What to Do When Financial Planning Evokes Deep Insecurity

May 31, 2024
A woman with black curly hair staring off to the side with a nervous expression

“Wow! That wake boat is amazing!” That’s the first thought that passed through my mind as we fueled up our rented pontoon boat over Memorial Day weekend. Loving life on the lake brings both joy and shame for me. I wish it was a purely emotional experience of bliss and pleasure — but it’s not.


Seeing the beautiful lake homes and wake boats evokes my imagination into what it would be like to own a home on the lake, and what it would be like to own one of those beautiful, fast wake boats. Once I am lost in the land of imagination, that’s where things start to turn dark. The self-criticism, regret, and comparison trap get the best of me. 


What’s scenario gets your imagination going related to life and money? 


Why Financial Planning Evokes Our Deepest Insecurities

There is often a very real financial cost associated with pursuing our dreams. This realization can bring us from an exciting daydream back down to reality very quickly. 


The tension between the current financial situation and our desired future can take a very real psychological toll. That cost evokes our deepest insecurities and shame — the feeling that “I am not enough.” Many authors have written about shame throughout the ages, and we have been warned that coveting something is a surefire way to experience despair. 


Financial planning, for all of its good intentions to help people look clearly at their lives and make informed decisions about allocating their time, money, and energy, comes up against one the greatest challenges humans face — our sense of self and relationship to others. 


The way we use money is an extension of our self-expression in the world. The meanings we give to people who drive nice boats vary, but there is a predictable range of responses from admiration to envy and everything in between. 


The process of financial planning may evoke the familiar cold, harsh views you experienced from caregivers that remind you that you are never enough no matter how much you have or do. On the other end of the continuum, financial planning can be like the permissive parent who gives you whatever you like but leaves you isolated to figure out what is best for you. At either end of this continuum, shame lurks in the shadows. 


Meanwhile, when we approach financial planning from a warm, empathic, supportive perspective, we can address our deepest insecurities and talk about them openly, acknowledging that we have longings and desires we are discovering how to fulfill. 


For me, the wake boat and house represent multiple things: success, status, meaning, connection, and playtime as a family. I deeply desire to create fun family memories to recall for decades to come. 


The Role of Financial Therapy

Financial planning helps us clarify goals and make decisions for the present and future with our financial resources. When this process dredges up deep insecurities, we will likely need to layer in financial therapy to help move toward our financial goals and desires. 


Privilege — and the accompanying shame surrounding it — is another issue I often see with clients. Breaking privilege shame into its two components will help us understand it. Privilege is about having advantages, rights, and immunities as an individual or group. Shame is a feeling of personal worthlessness or being undeserving. 


Psychologically speaking, we pair privilege and shame together for a number of reasons. One of them is to balance one psychological state with the other. It’s a psychological attempt to balance the relational scales between humans. This can pose a real psychological burden if privilege is the position you hold — that you can not feel good about yourself for the privileges you currently have or desire to have. 


As I talk with others, there is a distinct ambivalence that comes up around privilege and our view of ourselves in relation to others. Take the time to slow down and acknowledge that when we are talking about financial planning, we are not just talking about how to save, invest, or navigate taxes; we are engaging in our belief systems about how and why the world is ordered the way it is. 


Financial therapy is where we can suspend judgment about our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationship dynamics to get to a place of greater clarity and connection about why we do what we do with our money. 


How Financial Intimacy and Empathy Can Help

Money is relational. One of the primary reasons we have money is to facilitate trade between humans. It is the many layers of overt and covert meaning we add to this trade (as well as the real and imagined implications) that produce psychological and relational distress. 


When we feel psychological and relational distress, we need financial intimacy — the experience of knowing ourselves and others close to us with regard to a relationship with money. We all have stories (conscious and unconscious) about the role and meaning of money in our lives. When we open ourselves up to the vulnerability of being known in how we think, feel, and behave with money, we fundamentally change the way we experience money, ourselves, and relationships with others. 


Financial intimacy starts with empathy. Empathy is a way of showing up for ourselves and others with curiosity and compassion rather than criticism and judgment. It can be used to explore why we experience money and relationships the way we do. Empathy is often cited as the antidote to shame. This concept was popularized by Brené Brown in her famous TED Talk. Empathy has long been a significant tool in the therapist's toolbox and can be connected to the work of Carl Rogers, one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy. 


Coming Home To Our Inherent Self-Worth

Coming home to our inherent self-worth — the concept that we are valuable as humans, independent of who we are or what we have done — will be easy for some of us and more challenging for others. Our shame proneness is a major factor in our ability to connect with our inherent self-worth. 


When we get swept away in our insecurities and shame (dreaming of wake boats and lake houses, for example), it’s time to remember our inherent self-worth. This is easy to write about in a blog post; it’s more challenging to put into practice. 


For me, it’s helpful to remind myself that my self-worth is independent of what I produce and provide for my family. Yes, they love it when I contribute to a great weekend at the lake. But it’s who I am with them in our day-to-day lives that matters more than a fancy boat or a lake house. 


This is not to say I should not have goals or dreams about having a wake boat and lake house, but rather that keeping it in perspective will help me maintain my integrity and presence. Inherent self-worth does not absolve us from taking responsibility in our lives. Rather, it provides us a place to live with ourselves independent of how things work out for us. 


Fostering inherent self-worth can help us face and embrace the financial planning process from a place of self-compassion. Without this perspective, self-criticism often stymies our progress by stopping us from creating a financial plan or by causing us to obsess over the financial plan that we have created. 


This is why I created the Therapy-Informed Financial Planning process. It’s one I have needed for myself, and it has benefited people who want to live full, meaningful lives connected with their inherent self-worth. 


Let’s find 30 minutes to talk about how Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can help you. 

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