I have written several posts on the reasons why people shop too much and I’ve also explored my own personal motivations for overshopping.
Here are links to some of these posts for those who are didn’t see them the first time around or may wish to read them again:
- The Reasons We Shop Too Much
- Why Do You Overshop?
- What Triggers You to Shop?
- On Social Exclusion and Compulsive Buying
- Shopping for Acceptance
- The Things Shopping Won’t Fix
- On Loneliness – Some Thoughts and Images
- Shopaholic Signs, Reasons, and Recovery
Earlier this month, the topic of reasons for shopping addiction came up in my private Facebook group. I was impressed by both the depth and diversity of the responses and thought it would be helpful to post some of them here. It’s my hope that reading these insights will assist you in becoming more present to what’s behind your compulsive shopping.
A number of respondents in the Facebook group mentioned low self-esteem as a reason for shopping too much. That was a primary driver of my own overshopping, as I wrote about in this post. Here’s what some of the group members had to say:
- My overshopping was due to self-esteem issues. I’ve always lacked self-confidence and thought that dressing well would make people like me. I don’t know if something caused this or if it was just how I was born. I’ve learned that others place far less importance on my appearance that I had thought before. But at the same time, I think the desire to look good in order to gain acceptance will always be there to an extent. Discovering that it’s possible to dress well with a moderate-sized wardrobe of well-chosen clothes has helped to curb my shopping considerably.
- Like so many others, I thought that having the right clothes, the right makeup, and the right look would make people hold me in higher esteem. Of course, I eventually figured out that esteem is an inside job! I still want people to find me appealing, but now I define it differently, focusing more on “style” than on “fashion.”
- A good part of the “why” was because I gained 100 pounds after I quit smoking. I wanted to feel good about myself again and I thought that new clothes would change my self-concept. That, coupled with getting a good-paying job after years of being a stay-at-home mom and never spending on myself, led me to go overboard with my shopping.
- Sometimes I engaged in what I called “aspirational.” My shopping was a way of trying to fit in and attempting to be like someone else whom I thought was more beautiful, better dressed, whatever, than I.
- For me, it used to be low self-esteem. I tried to look nice so that others would accept and love me. That’s silly! I’ve learned that they (workmates, friends, new acquaintances, etc.) will love me or hate me regardless of what I look like. Their feelings toward me depend more upon my character and my actions, not my appearance.
- I used to shop due to low self-esteem. But I’ve found that I feel better about myself when I make a little effort and people do treat me differently (better) when I am dressed nicer. Or perhaps I just give off better vibes because I’m happier with myself. But it’s definitely hard not to get caught up in the whole “fast fashion” cycle and the resulting overshopping.
Boredom was the first reason I highlighted in my early post on the reasons for compulsive shopping. Shopping can provide a sense of excitement that may be missing in a person’s life. I have found that when I don’t have a lot going on in my life, I tend to want to shop more. Some Facebook group members could identity with this issue as well:
- My reason for shopping too much is boredom and wanting to fill in time. I also think that I work damn hard and deserve to shop, especially since I don’t have any other hobbies (I’m trying to fix that). I also justify my shopping by thinking about how my husband spends so much on his golf hobby, so why shouldn’t I spoil myself?
- Boredom does it for me, too. When I’m at “loose ends” and need something that’s relaxing, social, and not too taxing on the brain, I end up shopping.
- These days, shopping for me is about boredom and loving fashion. Also, I tend to continuously look for something new in many aspects of my life. That’s a sign of dissatisfaction, isn’t it? Although I can also apply this tendency toward good purposes as well (learning languages, travelling, etc.).
A Way of Dealing with Emotions
Shopping can also serve as a means of dealing with – or avoiding – difficult emotions. I have struggled with depression for much of my life and I often wrestle with my purpose in life and my worth as a human being. Sometimes I prefer not to “sit with” these feelings because they are quite painful, so I shop as a means to escape and uplift my mood, at least temporarily. I am not alone in this and many group respondents shared similar experiences:
- I shopped when I was upset, especially when my boss would criticize or berate me and I couldn’t figure out a way to confront him. I got very angry and emotional, so I went shopping. Or if I got nasty comments on a work post I wrote and didn’t want to “feed the trolls,” I went shopping as a way to self-soothe. There are more reasons, but shopping instead of confrontation is definitely a theme for me. It’s difficult to be thoughtful and wise when I get triggered. A good therapist is worth their weight in gold in helping to deal with these types of issues. But like anything else, you need to find someone you can work with.
- I shopped because I had not learned to talk about my emotions. Whenever I was happy, sad, anxious, etc., I would shop. I had a “burnout” about five years ago and went to therapy. Thankfully, I have stopped my emotional shopping. I still love thrifting for clothes, but I think of it as a hobby instead of a problem.
- I shopped as means of dealing with my anxiety and curing boredom. I shop online so the methodical clicking and choosing involved, and the focus it requires, allows me to tune everything else out. Online shopping is like meditation for someone with A.D.H.D. (I can’t actually focus enough to meditate). I think what I need to do – and what I try to do – is find activities that absorb me in the same way but have a positive result, like weeding or gardening.
