The Shopaholic – Do You Shop for Need or Desire? Part 2

In Part 1 of this blog series, we identified some key warning signs for Shopaholism. Now we examine the different emotions that drive compulsive buying, as well as the biology and genetics that may drive us to the extreme.

Impulse disorders such as gambling, alcoholism, and binge eating have a genetic component. Compulsive buying is another impulse disorder. This does not mean that individuals will actually develop this disorder if parents have genetically have experienced it, but there is a component of possibility.

In addition, there is the biological tendency to succumb to the Dopamine Rush. This is a natural high we get when part of the brain, reacting to reward, sends out a chemical to other nerve cells. It makes you feel good and confident. So buying an item that rewards our need for self esteem or soothing, gives us that feeling.

Emotions Rule
Often compulsive buying is driven by emotion. If you’ve had a really lousy day, it might be your means of escape. You’ve been criticized or dumped on all day, and now shopping gets you a little attention from the sales staff. You can feel important and valued for just a little while. If you like the latest stuff, then what others have will affect your sense of self. If your friend or colleague just acquired a gorgeous hand bag, she’s getting a bit of attention from her friends who value the same. Your reaction might be to seek that same attention, or at least prove you can buy something just as good. You’re out the door and to the store as soon as possible.

Compulsive buying might also be driven by more intimate relationships. If you feel you’re losing love, you may buy for the other person to encourage them to stay, and to show them how much you care about them. The inverse of this is to go shopping on someone else’s dime because you’re so annoyed at them and want them to pay for whatever they did.

Check Your Emotion at the Door
Our emotional thought process regularly overrides our rational, fact gathering thought process. It’s just how humans are. This means what we buy, how much we buy, how often we buy and for whom we buy is often emotionally driven. For Shopaholics, it’s really important to understand the underlying emotion every time you step out the door to go shopping. Awareness is the first step to changing behavior.

Next time you’re getting ready to shop, stop and think first. How was your day? Why are you going? Have you identified what you need to buy and for whom, or are you just going to look around? Part 3 of this blog identifies key triggers for compulsive shoppers.

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at, a web site for women focused on the psychology of money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Thoughts always welcome:

Share This:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *