Truth Without Judgment: Lose ALL The Pride

Positive vs. negative 

Do people respond better to positive encouragement? Or to negative criticism? That’s a no-brainer, right? Of course we respond better to positive encouragement! And I don’t know about you, but when I self-talk, I often correct thought patterns going into pessimistic territory to bring them back to the path of affirmation:

  • “Why didn’t we get our financial act together earlier in our lives?!” gets shifted to, “Isn’t it great how we’ve been able to change our financial outlook so much even though we started late?”
  • “I blew the grocery budget!” becomes, “I never even used to know how much I spent on groceries. I’ve become so much more aware.”
  • “Some people are way more frugal that we are,” transitions to, “We are way more frugal than we used to be.”

Is there ever a time to go negative? I’m all for positive thinking, but I believe that in our efforts to stick to the sunny side, we often deny ourselves the help that certain not-so-sunny truths can give us. Here’s an example:

Acknowledging a negative: pride

I thought that I had overcome any pride that stood between me and financial health. After four years of working our way towards debt-freedom, DH and I have had plenty of opportunity to face down pride – and we HAVE faced it down.

  • A feeling of envy at other people’s travels has made way for an attitude of anticipation as we look forward to the day when we will travel again.
  • A sense of embarrassment for not having the landscaping of some of our neighbours has transformed into contentment with simple and less.
  • And as for our 17-year-old Dodge Caravan – that has mortified our daughters for years now – we see in it a hopeful symbol of the changes that are shaping a brighter future for us. We want it to last forever.

So there. Pride has been dealt with, and we’re reaping the rewards: No more envy. No more keeping up with the Joneses. No more seduction by shiny and new.

The comment that unearthed my lingering pride

But it hasn’t ALL been dealt with. A comment made in response to my recent post about my stubborn money-management flaw – which is a lack of management when it comes to discretionary money – made me feel that old familiar feeling of wounded pride. Laurie and Money Beagle had already suggested putting aside a certain amount of my discretionary allowance each month so that I wouldn’t keep running out of it before the month’s end. “What you could do is take 10% off the top . . . ” Money Beagle suggested, “Call it your ‘no touch fund’ and it can be there for bigger opportunities down the road.” The problem with that, I replied – because I had tried the strategy a few times – was that I knew where this no touch fund was. And the “no touch” part of it never lasted.

Maja, who had read these comments, made another suggestion: “. . . how about you give that 10% to your hubby (in cash) and have him hide it for you, so that you’ll have to ask him to get it for you if you really want it?” Makes sense right? If I haven’t succeeded on my own, why not get some help? In fact, Maja’s suggestion was very much like one I had recently made to a friend who chronically overspends via her credit card. “Why don’t you give the card to me?” I said. “If you really need it, you’ll know where it is.”

But Maja wasn’t advising my friend. She was advising me. “I don’t need THAT,” was my first reaction – as my lingering pride flared up. “I’m not THAT hopeless.

Hmmm . . . . Why so defensive? I like the saying, “Where there’s a fortress, there’s a vulnerability.” What vulnerability was I defending with my reaction? And what did that reaction reveal about my attitude towards my friend with the credit card weakness? A little arrogance, I think. “Let me help you with the kind of help I’d be ashamed to need myself.” Only I did need it.

Negative criticism vs truth without judgment

Negative criticism: The truth is, I AM that hopeless. I’m so bad when it comes to managing my discretionary allowance that it might actually be a good idea for me to get my husband to hide some of it away to protect it from me. How humiliating is that?

Truth without judgment: I used a few harsh words up in that last paragraph: “hopeless”, “bad”, “humiliating”. Is it possible to acknowledge the extent of my weakness minus the judgment? I think so. Without criticism, without wounded pride, I can simply say, “I face a real block trying to apply everything that I’ve learned about money management to my own discretionary allowance. I’m not sure why I have such trouble in this area, but I do. It might be a good idea to get someone else to help me manage it. At least for now.”

And if I could say that without self-condemnation, wouldn’t it make my efforts to help my friend that much better too? If I’ve got a false pride, I’ve got a false arrogance. And if the flip side of my pride is self-condemnation, the flip side of my arrogance is disdain towards others. On the other hand, if I lose my pride and acknowledge my flaw without self-judgment, I’m in a position to lose my arrogance and get real with others without disdain.

