In general, having more things means enjoying life less. What we consume can end up consuming us.

“The high of the buy” briefly lifts your spirits, but it’s short lived and then you’re down again, but a little lower this time. Shopaholics know the consequences of their habit through the shame, the guilt, the debt, the distraction, and the scary reality of the monthly credit card payments.

Behind all the smiles, there is fall out again and again. Overconsumption is like a poisonous vine winding around relationships, work, and financial stability. It chokes out joy, self-esteem, and quality of life.

Net worth becomes self worth!

Nearly all over shoppers suffer from chronically low self-esteem and insecurity and have difficulty tolerating negative moods. There is also a strong need for approval from the outside world. Why do we need approval from others?

Approval = Second Hand Love

When we seek approval from the outside we are actually looking for love. Unfortunately approval is conditional love. Many of us didn’t receive the unconditional love we needed growing up, so we settled for second best…approval.

Money and material goods are high on the list of values we use to get the approval we so desperately want. Material goods then become the yardstick by which to measure self and others.

 We’re using up time, energy, and money in the pursuit of things that won’t, and can’t make us happy. And in doing so, we’re missing out on the things that will and can.

What Are You Shopping For?

 Some of my earliest fondest memories are shopping with my Mom. I was raised in a culture that heads to the shops to feel better. Beginning in childhood, I was either denied, or given, what I wanted based on my behavior. Shopping was the reward for being a good girl, a time to fantasize and feel loved. There was a charge to finding the perfect toy or game. I felt truly happy and loved. This shifted in my teenage years, when approval from my peers took center stage, I learned to shop to fit in and be accepted.

Why did I over shop? Where did the urge to over shop come from? What was I shopping for? What kept me shopping, even when it didn’t seem to make sense anymore?

I had to take a look at my life and what was underneath my urge to splurge, because it is very much connected to who I was and what I needed.

Bottom line, over shopping is a coping mechanism, a way I temporarily distracted myself from my authentic personal needs that weren’t being met.

I overshopped since my early adulthood. I have spent hundreds of thousands on items I didn’t need. This was especially true with clothing and shoes, my way of filling a place within me that could never be filled. It was insatiable. It wasn’t until I looked deeply into what had caused the fear, hurt, and pain, and ways to heal that part of myself, that my life began to change. Working with clients over the years I have discovered many of us fall under the categories listed below.

Awareness is key if we are to make positive change happen. Take a look and underline anything that rings true for you:

  • Do you over shop to fit into an appearance-obsessed society?
  • Do you over shop to project an image of wealth and power?
  • Do you over shop to soothe yourself or repair your mood?
  • Do you over shop to avoid dealing with something important?
  • Do you over shop to hold on to love?
  • Have you grown up with unrealistically high expectations of yourself?
  • Do you have a hard time accepting yourself as you are?
  • Do you use shopping as a weapon to express anger or seek revenge?
  • Do you over shop in response to stress, loss, or trauma?
  • Do you over shop because it’s a lesser evil from other addictions?
  • Do you over shop to feel more in control of your life?

If any of these ring true for you read on for the ‘why’ behind the addiction:

Do you over shop to fit into an appearance-obsessed society?

Our preoccupation with youth, beauty, and style, and our under emphasis on wisdom, growth, and substance, sets us up to overvalue appearance.

“Image is everything,” distills into three words the message that underlies most advertising. Nowhere is that message more prominent than in the realm of fashion.

You can never keep up with the fashion train, which is carefully scheduled to make costly new stops each season.

Compulsive shopping is typically an attempt to hide a negative body image or seek approval from others. On the physical level, few of us, however hard we shop or spend, will ever look like the images sold with the goods we buy. On the metaphorical level, no amount of attention to external appearance can cloak whatever ugliness we see, or emptiness we feel inside.

If you place great importance on the way you look, if you find fashionable clothes essential to looking good, if you doubt your ability to look good without the excessive use of beauty services and/or plastic surgery, you’ve likely been seduced by the image-mongers.

Instead of working endlessly to look like somebody else, or a younger, leaner, buffer, or sexier version of you-its time to learn to love your self the way you look and are. You will need support for this; it’s not a journey that can be taken alone.

Do you over shop to project an image of wealth and power?

In a consumer culture, wealth and power are extremely desirable, since these allow virtually limitless spending. The message is that happiness and self-esteem are directly proportional to the quality (and quantity) of material things you can amass.

A Mercedes, then, is not simply a more reliable and luxurious car than a Hyundai. It’s also a status symbol; an indication that its owner is among the lucky ones whose home rests in the hills and overlooks the rest of us.

For those who aren’t in the hills, the Mercedes can be bought on credit, even though the purchase may hurt us. In other words, you may buy to project the image, both to the world and to yourself, of the wealth and power you wish you had. This behavior is rooted in the message that you are what you have, and there’s a corollary: if you have it, flaunt it. Flaunting what you don’t really have, or at least haven’t paid for, you are building houses of straw. Eventually, the credit wolves will huff and puff and blow your house down (or will get very rich from your spending).

If you identify with this, it’s worth focusing on-and learning to believe-the compelling lesson of repeated studies: in spite of popular myth, wealth and power DON’T make people happy. Happiness comes only from within and has much to do with how you look at the world and its possibilities rather than how the world looks at you. Self-esteem is a function of your internal stock (your values, your roles, your genuine heartfelt contributions to the planet), not your external inventory (your cars, clothing, collections, or the need to help others to look good). It’s about who you are, not what you own.

Do you over shop to soothe yourself or repair your mood?

