Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Shop Till You Drop – Do You Have a Shopping Addiction?

Shop Till You Drop – Are You Fighting a Shopping Addiction?

“The only consolation I had was buying things.
If I bought some pretty thing it cheered me up for a while.”

~ Iris Murdoch, “The Black Prince”

If you’re wondering if you’re a true shopaholic or just enjoy buying things, sometimes even in a bit of an indulgent spree, this post should clear it up for you.

True shopaholics can’t help themselves.  They HAVE to shop.  It’s a compulsive disorder and becomes addictive, like any other addiction, except that there is no substance affecting the brain and body.  But the behavior does affect the brain.  Shopaholics get a buzz, an adrenaline rush or high, from buying something.  It’s experienced as excitement or euphoria.  It’s a reward that needs constant renewal, because the initial purpose is to combat anxiety or depression.  The problem is that the relief is temporary and wears off quickly, so over time it becomes addictive, and some shopaholics even go through symptoms of withdrawal.  Nearly all suffer some degree of anxiety until they shop again.

It is an impulse-control issue that even has a name in the psychological lexicon:  Compulsive Buying Disorder. It is considered a “process addiction,” falling in the same category as gambling or eating disorders.  A surprising 6% of the U.S. population suffers from this condition, and it primarily affects women, though men are not immune.  It’s a chronic condition that can start anytime, but typically starts in adolescence.

What is the initial purpose?  Where does it come from?  Low self-esteem is clearly a trigger.  Ironically, the addiction can result in low self-esteem as well as be caused by it.  If you suffer anxiety and depression, or feelings of inadequacy, shopping can give you a temporary suspension from the feelings of inadequacy, and a mini-boost in self-esteem.  Look at this gorgeous outfit I bought!  I saw someone on the street wearing it, and had to have it.  I feel terrific when I wear it.

An odd symptom of someone who has a true shopping addiction is that many of the purchases either get returned or put in the closet with the price tags still on them, never removed from their packaging.  An after-effect of the cyclical nature of this behavior is feelings of remorse after a major (or minor) shopping spree that you can’t really afford.

True shopaholics don’t consider whether what they buy is in their budget.  Most of them don’t even have a budget.  Bills mount up unpaid, and because the addiction is compulsive, the debt as well as the shopping gets out of control.  So you hide the bills.  If you don’t see them, they don’t exist.  But the problem doesn’t go away, it gets worse.

It produces even more remorse, and feelings of guilt and shame.  How do you get rid of those feelings?  Go shopping!  Excitement builds when you think about the sale you read about at your favorite store.  Imagine how much you’ll save, save, save! (do you see the irony here?) if you shop today!  Can’t wait to get there and see what fabulous find lays in store for you.  You want it.  You need it.  You crave it.  You know how much better you’ll feel when you plunk down your credit card and walk away with that amazing gift for your beloved or new pair of shoes for yourself.  Except that …. whoops… Maybe you can’t really afford the top-of-the-line most expensive things.  But yes, yes, yes, you have to have it.  So you buy it anyway.

What kind of depression and anxiety is being attended to when you shop and feel that excitement of the purchase?  Actually, you’re trying to fill a hole.  Not just a pinprick of a hole.  A bottomless pit.  One that’s never full…enough.  So you keep trying to feed it, because you’re hungry.  You feel empty.  Why?  No surprise, as you’ll read in some of my other posts, it can begin with inadequate parenting in childhood.  You didn’t get support, attention, a sense that you were loved and cared for.  You weren’t important.  You didn’t matter.

Maybe instead of care and support you were thrown some toys.  Toys.  Objects.  Not time, and not caring, supportive attention.  So that’s how you filled the hole, and that’s what you came to learn as what filled the sense of emptiness.  And as you grew older, it stayed with you.  You had your own money, so you bought your own things for comfort.

But guess what.  Not only did it not really work, it interfered with personal relationships.  The debt caused problems.  You fight over it.  You feel bad because you know why it’s there.  But there’s a way out of those bad feelings.  Shop!!  I think you get the picture, and maybe you recognize yourself.

What’s even worse is how today’s technology has made it even easier to shop till you drop.   You don’t even have to go anywhere to shop.  The shopping channels on TV.  They lure you in with promises of magnificent “quality” stuff.  And you can look online for some of the same things you saw advertised and fool yourself into thinking you’re getting a bargain. Or you actually do find a bargain on one of the ever-increasing online buying sites.  You don’t really need these things, you didn’t plan to get them, but if you don’t, anxiety will get stirred up again.  The craving is insatiable, so you scratch the itch and ahhh, you feel better.  For a little while.  And then…the cycle repeats.

What can you do?  The first and most important thing is to recognize and accept that you are a shopaholic.  There are support groups you can join, like Stopping Overshopping or Shopaholics Anonymous.  In person is best, but online is better than nothing.  Identify what triggers the impulse.  Keep a log or journal of what you buy, how much you spend, daily or weekly.  Dig out your bills and figure out how to pay them off.  Cut up your credit cards.  Understand that if you don’t have the money to pay for it now, you can’t afford it and shouldn’t buy it.  Talk to your friends (true friends will be supportive) about your addiction.  Stay away from your favorite stores.  You don’t need to go there. You really, truly do not need to go there.  But if you do, go with a friend who knows your problem and can help you put on the brakes.  And if all else fails, get professional help.

2 comments on “Shop Till You Drop – Do You Have a Shopping Addiction?”

  1. Wow! You have described me perfectly! When I see 20% off, I never consider the 80% I didn’t have to spend. But, does it stop me? Nope, gotta have that new bra no matter what.

    Well written article. I printed it off and keep it by my purse to help me remember.



  2. My shopping addiction started decades ago so I’m amazed I actually have anything in my savings account. I know it’s a substitute for many things I don’t have in my life but I am still not convinced I want to stop. I’m at the point where I must at least slow down — I have a huge charge account bill coming up.


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