Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Retail Therapy or Shopping Addiction

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Jan 26, 2013 9:26 PM

I've seen plenty of poverty in the past. Lately, I've been exposed to quite a bit of opulence. I saw a mall with stunning, elegant marble fountains, valet parking, and stores with $4000 purses. Who buys those designer purses? They don't even have enough compartments for me. I thought my $100 purse was a stretch... Really super rich people spend tens of millions of dollars on houses, yachts and planes. OK, they have tons of money to spare and it's no sacrifice for them and provides jobs for others. It's their right, too.

But, what about working/middle class people who overspend on things they don't need? Like the hardworking saleswoman who built up a hefty credit card debt on slinky dresses and gorgeous shoes beyond her needs. Or the unemployed man who consoled himself with dozens of unused shirts and sweaters. Or the doctor who bought cars, boats and condos instead of saving for the future.

Retail therapy sounds like a joke but it is no different from a lots of harmful addictions. Shopping is fun and gives temporary relief and distraction from real problems, like depression, anxiety or worry about relationships or work, even money, actually. Over-shopping causes heavy debt, even bankruptcy; destruction of relationships, even divorce; damaged lifestyle and retirement ultimately; and eventually more depression and anxiety, which can't be "cured" by more conspicuous consumption. No matter how much stuff one buys, happiness is elusive.

Like all obsessive behaviors and psychological addictions, the only solution is learning to stop the pattern by giving in less and less, and substituting anything more constructive, including just plain old relaxing. No amount of analysis helps without changing the behavior, too. So, therapy becomes coaching in that sense. Writing, art, music, learning, teaching, volunteering, socializing, working, even watching TV instead of spending, help, as long as the new behaviors are in balance with life.

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