Magazine for Sexuality and Politics

Shopping and Sense of Belonging

Susanne Schade

This week is Black Week in Germany and so it’s an ideal time to take a critical look at the yearning for promises of happiness thought to be found in the form of shopping.

In a consumer society that encourages female, male as well as other forms of narcissism, many activities that people engage in tend to distract them from the real issues at hand. While women traditionally have directed their narcissistic regulation to ideals of beauty and items that showcase their bodies, the narcissistic regulation of men is focused on status symbols such as cars, real estate, the latest technology or simply being in possession of a large bank account (cf. Maaz, 2014). There is an almost endless number of products and services to be found in the beauty and fashion industry as well as in the automobile and technology markets. Forms of compensation for deep wounds are always being proposed to consumers in an increasingly diversified, intensive and frequent manner.

The desire to belong goes hand in hand with a fear of not belonging, whether this happens to be one’s circle of friends, a study group, co-workers, family, a certain culture or nation. This particular fear is mixed with a feeling of not being enough. Parental shortcomings that occur when children are at an early age more often than not lead to these children feeling not loved enough. They tend to conform in order to please, seek social recognition throughout their lives and find themselves never fully satisfied with what they have accomplished. Suffering from a lack of love and early narcissistic deficits can lead to diverse forms of compensations and distractions with the sole aim of achieving that longed-for loving attention (Maaz, 2014). All these significant compensatory and diversionary actions reach their climax during Black Week or, as the case may be, on Cyber Friday.

In a society whose goal is to go higher, faster and further in order to create endless surplus value and whose means of production are excessively promoted through consumerism, the subjectively experienced wounds wrought by parents are exploited and steered towards new paths. But buying or displaying a new object only leaves a void, a void consisting of the lack of love experienced early on in life. Thus, industries specifically use a target group approach to convey the impression that love will come after all.

Jesse Goll (unsplash)<br>
Jesse Goll (unsplash)

As with other substances (e.g drugs and alcohol), the transition to addictive behavior is easy. Shopaholics feel a strong desire to buy something and, in the process, they lose control of themselves, despite the negative consequences. Also, the amount has to be increasingly augmented and the actions associated with shopping are repeated compulsively. Shopping often serves as a means of emotional regulation in order not to have to feel anger, rage, loneliness, frustration or irritation. The feelings are simply extinguished by engaging in shopping but the reasons for this remain misunderstood. Shopping often results in feelings of sadness, shame, disillusionment, or guilt and self-punishment/blame because the desired effect of overcoming the void has not occurred (Savelle-Rocklin & Akhtar, 2019).

People can search for clues as to why these unbearable feelings occur in the first place. In so doing, it is inevitable that they will end up dealing with the issue of their own parents because these longings ultimately are related to them. The pain can be great and the anger unbearable but substitute actions are ill-suited to combating the cause. It's also possible that shopaholics were materially disadvantaged growing up (compared to their peers) and maybe that's why they were ridiculed or, at any rate, why they perceived it that way. So these psychological wounds, which lead to excessive consumerism, can also come from peers.

In a society whose economy does not promote narcissism in people, one which does not exploit the lack of love and fears pertaining to desires of belonging, the main emphasis must be more about supporting relationship structures that support a sense of belonging. People must be helped to form, build and maintain relationships (cf. Maaz, 2014). Learning how people deal with other people is just as important as developing tolerance and acceptance for differences. The social energy that flows into consumerism should be subjected to criticism just as much as the purpose of doing business. At the same time, reflection can begin on how an authentic sense of belonging can be experienced so that people can feel loved and accepted.


Maaz, H.-J. (2014). Die narzisstische Gesellschaft – Ein Psychogramm. [The narcissistic society]. Beck.

Savelle-Rocklin, N. & Akhtar, S. (2019). Beyond the Primal Addiction - Food, Sex, Gambling, Internet, Shopping, and Work. Routledge.

Berlin, den 26.11.2022 during black week

Photos: first page: freestocks / header: Jesse Goll (unsplash)

Comments ()

  1. Werner Köpp 20 january 2023, 16:45 # 0
    The article is well written, also good that the capitalist necessity of surplus value production is pointed out. Now my small, additional thought on this: I believe that understanding or critical psychology should theoretically distinguish more between the use value side and the exchange value side when it comes to consumption. Not every object-hunger directed towards consumer goods has to spring from a social pathology. We humans always seek the object, even if it is only to complete or expand ourselves. In the discussion you have led, it is mainly a question of how this search for objects (in terms of commodity economics, «consumer behaviour») is organised, exploited, abused or served in the service of real subject needs on the part of the individual who has become social and on the part of the socially formative institutions.

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