Traits and Patterns of Shopaholics

Young woman shopping at boutique.
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What are the symptoms of being a shopaholic? In popular culture, the image of a compulsive shopper is a cheerful, superficial young woman concerned with little more than the latest shoes and handbags. The popularity of the "Confessions of a Shopaholic" books and movie speaks to the appeal of this image.

But research paints a different picture of this poorly understood condition. Here is a look into the mind of a true shopaholic.

Seeks Approval From Others

The shopping addict or shopaholic personality has been found to be more agreeable than non-shopaholic research subjects, meaning they are kindhearted, sympathetic and not rude to others. Often lonely and isolated, the shopping experience provides the shopaholic with positive interactions with salespeople and the hope that what they have bought will improve their relationships with others. Shopaholics also have a tendency to be easily influenced by others.

The good news if you are a shopaholic is that having a kind, agreeable disposition will make it easier for you to establish a good therapeutic relationship if you seek treatment for your addiction. This personality type may also predispose you to follow the advice of your therapist and to be influenced by the positive encouragement of others in group therapy.

Low Self Esteem

Low self-esteem is one of the most commonly found characteristics in studies of the shopaholic personality. Shopping is a way of trying to improve self-esteem, particularly when the desired object is associated with an image of what the shopper wants to be. But low self-esteem can also be a consequence of shopping addiction, particularly as debt can intensify feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness.

The good news is that with deeper self-reflection, perhaps with the help of a therapist, you will realize there is much to truly value about yourself, such as your kindly disposition, mentioned above.

Emotional Problems

As well as a general tendency for emotional instability or mood swings, studies have also found that shopping addicts often suffer from anxiety and depression. Shopping is often used as a way of lifting the spirits, even temporarily.

The good news is that both anxiety and depression can be treated with psychological therapies and medication, if necessary. These treatments are much more effective than the short-lived thrill of buying.

Difficulty Controlling Impulses

Impulses are natural — a sudden, intense urge to do something grips you, and you feel the need to act. Most people find it fairly easy to control their impulses and learn to do so during childhood. Shopaholics, on the other hand, find impulses, particularly impulses that involve buying something, both overwhelming and irresistible.

The good news is that you can gain control over your impulse to spend, particularly if you deal with the other underlying problems.

Indulges in Fantasy

The ability to fantasize is stronger in shopaholics than it usually is in other people. There are several ways that fantasies can reinforce the tendency to buy too much. The shopaholic can fantasize about the thrill of shopping while engaged in other activities; they can imagine all the positive consequences of buying the desired object, and they can escape into a fantasy world to escape the harsh realities of life.

The good news for shopaholics is that having a strong capacity for imagination can be extremely beneficial during addiction treatment and can be helpful in developing skills which will help you overcome your addiction, such as relaxation training.


Research shows that shopaholics are more materialistic than other buyers, but there is a complexity to their love of material possessions. They are surprisingly disinterested in owning things and are actually less driven to acquire material possessions than other buyers, which explains why shopaholics buy things they don't need or use.

So how are they more materialistic? Well, there are two other dimensions to materialism, envy, and non-generosity, and these are the weaknesses of the shopaholic. They are much more envious and much less generous than others. This is surprising, given the fact that gifts are a common purchase of shopaholics, but this seems to be an attempt to "buy" love and increase social status, rather than a genuine act of generosity.

The good news is that by increasing your self-esteem and your ability to connect with others in a genuine way, you will lose your belief that affection and admiration can be bought.

In discovering what you really have to offer, you will no longer feel the need to hide behind an image promoted by advertising. You can become yourself and live within your means.

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Additional Reading
  • Lejoyeux, M.D., Ph.D., M., Ades, M.D., J., Tassain, Ph.D., V. & Solomon, Ph.D., J. "Phenomenology and psychopathology of uncontrolled buying." Am J Psychiatry, 153:1524-1529. 1996.
  • Mowen, J. & Spears, N. "Understanding compulsive buying among college students: A hierarchical approach." Journal of Consumer Psychology, 8:407-430. 1999.
  • O'Guinn, T. & Faber, R. "Compulsive buying: A phenomenological exploration." Journal of Consumer Research, 16:147-157. 1989.
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