Since I started “Recovering Shopaholic” in January, I’ve given a lot more thought to my reasons for shopping too much. I used to think I shopped because I loved clothes and fashion, but I’ve come to understand there is a lot more to it than that. My reasons for being a shopaholic go much deeper than a passion for style and I suspect this is true for many others who shop in excess.
The following is a brief overview of my perspective on the many reasons for compulsive shopping. I will expand upon some of the reasons listed in future posts.
I’ve found that when I don’t have a lot going on in my life, I tend to shop more. I find myself taking a trip to the mall or perusing e-commerce websites. Shopping provides a sense of excitement which may be missing in a person’s life. Just the simple experience of being in a mall or store is exciting, as there are bright lights, colorful displays, uplifting music, and lots of treats for the senses. That sure beats the monotony of day-to-day life which we all sometimes experience.
When I’m dealing with an unpleasant situation or have a challenging task in front of me, I often experience an uncontrollable impulse to hit the shops. I can remember shopping immediately following a job interview, after a difficult phone conversation, and when awaiting potentially worrisome medical results. Shopping is such a consuming activity that it takes our minds away from things that scare or confront us emotionally. Of course, when we are done shopping, the things which worried us are still there.
I have struggled with depression for most of my life and have even been suicidal at times. I often wrestle with issues surrounding my purpose in life and my worthiness as a human being. Sometimes I prefer not to sit with these feelings, as I don’t know how to appropriately address them. So I shop, and shopping uplifts my mood, at least temporarily. In fact, it sends me into an altered state, not unlike the high one gets from alcohol or drugs. The high doesn’t last, but it does provide relief in the short-term.
Loneliness / Desire for Connection
Despite the proliferation of social media and the numerous methods available to connect with others, many of us suffer from loneliness and a lack of connection. When we shop, we are out among other people and often develop a rapport with sales associates and fellow shoppers. I know that I have had a number of engaging conversations while shopping and that has helped me to feel less alone. However, I have to remember that the salespeople are not really my friends. They may feel that I’m a pleasant person, but in the end, talking to me and being nice to me is part of their job.
Low Self-Esteem / Insecurity
For most of my life, I’ve struggled with low self-esteem and feelings of not being “good enough.” A lot of my shopping has been an attempt to measure up and fit in, and to some degree it worked. As I dressed better, I received more compliments and validation from others. Of course, with fashion the target is always moving. The styles continually change, so one must keep buying new things to keep up.
Poor Body Image
Some people refrain from shopping for clothes when they have gained weight or feel bad about their bodies. For me, the opposite has been true. When I feel unattractive or fat, I shop in the hopes of finding those “magical” clothes that will provide me with positive feelings about my body. In essence, I am shopping for a feeling more than for actual clothing, but any improvement I receive in my body outlook is temporary. Then I must shop some more to try to allay my anxiety and dissatisfaction with my shape.
Many women shop with friends and family members more than they shop by themselves. In some relationships, shopping is the only “fun” activity that is shared. When we shop with loved ones, there is often a lot of pressure to buy. We often end up buying too much or we purchase things which really don’t work for our lifestyles or personal style aesthetic. In addition, if our friends are buying lots of trendy new items, we don’t want to miss out or appear lacking in terms of style quotient.
Past Poverty / Deprivation
A lot of people who shop too much experienced childhood poverty or struggled with financial difficulties earlier in their lives. Perhaps they only had hand-me-downs to wear when they were growing up and now they want to make up for lost time. In my case, I grew up in an affluent part of the San Francisco Bay Area. While my family wasn’t poor, we couldn’t afford to buy a new wardrobe for me each school year. Many of my classmates rarely wore the same garment twice and I couldn’t compete style-wise. As an adult, I wanted to make sure that I was one of the best-dressed people around.
Sometimes people over-shop and wrack up credit card bills to get back at a parent or spouse. Although they may have difficulty expressing their negative feelings to the person in question, they show their displeasure through their excessive shopping. While the vision of the disgruntled housewife charging thousands of dollars to her husband’s credit card may be stereotypical, anger toward a spouse often fuels compulsive shopping at least in part. Thankfully, this is one reason for over-shopping that I don’t have!
Often when a person overcomes one type of compulsive behavior, they replace it with another, especially when they have not addressed the underlying reasons. Many women with eating disorders “graduate” to compulsive shopping. Geneen Roth illustrated this phenomenon beautifully in her book “Lost and Found.”
As I mentioned in my “History of a Shopaholic” post, I struggled with anorexia nervosa and bulimia for many years. As I emerged from the acute phase of those disorders, I developed my shopaholic tendencies. I only recently saw the connection between the two compulsions. Recovering alcoholics and addicts may also begin to shop too much after they stop using their previous drugs of choice. The need for escape remains, but the substance used changes.
The list above represents only one person’s perspective on the reasons for over-shopping, and my list may or may not be comprehensive. I welcome feedback and additions from readers! Do you have other reasons why you shop too much? Would you like to expand upon the reasons I have mentioned? Please feel free to add your comments below.