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Empty Lives, Full Bags

Why we use shopping to fill the void in our life, and how to break the cycle

Do you ever feel like you're just not quite fulfilled? Despite your accomplishments and all that you have going for you, something is still missing? For many people, this feeling can be summed up in one word: emptiness. And it's often the case that we try to fill this emptiness with things – shopping, eating, and drinking. But the truth is, these temporary fixes never quite do the trick. So why do we do it? Why do we try to fill the voids in our life with shopping, and how do we break the cycle?

Understanding the Why

We go through most of our lives without having most of our emotional needs met because we rely on others to fulfill them. When they don’t come through, it often leaves us pointing the finger of blame at ourselves and wondering what is wrong with us that we aren’t enough. The problem is until we learn how to become our own emotional provider and stop seeking fulfillment from others, we often develop compulsive ways of getting what we need, even if it’s only for a while. Shopping is one of these compulsions.

Breaking the Cycle

In order to break free from the grip that shopping has on our lives, we need to understand what needs we’re trying to meet by doing it. By following the steps below, we can better understand our habits, find acceptance for the part of ourselves that was hurting when we gave into our compulsion, and move forward productively.

1. Find rock bottom

To pull ourselves out of the hole we’ve dug, we need to know how deep that hole is. Has your shopping habit created a large amount of debt in your life? At what point was that debt the highest?

2. Download your bank statements

Preferably the worst ones. Yes, this won’t be easy, but focus on reminding yourself that you are gaining control by doing this. You’ve let your bad habit overcome you until this point, but this is the first step in overcoming it.

3. Review each line item

Go through each item on your statements and remember what was going on in your life at the time of each purchase. Maybe you have a journal you can use to cross-reference to help you identify what triggered your spending. The point here is to understand what you lacked that your compulsion kicked in to provide. An example would be you went on a first date, and it went poorly, leaving you feeling worthless and insecure, so you went shopping.

4. Identify and write down your triggers

Once you identify the feelings that triggered your shopping, please make a note of them. Once you’ve gone through the list of purchases and placed each of the triggers that brought them on, you’ll be able to make real change. What patterns do you notice? Is your shopping something you are using to fill the gaps when you feel insecure or worthless? Do you shop when you feel like you’ve lost control of your life? Maybe you’ve gotten so used to existing in a state of chaos that you’re shopping to keep yourself there because you don’t know how to go on if you’re not in a constant war with yourself. Whatever the reason, try to be as honest with yourself as possible. It makes the next step easier.

5. Think of things you can do to replace the compulsion

(That meet your emotional needs)

If shopping is what you use to combat feelings of worthlessness, focus on replacing the shopping with a behavior that isn’t self-destructive. The most powerful feelings of self-worth come from accomplishing something, giving, and receiving from ourselves. In other words, things that do not depend on anyone but us. Learning a new skill, taking time to do something nice for someone, or giving ourselves a break and self-care when we need it are great ways to deal with feelings of worthlessness. Whatever solution you come to, make sure it is something you can do on your own.

Often, our worst periods of spending align with the periods of time our life was the hardest. If we haven’t developed the skills we need to carry us through difficult seasons, we’ll constantly be looking for band-aids, even if what we really need is a doctor.

Practicing mindfulness, journaling, and not ignoring our emotional needs is the first step in overcoming any addiction. By learning to identify when we are shopping because we truly NEED something versus when we are doing it compulsively, we can learn to break the cycle.

You are not alone in this journey. Many support groups and licensed therapists can also assist, so do not be embarrassed or fearful to call—many blessings to you all on this path.


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