How Retail Therapy Makes You More Insecure

Photographed by Anna Alexia Basile.
We've all #treatedourselves to a new dress or pair of sneaks to make up for a crappy day at work, or to cheer ourselves up after a fight with a partner. But, a recent study by the Journal of Consumer Research illuminates an interesting phenomenon about this kind of retail therapy. Turns out, the stuff we buy on emotional shopping trips is often intimately linked with the type of hurt we experienced — and a bad-day impulse buy can actually diminish our feelings of self-worth.

JCR explains that shopping after a bad day is "compensatory behavior" — in other words, you're trying to soothe yourself after a disappointment or an ego blow. Emotional shoppers also often turn to "within-domain" compensation — meaning they buy products to counter the specific kind of ego blow they experienced. The study gives the example of an MBA student who's bummed about the fact that her classmates have received job offers, while she hasn't. Quite the knock to her self-worth. So, if that MBA student hits the mall, she's more likely to choose a splurge that signifies job success, like a pricey briefcase or a gold watch. Interesting, no?

The study also found that not only does retail therapy not make you feel better, it actually makes you feel worse, by causing "increased ruminat[ion]" on the thing that hurt your feelings in the first place. Imagine treating yourself to some sexy lingerie after you find out your partner cheated; your new buys may remind you all too much of the hurt that drove you to splurge, thus reinforcing your sense of inadequacy.

Read more here about how retail therapy basically broadcasts your insecurities to the world. Then, the next time your boss chews you out for filing your expense reports late, read it again — and be inspired to keep your credit card in your wallet.

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