Financial problems embarrass and even lead to suicides


Suicide rates have risen sharply in recent years in the United States and personal finance coach Tammy Lally of Washington is convinced that the shame associated with financial problems is one of the factors influencing this.

Lally’s brother committed suicide in 2007 after receiving a foreclosure notice. Soon after, Lally’s mortgage business collapsed amid the 2008 recession.

She says she went from driving a Mercedes and living by the ocean to filing for bankruptcy.

“I was devastated by the pain and sadness I was feeling,” Lally says. “I haven’t told anyone about it. I pretended everything was fine. “

At one point, she realized that she was ashamed, that she was a failure because of her financial problems. When she changed careers and became an economics consultant, she realized how damaging these perceptions are.

Some clients were embarrassed by their debts and even their wealth. Others lived beyond their means or “pretended to be important,” taking care of the restaurant bill and helping everyone.

“I see that all of my clients are embarrassed by the financial problem,” Lally says. “We live in a culture where money dictates what we are worth.”

The origin of financial shame

We were born without knowing how to manage our money and everyone makes mistakes with their finances, according to Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a financial therapist from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In addition, there are many factors beyond our control, such as the economy, current trends and unemployment rates.

Often, however, people think that something is wrong with them if they are facing financial problems. They may feel stupid, immoral, lazy, or not sure how to handle money. They also torture themselves by thinking about what they should have done and did not do.

“When we make money mistakes or something happens to us, we tend to think of it as a personal fault,” says Bryan-Podvin, author of “The Financial Anxiety Solution”. “If you are doing it on your own, it is a good sign that you are embarrassed about financial matters.”

According to financial planner Edward Coambs of Charlotte, North Carolina, financial embarrassment can cause us to spend too much “to keep up appearances”, not thinking about our finances, or criticizing others who are also struggling.

“Shame makes us judge others,” Coambs says. “Because when we see that people have difficulties, it hurts us. “

Many therapists and researchers say that shame is not the same as guilt: we feel guilty when we have done something wrong and we are ashamed when we think we are weak or imperfect.

There are people who believe they are so imperfect that they don’t deserve to be loved or tied to others, according to Coambs. In extreme cases, suicide may be considered.

“Shame is associated with the loss of relationships,” Coambs explains. “It is a way of saying that you are worthless and do not deserve to have a relationship with yourself or with others.”

Shame and suicide

Suicides rarely have a single cause, and researchers can only speculate as to why suicide rates are rising or falling.

Some studies indicate that they tend to increase if unemployment rates rise, and a 2020 American Journal of Epidemiology study indicated that financial problems play a major role in suicide attempts.

But over the past two decades, suicides have increased even in times of economic prosperity. The suicide rate increased 35% from 1999 to 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, they went from 14.2 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants to 13.9. Figures for 2020 are not yet available.

Lindsay speculates that income stagnation and growing economic insecurity may be contributing factors.

Coambs notes that suicide rates for men in the United States are three times higher than those for women, which may partly address their sense of need to be the primary breadwinner in the household.

“Men suffer the most (from financial setbacks) because they tend to associate their worth with their income or wealth,” Coambs said.

What to do in case of financial embarrassment

All of this is worrying. But suicides are preventable and financial shame can be controlled, according to financial therapists. The first step is to recognize how you are feeling.

“The first and most pragmatic thing to do is call things by their names,” Coambs said. “Being able to describe your feelings in words helps start the process of relieving distress.”

You also have to be accompanied. Being able to discuss the financial embarrassment with someone you trust helps keep the person from feeling so lonely, says Lindsay.

“A lot of people think they are the only person in the world or the only person in their community who is financially embarrassed,” Lindsay said.

You need to be compassionate with yourself and learn from your experiences. Ask yourself what you can get out of all of this and what you should fix next time.

Lally talks about her experience on the TED Talk series and her presentation has been viewed over 2 million times. It’s called “Let’s Be Honest About Our Financial Problems” and it accompanies a book called “Money Detox”.

“My mission is to get people to talk about their financial problems,” Lally said.


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