A lot of people seem to think compulsive shopping is a joke. I can hear a beer-bellied former frat boy saying to his buddies, “Don’t all women have that disease?” Hardy har. The reality is that as with any compulsion, the compulsion to spend can be just as destructive as the compulsion to drink or gamble or shoot up.
I have a family history of compulsive spending, and without getting into personal details (a first, I know, but I’m protecting someone), it still affects the way I deal with (or don’t deal with) money and possessions. Material objects for those who come from compulsive environments become associated with dishonesty, shame and frenetic need. They’re not a source of joy. And yet, I myself have struggled to keep my finances in order—not because I spend too much, but because I can’t bear to touch anything having to do with money, and that includes bills. In a sense, money doesn’t exist to me, which makes it difficult when it comes time to file your taxes. In my younger days, I defaulted on student loans, allowed my credit rating to sink, let credit card interest accrue. It wasn’t all connected to my family history, but some of it certainly was. Being complicit in someone else’s compulsive behavior, as I was as a child, makes for an adulthood spend under the covers, metaphorically, when it comes to that substance. Like the child of an alcoholic, you want to stay safe—and if that means never touching a drink (or money), so be it.
For people who celebrate Christmas, this is a tough time of year for many reasons: family dynamics, stressful travel, and in this terrible economy, facing the reality of not having enough money to buy gifts. For compulsive shoppers, however, it’s particularly hard. CNN has a story about it today:
For compulsive shoppers, buying something creates a feeling related to the euphoria that alcohol induces, said Bonny Forrest, a psychologist in San Diego. As with alcoholics, it’s hard to keep away from that rush of pleasure.
About 6% of women and 5.5% of men are compulsive buyers, according to a 2006 study from Stanford University in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The mental disorder has not been studied extensively, but it is thought to be an impulse control disorder.
… Compulsive shopping sometimes goes hand in hand with alcoholism and eating disorders, Forrest said. It’s not currently a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the “Bible” by which mental health professionals identify conditions. Psychologists usually view it as an issue of impulse control rather than a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder; OCD medications do not tend to work for shopping problems, Forrest said.
There’s no hard line between treating yourself to a pair of shoes on a bad day and being a compulsive shopper — it is a spectrum. When shopping causes distress in your relationship or if shopping is the only way you can deal with negative feelings, it can be a real problem, Forrest says.
Here are some tips to control the problem:
-Pay for purchases by cash, check, debit card.
-Make a shopping list and only buy what is on the list.
-Destroy all credit cards except one to be used for emergency only.
-Avoid discount warehouses. Allocate only a certain amount of cash to be spent if you do visit one.
-”Window shop” only after stores have closed. If you do “look” during the day, leave your wallet at home.
-Avoid phoning in catalog orders and don’t watch TV shopping channels.
-If you’re traveling to visit friends or relatives, have your gifts wrapped and call the project finished; people tend to make more extraneous purchases when they shop outside their own communities.
-Take a walk or exercise when the urge to shop comes on.
-If you feel out of control, you probably are. Seek counseling or a support group such as Debtors Anonymous.
-Avoid people or places which tempt you to shop/spend
-Cut up plastic; close charge accounts; rip up credit card offers and home equity applications
-Make lists before going to the store; buy what you need only – call support people, take a trusted friend
-Wait a good period of time before you make an impulsive purchase
-Ask yourself: Do I need this or do I just want it?
-Seek out specialized counseling, medication, support groups, read books about compulsive shopping/spending