Maybe negative isn’t always so negative after all

Does this all make sense? I hope so!  This week, Laurie wrote with such vividness of the the darkness a journey out of debt can involve – especially when the debt is so high relative to income. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. Is it a “negative” post? I don’t think so. It is honest, and I’m sure it has resonated with many people – in a way that has given them the comfort of knowing their struggles are experienced by others. There’s a relief in truth – even hard truths. False perkiness, that we sometimes feel inclined to resort to for the sake of being “positive”, doesn’t offer anything at all.

Truth without judgment: the new positive

So here’s my conclusion: truth that is hard and therefore seems negative, that hurts our pride, that we resist accepting, is actually positive IF – and only if – it is free of judgment. As you deal with your debt, acknowledge the character flaws and the difficult realities that surface. They’re part of the journey. And the strange thing is, they lose their negative power as you accept them without judgment. And though you can’t tell in advance how it’s going to happen, you can trust that this acknowledgement will alter the truth you’re accepting – and make it positive.

Have you ever had a hard time facing a certain truth? Have you ever tried false perkiness to avoid being negative? Have you ever had the experience of a seeming negative becoming a positive? Your comments are welcome.

*Image courtesy of Google Images

22 comments on “Truth Without Judgment: Lose ALL The Pride

  1. It’s difficult to be self critical, because when you do there is no where to hide. Good for you for being honest with yourself and swallowing your pride. I had to come to terms that I needed help with our finances, for years I kept the attitude that “no one was going to tell me how to handle my money” I was humbled when I crashed and burned on my own and was finally accepting of help. Now I want to tell everyone how bad I was so they can learn from it and improve their own situation.

    I try and stay positive, keep a positive attitude about most things. When I do feel negative thoughts creep in or have a Jones moment when thinking of someone else the difference now is I catch myself before those thoughts go too far and realize what’s happening. In the past I’d let them fully play out which was not very healthy.

  2. Being perfectly honest and completely positive always and at the same time is a tough – probably impossible balance to strike. Your “crash and burn” moment doesn’t sound like much fun, but you’ve made it the turning point towards a much better future. So that negative turned into a positive. It’s great that you now have that ability to catch yourself in those thinking patterns that lead to spending – like a “Jones moment.” You’re in a great position to help others facing the same challenges – as you are doing : )

  3. “As you deal with your debt, acknowledge the character flaws and the difficult realities that surface. They’re part of the journey.” So true what you said here, Ruth. No journey is a perfect one when it comes to paying off debt. Our journey is our own, and what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger.

    Love your posts Ruth! Keep up the good work 🙂

    1. Thank you, Mackenzie. I realize more and more that dealing with our money mess is really about dealing with our character flaws. I just thought I had discovered them all already!

  4. Great post, Ruth! We all have things to work on and it can definitely be hard to take when someone introduces that possibility to us. It’s natural to feel defensive at first, but important to pay attention and take a step back to see what we can learn.

    Like you, I have always tried to have positive thoughts, even when things were not as I wanted or expected. When I receive criticism, my reaction is almost always the same – first I’m defensive, then I feel bad about myself, and finally I accept it and try to improve if I see fit. Thanks for making me think about this!

    1. Thank you, Amanda. I don’t even think Maja was criticizing me. She was just giving a helpful suggestion that made sense. What it did was to make it very clear how lacking I am in this particular area of discretionary money, and I wasn’t ready to admit to that right away. I’m at the “accept it and try to improve” stage now though : )

  5. …I’m flattered to be featured, lol. 🙂

    I honestly wasn’t criticizing Ruth or trying to push her buttons (and I didn’t feel like you Ruth or anyone else were saying this). It’s just so much easier to solve other people’s problems than my own, hehe, so I was just thinking of practical solutions to what Ruth was talking about. Didn’t know I was touching a sore spot. 😉

    1. I find it easier to solve other people’s problems too, Maja : )
      And now that I’ve faced down that bit of pride that your comment made me confront, I’m going to do as you suggested. I’ll let you know how that goes. Thanks again!

