Inheriting a Shopping Addiction

Posted by Jill Chivers in Shopping in the Movies and Media, Shopping Messages

Recently I was asked if I thought whether shopping addictions were genetic or learned. The Daily Mail in the UK posted an article about whether shopping behaviours were in the genes.  I’m sure I spelled that last word correctly.

It sure sparked some interesting comments on the Daily Mail site, and it must’ve pricked the ears of the Network Seven people as well.  A producer for the SUNRISE show (the most popular non-cable early morning show here in Australia) phoned me and asked me to appear on the show to discuss this.

Baby shopaholics?

Baby shopaholics?

Here are my thoughts on the Daily Mail article and this issue:

Do parents influence the behaviour of their children? 

Absolutely. Isn’t this one of the primary goals of parenting — to influence your children?

The problems arise when parents pass along unconscious or ‘unchosen’ behaviours like poor eating habits.  Or compulsive shopping habits.  Or an illogical love of country folk music which defies all social pressure (and must be indulged in in private – not that I’m talking about me here).

There surely can’t be any, or much, doubt that the behaviour of the parents most assuredly, directly and deeply impacts the development of the child/children.  The question is: how are you influencing your children? And how do you want to influence your children?  What are they learning from you, without you making a ‘learning moment’ out of it – the stuff they are just picking up from watching you live your life?

Are the behaviours we were exposed to as children like albatrii around our necks, never to be truly left behind? 

Absolutely not.  It is quite possible to consciously choose which behaviours you wish to take with you into adulthood, and to foster the reinforcing of those behaviours so you learn new habits – consciously chosen habits.

This kind of consciously chosen behaviour choices take effort, and there’s the catch.  It all starts with that first step of awareness: recognising that you have a bad habit or a compulsion or a set of behaviours you wish to change, and understanding the genesis of those behaviours and attitudes (without assigning blame).

Yes, it is possible to develop healthy eating habits – even if you didn’t develop them as a child.

Yes, it is possible to become a conscious shopper – even if you weren’t exposed to this as a child.

Yes, it is possible to develop more socially acceptable musical tastes, or at least put your John Denver and Tom T Hall CDs away when you have company.

Is shopping addiction genetic?

I don’t believe so.  Scientists debate and discuss this issue from time to time and there’s no unequivocal answer to anything this question from the scientific quarter.

My own belief is that shopping per se is a learned behaviour, and over shopping and compulsive shopping is most definitely learned.

What I’d add to that is that for many women whose shopping habits were learned at their mothers knee, by the time they hit adulthood they’re entrenched and unconscious.  Their awareness around how healthy or otherwise their shopping habits is low.

This doesn’t mean those behaviours weren’t learned and that they’re somehow “genetically” handed down.

The  journey back to conscious shopping for these women starts with awareness.  To owning up to their situation and recognising they have a problem, or a situation they wish to change.  Sounds painful – but it’s one of the most liberating and precious moments you can imagine.


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    8 Responses to “Inheriting a Shopping Addiction”

    1. Most of my life I have had: 1 pair of “nice” shoes and 1 pair of everything else shoes. Daughter, however, LOVES shoes. Has BOXES of them and knows what is in every single box (I know, I’ve quizzed her). Her paternal birth Grandmother, whom she does not remember (died when she was 5 and didn’t live close), was a shoe freak – had boxes of shoes she’d never worn (she did not know what she had, just bought). Granddaughter at 2 is already running around in 3″ heel boots that cover her whole leg whenever she can get into her Mommy’s shoes. Nature or nuture? Always a fascinating question!

      • hey Tammy – it’s always fun to receive your comments here! I am still amazed when I hear about your shoe “collection” of 1 – 2 pairs! Yes, very fascinating about nature vs nurture.

        I’d add to what you’ve said above that loving clothes and being interested in them (as per your Daughter and GDAughter) is one thing…. Becoming a shopaholic as a result of those interests does not automatically follow. Being a shopaholic and loving clothes is not the same thing.

        Me – I loved clothes and getting dressed up from a very early age. So does my mother, and my maternal aunts. Did I learn about loving clothes from my mother? Sure I did. Did she foster my love of clothes? Sure she did. Did she make me addicted to shopping? No way.

        I guess that’s part of what we try to do here with our course — to share the word that loving clothes can be a life-affirming and soul-uplifting activity. YES – please continue to love dressing up and everything associated with it!! You just don’t need to become, or to continue to be, addicted to shopping to engage in that activity. We try to break the connection between loving clothes and over-spending.

