Are You a Shopaholic? Could Be Because You Feel Unloved

Hoarding and shopping are linked to feeling insecure

Can’t seem to amass enough possessions? Do you have a hard time getting rid of things you buy? Whether you have a tendency towards hoarding, or can’t resist buying the things you want, scientists at the University of New Hampshire and Yale University have discovered the reason why. In a nutshell, you feel unloved.

People who are busy trying to acquire the latest and greatest gadgets, a killer designer wardrobe or flashy sports car may really be trying to escape feelings of rejection or loneliness, according to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. The same thing goes for people who can’t part with seemingly useless possessions.

The idea that insecure people place excessive value on objects is nothing new, say the researchers. After all, we’ve all heard of the term “security blanket.” But this group of scientists wanted to find out if the opposite was also true: Do people who feel secure and loved in their relationships put less value on their possessions?

For the study, researchers divided a group of volunteers in two. Half were asked to write about a time they felt supported and loved, and the other half were asked to write about a nice dinner at a restaurant. Afterwards, everyone was asked to rate the value of a blanket. Those who wrote about feeling loved put an average price tag of $33.38 on it; those who wrote about the restaurant valued it at twice the price -- $66.49.

"People value possessions, in part, because they afford a sense of protection, insurance and comfort," said Edward Lemay, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at UNH, in a written statement. "But what we found was that if people already have a feeling of being loved and accepted by others, those possessions decrease in value."

Another study published last year in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that materialistic people were more likely to view family as a hindrance to work. According to the study’s author, highly materialistic people pour more energy into their work because it often yields rewards like more money. This, in turn, allows them to afford more possessions. Therefore, any obstacle to work, including family, is seen as disruptive. Here's the rub: According to this most recent study, compulsive workers end up pulling themselves away from the very thing they need to be happy.

Indeed, yet another study at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that people who are highly motivated by material objects are often less liked by their peers. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the findings reveal that investing in material possessions make us less happy than investing in life experiences -- and it makes us less popular to boot. (Assess your life priorities here.)
"The mistake we can sometimes make is believing that pursuing material possessions will gain us status and admiration while also improving our social relationships," said the study’s author, UCB psychology professor Leaf Van Boven. In fact, the opposite is true. “This is really problematic because we know that having quality social relationships is one of the best predictors of happiness, health and well-being,” added Van Boven.

Understanding the impulses that make you want to buy or hang on to things can help combat compulsive shopping, hoarding and even fighting over a deceased family member’s estate, says Lemay. This, in turn, can help people refocus their energy and money on things that will truly bring them happiness.

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