Recently someone asked me this question and while the topic may not seem “politically correct” as we usher into the holiday shopping season, it is an important one to consider. Black Friday and Small Business Saturday intensify and legitimize the extremes of shopping for most shoppers, obscuring it in those who actually struggle. The compulsive buying of Shopaholics, however, is not seasonal.
How do you know if you are a Shopaholic?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you preoccupied with shopping or spending?
- Is your shopping excessive (200 watches, 400 pairs of shoes)?
- Is your shopping inappropriate (items that you don’t need)?
- Is your shopping uncontrolled (spending money you know you don’t have)?
- Do you typically return, give away, or not use items you have purchased?
- Has your shopping become so time consuming that it jeopardizes your job, family, or pursuit of other life experiences?
- Does shopping leave you feeling upset, guilty or ashamed?
- Has shopping led to serious financial or legal problems?
- Has shopping caused you to lose a relationship?
If you have answered Yes to one or more of these questions there is a good chance that you have a problem. The bottom line in determining if you are a shopaholic is that shopping impacts your life in an increasingly negative way and — you can’t stop!
You’re Are Not Alone
In A Review of Compulsive Buying Disorder, Donald Black reports in 2007 that compulsive buying is found in industrialized countries worldwide with a prevalence of 5.8% in the US. That is at least 17 million people. This year, Psychology Today reports 18 million Americans – 1 in 20, has a retail habit that puts them in some jeopardy.
Who are These People?
According to April Land Benson author of To Buy or Not Buy, shopaholics can be anyone. Whereas the evidence has suggested that 80% to 90% are women, there is increasing evidence that men are as likely to have a shopping problem – they just shop for different things like sporting equipment, electronics or automobile accessories as opposed to clothes, shoes and jewelry.
The actual profile of the shopaholic or compulsive shopper is not a set picture. The desperate use of shopping cuts across cultural lines and socioeconomic levels. It includes a teacher who never opened the boxes of her countless on-line J Crew purchases; the senior citizen who filled his home with garage sale radios, TV’s and specialized tools; the businessman with escalating online art purchases; and the wealthy suburbanite with an ever growing collection of rarely used handbags and shoes.
Shopping as Addiction
- The common denominator for shopaholics is the use of shopping as an addiction. More specifically, a closer look reveals that shopping becomes the “fix” for negative feelings like depression, anxiety, boredom, self-critical thoughts, anger, low-self esteem etc.
- According to Donald Black in his study of compulsive buying, such feelings are transformed by a shopping cycle that includes anticipation of shopping, preparation and build up of where and when, the actual shopping and the purchase which brings a feeling of elation and euphoria (the necessary fix).
- Like other addictions, nothing really changes. The thrill of purchase only gives way to let-down, disappointment, guilt, shame – and the need for more shopping.
How Do I Stop Addictive Shopping?
- As with any addiction, one of the most important steps to change is recognizing and owning the problem.
- Use of Self-Help material as well as professional groups, in-person and online groups, individual coaching and therapy are all viable alternatives for help.
- April Lane Benson’s web site www.stoppingovershopping.com offers assessment tools for determining the degree of your shopping problem with links to professional on-line and in-person individual and group help.
- On a very practical level Benson’s book, To Buy or Not To Buy offers readers self-help as the use of a shopping journal or a wallet shopping reminder card with questions like: Why am I here? How Do I feel? Do I Need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? Where will I put it?
- Essentially the more the shopaholic identifies the feelings being “shopped away,” the more mastery and the greater the possibility of meeting needs and feelings in a more constructive way.
Suggestions for This Holiday Season
As you head into this shopping season, consider these possibilities for making your Holiday a happier one:
- Admit if you have a shopping addiction.
- Get rid of credit cards and checkbooks that too easily make compulsive shopping possible.
- Shop with others as that will often limit excessive or inappropriate spending.
- Fill your holiday with memorable and enjoyable experiences that have nothing to do with shopping.
A small step toward controlling shopping – may be the biggest gift of all!!