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Feelings and Money: It's OK to Talk About It


"We destroy ourselves when we stop feeling. If you bury your feelings within you, you become a graveyard."

-Bernie Siegel


I'm driving out of town for the weekend, but realize it's payday so I stop at the restaurant where I work to pick up my paycheck. It's on the way, so it's no big deal. Next week's schedule is also out so I get to check my schedule at the same time. I feel pretty efficient.

As I walk into the back I can't find my name on the schedule. I check again but still don't see it. I don't understand so I go to the office and ask the manager if he screwed up. He tells me that, since the other restaurant across town closed, he decided to take me off the schedule and gave me my last paycheck.

I can't believe this. I'm furious. I wonder how they could do this to me after five years. I worked overnight shifts for them. I worked 13-hour shifts for them. All that and they just drop me without warning.

Years later my wife and I are watching the final episode of Six Feet Under. This is a combination of both the happiest and saddest sequence of events I've ever seen - in a movie or on TV. My eyes fill up with tears.

Of course, I'm sitting next to my wife so I try my hardest not to cry. I can't cry. I'm a man. Men don't cry. Instead, I try to push it away while trying to take in this amazing finale.


In the first case, I thought I was mad. Part of me probably was, but I couldn't recognize that I actually felt equal parts angry, betrayed, sad, and afraid. I'm only allowed to show anger - and that's really the only emotion I know how to show.

In the second case, I tried as hard as I could to not cry. As a result, I didn't get as much out of that episode - and thus the whole series - as I could have if I embraced my feelings and went on the ride the writers wanted me to go on.

talking about feelings

Emotions and Feelings

I can't talk about feelings without talking about emotions. Feelings and emotions are used pretty much interchangeably, but technically they are different. I'll be using the word "feelings" throughout this post, but feel free to think in terms of emotions if that's helpful.

I'll give you the highlights. According to, emotions are physical states that come from external sources. Feelings are mental associations that are reactions to our emotions. For example, you might have an emotional reaction that is happy, and that could cause you to feel pleased, satisfied, optimistic, or delighted. I won't even try to add "mood" to the mix.

Just think of it this way; emotions happen in our bodies and feelings happen in our minds. We feel feelings because of emotions.

difference between emotions and feelings

Feelings Serve a Purpose

Believe it or not, feelings serve a purpose. They are a message about what's going on; about whether or not our needs are being met. If we can learn to pay attention to what we're feeling when we think or talk about money, then we learn to collect clues about what your values and needs are and whether or not they are being met. You can listen to what your body is telling you.

purpose of feelings

Our Struggle to Express Feelings

That all sounds pretty simple, right. The problem, of course, is that we've been taught not to express our feelings. Even worse, many of us have been taught not to feel our feelings. We were told it's not appropriate to feel bad and especially not to talk about it. Add money into the mix and you've got two taboo topics, feelings and money.

Do you remember when you were a child and you felt afraid, angry, or sad? When you felt intense emotions and feelings as a child you likely dealt with that by crying, screaming, or throwing a tantrum. As you know, both your parents and society frown upon children throwing tantrums, especially in public.

As children, we are trying to figure out how the world works. When we feel intense feelings, express those the only way we know how, and then get scolded for doing so, we learn that emotional release is bad. We're often told to "suck it up" or "get over it." We learn, then, that feeling bad is not okay and we need to push aside those negative feelings. We've become very good at finding ways to avoid negative feelings.

It seems we've learned that men have permission to express anger and woman have permission to express sadness. This results in our inability to actually feel what we feel. Not only do we struggle to express our feelings, we don't have much practice feeling our feelings.

struggle to express feelings

Importance of Expressing Feelings

We're so bad at expressing our feelings that even when we try we do it wrong. Perhaps you've heard someone say something along the lines of "I feel like you're disrespecting me," or "I feel like I'm not doing a good job." We often think we're expressing feelings because we use the word "feel." However, if you look more closely those aren't actually feelings. You ought to be saying, "I think you're disrespecting me," or "I don't think I'm doing a good job." Confusing the words "feel" and "think" is a sign that we've become disconnected from our feelings.

If we can learn to properly articulate the actual feeling we can start to better communicate with those we love. For example, "I feel hurt because you used me as an example at the meeting," is better than, "I feel like you're disrespecting me." Likewise, "I'm feeling dumb because I can't figure this problem out," is better than, "I feel like I'm not doing a good job." Being more precise about what we feel will help others know how to help us better. Of course, this is difficult because in order to express feelings we have to first admit that we have them. That can be an uncomfortable first step.

When we spend our time avoiding our feelings about money, it's difficult for us to be in the present moment with our loved ones. Instead of enjoying others' company we are often lost in thought. Being able to say what's on our mind will help keep suppressed feelings from coming out when we least want them to.

Not talking about something won't prevent you from thinking about it. And not thinking about something won't make it go away. Successfully communicating your feelings will strengthen your relationships.

importance of expressing feelings

Mixing Money and Feelings

We already don't like talking about money. Money is uncomfortable to talk about because the moment we bring up money we open ourselves up to judgment. If you add disagreements and fights to the mix, you've added a layer of complexity. Fights are already uncomfortable but fighting about money is worse. When you add the third ingredient of suppressed feelings, you've got a pressure cooker that's waiting to explode.

This can get very nasty, and we're not likely to be very productive when we fight about money while suppressing our feelings about it. Suppressed feelings are really pent up frustration that hasn't had a chance to get released. When you are in a heated argument you are likely emotionally flooded, meaning you aren't acting like an adult; it's like two 7-year-olds fighting and all they are trying to do is "win" the fight. These are the moments where we are primed to release all that pent up frustration all at once.

It won't end well. You'll say things you don't mean. You'll talk about sensitive topics. You'll be nasty. So will the other person. It a situation that will spiral out of control very quickly.

fights about money are nasty

Small Steps Toward Expressing Money Feelings

Since we don't have any practice feeling our feelings because we push them aside, we often get them wrong and default to the feelings and emotions that we're "allowed" to have. Men will confuse pain, grief, impatience, worry, and fear with anger. If you start to pay closer attention you might find out that you're not mad, you're actually nervous, for example. Women can confuse fear, frustration, guilt, or regret with sadness.

I encourage you to practice increasing your vocabulary with regard to your feelings. Right now it's likely that your default is to hide your vulnerability, suppress your emotions, and disconnect from your feelings. It's likely that how you actually feel isn't part of your awareness yet. By learning and practicing, you'll be able to better increase your awareness. And that increased awareness will help keep you from having to bottle things up.

increase your awareness about feelings

Instead of feeling good (nonspecific), try to see if you can feel happy, excited, or relieved. Instead of feeling bad (nonspecific), try to see if you can feel sad, frustrated, or tired. Being better able to communicate with those closest to us will make money conversations easier, and easier money conversations are more productive and less stressful.

You only have one life. Live intentionally.

organize your financial mess

Related Money Health Reading:


Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

Sarah Newcomb: Loaded

Jordan Peterson: 12 Rules for Life

Marshall Rosenberg: Nonviolent Communication

Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.


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© 2020 Money Health Solutions, LLC



About the Author

Derek Hagen, CFA, CFP, FBS, CFT-I, CIPM is a speaker, writer, and coach specializing in financial psychology, meaning and valued living, resilience, and mindfulness.


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