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The dark side of Black Friday


Black Friday is here. Have you noticed – it has already become a black week or even black month? Shopping temptations, big sales and incredible discounts entice us seductively from every shop window. And what about all the ads on the internet leading us directly to an online shop with low prices? It seems really difficult to resist all these temptations and not to have a look at the discounted items. In the last years Black Friday has become very popular, thus bringing the tradition of early Christmas shopping in our country as well.

That’s great – you might say – everyone likes to shop at affordable price. The problem arises when shopping becomes the central idea in our head and we organize our whole day so that we can do it. Every day. We feel the pressure of entering the shopping mall and spend hours there choosing the best bargain.

The red signs SALE are there, the vibrant music is playing and we start to feel better. We start to feel at home – seen, recognized, worthy. We forget our hard day at work, the family issues that are waiting for us to be dealt with, the nuisances within our children’s school. We just breathe in and dive into the world of sales. We end up with a lot of bags full of designer clothes, purses, shoes etc. and a large amount of money spent from our bank account.

Indeed, we go out of the shop with a bag full of sorrow…We start to feel guilty and with a bad conscience.  Later, at home, we begin to ask ourselves – Do I really need all this stuff? Or did I buy it in a rush of not missing the deal? Did I need it? No. Did I want it? Yes!

Shopping addiction has become a serious problem in our modern society. In many countries it takes the second place after smoking in the list of most common addictions. However, the topic is often being neglected due to a couple of reasons. Most of all because it is related to a socially acceptable behaviour.  It is much less visible and apparent than many other addictions and it allows the people affected by it to hide easily.

Shopping addicts look good, they radiate success and prosperity. But deep down inside they suffer a lot. They describe their shopping experience as a nightmare, starting with the extremely strong impulse of going in a shop looking for something more than goods. They are looking for happiness. For a secure place offering comfort for their feelings. They manage to get it at the beginning of their buying binge but it only lasts a while. And then the bad feelings come – guilt, anger, grief, self-blame. “Why am I doing this? Am I not able to control myself?”.

What is behind excessive shopping?

The psychological reasons each of us might have may vary. In general, we go shopping in order to moderate our emotions, usually to compensate negative emotions – and “the retail therapy” is an available and socially accepted method to do so.

The unhealthy shopping habits may be somehow linked to a lower self-esteem and at the same time to the belief that others judge us by what we have. It may be that we ourselves judge other people based on what they have. When I have more, I feel more valuable.

In fact, almost everything we do as consumers is about reducing our stress.

There are specific structures in our brain called “the reward system” associated with the release of hormones such as dopamine, which make us feel good. This system in turn is related to our emotions. The words sale or bargain activate this system to a great extent, in a similar way that drugs do. We need to use some other brain area in order to think rationally in order to make the decision whether we need this purchase or not. But when the brain focuses on the red sign SALE, it tends to forget everything else.

On the other hand, there are areas in the brain associated with the unpleasant sensation of pain. Spending a lot of money can actually feel like a physical pain. So, here is the reason why if you are taking painkillers, the pain of spending money is being dulled and you are more likely to buy impulsively. Paying by credit card also facilitates the process of buying expensive goods, because at this point of time we do not really feel that we are paying money – and when we actually hand over the banknotes, we have a sense of loss.

Additionally, there are some other psychological factors that make us shop more and more – the idea that we can miss a bargain, the competitive element to take something before the others or the traditions we value.

Passionate shopaholic or a shopping addict?

It is not that easy to draw a line between having fun shopping and purchasing nice things and the dangerous pathologic buying behaviour, but there are some signals you might need to pay attention to.

Do you have a lot of things that you never actually use and do you have unopened packages and purchases that you bought a long time ago? Do you feel obsessed by the thought of buying so that you can hardly distract yourself from it? Do you feel attracted by the pure act of buying stuff, a strong desire to own things, no matter what exactly they are? Is it difficult for you to control such impulses?

Another important criterion when thinking of shopping addiction is that the affected people experience negative consequences of consuming, i.e. they have financial troubles (they fall into debt, are sought for this) or family problems (their behaviour causes controversy, they lose their partners’ trust) and still cannot stop doing it. They have the insight, but they cannot resist buying.

According to recent studies, the excessive material value orientation may be a possible predictor of shopping addiction. Speaking about temperament – which is considered mostly to be innate – researchers find that people with unhealthy shopping behaviour tend to demonstrate higher level of impulsiveness. They are more inclined to act impulsively – to react rapidly to various internal or external stimuli not taking into account any possible negative consequences that may follow.

In fact, each and every one of us can have their own deep reasons for such actions – they can have their roots back in our childhood, they may be linked to some difficulties in our professional or personal life. Only after facing these causes and working on understanding them, can we try to deal with the unwanted behaviour.

Some strategies we may use in order to do that might be:

  • Plan what you will buy. Use cash and not credit card, if possible.
  • Take a breath. Before you buy a product, take a pause, have a walk, give your brain some time to decide if you really need this purchase.
  • Self-monitoring and introspection – try to ask yourself some of the following questions:

Do I need this now? What do I need it for? How many times will I use it?

And when you notice that you have a closet full of things you have completely forgotten, try to think: How did I feel when I bought it? How did it go, what was my motive for this purchase? What did I do exactly? What did I think?

  • Looking at the shopping episodes “under a microscope”.

Examining our actions in detail, we can see what our personal triggers for the particular behavior are, what they have to do with our history, and what resources and opportunities we have to feel better in the long run.

  • Becoming self-aware and admitting to ourselves why we go shopping – is it in order to regulate our mood, to increase our self-esteem or as a soothing tool in difficult life situations?
  • With regular training and the support of a professional we can learn new models and new ways to control these impulses so that eventually we achieve change in our actions.

The same way we learn to read and write, we can learn to be competent in our consumer behavior.

When working on the cravings that bother us and managing our emotions and behaviour, we take a step forward to a more fulfilled life – increasing our happiness and experience more satisfaction and joy.


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