  6. I love what Brian said about there being nowhere to hide when you have to confront your own faults. I think that’s SO true. If one can look at facing the truth without judgment, they can more easily accept help and/or change, I think. And I think you’re doing a terrific job, Ruth. I think that if “4 years ago” Ruth were able to look into the future and see today’s Ruth, that she’d be so proud of herself for how very far she’s come. 🙂

    1. I think that the Ruth from 4 years ago would say, “Pride? I don’t have any pride to deal with.” She was still in the dark – but she was on the right track : )

  7. I saw a quote this week that primarily said…”Don’t focus on the past as we only have the present. Be present in the present…”

    We can learn from our mistakes but it doesn’t pay to dwell on them. We are all guilty of something and it takes time to not make the same error again.

    You are right about pride. Sometimes we cannot move forward or be present in the present until we put that aside.

    1. I wish I could say I was dealing with a past problem, Josh. Unfortunately, it’s all too present. I’m hoping to make it a past problem as soon as possible though!

  8. I always appreciate the honesty in your posts Ruth – it is generous, humble, and inspiring. In general, I think people learn more for the honest account of another’s experience than from any advice or directions on how to fix a problem. As a direct result of reading your blog post, I’ve recently incorporated the personal discretionary fund concept into my household budget. Having such parameters around my discretionary spending has already made me more mindful of how I spend my money. Although it is not my intention, I fully anticipate blowing my discretionary budget this month. But at least I will be aware of it and will have a chance to do better next month 😉 So thank you for another wonderful post!

    1. “I think people learn more from the honest account of another’s experience than from any advice or directions on how to fix a problem.” Thank you for that, Laurie! I have decided to write in this way with some trepidation. What you say here gives me a needed bit of confidence. I look forward to hearing what impact this discretionary allowance will have for you. Thanks again : )

  9. I felt two releases today Ruth. 1 was to publish a post. The second was to comment on this post. What a relief! 🙂 Anyhoo! Ruth! You make me crazy! You are SO hard on yourself. I know you want to bear down on this thing and all, but it just feels like you’re trying to buy groceries for a family of 8 on $14 a week. Weird example, but it’s all I’ve got. I just wish you’d find another way through this thing. It feels like you’re beating yourself up for not being able to do what is probably not reasonably possible. The sooner you can go $40 over your budget a week and laugh about it and thank God that it doesn’t put you out on the streets, the sooner you’re not going to have to do this anymore. And I will be the one in the front row hooting and hollering for you the loudest when you burn that mortgage. Love and Prayers, kay 🙂

    1. Kay, I love it that you’re commenting again, and I actually enjoy a good disagreement. Here’s how I see it: 1. It’s not unreasonable to spend within the limits of a discretionary $600 per month (clothes, meals & snacks out, shampoo, tooth paste, gifts, gym). Most people in this PF world manage on way less. 2. By saying it’s an area of weakness for me, I’m not being hard on myself. I was embarrassed by it – hence the pride and denial, but now that I’ve done away with that, it’s my new mantra: truth without judgment.
      Just today, DH and I realized we had gone over budget in our common account, and my response was, “Oh well. Good thing we’re in a position to handle it.” I won’t be laughing about my overdrawn discretionary account because I really do want to master it. This is me being tenacious yet patient with myself – not me beating myself up. I promise!

  10. Great post, Ruth! I’m sure we have all had a hard time facing the truth at some point. I am way more likely to go overboard with the negativity than to do the fake perkiness reaction. But I agree that negativity minus judgment is really helpful. In fact, I’d simply call it facing reality. It’s hard to do, but I think stripping away all the overblown judgments and emotions that come with those makes it way easy to get practical and work on solutions. Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing this example!

    1. “I’d simply call it facing reality.” Bingo! And I like your point about “stripping away” emotions. As for your tendency to go overboard with the negativity, I think that’s easier to cure than fake perkiness – so you’re well on your way : ) Thanks, Kalie!

  11. Your “truth without judgment” reminds me of the concept of radical acceptance in dialectical behavioral therapy. You accept reality for what it is and act based on that reality, moving past feelings of unfairness and denial. I think it’s very mature and self-aware to realize our own shortcomings and use this information to work towards solutions to our problems, instead of beating ourselves up.

    1. Thanks, Clearwing. I like the term, “radical acceptance”. I’ve come to realize that awareness and maturity go hand in hand. For too long, I was lacking in both – especially with regards to financial management. But I won’t beat myself up about it : )

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