However, like all self-sabotaging behaviours, it is purely a symptom of an underlying issue.
Like overeating, smoking or drinking too much it’s often used as a coping mechanism to ease anxiety or to mask or anaesthetise an unwanted feeling or emotion.
Guilt and shame go hand in hand with shopping addiction, because, unlike many of the other addictions, it isn’t necessarily recognised as a problem and is often met with comments such as ‘get a grip’ or ‘just stop shopping’ from those who just see it as irresponsible behaviour.
It’s the ‘smiled upon addiction’ because it is what fuels our economy, but, this isn’t simply about women who want the latest ‘it’ handbag or designer pair of shoes, in fact it runs much deeper than this.
“I wish that every time I ‘like’ an outfit on Instagram it would magically appear in my wardrobe.”
This is a tongue-in-cheek quote but the carefully put together images we see, particularly in the media, often contribute towards us feeling less than…!
Most of us can identify with those times, when we feel a bit down and we find ourselves unconsciously browsing various social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest.
We fall in love with the outfits we see and all of a sudden this feels like that one thing that will make us ‘feel’ so much better about ourselves.
Of course it does for a while, the feeling of excitement when handing over the money to buy that desperately needed item is intoxicating!
However, it is often swiftly followed by the sinking feeling, the guilt and the shame when we look at the dwindling bank balance.
So, we feel bad and need to cheer ourselves up and the cycle begins again….
According to an article in the Daily Mail, a quarter of British Women are addicted to shopping and a third say they are the happiest when indulging in retail therapy.
Perhaps this, in and of itself, is not a problem and giving in to the occasional impulse buy is completely normal, after all, most of us, myself included, love shopping.
It’s when shopping gets out of control that it is a problem, when our spending is almost unconscious, when reaching for the credit card becomes automatic and when it starts spilling over into other areas of our lives, in a negative way, creating problems with our finances and in our relationships with others.
It’s a fine line but this is when you realise that your shopping habit has gone from a normal and enjoyable recreational activity to an actual shopping addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Shopping Addictions
- Buying things you don’t need or can’t afford;
- You find yourself hiding things from your spouse or partner;
- You have unworn clothes, with the tags on, hanging in your wardrobe that you’ve completely forgotten about;
- You have the feeling of dread when the credit card bill arrives;
- Buying binges leave you feeling anxious and/or guilty;
- You return items because of guilt;
- You prefer to use credit cards instead of cash;
- You shop to eliminate feelings of anger, depression or loneliness;
- You make ‘revenge’ purchases… Spending to annoy your other half;
- You obsess over money matters;
- You delay paying bills and take out new credit cards to fund the shopping frenzy.
Understanding Shopping Addiction
Before attempting to tackle the self-sabotaging behaviour, it’s important to become aware of the root cause.
Dr Brad Klontz, US based financial planner and financial psychologist talks about ‘money scripts’. These scripts are deeply ingrained beliefs about money that we pick up in childhood, beliefs that have been taken on board as truth and that ultimately drive our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
Beliefs along the lines of ‘there’s never enough’ can be the drive to cause someone to spend through fear of never having enough to be able to shop again.
For many, the shopping addiction can be driven by a desire to be accepted, to fit in with a particular group of people or to simply feel better about themselves.
It’s easy to see how unhealthy money scripts combined with an underlying belief of not being good enough can be the driver for many of our self-sabotaging money behaviours.
Much of this happens unconsciously, therefore awareness is key.
Having an understanding of the thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are driving the behaviours is a good starting point and keeping a diary of the circumstances surrounding any shopping binges can be helpful, particularly around the following areas:
- What was the actual situation? i.e. What happened? Where? When? Who with?
- What emotion did I feel?
- What thoughts went through my mind? What did that mean?
- Is that the truth? What would be a healthier perspective?
- What was the outcome? What could I do or have done instead?
This is a useful exercise because it will help you to identify your trigger points, which are the moments of weakness when the urge to shop takes over.
Having an alternative way to deal with the trigger points helps with the automatic response to shop. So, an alternative way to deal with the urge may be to go for a walk or to go to the gym.
If you have a particular pattern, such as browsing the shops as a way to relax at lunchtime then change it, i.e. go for a coffee instead of hitting the shops!
If a particular shop is one of your weak points, make sure you avoid that shop and if you do need to buy something have a list and make sure you stick to it.
The point here is to make the unfamiliar, familiar and the familiar, unfamiliar. See yourself as the person who has complete control of their financial life and do the opposite of what you would normally do…. That is the key to any change of behaviour!
Seeking Help for Shopping Addiction
Although there is no known standard treatment for compulsive shopping, it’s important to receive help around not only the actual addiction, but also around the practical financial consequences.
Different people will respond to different types of therapy or counselling, so it’s important to seek out someone who has knowledge in this particular area and to find something that works for you.
If the addiction has spiralled so far out of control that it has started to create serious financial problems, such as unmanageable debt, you need to ensure that this is dealt with by speaking to someone who can help you to take care of your financial priorities.
An organisation such as Step Change, which is a free debt advice service, is a good starting point.
Do you have any experience with shopping addiction? How did it affect you and your financial situation? Share with us, we would love to hear from you.
Photo by Stuart Miles @ freedigitalphotos
Six years ago, Sarah made the decision to qualify as a psychotherapist to enable her to develop her knowledge around money psychology. Her unique approach to financial planning now combines money mind set with practical financial planning. Sarah's mission is to help her clients achieve freedom from financial fears.
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