gentle with yourself, when it comes to money. But I have to keep beating up on myself about sticking to my budget. If not, I’ll blow it and things will get even worse! I know, I know: this inner disciplinarian can sound awfully wise. But the “tough love” approach is usually unhealed money shame in disguise. It might sound logical, but it will just keep you trapped in more layers of judgment and pain.

Instead, it’s time to set down your self-criticism and cultivate every last drop of forgiveness, self-love, and compassion you can muster. Only then are you ready to get in there—into those cobwebs and stuck places, memories and habits. Many of us avoid shining light here for a long, long time. I’ve talked to countless folks who could bring loving awareness to every other area of their lives—from spirituality to food to sex and far beyond  who felt money was the “final frontier” of their mindful life.

Many of us have mindfulness practices in other areas of life—on the yoga mat or meditation cushion, in how we communicate and eat—but we turn a blind eye to our money relationship. We remain unconscious, scattered, overwhelmed, or numb. We are a mystery to ourselves, especially when it comes to money. That’s why the practice I’m about to teach you is so versatile and effective.

The Body Check-In gently, reliably, and directly brings us home to ourselves, so we can get to know ourselves and our money relationship in a truer, more compassionate light.

You might find that the thing you’ve been avoiding might not be that big, hairy monster you’ve imagined. Your debt might not be as big as you’d imagined, you might be more capable with numbers than you thought, or you might find more hope and forgiveness than you’d dreamed possible.

My Favorite Money Healing Tool: The Body Check-In

This is the foundational tool I teach folks interested in money healing. It’s inspired by my body-based mindfulness background, and it’s the simplest, fastest, most elegant way to work with money shame (or any challenging emotion).

No matter where you are in your money healing journey, this simple practice can become your reliable companion. It will bring you home to yourself, unravel layers of resistance, soothe frayed nerves, and help you stay more present with joy.

While it only takes a moment to learn, don’t be fooled: when practiced regularly, it can be utterly life changing. Pinky swear.

I recommend practicing it daily, in all the money interactions you have. Before, during, and after a money conversation. Whenever big feelings come up, especially money shame. And any time you’d like to feel a little more ease, empowerment, and connection to yourself.

How to do a Body Check-In

Pause. Stop whatever you’re doing. You’re about to take a moment just for yourself. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Close your eyes, if that feels good to you.

Gather all of your attention and turn within. Adopt an attitude of gentle, compassionate curiosity. You’re not trying to change anything here, but simply notice.

Start by scanning your body. Notice any sensations on the physical level. Feel your feet on the floor or your tushy in your chair. Feel the air on your skin. Notice how your breath feels as it moves in and out: is it deep or shallow, cool or hot, quick or slow? Stay curious.

Next, turn to your emotional level. Without judging or trying to change anything, simply notice: What emotions are present within you at this moment? Is there anger, anxiety, annoyance, awe? How do you know? How do those emotions feel in your body? Again, just notice.

Now turn your attention to the mental level of your experience. What images, thoughts, memories, or self-talk are flashing across the screen of your mind? Simply notice them. Do your best not to follow them down rabbit holes or push them away—just be present with them, with your experience. Do more sensations or emotions arise, as you stay present with yourself? Take all the time you need.

As you scan your inner experience, at some point you may check in: Is there anything you’d like to add or remove from your experience to feel more comfortable? Would it feel better to shake some tension out of your shoulders or jaw? Or maybe to deepen and lengthen your breathing?

Remember, this isn’t about perfection but about adding tiny drops of ease and compassionate presence. Coming home to your body is powerful medicine, all on its own. That’s it! That’s all it takes to do a Body Check-In. This whole process might take a quick sixty seconds or a luxurious ten minutes, depending on your surroundings and situation. The key is to repeat, repeat, repeat.

I recommend doing Body Check-Ins any time you interact with money, and especially any time you feel money shame rearing its head. No money interaction is too big or too small for a Body Check-In. You might do a Body Check-In as you sit down to pay your bills, while you’re waiting in line, or before a money talk with your honey. I once ran into the bathroom at a car dealership to do a Body Check-In and emerged with a ton more capacity and

Strive for Presence, not Perfection

Getting more present with your money relationship can feel like a compassionate treasure hunt. Over time, you may gather clues, notice patterns, unearth unexpected gifts and gems. But you may also uncover challenging spots, old wounds, and growing edges. That’s okay! We all have aspects of our money relationship that
need ongoing growth and continued exploration. Even “money experts” like me.
• Every year, I understand more, forgive more, and learn more about money. I know that my emotions and reactions may never go away, but I can catch them quicker, feel them more fully, and work with and through them now.
• Every year, I update my bookkeeping systems or add someone to my financial support team. I am always fine-tuning my spending, earning, savings, and giving, striving to align my money with my values (because they can shift over time).
• Every year, I set new goals, adjust my dreams and vision, tweak my financial model, and have new conversations with my husband and my son.

Like me, you can choose to stay mindfully engaged with your money relationship—and when you do, you’ll find that your money relationship can grow and evolve along with you over time. You can always choose to learn new skills, deepen your intimacy, and come more fully home to yourself, with money. But this choice always begins in the present moment. And that’s why the Body Check-In is so radical: it brings you into this present moment. After all, it is only here and now that you can open your heart with a new, more embodied and honest relationship with money.

Awareness -> Understanding -> Transformation

When you can stay open, curious, and compassionate with your money shame, a new pathway opens before you. One that’s no longer riddled with negative self-talk or anxiety or hollow affirmations. You may soon find yourself on a journey into more clarity and ease, more power and forgiveness, and—yes—more joy than you’d imagined possible.

No matter how old your money shame is, you can choose to put it down. You can hold yourself gently when things get tough. You can build your confidence and self-trust, brick by brick. You can let go of those unrealistic expectations and celebrate your unique talents instead. You can create safe places for yourself to ask for help and
go deeper.

Over time, you just may find yourself making friends with money. Turning your financial to-do list into a rich, meaningful self-care practice. And having gentler, more patient, and open-hearted conversations with your sweetie—and yourself.

Make no mistake: every baby step you take into more un-shaming and mindfulness around money is momentous. In a world where money shame and silence are the norm, this is rare, brave work you’re doing!

So celebrate every ounce of willingness and gentleness you can find. Honor every baby step you take. Stay present and stay openhearted. Cheer yourself on with all the spontaneous dance parties and dark chocolate nibbles and shoulder shimmies you need.

Someday soon you may find the presence and compassion you’re cultivating with money beginning to ripple out into other areas of your life. In this way, honoring money shame can help us come together and create a kinder, more honest and joyful world.

. . .
Bari Tessler Linden is a financial therapist, mentor coach, “mamapreneur,”
and founder of The Art of Money, a year-long financial
course. Her work has been featured on,, The
Huffington Post, U.S. News & World Report, USA Today, and many
other media outlets. Bari is also the author of The Art of Money:

Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness.

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