In my practice, I’m noticing an increase in a malady caused by fear. It is manifesting in particular ways that I’d like to alert you to…just in case you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of this malady and you haven’t yet noticed. The malady is Debt Denial.
Symptoms of Debt Denial
If you have even one symptom of debt denial, please don’t ignore it. As with most dis-eases, it is much easier to recover when it’s caught earlier rather than later. However, if this dis-ease has already progressed, it’s never too late to stop it from getting worse. So be honest as you read these symptoms:
1. Your budget is tighter than your jeans after the holidays: You gave yourself permission to spend during December but now are at the store looking at toilet paper prices.
2. You’re hiding credit card bills from your significant other: You know you’re avoiding an inevitable fight/showdown but you can’t convince yourself to face the battle yet.
3. You’re not opening up your bills: They’re stacked in a corner and the pile is growing daily.
4. You can’t stop overspending: You’re trying to maintain your state of debt denial for as long as possible, convincing yourself with those “incredible” post-holiday bargains.
5. You’re lying to yourself about what you have spent and are spending: You’re reassuring yourself by calling your purchases needs as in, “I needed a cashmere sweater anyway.”
6. You feel ashamed, resentful, or hopeless about your debt level: You are overwhelmed and feel powerless so you’re either in paralysis or ignoring how you’re feeling—or blaming someone/something.
If any of the symptoms of Debt Denial are ruining your day, year, or relationships, take heart; I have at least 5 steps you can—and deserve to—take right now:
Five Steps to Healing Debt Denial
1. Look at the bigger picture. When did you really start to lose control? How? Be honest. It’s one thing if you had a huge, unexpected medical expense; it’s another if you bought a car you couldn’t really afford. Most of us don’t suddenly find ourselves in debt; it is something we create over a period of time. You can begin to fix the problem if you know the timeline of events; otherwise, you’re likely to create a “quick fix” that will backfire.
2. Ask for help. The worst thing to do is to keep avoiding the problem, juggling credit cards, or lying. It’s no accident that the first step in AA is to admit that you need help. Without that admission, you’re still in danger of continuing your denial. Tell the truth to a friend, your partner, your therapist, a financial advisor. The saying, “We are only as sick as our secrets” is a call to shine the light in the attic of our self-deceits.
3. Get over the twisted “I deserve what I want” logic. If you really believe you are deserving, then you know that you deserve to be less stressed about money. You’ll do what it takes to make your life more comfortable, including doing without unnecessary stuff and services.
4. Stop striving for happiness, particularly through stuff; instead, strive for meaning. Happiness will make more than an occasional appearance when your life is rich in meaning.
5. Remember that life is like a cup of coffee. If you’re at a restaurant and the waiter comes by with two cups of coffee—one in a beautiful cup, one in a plain cup—which cup would you take? There’s no wrong answer but remember, by concentrating only on the cup, we may forget that it’s the same coffee inside. You are the coffee in life. Your value, your “net worth,” comes from how you brew yourself, not from your portfolio. So stop saying that you’ve lost X% of your net worth. Remember that abundance is “that which already exists within you.” You have the potential to have an abundance of love, compassion, wisdom, joy, humor, dedication, perseverance, intellect, and happiness. To be a person of genuine worth, we only need to heed this bumper sticker: “Become the person your dog thinks you are.”