Talking about debt is even more taboo and embarrassing to boot. In a recent survey commissioned by Questis, a finance startup, 56 percent of respondents revealed they believe discussing money is taboo. Debt was such a taboo topic that 3 in 5 (58 percent) respondents admitted to faking financial stability on social media.
Why Do We Feel Uncomfortable Talking about Debt?
When we’ve absorbed the cultural messaging that debt is bad, opening up about it is even more difficult. Why is that? For many people, money is something we believe we should be able to handle on our own. We buy into the idea that success is earning and saving money, and so, conversely, debt is a sign of failure.
We may feel guilty about the reasons why we’re in debt, and we may feel ashamed about our inability to better manage the situation.
Shame and guilt are cousins, but they’re slightly different from each other. When we feel shame, we focus our feelings inward and see our whole self, and our character, in a negative light. We feel guilt, on the other hand, when something we did resulted in a poor outcome.
Staying silent about money issues can only feed shame and guilt. The silence affects our ability to develop good money skills. Opening up about debt—and being willing to talk about money—are the only ways through to financial health.
How to Cope with Emotions Around Debt
First, it’s important to remember that debt is quite common. It can happen to anyone, for many different reasons, including divorce, job loss, medical emergency, major home repairs, or needing to financially support a family member or friend. Typically, most of these situations are entirely out of our control.
Second, it’s important to understand that debt isn’t a sign of personal failure – it’s not a reflection of your character. While you may worry that people will judge you for it, remember that your debt doesn’t define you. Try your best to be kind to yourself – give yourself some grace for experiencing what is a very stressful situation.
Third, remember that your debt is temporary, even if it feels all-encompassing and you can’t see a way out of it right now. You may feel overwhelmed, but with the right plan and some hard work, you can make debt a part of your past. There is absolutely a light at the end of the tunnel.
How to Talk to Your Loved One Who Has Debt
Perhaps you’re not the person struggling with personal debt, but your spouse or family member is. If you can see they need help, approach them with empathy and understanding. Make it clear you’re not judging. Also, emphasize that your love and acceptance isn’t contingent on their financial success.
Don’t dwell on the how and why of the debt—they don’t need to defend their actions. Instead, focus on the achievable steps you can take together to start addressing the debt. Help them feel supported. If you’re able, offer to help them create a plan or put some of those steps into action. If they need to talk to someone else, help them find a trusted friend or professional to ask for support.