How do Identity, Spirituality, and Life Purpose Interface with Compulsive Buying?

Dr. Kathleen Galek and Ms.Marcela Torres of StoppingOvershopping, LLC are currently conducting a research study among an urban female college population that examines how themes of identity, spirituality, and life purpose interface with compulsive buying. Their study tests the hypothesis that a stable identity, a sense of purpose in life, and a mature spirituality are protective factors against the development of compulsive buying behavior. They further hypothesize that the absence of these increase the likelihood that someone will buy compulsively.

Previous work is relevant to this hypothesis. We’ve long known, for example, that what we buy communicates a lot about who we are; both normal and compulsive buyers are searching for themselves and their place in the world. Compulsive buyers differ from normal buyers in the extent to which they use the purchase of consumer goods to bolster low self-esteem, and to bridge gaps between how they see themselves (actual self), how they wish to be (ideal self), and how they wish to be seen (ideal self)” (Dittmar, 2000).

We also know that a purposeful life tends to be associated with prosocial behavior, moral commitment, and high self-esteem, while a life that lacks purpose correlates with depression, self-absorption, addictions, a lack of productivity, and an inability to sustain stable interpersonal relations (Damon, 1995). Certainly, some compulsive buyers use shopping as a way to create a sense of purpose and to counteract a sense of alienation and emptiness.

Both theory and research suggest that materialistic values lie in opposition to values espoused in many spiritual traditions. For instance, valuing social status, sensual gratification, and personal success have been shown to conflict with values such as compassion and appreciation of nature (Burroughs & Rindfleisch, 2002). Being on a spiritual journey can shift one’s perspective from self-absorption and the overacquisition of material goods to a focus on altruism, community mindedness, and connection with the larger universe.

We predict, then, that this study will link higher degrees of compulsive shopping with a less developed sense of spirituality, fewer meaningful life domains, and a greater discrepancy between how individuals currently view themselves compared with how they’d like to be. But we’ll know more as the results come in, and we’ll keep you posted right here in the newsletter.

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