- I think stress and anxiety is my main trigger. I can almost feel the dopamine rush in my brain when I get online to look at some new “pretties.” Most of the time, I’m good with using the “power pause,” but then what is the point of all this time spent shopping? It’s basically time wasted. Ugh…
- I know that my shopping behavior is driven by my emotions much of the time. I could be happy or sad, or even just avoiding dealing something in my life that needs to be done, and I will shop as a way of managing my feelings.
- It’s all just too easy to buy what we think will make us happy and far harder to sit with the emotions and just“be.” At the end of the day, shopping is just a “fix,” an itch that we can scratch. But what if the “ointment” that fixes the itch is actually causing it?
Thrill-Seeking and Getting a “High”
Still others are attracted to shopping because of the “high” it offers them. I know that I would often reach a type of “altered state” whenever I walked into my favorite stores. All of the sights and sounds, the feel of the fabrics, and even the different smells related to shopping, would grab me. When I shopped, I was literally a different person in terms of my mood and my demeanor. I would shift from being a shy and introverted person to someone who was highly confident and interactive. I’m not alone in this, as the following comments show:
- I really love to shop. I love the colors, sights, sounds, etc. I get a literal “high” whenever I shop. If I don’t buy anything, it’s okay to go to the stores and experience this feeling. When I do buy something, I try to make it purposeful buying – knowing exactly what I’m looking for and shopping for that and that alone.
- I was a “thrill-seeker.” I was completely addicted to the high of getting new things. I literally felt euphoric after shopping. Why I got addicted to that high is a very complex stew of issues, including past abuse and coping techniques, learned behavior, response to stress and boredom, etc. I am a huge believer in individual and group therapy, as it helped me get past several significant issues. If you look at this group, we are an informal, unguided support group. We tell our stories, share our successes and our failures, a comfort each other, and offer strategies to prevent future failures.
A Way of Bonding with Others
For many women, shopping serves as a way of connecting with other people, especially family members and friends. In some relationships, shopping is the main shared activity, as has been true for me with several friends (I wrote about shopping with friends in this post – and this one).
- Shopping with my mother was a huge bonding activity, as it was with her mother. For us, the answer to almost any situation was to shop as an activity, outlet, stress reducer, celebration, coping mechanism, hobby, and distraction. This is a learned behavior and ingrained habit that I’m working on systematically unlearning. The support from this group and incorporating the ideas I learn here is making a huge impact on my progress.
- I shop with my mom as a means of bonding. Some of my fondest memories are of shopping with both her and my grandmother.
Cultivating an “Unreal” or Fantasy Life
Another reason for overshopping can be a desire to have a different or better life. Subconsciously, we believe that if we have the right clothes, a life in which those clothes would be appropriate might magically follow. I know that I’ve often bought clothes for “going out” when my real life mostly involved staying in or only casual outings. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming and buying clothes for going out on the town, having “girls nights,” and doing all sorts of things that I never actually did. Other group members expressed similar sentiments:
- I think I shop for a life that I would only have if I got out and did something about it. I feel very unfulfilled in my life. I thought that having the clothes someone might wear for the dream life in my head would help me to act “as if.” Except it doesn’t work like that. I just end up feeling more disappointed.
- I very much like the escape of imagining or pretending at some level (not so much consciously) what my dream life would be like if I had the perfect wardrobe and lived in the perfect home.
- I shop for an unreal life. I buy a lot of clothes for going out, such as nice evening or event dresses. But I actually don’t go out that much! Perhaps this shows my wish for a better social life. I should just fix this situation, instead of buying the equipment for this desired life.
- I actually bought a wedding dress once. It was really simple, in good condition, and cheap, so I bought it! I think it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever bought. And there was no way to deny the reason… It’s clear that I would like to get married, although I’ve been living together with my boyfriend for years. I would like to be with my friends and family for a simple and casual yet joyful event. Of course, my boyfriend doesn’t know about this stupid purchase, although we do speak about a wedding someday. I think the most logical way of dealing with the desire for a different life is to speak out about it. Don’t just dream it.
Fears of Scarcity
The final reason for shopping too much that was mentioned by the group was a fear of scarcity:
- I grew up with a mom who often complained about not having enough, especially in terms of money, and I think this influenced me as well. So I think overshopping is a “scarcity response” for me at times.
This comment resonated with me, as my mom would use the words “we can’t afford it” often and regularly lectured me on the difference between “need” and “want.” I grew up with a scarcity mindset and as soon as I had disposable income or was able to obtain credit, I began buying whatever I wanted for myself. I went from feeling deprived to going completely in the other direction and not moderating what I bought at all.
As you can see, there are myriad reasons for engaging in compulsive shopping. I’ve found that unraveling my motivations is like peeling an onion. I keep discovering new drivers of my shopping behavior the more I probe into my psyche. Of course, it’s helpful to uncover the reasons behind our dysfunctional behavior, but we have to go beyond that. We need to find alternate methods of dealing with our uncomfortable feelings, developing self-esteem, and connecting with others that better serve us. This topic has been discussed in the Facebook group as well, so I will share a follow-up post soon on some better coping strategies beyond shopping. Stay tuned…
Although I touched upon some of the more common reasons for overshopping in this post, this has by no means been an exhaustive list. Now I would love to read about your thoughts and experiences.
- If you have (or had) a compulsive shopping problem, what do you think was driving your behavior?
- Can you identify with the reasons shared above? What do you have to add to the thoughts expressed above?
- What else would you like to share about what may have caused your shopping addiction/compulsion?
I invite you to share your insights here.