Add to Cart: What Are You Really Shopping For?

Sometimes, your day just really sucks. So you re-do your most recent Postmates order, put your favorite Broad City episode on for the eighty millionth time, and open up ASOS to look at the new arrivals. Two hours later, you’ve spent all your grocery money for the week on the cute shoes you felt like you absolutely needed. (They sold out last time!)

What just happened?

Shopping is a common pastime for many people. Cheesy romantic comedies are always showcasing newly single people crying their way through Nordstrom, carrying more bags than humanly possible. Malls aren’t really the same thing they used to be in the 90s, but online shopping makes it easier than ever to impulse shop. The best (worst?) part of shopping online is that nobody is around to see just how many new pairs of underwear you put in your cart when you were drinking that glass of wine.

Shopping can be a form of comfort, but there’s a big difference between buying yourself a fancy cookie and spending so much on Amazon you can’t pay rent this month. “This is self-care, riiiiight?”

When nothing feels like it’s going right, express shipping that perfect pair of pants (and a matching shirt… and maybe some accessories) is the only thing you’re craving. But the bad days start piling up. Your closet starts filling up. And your bank account starts emptying out.

So why do we keep spending?

Retail therapy is the idea of shopping as a coping mechanism. It can be a slippery slope that damages your finances, relationships, mental health, and more. But even if compulsive shopping isn’t ruining your life and of course you can pay rent, and still have….electricity, financial struggle can be an indicator that something else (like your emotional well-being) isn’t. Letting your mood dictate your financial decisions can be a scary road to navigate.

When you’re sad, shopping can be an easy way to trigger a dopamine rush.

Feelings of joy and excitement can bubble up when you purchase something. Who doesn’t love getting mail? But that warm comfort can be super addictive. The fuzzy feeling from buying your fourth striped sweater is like a cheap bandaid. The emotional ache may be covered for a little bit, but soon it’ll fall off. And you’ll have to buy more to try and cover the pain again.

Sometimes compulsive shopping is a way to buy the best version of yourself.

Maybe it’s super expensive items to show off how successful or sophisticated you are. Perhaps it’s lots of vacations to escape and avoid real life. Maybe it’s gifts to make other people like you or to fix a fight.

Ask yourself: How will people see me after this purchase? What feeling am I hoping this item will bring me? How else can I get that feeling?

Obviously, not every kick-ass vacation you pay for is a way to avoid your feelings, but it’s important to pay attention to what you spend your money on. If you notice a pattern in what you buy AND a pattern in your feelings, take a closer look.

Anxiety shopping can also be a thing when you need a sense of control.

Sometimes life feels like it’s spiraling, and you just can’t get a hold on it. But being able to make a choice about something tangible, even if it’s from the dollar section at Target, gives you a sense of power. That feeling can be a rock in the storm.

Which is fine. Except it makes you rely on something other than yourself to feel better. So while it may make you feel temporarily at ease or even excited, you’ll quickly need that feeling again. And the hunt for the “perfect” item can cause even more stress, leaving you on a wildly emotional goose chase where you feel empty no matter what you end up buying.

Many things can trigger a dangerous impulse cycle, especially where there is a painful need to fill an inner void, or reign in a lack of control, or get approval from no one in particular. But this cycle can lead to a loss of financial security, incomplete goals, no self-control, damaged relationships, and an inability to help others.

Am I compulsive shopping?

Okay, so reading about retail therapy may have you reviewing every single thing you’ve bought in the past year and questioning your motives. Not every impulse buy means you’re in dangerous waters, but here are some signs to watch out for if you think you might have a shopping compulsion:

  • Feeling the urge to shop when you’re experience painful feelings.

  • Buying lots of things you don’t actually need.

  • Preferring to shop alone and hiding what you buy.

  • Feeling high or guilty after you go shopping.

  • Experiencing financial or emotional problems due to shopping.

  • Avoiding looking at bank statements or bills.

If you feel like you might be constantly on the hunt for some type of satisfaction, and it usually comes around to compulsively shopping, therapy may help you find what you’re really looking for and help you get those needs met within yourself. Click below to request a free, 15-minute phone consultation. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations in Long Beach and Seal Beach, CA.