by Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil

We’re all a little pent up. Even if the recession hasn’t affected us financially (although, odds are it has, in some way!), it’s likely all we’re hearing about, even as some commentators suggest we’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. So it’s no wonder we’d want to do something to make ourselves feel a little bit better about this predicament that just seems to be wearing on and on. It’s justifiable, right?

Well, yes and no! When the answer to the “how do I make myself feel better” question is “go shopping,” we’ve likely got a problem.

Last week, I mentioned a study which stated that almost 80% of women are inclined to spend themselves out of misery and would go on a spending spree to cheer up, concluding that some women use shopping as an emotional regulator – which doesn’t bode well for many people who have had to cut back due to the recession.

In regards to these patterns that are emerging out of our national – and personal! – financial crisis, I coined a new phrase: “Pent up Purchase!” This is similar to a phenomenon I’ve been studying in my practice for years – what I call a “POP shot,” or a “pissed off purchase.” These types of spending play off of part of the grieving process. Out of denial and anger, Americans have awakened to a new emotional response to the economic collapse. Our brain chemistry is negatively impacted when we suffer adversity. Because of this, the economic downturn we’re experiencing – and the penny pinching many are experiencing – is actually a set-up for irresponsible spending, and an unhealthy replacement for emotional intimacy.

These problems can lead to what I call the “money mistress” which can then give way to financial infidelity. A “pissed off purchase,” “money mistress” and “financial infidelity” all occur when you engage in reckless spending – whether that be spending over budget, spending behind your partner’s back, or spending as a way to avoid grief and as a type of self-medication.

I’m not trying to be alarmist and draw the conclusion that buying a pair of shoes to make yourself feel better is only one step away from financial infidelity. I’m merely suggesting that the two can lead to each other, and in a climate where everyone is over-stressed, over-worried and more on-edge than normal, these types of behaviors can heighten the likelihood that you will engage in more destructive patterns.

It may seem like a vicious cycle: more stress = more tendency to spend = more stress. But doing things to remove stress from your life WITHOUT spending money will help break the cycle!


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