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Black Minds Matter

The Myth of Retail Therapy

May 24 2021

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Alkeme Health

Stepping back from the thought that every success deserves a huge purchase

There is nothing better than going to the mall or shoe store and buying something new. Pre-COVID, going to the mall and walking around with your bag and Starbucks in hand almost felt like a spa date – it was great!

But now? That euphoria from the mall has been replaced with countless Amazon, Flight Club and Fashion Nova boxes and packages. Retail therapy seems to live on! But the question is, does it really exist? Are we really taking care of ourselves by consistently shopping? When does it become harmful? And overall, why does it feel so good?

We spoke with Arron Muller, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Work) to address the myth of retail therapy.

“It’s a very funny term that I think people brought about based on the joy and fun they get out of buying things,” says Muller. “You see a kind of glee on their face when they make a transaction. Because it does bring a very short-term happiness. And happiness is based on something happening. But it does not bring about joy. Joy is more internal, it comes from within and nobody can take that away from you.”

Retail therapy sounds like it has an addictive quality to it. And let’s face it – shopaholics are real. As Muller says, it’s a short-term experience, and we often find ourselves going back to shopping again and again.

That tells us that underneath this short-term “therapy,” something a bit more serious might be going on. There is something missing that we are trying to satisfy. So what void are we trying to fill with all of that shopping?

“As with everything, moderation. So if it’s in excess, if you are robbing Peter to pay Paul as the proverb says and you have financial challenges, is it really helping?” asks Muller. “Is it needless items that you really don’t need but you’re buying anyway? You have to be mindful of how much excess you buy in terms of retail therapy.”

Of course, if you get a promotion, receive some positive news you’ve been waiting for, etc. - sure, you may want to celebrate and buy the pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. But the most important thing is to actively listen to how you feel after you buy that pair of shoes.

It’s also important to understand that every success doesn’t deserve a huge production – sometimes just an extra pump of vanilla or a new journal is enough of an award and can satisfy you in the same way.

“We look at that ‘iceberg theory’ about how on the top you felt like you were missing something, and what else could have been done to fulfill that need,” says Muller. “In the same breath, you might have to – if you are feeling guilty – reassess why you are feeling guilty. Did you need to make that purchase? Can you replace the euphoric feeling with something else? Maybe just go to the website, add it to your cart and just put it on your wishlist next time.”

Everyone loves a good Wish List. The person who invented it may have been an avid believer in retail therapy themselves. Because there is something to be said about going to a website, adding $1000 worth of stuff to your cart or adding it to your wish list, and then closing the tab. And if you give yourself 30 seconds to start to think about something else, you will now have probably saved $1000. Which is great, but remember that nothing can actually replace therapy – even if it is in the phrase.

If you find yourself with stacks of packages or an excess of new clothes with absolutely nowhere to wear them, take the time to think about where the urge to spend is coming from. Is it anxiety from staying in the house for so long? Maybe you feel you haven’t “done nothing” in a while and this is an easy outlet to feel alive. No matter what the reason, if it is turning into unpaid bills, it’s time to consider other forms of reward.

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