In today’s post, I explore another one of the exercises in Dr. April Benson’s wonderful book, “To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.” I previously shared my insights from Dr. Benson’s exercise, “Why Do You Overshop?” Today I delve into the various triggers that can propel us to shop and discuss some of the main triggers that have been problematic for me over the years.
What are “Triggers” and What Types of Triggers are There?
Dr. Benson defines a “trigger” as anything that inclines you in particular toward shopping. A trigger can lead immediately toward shopping or it may set up a series of intermediate steps that culminate in the act of buying. There are five different types of shopping triggers:
Below, I provide some examples of each type of trigger and highlight some of my personal experiences in dealing with my most potent shopping triggers. For the sake of space, I will not address every trigger mentioned by Dr. Benson in her book, but I will touch on what I view as some of the more prominent triggers.
If this post really hits home for you, I highly recommend that you get a copy of “To Buy or Not to Buy” and work through the exercises. A few “Recovering Shopaholic” readers have worked through the entire book and have told me it’s helped tremendously with their recovery process. I will continue to write about the concepts and exercises from Dr. Benson’s book on this blog, as I feel it’s one of the best tools out there to help shopaholics manage our compulsive buying issues.
The following are examples of situational shopping triggers:
- Seeing a sale sign in a store window or receiving an email announcement about a sale.
- Buying a new outfit for an upcoming party, event, or vacation.
- Feeling compelled to buy a new garment (or shoes or accessory) from a magazine or catalog or after you saw someone saw wearing it.
- Shopping for birthdays and holidays.
- Being at home, having a day off, or simply being on your computer!
For years, I have subscribed to a number of style blogs and fashion magazines. While I enjoy reading about fashion and style and seeing inspiring outfit photos, I’ve had to limit my exposure to such materials as part of my recovery process. When I see a fashion blogger wearing a beautiful outfit which suits my personal style aesthetic, I often feel compelled to buy what she’s wearing (and she sometimes makes this very easy to do by means of handy affiliate links!).
Even if I don’t end up buying an item I saw on a blog or in a magazine, I frequently end up feeling a sense of scarcity in terms of what I have and worrying that my wardrobe is not good enough. While I still read blogs and magazines, I’m gradually paring down my subscriptions as I work to foster my feelings of “enoughness” with what I have.
Cognitive triggers take the form of thoughts you have that propel you to want to shop. Some examples of these types of thoughts include:
- “If I don’t buy this now, I won’t be able to get it.”
- “I deserve a reward for having completed that project.”
- “I feel guilty for yelling at my daughter, so I should buy her that jacket she wants.”
- “When I find pants that make me look thin, I’d be a fool not to buy them!”
- “If I buy this watch (or handbag or shoes…), I’ll appear successful and will get more accounts/business.”
It goes without saying that the pants example rings true for me! When I do find pants that fit me that are also comfortable and flattering, I have to resist the temptation to buy a pair in every available color! Of course, after my very long “pants drought,” buying a few new pairs may not be such a bad idea…
I often tell myself that if I wait to buy something, I may never be able to find something that great again, and I’ve also used shopping as a reward for finishing a project or getting through a difficult challenge. These types of cognitive triggers can be hard to resist, but I think the “power pause” is a good tool to use to allow some time for reason to kick in. If you leave the store and take a “time out” before buying, you may find that the spell has been broken and you don’t really need to purchase the item in question.
These types of triggers relate to our relationships and interactions with others. Here are some common interpersonal trigger scenarios:
- Going shopping following a fight or difficult interaction with a spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker.
- Receiving criticism (or even a compliment!) from someone.
- Going shopping every time you’re with a particular friend or family member.
- Buying new clothes in an effort to fit in or impress others.
- Rushing off to the mall after a favorite salesperson calls to tell you about new merchandise.
I’ve written before about my challenges of shopping with a friend. While I used to shop with several different friends on a regular basis, it’s now just one friend in particular. I would love to engage in different types of activities with her, but she always wants to have lunch at the same restaurant and wander around the mall afterwards. The good news is that I no longer feel such a compulsion to buy a lot of new things when I’m with her. The last time we shopped together, I bought two things, but I felt good about what I bought and it was within my budget.
I have definitely shopped to try to fit in or impress others. This was particularly problematic for me when I had my wardrobe styling business. I felt increasing pressure (mostly from within myself) to dress in a stylish and trendy fashion, and my anxiety that I wasn’t measuring up sent me rushing out to the shops. While I can’t say I’ve put all worries about others’ opinions behind me, this particular trigger is less troubling since I closed up my styling business. I feel freer to dress for myself now instead of for others and I’m continuing to refine my personal style as I work to shop less and appreciate what I have more.
Emotional triggers can be the most difficult ones to deal with! We often shop for emotional reasons and sometimes have no idea what’s triggering our behavior. Since these types of triggers are especially problematic for overshoppers, I’m providing extra examples below.
- You’re feeling annoyed or angry with someone in your life, so you shop to forget about it.
- You’re feeling a sense of sadness you can’t seem to shake, so you seek out bargains to uplift your mood.
- When you’re feeling lonely and disconnected, you shop to be around other people and feel a sense of connection to salespeople and fellow shoppers.
- In the midst of a particularly stressful time in your life, you shop to decompress.
- Shopping as a means of trying to recapture a happy mood or experience.
- You’re comparing yourself to other people and coming up short, so you shop to try to silence your feelings of inadequacy.
- Shopping to try to drown out a sense of self-blame and judgment.
I could go on and on with the emotional trigger examples, but the ones above are a good representation of how emotions can lead us to overshop. I’ve written about some of my emotional reasons for shopping in the past (see “Shopping for Acceptance” and “Why Do You Overshop?” ), but I’ll elaborate a bit more here. I often shop when I’m feeling stressed, lonely, anxious, sad, or inadequate. For me, shopping has been a way to deal with pretty much all of my emotions! I never met an emotion for which shopping wasn’t the answer… except shopping never really solved anything or made me feel better for more than just a few hours.
I won’t lie. I continue to struggle with managing my difficult emotions. While I use shopping less and less as a way to deal with my troubling feelings, I haven’t successfully identified adequate replacement techniques as of yet. I’m still a work in progress, but with each blog post, I take another step toward recovery! I know I will continue to write about emotional shopping in future posts as I work to deal with my own emotional triggers, so stay tuned…
Last but not least are the physical triggers, including but not limited to these examples:
- You’re on a diet, so you shop in order to take your mind off food and avoid eating.
- You have a headache and don’t want to lie down and relax, so you distract yourself by window shopping and browsing instead.
- Back pain has been plaguing you, so you forget about it temporarily by taking a trip to the mall.
- You can’t sleep, so you turn on QVC or HSN to see what deals you might be able to score there.
- After having a few drinks after work with some friends, you spend too much money in a nearby shop due to your alcohol-impaired judgment.
I didn’t realize how much physical triggers come into play for me until I re-read this section of Dr. Benson’s book! As I’ve written in previous posts, I’ve been dealing with a number of health issues in recent months, including the headaches and back pain that were given in the examples above, among other things. I have my good days and my bad days and sometimes after a string of bad days spent at home and in pain, I find myself compelled to rush out to the mall to take my mind off my health woes and the difficulty I’m having in managing them.
When I shop to take my mind off my pain, it does help in the short term. But it doesn’t get me any closer to resolving my problems and it may add insult to injury if I overspend and exceed my shopping budget. I realize that I do need a breather from time to time, so I’m working on finding new ways to decompress. Taking a walk or going to the movies can be effective replacements and are much less expensive, and I hope to identify some other activities that I enjoy and are not clothing or shopping-related.
Dealing with Triggers
Knowing what your common shopping triggers are is an important first step toward managing them. Once you’re aware of the factors that are encouraging you to shop, you can either avoid these triggers or find alternate ways of dealing with them. Of course, this is often easier said than done! Some triggers will be more difficult to avoid than others and emotional triggers can be the most troubling to confront. I’ll be dealing with that topic in future posts and I’ll also look at the subject of “shopping aftershocks,” what happens after we shop.
For now, I’ll close with Dr. Benson’s 6 questions to ask yourself before you buy anything:
- Why am I here?
- How do I feel?
- Do I need this?
- What if I wait?
- How will I pay for it?
- Where will I put it?
The best way to use these questions is to carry them with you on a small card or post-it note in your purse or wallet and to take a short time-out (or “power pause”) before you buy anything. Take a few moments to ask yourself the questions and really ponder your answers. You may find that what seemed like a “must buy” is better left in the store.
What are Your Triggers?
So you’ve just read about the various types of triggers as well as some of my personal examples. Now I’d love to hear from you! What are some of the things that trigger you to shop? If you only shop when you have a defined wardrobe need and only buy what you truly love, good for you (and I hope to be able to say the same soon)! But if there are other things that propel you to shop, where are they? Perhaps we can help each other to better manage our situational, cognitive, interpersonal, emotional, and physical triggers!