As you already know, guilt is an emotion that kicks-in regarding your behavior, choices and circumstances. It usually pertains to something you did; wished you had done, but didn’t; think you did; or are feeling.

And like many other emotions, guilt is complex.

Especially when it pertains to money, guilt can leave you feeling self-conscious about almost every aspect of it. From how much you spend and on what; your level of wealth; how much you earn; even how you feel about money and those with less or more than you.

Guilt about money can surface at different times, for different people, under varying conditions. However, it can conspicuously rear its head when we engage in cultural conversations about entitlement, high income and wealth.

So before I go further…

This particular post is not about the politics of wealth and the ever- widening gap between rich and poor; that subject requires a series of its own (and perhaps a different format).

This, the last piece in the current series of rich vs. wealth, is about the emotions of wealth. More specifically, it is about the interesting and complex emotion of guilt.

With today’s post, we’re going to explore the beliefs and behavior you often have to wrestle with when it comes to being rich or wealthy…or not.

Let’s Talk About Guilt

Reasons

Do you ever have any guilt about money – either having it or not having it? Have you ever felt embarrassed about financial goals, success or what you want?

I am going to venture a guess and say your answer is “yes.” If I am wrong and your answer is “no” please, please send me a note and let me know how you’ve managed to circumvent this minefield.

Because feeling completely unapologetic about one’s financial goals, desires and success is not something that comes easily to many people.

So when money guilt kicks in, what’s the reason? Maybe it is due to…

  • Spending beyond your means
  • Feeling self-conscious about your ability to buy almost anything you want, when you want
  • Having grown up poor and now doing really well, especially compared to some family members and childhood friends
  • Being born into a wealthy family, and not having earned your own money/wealth
  • Feeling you don’t deserve your financial success and abundance despite having worked really hard for it
  • Having debt
  • Not having achieved the level of financial success you thought you would have by now
  • Making costly mistakes in the past that you’re still “paying” for today
  • Judging others on how they spend their money, on what and what wealth they have
  • Etc.

Do any of these reasons resonate with you? If “yes” and your reason isn’t also the trigger for your guilt about money, what is your trigger?

And, to what extent are the reason and trigger connected to the attitude about money – and behaviors with it – that was shaped by your family, either in word or in deed?

Narratives

What narratives do you frequently find yourself buying into? For example, do you sometimes catch yourself believing in the “starving artist” cliché – for yourself or others? Or, what about applying labels to rich people that they are selfish, greedy or obnoxious? Do you find yourself feeling this way, or do you feel others are judging you in these ways?

Action Instead

Guilt about money (or anything, really) is tricky, tricky, tricky!!

In part because a healthy dose of guilt can serve a purpose. It can help you increase your self-awareness and self-understanding so that you learn useful lessons and avoid making the same choices in the future that prompted the guilt (whether it is about money or other matters in life).

But, it can also be all-consuming and keep you stuck.

When you find yourself feeling guilty and it is not a passing emotion, take these steps:

  • Identify the reason and the trigger;
  • Identify the narrative feeding it, if applicable; and
  • Create a counter response.

To make this less abstract, let’s say you feel guilty about spending more than you earn.

Why is this happening? Is it really because you’re not earning enough, or is it more tied to how you get paid?

What are you buying that is tipping you over the scale? What makes these experiences or things so important to you (or those you love) that you willingly carry the weight (and stress) of spending beyond your means?

What else is this impacting? Because it has to be preventing you from addressing other priorities? What are those priorities?

Where is the need to spend like you do coming from? Are you playing out a narrative from childhood? Are you feeling a bit of social/professional/peer pressure to keep up with others?

By answering these questions, you put yourself in the driver’s seat of your guilt – instead of it being an unchecked emotion that is driving you. It helps you understand your situation and the context surrounding it.

Once you answer these questions, you’ll have a roadmap for how to interrupt the pattern of behavior that is causing your guilt. Plus, you’ll know what to do on a one-time basis, as well as on-going to manage over-spending. This is your counter response.

Maybe spending isn’t your issue and this example doesn’t really resonate. Maybe you feel guilty about having more than others. Ask yourself these why, what, what else, and where-based questions so you can get to the root. Because hidden in your answers are clues for how to manage your guilt and its attendant behavior.

It’s a Responsibility

Regardless of how much of it you have, money comes with responsibility.

And one of those responsibilities is for you to be comfortable in your own skin about what you have – and don’t have. This includes how rich or wealthy you are or aren’t.

It doesn’t mean you can’t change your circumstances and earn a higher income and create greater wealth – if that’s your desire or goal. But it is worth remembering that holding onto guilt about money – in whatever form it takes – hinders your progress. It robs you of the success and joy that comes with money earned either from your own hard work or the hard work of others who came before you.

So, when money guilt surfaces, acknowledge it (suppressing it is a form of self-sabotage and is not useful), put it in its place…and let it go.

Because at all times, the goal is to have a healthy relationship with money. While that may mean different things to different people at different stages of life, it is not to be confused with being perfect with money and getting every single decision and choice right.

Knowing when to let go of guilt is a key part of having a healthy relationship with money — regardless of where you fall on the income and wealth spectrums.

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