        So I hear ya about how interests (such as loving shoes and clothes and getting dressed up) can be a family thing… perhaps there is even some genetic link there?

        Thanks again for your comment here – it’s a pleasure to see your thoughts shared here.

    2. Julia says:

      Whatever shopping addiction I truly inherited was my father’s, and that is limited to books. I shop differently from my mother in some ways. When she lived in a place where she didn’t have air conditioning, if a heat wave hit, she’d go spend the worst 6 hours of the day in a mall. She got her Christmas shopping done before early September the years that had heat waves of 10 days or longer, because she could not be in a shopping space and not actually buy at least one or two things over the course of several hours. I can browse without buying for that long, as long as none of the stores I’m browsing in is a bookstore. She can’t, and she pointed this out to me when we were discussing it at the time.

      I have had specific impulse-buy problems in the past (I’ve had 3 years of not buying any little rubber ducks, unless you count the ones that came in the grab bags I bought at that science fiction convention), but not a general, “Oh, pretty, it looks good on me, I have to buy it” problem.

      I’m trying to be as deliberate in my purchasing as possible, and I’ve figured out ways to manage that, and avoid impulse buys over $5 altogether (unless I’m in a bookstore, and even then, I have a much better handle on it than I used to).

      • Jill says:

        hi Julia – thanks for your comment… I had a laugh when I read that snippet about the rubber ducks from the science fiction convention – very funny! It’s liberating when you discover what your own trigger points are around shopping, isn’t it? For you, it’s books. How helpful to know that – makes impulsive shopping easy (or at least easier) to avoid. I have stood in stores and felt a physical compulsion, a real sense of “Oh, I simply have to have this!” feeling. Now that I don’t have that emotional response in stores anymore (for many reasons – all linked to becoming more conscious in how I shop and the environments I place myself in etc), it is like a weight being lifted from my shoulders. I like what you say about being deliberate in your purchases. To me, that’s what conscious shopping is. What you just said there. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!

    3. Stacey says:

      Hey Jill!

      Congratulations on more well-deserved media attention! It’s clear to me that the media keeps calling you because you’re able to condense myriad studies and hours of thought into 90-seconds of valuable insight!

      My parents always made it clear that they valued experiences (especially education) over things and I know their values were inculcated from a very young age.

      I was recently looking at old photographs of me and I marveled that I’m still wearing the clothes I was pictured in over 10 years ago. They still look great (I rarely use the dryer on my clothes, so they hold up well), so why not??

      Thanks so much for another great post!

      • Jill says:

        hi Stacey – great to see your comment here… I’m not sure why the media keep calling me, but maybe it has something to do with my ability to talk in sound bytes! I learn something new every time I appear, that’s for sure.

        So interesting what you say about the values you grew up with, especially around experiences/education. When we review the behaviours/attitudes instilled in us as children, from an adult perspective, they can take on more power when we consicously choose them, rather than just blindly inherit them…

        And of course you can still look fabulous wearing clothing that is 10+ years old! Personal style is exactly that – personal. I’m into consciously chosen personal style, as you know – but anything that has an individual stamp on it has two thumbs up from me! And certainly it doesn’t have to be new to look good (something I wrote about earlier this year: Great to see you here and see you again soon!

    4. Hi Jill – this is such a fun question to ponder, not just about shopping, but about behaviors in general… I couldn’t agree more that the actions and reactions we observed when we were young may serve as a basis for learning, but are not behaviors we’re locked into for life – unlike truly inherited traits (like my pale skin and strong *ahem* sturdy legs).

      Awareness and presence are the keys to overcoming any ingrained behaviors we want to change… Now that I’m aware of how my mother’s reactions to situations triggered shopping and spending – I can see it reflected in my own life and make conscious efforts to change.

      Thanks as always for sharing your perspective on this issue in so many intriguing ways =)

      • Jill says:

        hey Emelie – had a smile reading your comment… yes, we all have genetically handed down peculiarities, dont’ we? I have my grandmother and great aunt to thank for my “charming” freckles. And why did my brothers have to get the long eyelashes? I mean, really, what are they going to do with them??

        So fascinating to reflect on what we learned at our mothers (and other important figures, often female) knees, isn’t it? My mother still talks about a polka dot play suit she made for me when I was 2 and how fabulous I looked in it (I remember stuffing mulberries into the pockets – they stain, you know). We can learn so much with those reflections… and all the more powerful when we decide which “truths” (perspectives) we wish to take with us into our adult lives.

        Good to see you here!

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