Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Holiday Shopping or Compulsive Shopping? A Painful Difference

christmas shopping blogThe Holidays bring with them the joy of giving and the need to shop for the right gift for the right person. For the some 18 million compulsive shoppers, however, the holiday is but one more trigger to an addiction that ultimately brings far more pain than joy.

Who are the Compulsive Shoppers?

According to April Lane Benson author of To Buy or Not to Buy, compulsive shoppers can be anyone. Whereas compulsive shopping tends to be associated with 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.

In my own clinical work, I have found that the actual profile of the shopaholic or compulsive shopper is not a set picture. 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 suburbanite with an ever growing collection of jewelry that she never wore.

What Are The Signs Of Compulsive Shopping?

  • Shopping for things you don’t need with money you don’t have.
  • Shopping in excess—200 watches, 400 pairs of shoes.
  • Shopping only to return, give away or not use items purchased.
  • Shopping or spending at the cost of family, job or pursuit of other life experiences.
  • Shopping that leaves you feeling upset, guilty, or ashamed.
  • Shopping that leads to serious financial or legal problems.

Shopping that impacts your life in an increasingly negative way but which— you can’t stop!

Shopping as an Addiction

  • What makes shopping an addiction is that it has very little to do with purchasing an item and everything to do with the use of shopping as a ever consuming “fix” for negative feelings, definitions of self, regulation of anxiety, avoidance of pain etc.
  • Such feelings are transformed by a shopping cycle that according to expert Donald Black 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, however, nothing really changes. The thrill of purchase only gives way to let-down, disappointment, guilt, shame, financial and interpersonal consequences–and the need for more shopping.

In a recent study comparing compulsive and ordinary buyers, Helga Dittmar found that ordinary buyers start out in a better mood than compulsive shoppers and their mood is more positive after the purchase and even more positive when they get home.

As compared to this, a compulsive buyer starts out in a less positive mood than a normal buyer, escalates much more than the normal buyer during the purchase but dips far below that of the normal buyer and their own pre-purchase mood on returning home.

 Why Are You Compulsively Shopping?

April Benson reminds us that central to addressing compulsive buying is recognizing what drives it. Are you buying…

  • To emotionally feel better – less sad, depressed, bored, lonely etc.
  • To avoid responsibilities.
  • To ensure the love of others.
  • To release anger.
  • To fit an image as a way to boost self-esteem.
  • To repair the loss of trauma.
  • To find meaning in life, etc.

If so, you are not alone and you already know on some level that like any addiction, shopping works until is stops working. Then it takes more and more.

How Do I Stop Compulsive 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 links to professional on-line and in-person individual and group help.

How Do I Cope with Holiday Shopping?

  • Be mindful of the pressures to purchase that bombard you in every mall and on every social media and avoid those places that are most difficult for you.
  • Make a plan of what you need to purchase and stick to it.
  • Avoid shopping when upset, tired or dealing with a problem.
  • Get rid of credit cards and checkbooks that make compulsive shopping possible.
  • Shop with a buddy who can help you limit excessive or inappropriate spending.
  • Fill your holiday with memorable and enjoyable experiences that have nothing to do with shopping.

Recognize that the gift of acknowledging and addressing a problem is one that will keep giving all year long!

Listen to a Podcast of April Benson discuss  Compulsive Shopping  on Psych Up Live