Why tough love doesn’t work with money, and what to try instead

written by Bari Tessler December 2, 2015

You decide you want to “get your act together” with money. No more surprise overdraft fees, doggone it! You create a strict budget — perhaps for the first time in your life. And each time you overspend … you take out that emotional whip and berate yourself for failing.

Or, you decide to finally look at some of those emotional wounds and ancient patterns you have around money. You journal and reflect. And then, when your transformation into some Goddess of Abundance and Ease isn’t instantaneous, you spiral into the muck of why can’t I do this right? And I’m obviously not evolved enough (loser).

I’ve seen it over and over again: when our well-intentioned attempts to grow, heal, and evolve warp into self-shaming.

It’s Type A personal growth. Self-improvement that’s really self-directed violence hiding behind a smiling mask.

We put “loving myself” on our To Do Lists — and go on high alert for all the ways we inevitably fall short. We shout “bad dog” at ourselves, and tell ourselves it’s for our own good.

This “Helpful Disciplinarian” inside of you — the one who says, “I have to keep beating up on myself about this money stuff, so I actually get my act together” — this voice is a liar.

As helpful and mature as he might sound, he has no power to heal your old wounds — he only picks them open, over and over. He promises he’ll help you soar — then fastens lead weights to your feet and berates you for falling.

This “tough love” voice is only unhealed shame, yet again, in a “helpful” disguise, keeping you under his thumb.

If you think that working harder or getting smarter or restricting your spending is really the way out of your Money Shame, please: take a pause. Take a breath. And trust me when I say …

Tough love is not the M.O. for healing emotional wounds.

Shaming ourselves is an old, unconscious pattern. Telling ourselves, again and again, that we are not doing it right, that we’re not good enough, that we’re unforgivable — all of this is self-directed violence. It’s unhelpful. And, actually: it’s flat-out inaccurate. After all: we all make mistakes sometimes, in life and in money.

The only way out of shame is a new path: one blazed by gentleness and radical self-love.

“Tough-love” approaches to money, while they might work on a practical level, never create sustainable, positive, healing. Saying you’ll heal your Money Shame by getting your act together with budgeting is simply madness.

There is a time to spark some healthy discipline. But it’s after you put down that shaming whip. Loving discipline is never punitive. It’s suffused with compassion and loaded up with forgiveness.

The path towards a more empowered relationship with money (and yourself) isn’t one of shaming yourself into change — it’s one of releasing those unrealistic standards and cultivating every last drop of forgiveness, self-love, and compassion you can muster. Especially when you hit those inevitable rough patches.

Let’s add big, heaping doses of gentleness and generous spoonfuls of compassion and dollops of forgiveness to our money practices. Let’s learn creative ways to respond a little differently, a little more lovingly, next time that Money Shame creeps up. And let’s celebrate every single teeny glimmer of hope we glimpse, along the way — onto the other side of Money Shame, into joy, clarity, choice, and consciousness.

An Ode to The Gentle Path

Please, above all else: be gentle with yourself.
There is nothing heroic about self-criticism.
And there is nothing lazy about honoring your own rhythm.
Lay down that whip.
Try a fresh approach: Radical self-love.
Ooze compassion. Indulge in deep listening. Adorn yourself with forgiveness.

This has nothing to do with money. And it has everything to do with money.

Shame and criticism are deep grooves, playing in an addictive, ancient loop.
Let go of “tough love” and give “soft love” a try.
Leave your shoulds and shouldn’ts and why-can’t-I’s at the door.
They have no place in this healing journey.

Bless your inner critic … then write him a new, kinder job description.
Stop being mean to yourself.
Stop pretending you should be somewhere, sometime, someone else.
Realize: everything is as it should be. Right here. Right now. Just this.
You are not bad or wrong. You are human.
Evolving and unfolding and growing and choosing and longing and loving.

Honor yourself.
Celebrate your desires.
Adore your choices.
Claim your decisions.
Bless your priorities.

This is your path to carve.
Make it luxurious, loving, and sweet.
This is how deep change happens.
Through un-shaming, radical self-love, and all the compassion you can muster.

This is the way into deep money healing.
Radical self-love. Gentleness. No, it’s not laziness. Yes, it takes courage. And you can begin in any moment — even this one.

So … how do you do this?
Body Check-Ins.
Self-Care galore. (Whatever this looks like to you.)
Making your money practice an act of self-love. Candles lit. Chocolate at the ready. Self-hugs and “you got this!” pep talks on tap.
Practicing gentleness with your sweetie, especially around money. (Kindness loves being practiced on others.)
Learning the Art of the Elegant No.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Sit with your Money Koans.
Trust that the answers will come.
Trust some more.
And if you’re really ready, take my hand. Let me show you another way.


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