A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

How the recession can help overshoppers–in a time of hurt, we find some help and hope.

By April Lane Benson, Ph.D., posted August 2010

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good” says a familiar proverb, and as with most proverbs, there’s a nugget of useful truth at the core. Amidst the violent buffeting of today’s economic ill wind, some good can come to overshoppers.

When the nation’s financial crisis hits home, all of us, whether problem shoppers or not, are driven to reexamine what we buy. For overshoppers, however, the crisis is a special opportunity. It’s a powerful incentive, maybe a tipping point, to get real, to look into the heart of their compulsion and begin teasing out what they’re really shopping for.

When they do, almost invariably they find that the stuff they’re buying isn’t what they’re shopping for. (If it were, they’d buy it and stop shopping.) What they really want–what the buying is an inadequate substitute for (or a distraction from)–is the fulfillment of some unmet need or needs, whether emotional, social, or spiritual.

Identifying the individual needs that underlie a particular overshopper’s habit is a process I try to guide them through in my book, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. For now, I want to focus on one essential element of the process, self-kindness.

Self-kindness means being your own good mother, allowing yourself to bring home the care, respect, and good intentions you give to others. But it’s more than just a stance. Self-kindness extends to a host of activities that satisfy your needs, activities that are healthier alternatives to shopping.

If you want to gain control of your shopping, start yourself a list of Acts of Self-Kindness. To organize it, divide the list into such categories as Action, Spontaneity, Relaxation, Sensual Joy, Emotion, Intellect, and Spirit.

Once you’ve itemized your own particular ways of being kind to yourself, you’ve got a powerful set of things to do instead of shopping. Now, try them out! When the urge to shop strikes, look to your list for alternatives. Those activities that work especially well for you probably dovetail with your unmet needs.

Here’s a starter list for the first of our self-kindness categories, Action. The need for activity, after all, is what drives many overshoppers. Is the hustle and bustle of being out in a busy store a big part of the shopping fun for you? What else could you do to meet that need? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try?

• Go dancing, running, roller skating, hiking, or biking.
• Play tennis or Ping-Pong.
• Take a movement class, such as dance, power yoga, or aerobics.
• Walk your dog–or your neighbor’s dog.
• Join a softball team or bowling league.
• Go swimming, rowing, kayaking, or canoeing.

So what’s it going to be?

This article was first published in Psychology Today, on April 1, 2009. Thanks to Dr. Benson for sharing it.

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. She is the founder of Stopping Overshopping, LLC, an organization created to raise public awareness about compulsive buying, help individuals who suffer with this problem, and train professionals in working with overshopping clients. She is the editor of I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, and the author of To Buy or Not To Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop.

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