I placed the item in my online basket. I’d been hesitating for a couple of years. Now, with 30% off it brought the cost right down into my budget. Still, I hesitated. 24 hours later I messaged my friend: “I want to buy myself an early birthday present, it’s expensive but I can afford it. I don’t need it but I really want it and I’d get a lot of use from it but I’m hesitating. Any wisdom?”
She responded…”if you can afford it, what’s the barrier?”
I started typing something about how I didn’t need it, how I felt I was buying into consumerism, that it was too extravagant. These statements could be true, but as I typed, the thought came into my head that I shouldn’t spend money on myself. Boom. There it was. The real issue.
I was left unpacking the thoughts of why I feel that way about spending money on myself. I swing between thoughts of
- I’ve worked hard to afford things that I want
- It’s ok to spend money on myself
- This is an investment in myself
- This money would be better spent on food or bills
- I should save this money in case I need it later
- I don’t deserve it, I don’t bring in enough money
In the moment it feels really hard to choose the right decision. However, when I’m reflecting objectively I can look at the big picture of my spending and say that I’m not a spendthrift and neither do I overspend. Instead, I just don’t actually have that much disposable income, which makes me feel ashamed to buy things for myself – even when I need them.
Guilt Vs Shame
The point of all of this is identifying the feelings. I don’t feel guilty about spending my money – I have earned it and I know I’ve done nothing wrong in spending it on myself. I do however feel ashamed about spending it – I should have more savings, there are others who have less than me and having money to spend on luxury items means your values are in the ‘wrong place’ (a narrative from childhood).
Sometimes even seemingly small purchases cause shame to rise inside me. I think about that for a bar of my favourite chocolate at £3 a bar (even though it’s my favourite!) Maybe you think that £3 is ok or perhaps you agree it’s a lot. I imagine if I asked you and five friends to name an acceptable amount for a chocolate bar we’d have seven different answers! Why? Because we all have a unique relationship with money.
Professor Brené Brown‘s research demonstrates there is a big difference between shame and guilt. She says that “…guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” Shame, on the other hand, is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” To simplify that for you: guilt is the feeling that we’ve done something bad and shame is feeling that we are bad.
I think that, like in many other situations, the key is being conscious of what we’re doing. If, as we reflect we realise that we’re making poor decisions, financial or otherwise then perhaps we use that feeling of guilt to make a change for the better.
If however, we identify the feeling as shame then it’s time to explore. Where are the feelings coming from? What triggered them? Talk about it with a trusted person to get a different perspective. My friend reminded me that I deserved to treat myself and that it was ok to spend money on me.
Investing in ourselves
I’ve written previously about investing in ourselves. For me, buying this item, a new running watch, is an investment. Running is something I do regularly, it keeps me mentally and physically healthy and I enjoy it. Although buying a new watch is the subject of this post, it could just as well have been about spending time on myself (where I’d also choose running ha!)
Whether it’s money, time or another resource we all need to invest in ourselves without feeling guilty or ashamed of doing so. If it’s a big commitment we might want to wait for a couple of days to think about whether we really want to invest in it. Consider the risks and benefits. By delaying the decision we can approach it with a clear mind. Consider also your intentions – why do you want to invest in yourself?
Whilst feeling guilty can motivate us to make better choices, according to Brené Brown’s research, shame isn’t helpful at all. In fact, it can lead people to destructive and hurtful behaviour. What does the feeling of shame have to do with investing in ourselves? Well shame comes up a lot when it comes to self worth and self care. We blame ourselves if we’re not keeping up with what others are doing. Or at least what we perceive they’re doing.
When we shame ourselves for our previous decisions we can get stuck, unable to make any changes. If you want to move forward you must learn to deal with the feelings of shame on a healthy way.
Actions you can take to invest in yourself
- Talk about your intentions with people you trust, who will empower you and hold you accountable
- Forgive yourself for any poor decisions you’ve made and use affirmations to keep you focused on your intentions
- Make a list of your strengths to remind yourself of your resilience and how you can use your strengths to challenge those feelings of shame
- Experiment and learn from when it doesn’t work. Look back on decisions you want to change and make a plan to change them.
- Start with small changes and remember to be patient with yourself. What is one small thing you can do this week to invest in yourself?
P.S. – I bought it and I love it!