In previous posts, I explored “The Reasons We Shop Too Much” and “Why Continue to Shop?” Those articles covered a lot of the reasons why compulsive shoppers continue to buy more and more, even when we don’t really need anything and may be in debt as a result of over-shopping. Today’s post looks at another reason for shopping too much and one that I’ve determined is a primary driver of my shopaholic behavior.
“Normal” Shoppers vs. Shopaholics
When we visit the mall, a local boutique, or our favorite online store, we usually think we’re shopping for a new dress, pair of shoes, or fun accessory to add sparkle to our outfits. For people who don’t have a compulsive shopping problem, the surface “need” is probably all that’s there. They determine a gap in their wardrobes and shop to fill that gap. Even if they happen to pick up an unplanned item on a shopping jaunt, there probably aren’t any underlying psychological reasons for the extra purchase.
Not so with shopaholics. The reason we think we’re shopping is rarely the main driving force for our behavior. There is often a deep emotional need that we’re meeting through shopping, and since new clothes or shoes can never fulfill our internal needs, we continue to want – and buy – more and more things.
Until we can determine what we’re really shopping for and learn to meet that need in a constructive way, the desire to shop won’t decrease. We’ll keep filling our closets when it’s really our souls that cry out to be nurtured.
There is Rarely Just One Reason for Over-Shopping
There is rarely just one reason for our over-shopping, which is why I continue to build upon this topic through a series of posts. My first article on the reasons we shop too much briefly introduced some of the more common underlying issues. Today I’d like to expand upon one of those topics through sharing more of my personal story. While I don’t necessarily have the answers, at least not yet, it is my hope that perhaps some of you will feel less alone if you relate to what I share.
Compulsive shopping is often accompanied by a lot of shame and secrecy and many of the people in our lives aren’t even aware we struggle with this problem. I’ve appreciated hearing from many of you that reading my words has helped you to feel less isolated and inspired to overcome your shopping issues.
Shyness, Insecurity, and Low Self-Esteem
For as long as I can remember, I’ve struggled with insecurity and low self-esteem. I was a very shy child who had difficulty making friends and frequently felt as if I didn’t fit in at school. I was also very bright and introspective and often lived more inside my head than among my peers. My family’s frequent moves exacerbated my social issues, as I often had to leave my hard-won friendships behind when we relocated to a new city. It was extremely difficult for me to talk to strangers (still is…) and the cruel environment of junior high and high school only made things worse in this regard.
As we all know, the issue of what to wear and how to dress is paramount to a high school girl. However, my height (I reached my current height of 5’10” at age 14) and excess body weight, coupled with a small shopping allowance relative to many of my peers, made it hard for me to measure up in the clothing department.
Every day, I wrestled with the decision of what to wear to school, and my resulting outfits were never really up to par. I always looked a bit ungainly and was not one of the “beautiful people.” I was more of a “nerd” who got straight “A”s in school but didn’t have boyfriends or hang out with the popular crowd.
A History of Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues
As I mentioned in “History of a Shopaholic,” I developed an eating disorder at the age of thirteen which exploded into full-blown anorexia nervosa by age sixteen. I was hospitalized six times in all and missed close to half my senior year of high school due to an extended hospitalization. My anorexia, and later bulimia, continued through my early thirties, but I was mostly out of grave physical danger by my early twenties.
Despite my continued struggles with weight loss and a long stretch of being seriously underweight, I was able to graduate from both college and graduate school and pursue a number of jobs and romantic relationships. By the time I met my husband at age 32, my eating disorders had mostly subsided, but my body image issues continue to this day and partially fuel my compulsive shopping behavior.
The Parallel between Eating Disorders and Compulsive Shopping
I could write an entire book on my eating disorder history (and perhaps I will one day…), but my main reason for sharing that struggle here is to highlight the connection between my anorexia and my shopping issues. Many of the same underlying emotional issues fueled both my eating disorders and compulsive shopping. The primary driver behind both my weight loss and my over-shopping has been a desire for acceptance. I always felt like I wasn’t good enough, so I dieted and shopped in order to become acceptable to others (and to myself).