Perhaps you’re feeling lonely-or sad or scared or angry or bored-and you arrange your schedule so you can be at the mall on the nights and weekends, or you spend endless hours surfing Internet sites.

When a compulsive shopper begins her mood is typically less positive than that of a normal buyer. Just after the purchase, her mood climbs well beyond that of an ordinary shopper. When she gets home though, her mood dips far below that of a normal buyer.

Look carefully, and then at your feelings when you experience the urge to shop; ask, “What am I really shopping for?” There’s a healthier and ultimately much more satisfying way to meet it.

 Do you over shop to avoid dealing with something important?

When you have a strong urge to shop it is often a signal of avoidance; you’re avoiding some action you know you will need to take or ignoring some problem you know you ought to deal with. Is there someone you don’t want to see? Or some work you don’t want to do?

Perhaps you’re delaying a next step in your life, like moving, changing your career, or maybe getting pregnant. Maybe you’re even afraid of prosperity.

Do you over shop to hold on to love?

Some people buy incessantly for others. Parading as generosity, it is often motivated by a profound underlying fear of abandonment. Out of this fear, the giver misses the spirit of giving, that gifts be openhanded and without obligation. Instead, he or she imagines each one as an invisible string, tying the receiver to her or him. Love, however, can’t be bought and this behavior usually backfires.

Have you grown up with unrealistically high expectations of yourself? When you fail to meet these expectations, your self-esteem plummets and you become anxious or depressed. To block out the painful self-awareness of failure, you may run to the mall focusing intensely on the myriad of sights and sounds and sensations that go with it. Such immersion brings with it a physiological and psychological high.

Do you have a hard time accepting yourself as you are?

Is there a big discrepancy between the way you see yourself and the way you’d like to be? There’s a chance you’re vulnerable to the advertisers’ ever-present promises of shopping transformation.

Self-discrepancy, then, nudges us toward a world of fantasy, a world where what we wish to happen beats what we can reasonably expect to happen: the unpaid bills evaporate and the empty feelings inside dissolves, while the just bought designer shoes sparkle like a new romance.

Do you use shopping as a weapon to express anger or seek revenge?

 Rampant overbuying often has negative consequences, not only for the buyer but also for someone close. A partner (or even a parent) might repeatedly have to bail the buyer out.

Shopping can be used as a weapon, as a way to retaliate indirectly & to express anger, resentment, or feelings of betrayal. People often do this because they are afraid to express the issue directly, often with good reason. This form of over shopping is usually a last resort, after all attempts at productive communication with have failed.

If this shoe fits, wear it; look inside for the source of your anger. Anger is usually a sign of buried hurt. Uncover and confront it, and you’ll be able to deal with it in ways that are more productive than over shopping.

Do you over shop in response to stress, loss, or trauma?

Over shopping is a relief valve for stress and a balm for the painful hurts of loss or trauma.

In the case of chronic stress, you retreat from unbearable tension; the drama of divorce, for example, or the burden of caregiving, whether of children or aging parents, or the addiction in the family-and enter a frenzy of buying. You focus so hard on your purchases that for a while you can hide from the stress.

Sooner or later this will fail, and you’ll be back at square one, needing to deal with the issue directly, but now in more debt.

Do you over shop because it’s a lesser evil from other addictions?

If you have another addiction or had one in the past, over shopping may seem less destructive and more acceptable than this other addiction. If you were first addicted to food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, work, exercise, or the internet-you may have merely substituted compulsive buying for the older habit.

The strong feelings that surface when you first kick a habit sometimes finds outlets in a substitute habit, one that provides some of the same highs but is “not as bad.” Over shoppers may be deeply in debt or suffering from huge credit card bills that drain their account, but their habit is less likely to damage their physical health.

Money, for all its public handling, remains the last taboo & far more secret these days than, say sex or alcohol.

This could easily happen if you didn’t acquire broad-based tools, skills, and strategies to deal healthily with the prior addiction.

Do you over shop to feel more in control?

People who see themselves as having few options in central areas of their lives; relationships, for example, or at work or with family-may seize on shopping as an arena in which they can exercise control through their consumer choices.

Such people may experience the heightened state called “flow” during the shopping outing, which can also provide a sense of optimism about the future. Many feel it’s the only time they can “self-manage” their lives.

Unlike many area of life, in which human beings function as part of a team and decision making is a product of collaboration & compromise, shopping offers power and freedom: you buy what you want when you want it, and sellers are always happy to see you. But shopping as a way to experience control soon backfires: it becomes compulsive and, like any addiction, begins to control the addict.

Do you over shop to find meaning in your life or to deny death?

The last question to be asked here is also the most basic. For some people, compulsive buying is an attempt to solve existential or spiritual fears, a way to give meaning to life or to feel part of a bigger whole. A recent ad for a fancy SUV taps lightly into this not-so-light-issue: “To be one with everything,” it says, “you need one of everything.”

We may see it as a way to fill the existential void, as a way to create a contained, predictable world in the midst of chaos. Airplanes crash and burn, shootings kill children in schools, trash suffocates our planet: in a maddening and insecure world, some people look for security in what they can control with the things they own. This is not unlike our culture’s response to death. We know the end is certain, yet we fear it, we oppose it, & we deny it.

But none of this crazy hope can be realized. Things, no matter how long they endure, can’t save us from death. And if we buy things with this hope, we allow getting and spending to rob us of time, energy, money- and the richness of life… right here, right now.

Lesley Jane SullivanIf you’re ready to find the solution to your addiction call me at (818) 292-7041. Together we can work through your blocks & issues so you are final free to live YOUR best life.

(818) 292-7041