Compulsive Shopping

by Stephanie Berenbaum – May 19, 2010

Feel Like There Is No Ending to Your Spending?

Sure, we all joke about ‘shopping ’til you drop’, but what happens when shopping really does start to take a serious toll on your life?  Other addictions like alcohol, drugs, gambling, food and even sex are openly discussed in today’s society.  And while Confessions of a Shopaholic made light of one fashionista’s overspending, we still never hear our friends mention Compulsive Shopping (even the ones who are obviously suffering from it).

Gloria Arenson is a therapist with 30 years experience treating compulsive disorders, including compulsive shopping.  She has even written a book on the subject, Born To Spend.  In it she writes, “The first stumbling block I encountered in my work was the widely held belief that compulsive shopping and debting isn’t a serious problem…Many people, including some health professionals, do not understand how these compulsions can be linked to other psychological problems.”

Who Are You?

Compulsive spenders come from all different backgrounds.  Whether you are rich or poor has little to do with it.  No matter what their demographic, what all compulsive shoppers have in common is that their binge shopping is actually NOT their primary problem.  It is their ‘fix’ for other problems.

According to Arenson, “Eventually the urges to spend and debt take on a life of their own and seem overwhelming.  Spenders suffer from anxiety, depression and remorse, yet seem powerless to stop.  Compulsive urges to shop and spend may arise as a desire for instant gratification, but it is also the inadequate coping mechanism of many people whose lives are filled with stress and loneliness.  Getting high on shopping is a way to distract yourself from your real feelings.”  Sound Familiar? Don’t worry, you are not alone!

Stress Test

Gloria pointed out that all addictions are actually about one thing… STRESS, and how we deal with it!  We repeat certain behaviors because we have the urge to feel good.  As Gloria explained, this all starts in the reward center of the brain, with the chemicals dopamine and serotonin.  Your dopamine levels rise as you move towards reaching a goal, and your serotonin levels shoot up when the goal is achieved, giving you a sense of satisfaction.  You feel the effects of stress when the dopamine is firing, and the serotonin doesn’t offset it.  So you are left with the feeling of wanting, rather than being fulfilled.

So, whether you’re talking about binge eating or compulsive shopping, it is not really about the food or the clothes.  It’s about trying to self-medicate yourself so you’ll feel better! (Full disclosure: I am certainly not against all forms of self-medication.  I self-medicate with coffee and red wine all the time and swear I am the better for it).  But when behavior becomes a hazard, it is time to seek help!

Write it Down!

Gloria suggests that a good starting point to tackling your spending addiction is to keep a money diary.  As we’ve mentioned before, you’ve got to write down every penny you spend to really get a grip on where it’s going.  But the next step is to ACTUALLY  look at it.  When she sees spending spikes, Gloria asks her patients to actually rate their spending cravings – what was the urge to spend like, on a scale of 1-10?

Then she takes a deeper look – and asks the patient to think about what was going on in your life that day that was a 7?!  Maybe a fight with your spouse?  Maybe a bad day at work? Whatever the stress, this exercise will help you see  the real cause – and effect – of your shopping.  It’s just like the concept overeaters face:  it’s not what you’re eating,  it’s what eating you!  Once you identify what is truly causing your life to be out of balance, you can address the real issues of what is troubling you.  By treating these problems, you can attack the root of your overspending.

Debtors Unite

If your overspending is something that you can not control on your own, don’t be ashamed to get help!  There are many options for you to explore.  If you feel that a group setting would be more your style (or budget!) than one on one therapy, there is a group called Debtors Anonymous (based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous).  You can check out their website to find a meeting near you.

Many are shocked when they hear that their spending compulsion requires therapy just like a drug addiction would.  Society needs to realize that compulsive spending is not just a a frivolous habit to joke about.  But it is no joke: you may indeed require real therapy for your retail therapy!  One Fab & Fru option to get you started – Gloria Arenson offers a free 15 minute phone consultation – which seems like a great way to get the ball rolling on your road to recovery – check out her website for details!

Whether you choose to proceed with professional therapy or not, self-awareness is the first step to changing harmful behavior.  Perhaps just the knowledge that compulsive spending is just as serious a disease as compulsive drinking will be enough to make you realize: it’s time to clean out your emotional closet!

Gloria Arenson is a California based psychotherapist specializing in cutting edge therapies such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), an acupressure based method, Thought Field Therapy (TFT), Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). She is a licensed hypnotherapist and is trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychosynthesis. She is an approved ACEP Certification Consultant and is a Diplomate in Comprehensive Energy Psychology.

Gloria specializes in using and teaching EFT, the revolutionary mind/body approach to provide rapid, effective and often permanent relief from mental and emotional pain. She has helped thousands of people to recover successfully from eating disorders, compulsive spending, anxiety, fears, phobias, PTSD, panic disorder and other problems.

Gloria Arenson maintains a private practice in Santa Barbara, California. She works with clients in personal sessions and is available for phone counseling.

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4 Responses to “Compulsive Shopping”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DebtDiva and Fabulous and Frugal, Designed Thinking. Designed Thinking said: Compulsive Shopping | Fabulous & Frugal: A Girl's Guide To Living … [...]

  2. “So, whether you’re talking about binge eating or compulsive shopping, it is not really about the food or the clothes. It’s about trying to self-medicate yourself so you’ll feel better!”

    This is soo true! In my case, at least. This always happens to me and although I believe I have the compulsive shopper in me in control, still, there are days when I feel I have to shop to feel better. Shopping can be therepeutic, yes, but it can also rob me of my hard earned money!

    Thanks for mentioning about keeping a money diary. I started doing this before, but I slowly slipped away from the habit, because, well, I was too lazy to write down every expense! I know I have to, and after reading your post, I WILL start again. Now that I really think about it, most of my compulsive buys before were indeed caused by stress — a bad day, an argument, or even a bad hair day! Great article, tweet-worthy! Thank you!

  3. Being the highest bidder [in alexandria]….

    I found your entry interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)

  4. What a helpful article. I actually came across this one, while trying to find one on “compulsive haircutting.” Then i realized; well shopping is a compulsivity for me as well. Anyhow, after being in therapy for years to cope with depression, I learned that I had anxiety as well. Lately my focus has been my compulsive spending habits and now this hair cutting compulsion. I wanna say something to the people who suffer with these disorders. “No matter how long or how strong your disorder is, you can gain control of your life again.” I’ve been struggling for years with a variety of issues, but once i felt like I was beginning to lose control, I would look for help. Your compulsions should never take over your life! May peace and God be with you all! Love WW

Any Thoughts?