Tis the season for all the giving and stress about family and money. But for some of us, the stress about giving gifts is even higher. It’s also a time some of us feel more shame and guilt around buying ourselves something. If you know you know!
I’ve been told so many times throughout my childhood that I was selfish for wanting anything that even now, well into my 40s I experience a sense of anxious shame and guilt when it comes to buying something for myself. I equally experience a sense of anxiousness around buying for and providing for my kid. I have ever since they were born.
It’s not that normal parental stress around wanting to provide for my child. No, this is more of the stress surrounding a fear of being seen as bad and selfish if I can’t give my kid something. It’s a fear that if I can’t get them a concert ticket then I’m unworthy of being loved or liked.
I’ll go out of my way sometimes to give to them or others and there’s a very distinct difference between when it’s done from a calm state and when my mom’s voice is in my head reminding me of how selfish and bad I am.
Keep in mind, my mom told me all this from the time I was like 5, or 6, and being an overt narcissist she’s the most selfish person I know. I was blamed for her financial struggles and called selfish when I asked for a toy, clothes, or a special treat at the grocery store. I wouldn’t whine because I knew that’d get me in more trouble, but the requests were met with being scolded for being so selfish. Meanwhile, she’d buy herself all kinds of treats, clothing, and whatever else she wanted.
Again, she’s the most selfish person I know because she will only look out for herself to the detriment of everyone else.
So, I still struggle a bit with a fear of being selfish and ultimately a bad person especially when it comes to money and business. It comes up over the weirdest things. Angel and I were at Target in spring, and we saw a Limited-Edition Lego set of Ecto 1. For those of you unaware that is the famous car in Ghostbusters. It was freakin cool as hell and I knew Angel was struggling with some stuff at college and a breakup, so the anxiety rolled in.
I had to provide it right then because they wanted it and I had the money, but I know, spending from that anxious place is not healthy for me. I did it anyway and while I don’t regret it, I noted how easily I let that anxious inner critic pop out and run the show. It was worth it but again, not a healthy response.
I wasn’t done experiencing all the anxiousness and critical inner voice though because we kept wandering around and I found this super cute Nightmare Before Christmas tarot deck. It was adorable and only $12. Do I have a few decks that I love already? Yep! Do I also LOVE Nightmare Before Christmas? YES!!!! Did I get it for myself? Nope, because my mom’s voice was already set loose, and it was reminding me of how selfish I would be if I got myself the $12 tarot deck vs the $200 Lego set.
I felt the shame and guilt hard for the next few hours until I could sit down and ask myself why, why when I know where this all comes from did, I let myself give in to those feelings? I did it because I’m human and we all have moments when shit comes back up.
So, I took a bit of time to calm myself down and meet the very young inner child that lives within who holds this wound. I let her know I wasn’t mad, and I understood why she does this and told her she doesn’t need to placate our mom by upholding her beliefs about us.
I did the same thing I do with clients and gave myself a lot of compassion as I cleaned up the internal energy and let it go.
A lot of us that grew up being treated as if we were selfish for wanting things or learning that the only way to be loved and accepted is to give in all the ways have similar struggles. We deny ourselves and overly give from this anxious, fearful place that’s all about proving we aren’t selfish, we’re good enough and definitely not bad.
The truth is, we aren’t bad, we are good enough, and…it’s ok to be selfish!
Yep, selfishness doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Selfish can also mean prioritizing ourselves so we’re not constantly giving from half-full or empty cups. Selfish can mean doing nice things for us, splurging on ourselves because we deserve to.
I’m not talking about spending irresponsibility; we do need to make sure we’re not blowing money on bills to self-soothe which is a whole other wound. I’m talking about allowing ourselves to receive and be treated. That can be as simple as getting yourself some flowers, getting a burger or a new tarot deck, or dare I say…something like a regular massage or lunch date with friends!
You get to do things for yourself and give to others from a calm, relaxed state.
If you’re noticing, you may have some ick energy when you spend or don’t spend here’s something to try that I encourage my clients to do:
For the next week or two, whenever you spend money or think about getting yourself something, pay attention to how you feel. Notice any anxiety, tension, and any calm or relaxed feelings. Notice if there’s happiness or excitement does it feel genuine or does it feel kinda anxious and frenetic like it must happen right now!
Keep a log in a notebook, on your voice, as a voice memo or google doc and then evaluate what was going on in the back of your mind when the anxious and tense feelings existed vs happy, calm, relaxed feelings.
This will help you start to understand the difference in feelings and from there a bigger challenge will be to stop yourself from doing anything if you’re in an anxious place. Figure out how to soothe yourself at that moment instead. Even if you’re getting ready to buy something and need to put it down and step away for a few minutes or if you’re denying yourself and need to pause do it. There’s deeper work to do but in real-world applications, the only way to change the energy around spending is by disrupting the patterns. Go slow and again, do whatever you need to so you can calm and relax but the more you do this the easier it gets to break the habit.