The parallel between eating disorders and shopping issues is explored in an article titled “Eat, Shop and Be Merry” by April Benson, a therapist who treats compulsive shoppers. Dr. Benson (author of “To Buy or Not to Buy”) writes that one third of her shopaholic patients either have a history of eating disorders or were concurrently struggling with both eating disorders and over-shopping. If you currently suffer from both issues or have in the past, I highly recommend that you read Dr. Benson’s excellent article.
Never Good Enough…
At one point, I weighed approximately fifty pounds less than I do now (I never weigh myself now, so I don’t know the exact number) and I’ve spent close to $50,000 on clothing and accessories over the past ten years. Despite all that dieting and shopping, I have pretty much never felt like I was good enough.
Sure, I got very thin, but I didn’t see myself clearly and continued to believe that parts of my body were too big and needed to be reduced further. And even though I bought an inordinate amount of clothing, I continued to feel like I didn’t dress well enough. There were always so many others around me who I felt looked better than I did. So I dieted more and I shopped more, and it was still never good enough!
Ever Elusive Happiness and Self-Acceptance
I am self-aware enough to know now that my real problem wasn’t that I was too fat or that my wardrobe was sub-standard. While I did need to lose some weight in the beginning and my wardrobe did need improvement (and still does), those things were not the reason for my unhappiness.
Consequently, no matter how much weight I lost or how many clothes I bought, happiness and self-acceptance continued to elude me. Those things cannot be found in a number on the scale or at the mall.
Happiness and self-acceptance come from within, not from what we look like, how much we weigh, what we wear, or for that matter, what job we have and how much money we make (I threw those last two in because I’ve had a lot of insecurity there, too, and I’m sure others have as well).
Excess Weight & Unstylish Clothing Don’t Make Us Unacceptable
What’s true is that I was never unacceptable as a human being because I had excess body fat and didn’t look like a fashion plate. I was never unacceptable as a human being… period! I never really needed to lose weight or buy new clothes in order to be worthy of love and acceptance, but my beliefs told me these things were imperative.
Even though I now intellectually know I’m okay even with a few extra pounds on my frame or wearing last year’s fashions, something inside of me still doesn’t believe it. That’s why I continue to berate myself for my “fat thighs” and “big hips” and that’s why I continue to shop for acceptance. I’m still insecure and I still feel like I’m not good enough, and I still foolishly believe that if I lose five pounds and buy better clothing, I will feel different about myself.
Caring Too Much About What Others Think
As I wrote earlier, I don’t have all of the answers. Simply realizing why I do what I do hasn’t been enough to get me to stop. I still have a lot of desire to shop for more stylish and “acceptable” clothing. Every time I post my outfit photos, I feel like others will criticize my appearance and my style. I thought it would get easier, but it really hasn’t. I pushed myself to post the photos because I thought they would be a useful illustration of how one person navigates Project 333 and as a way of helping me to get over my worries about others’ opinions.
I know I shouldn’t care so much about what others think of me, but I do care. I know it’s a losing battle because there isn’t one person on the planet who everyone thinks is attractive and well-dressed. Style and beauty are such subjective things and they are only two (small) facets of who we are. I could be the most beautiful and stylish person around and there will still be people who will criticize me. The articles about actresses and models in the tabloids are certainly proof of that! If they criticize the likes of Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock, what hope do I have?
Acceptability Comes from Within, Not Without
For shopping to take the right place in my life, I need to gain my feelings of acceptability from within instead of from without. I need to believe that I am worthy of being loved and valued even if I don’t have the best wardrobe around.
I need to stop chasing an always moving target (that I was never that good at reaching anyway…) and learn to value myself for who I am inside. If I focus there, I have a much greater chance of feeling good, as I know I’m a kind, compassionate, intelligent, creative woman with a warm heart and a good sense of humor. Those qualities cannot be bought in any store and render me quite acceptable indeed!
Can You Relate to My Story?
I hope my story has resonated with some of you. Perhaps many of you can even relate to what I shared… Now that I’ve bared more of my soul, I’d love to hear from you.
- Have feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem fueled your compulsive shopping behavior?
- Have you been able to overcome your need to “shop for acceptability”?
If you have tips for me and the others who still struggle in this regard, please share them in the comments section below. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing such personal information publicly, you may also connect with me directly. However you choose to communicate, as always, I value your input!