What To Do When You’re Stuck

Have you ever gotten your car stuck? Really stuck, in mud or in a snowbank? Living in South Dakota, I have certainly had that experience. Think about what happens. You try driving out, you try rocking the car back and forth, you try shoveling, and eventually you reach a point where you’re just spinning your wheels and getting in deeper. You are definitely stuck. You realize you are not getting out by yourself.

You might feel some embarrassment, maybe even some shame, depending on how you got stuck in the first place. But you aren’t going to just abandon your car, or you aren’t going to just sit there till spring. You’re going to call for help.

What do you do when you find yourself financially stuck? When you’re frozen or overwhelmed, and you just can’t move forward?

We can be stuck around almost any financial task or situation: in a dead-end job, overwhelmed with debt, needing to invest for retirement but not knowing where to start, needing to make estate planning decisions, being financially dependent on someone else, financially enabling someone else, struggling to follow a budget—the list is almost endless.

Usually, the stuckness is anchored in some type of emotional and financial dysfunction that is unconscious. We don’t know why we’re stuck. We don’t know how to do something different. And, unlike when our vehicle is buried in a snowbank, we find it extremely hard to ask for help. There is just too much shame around being financially stuck.

Most of us feel a ton of shame, and think that something is wrong with us, if we don’t do money well. Our money scripts and what society tells us give us the idea that there is something wrong with us. So we just hope the problem goes away, or we try to figure it out ourselves. We’ll try to find a book or a video that will help us fix it, so we won’t have to ask for help from a financial therapist or other professional. It’s highly unlikely that this will work.

If you are stuck financially, what can you do? My first and strongest recommendation is to find a financial therapist or other professional to help you do the necessary emotional work. If that’s not a realistic option for you, because of cost or other reasons, is there anything you can do on your own?

There are a few steps you can take, if you are willing to make the commitment and the effort.

1. First, become a curious observer of the stuck part of you. Instead of shaming and criticizing this part, step back and observe. Ask yourself, what is this part afraid would happen if it were no longer stuck? What does it hope would happen if it were no longer stuck? What is it trying to accomplish? What good intention does it have?

2. Then remind yourself that you are not that behavior, that the area around which you are financially stuck does not define you. You are not stuck, you are not stupid, you are not bad. What is lacking is the behavior, not your being. And what drives the behavior, even harmful behavior, is an underlying good intention.

3. Another suggestion is to start a dialogue with your behavior. Imagine yourself having a face-to-face conversation and write it out. Ask the behavior, “What are you about?” Or ask it the questions from step one above. Write down the response, then your answer, and go back and forth with the dialogue. This can go on for some time, and it can be an insightful and powerful exercise.

4. Become aware of what you feel. The previous podcast covered this in detail, so I will just remind you here to remember that a feeling is one word. It’s amazing how just naming what you are feeling can shift things.

5. Another tool that I have discussed elsewhere is to practice meditation. This can help you quiet your mind and become aware of your feelings as well as help you focus on the parts behind your stuck behavior.

And finally, tell someone else about your behavior. It doesn’t have to be a financial professional, but it does need to be someone you feel safe with and trust not to shame you. One of the most powerful vehicles of change is to admit our shortcomings to another human being and have them respond with empathy. Hearing from someone else, “Oh, yeah, I’ve had that problem, too,” is freeing and healing.

These steps are not a substitute for financial therapy or other professional help. By practicing them, however, you can begin to modify the behaviors that keep you stuck and move a little bit further toward financial wellbeing.

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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