The Unexpected Habit My Therapist Connected to My Borderline Personality Disorder

I remember one therapy session from when I was inpatient in a psychiatric hospital about 30 years ago like it just happened yesterday. We were talking about the way I liked to acquire things and spend money.

It is important to know that money was in very short supply in my household and my compulsive shopping had gotten me and my husband into a significant amount of credit card debt. My therapist asked me what the goal was when I shopped. Was I buying things that I or the family needed? Was I buying things to show off to my friends? Was I buying things as a way to deal with my anxiety? I had no answer because I really did not know why I was doing it.

He asked me if I was trying to fill myself up. I looked at him quizzically, not understanding him. He then told me this story:

A young girl was sitting on the beach. She wanted to dig a swimming pool for her stuffed bear so she dug down into the sand. When the hole was a decent depth, she got up and ran to the water’s edge with her pail and collected a bucketful of water. She quickly ran back to the hole and poured the water in. She stood there aghast as she watched the water drain away into the sand. She again took her bucket down to the water’s edge where she filled it. Again, she ran back to the hole and poured the water in only to watch it slowly drain away. She sat down and thought about it and decided that she would just keep digging because she really wanted her stuffed bear to have that swimming pool. So she dug and dug and the hole got deeper and deeper and then suddenly, as if by magic, water welled up from the bottom of the hole and filled it.

“What is the lesson in this story?” he asked me. I honestly did not know.

He replied, “If you want to fill yourself up you need to do from the inside out, not from the outside in. Going to the store and buying things will not fill the void inside you. You need to fill that hole yourself.”

I was stunned because I had never thought about this. But as I thought about it, it made more and more sense. When I came home from the hospital I took a good look around my house and was amazed as I did an inventory of all my stuff. I had so much! Over the next year I began to divest myself of it but more importantly, I stopped shopping. I stopped buying things in an effort to make myself feel better. As time went by I was able to divest myself of most of those things and did not engage in any more recreational shopping in order to replace them.

Over time, I learned how to fill myself up from the inside out and become a happier person because of it. I learned that things are just that — things. They do not bring any lasting pleasure. They do not give you any lasting happiness because the thrill of buying them is short-lived. I learned to give myself experiential things — a trip to Florence, Italy with a friend, a class at a local eatery on how to bake the world’s best sourdough bread, a ticket to see a play at my local theatre. Because I no longer shop when I am feeling anxious or depressed, I have a lot fewer things living with me in my house. I also have a lot more money in my bank account. I don’t rely on things anymore to give me the pick me up that I need. I try to do that myself. If you are engaging regularly in retail therapy, I urge you to think about what that experience gives you.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Getty image via drante

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Borderline Personality Disorder

woman alone outdoors upset nearby trees

To the Doctors Who Didn't Believe My Borderline Personality Disorder Was Real

First, I want to say thank you. Thank you to my family and friends. Thank you to my dad for supporting my decisions and taking time out of work to help me. Thank you to my mum — although you may not always understand why I feel the way I do, you were always there [...]
digital painting of girl dressed as an angel, oil on canvas texture

When I Realized My Adult Struggle With Self-Hatred Started in Childhood

I, Khristy Knudtson, hate myself. In the spirit of candor, I cannot accurately convey the sheer exhilaration I felt by typing that. Prior to my self-loathing side hustle, I assumed all of the negativity was a reactionary side effect of my borderline personality disorder because of my inability to keep up with the perfectionist tendencies [...]
man in red shirt in front of computer at Christmas depression tired

An Unexpected Gift: Recovering From Borderline Personality Disorder During the Holidays

Recently, I was at my best friend’s house helping her plan a holiday party. Like most people, all of the office celebrations, family gatherings, shopping extravaganzas, subtle and not-so-subtle cultural cues to “Spread good cheer!” “Be Merry!” and generally high expectations for the season were setting her on edge. What started as a fun exercise [...]
Woman with flowers in her hair

How Low Self-Esteem Impacts My Borderline Personality Disorder

Low self-esteem can be behind a lot of mental illness. It certainly is with mine. When I was struggling with an eating disorder, I thought that maybe if I weighed less I could feel better about myself and that people would like me more. With my borderline personality disorder, I have deep fears that everyone [...]