Manifesto: Being vulnerable around money
Living Money founder Jeremy Deedes looks at why Brené Brown’s work on shame, vulnerability and courage is so important for a good relationship with our money.
Welcome to Living Money’s Money Manifesto .
In an earlier post I considered when enough is enough and this month I want to digress into the subject of shame, vulnerability and courage around money and the art of wholehearted living.
Being vulnerable around money
Brene Brown and vulnerability, courage and shame
For much of this year I have been exploring Brene Brown’s research. Brown is a social scientist and storyteller who set out to spark a global conversation about vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness – emotions that, while rarely explored, drive our behaviour and thinking on a daily basis. Last year I had the privilege of attending her day and half workshop in London in which she reviewed all her work in a highly interactive session with an audience consisting mainly of coaches, therapists, teachers and other professionals involved in helping, as one participant phrased it, to improve the human condition.
It was a little sad, therefore, to find only one other person in the audience from financial services, and he was a fund manager rather than a financial adviser or life planner.
Why do I say sad? Because, as I well know from 25 years of work with clients to help them improve their lives and their finances, shame around money is often the most daunting obstacle to building a sound relationship with money and in so doing living a better life.
In the financial life planning community we regard shame as being one of the most destructive emotions around money, a point made many years ago by George Kinder, the founder of the financial life planning movement. Brown’s in-depth research into shame, and her conclusions, takes dealing with this emotion to the next level and financial life planners have much to learn from her work.
Brown defines shame as the intensely painful experience of believing we are flawed therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Shame leads to disconnection and isolation, which for human beings hard wired for connection is deeply traumatic and can lead to terrible decisions and aggressive, anti-social behaviour, making it one of the most destructive emotions we can experience.
Brown’s core thesis (much simplified) is that in order to deal with shame we have to become vulnerable. It takes courage to become vulnerable but if we do so we find ourselves in the birthplace of creativity, joy, belonging and ultimately, wholehearted living.
Vulnerability and financial planning
Why is this important for the financial services industry? Well, if financial planners are going to help clients deal with their lives and money (and the two go hand in hand), we have to give them the opportunity and security to become vulnerable so they can address their shame around money. Until we do so, numbers based advice alone will never be truly in the interests of clients.
It takes courage to become vulnerable. After all, vulnerability potentially equates to death whilst building walls equates to survival. The paradox, though, is that if we stay within our walls we don’t connect, we don’t grow.
Most of us have experienced shameful situations around money at some point in our lives. The rejected credit card is one common example. Being poorer than our neighbour and richer than our neighbour can both paradoxically, give rise to feelings of shame. (And as a sideline here, its interesting to note how Brown distinguishes shame and guilt; shame she sees as “I am bad” whilst guilt is “I did something bad”. The two are different, with different consequences and different ways of dealing with them).
Conversely, money itself can be the protective wall that shuts out vulnerability and leads to disconnection and a lack of personal growth. This is the deep reasoning behind the adage that ‘money does not buy happiness’.
Encouraging vulnerability and developing resilience to shame have to be at the heart of life and financial plans. When this happens it can produce amazing results. One couple I worked with allowed themselves, in the security of our life planning container, to become more vulnerable with each other than ever before. Realising that neither was going to be judged or blamed, they opened up to each other in the most beautiful way. Eventually, she turned to him with tears in her eyes and said ‘I wish I was a better wife, mother, sister and daughter’. It turned out that she felt unworthy of her roles, partly because of shame at the imbalances in their personal finances. Out of this, however, came reconnection and a creative life and financial plan for the future.
Vulnerability and ethics
We also need to consider how shame and vulnerability work in the context of ethics around money. Money is often at the heart of unethical behaviour and can put real strain on our personal integrity. But we need to be vulnerable to behave ethically. Ethical behaviour often means taking an opposing stance to the crowd and doing so is the route to delivery from the shame of taking unethical decisions.
So, in conclusion, shame around money is a very real issue for many individuals that can lead to an unfulfilled life and potentially destructive consequences. For individuals, dealing with financial shame through vulnerability takes courage and leads to a freer, more wholehearted way of living. For financial advisers intent on serving their clients in more than just a superficial, numbers orientated way, providing the secure environment and inviting clients to address their shames around money in a vulnerable way and listening to them deeply will produce results well in excess of expectations.