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Are You A Shopaholic?

Oniomania Is The Compulsive Desire To Shop

Over the last sixty years, shopping has gone from simply being a means of replenishing household staples to a complex mosaic of entertainment, entitlement, and emotional substitution – a very vital part of the immediate gratification cycle so rapaciously nurtured by Madison Avenue’s advertising gurus and the credit card industry.

The end of the Great Depression and World War II heralded a new era of prosperity for the United States, and Americans breathed a collective sigh of financial relief.

“Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz” and “Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin”

were slogans in two of the first commercials to win our hearts. Consumers wanted more, more, more, and business enthusiastically complied. Compulsive buying developed slowly and unnoticed, the result of many contributing factors. In the 1950s, personal debt was still not morally accepted or commonplace. Families saved for their purchases and proudly paid cash. Banks gave limited loans for homes and cars, but usually required substantial down payments as proof of creditworthiness.

As the economy continued to improve, retail stores extended their hours; Blue Laws were overturned in many states, enabling working families to shop on Sundays; and spectacular mega-malls,resplendent with food courts and valet parking, popped up around the country, quickly becoming weekend destinations for young and old alike and built-in babysitters for America’s youth. Then in 1950, Diners Club – followed in 1958 by American Express and Visa – unveiled plastic credit cards, and shopping, as we know it, changed forever. And Madison Avenue rejoiced. Not only could the marketing moguls continue to create ads to entice consumers to buy more goods and services, they could also push the means by which consumers could “buy now and pay later.” Retail sales experienced unprecedented growth.

Neighbours competed for status. Households added second cars, and modern conveniences freed up more time. Credit card companies sent pre-approved applications to teenagers. By the 1980s, it was possible to shop twenty-four hours a day simply by watching television. Computers opened the floodgates of virtual consumption, and reduced the time it takes to make a purchase to mere seconds.

Conspicuous consumption became a way of life. Instant gratification became easy. But for millions of Americans, oniomania, the technical term for the compulsive desire to shop, comes with serious consequences. Today Online Shopping means we can shop with just one click.

A recent study, published in 2020 Global ecommerce sales have reached 4.2 billion of all retail sales, a trend that is ever increasing.

While both men and women are shopaholics and range socio-economically from welfare recipients to billionaires, their typical cycle is not unlike that of a compulsive gambler.

“They have a preoccupation with shopping,” observes Donald Black, M.D., a University of Iowa professor of psychiatry who specializes in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. “They’re always thinking about it, and finally a tension builds that can only be satisfied by going out and shopping.”

Addicted shoppers experience a rush when making a purchase, and the act of spending provides an exciting sensation. As with other addictions, the high that is experienced while absorbed in the satisfaction of actually shopping is followed by a corresponding low; Shopaholics often feel guilt and shame following such purchases, and may even become depressed. They hide their purchases, lie about where they’ve been and how much they’ve spent, and often have closets bulging with brand new, tagged items. Yet they will soon repeat the behavior. The thrill of buying often outweighs consideration for the consequences.

“Few shopaholics consider it a debilitating disorder until the spiral of debt or marital discord leaves them no other choice,” affirms Terrence Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAAC, CPC, founder of Shopaholics Anonymous.

Fortunately, however, according to Manhattan psychologist April Lane Benson, Ph.D, author of, I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self, “the long smiled-upon addiction is at last recognized as a genuine, destructive, treatable illness.”

Consider This Story:

Fuming, Miriam dials her husband’s phone number at work. Without even waiting for his greeting, she launches into her tirade. You wouldn't believe the nerve of Mr. Swartz. He just told me we are overdrawn again, and he wants all the records of our checks, credit cards, and debit cards for the past twelve months." Miriam’s husband Avi tries to calm her down, but to no avail. “Did he say why he needs them? Did you ask him?” “Of course I asked why! He said he has to put together a spreadsheet of living expenses, so he can figure out what our monthly expenses are…” Even as Avi tries to explain why that would be a good idea, Miriam tunes him out.  She agrees that perhaps they should be more careful, and hangs up, her anger more controlled.  Noticing a magazine at the edge of the coffee table, she sits down on the couch and starts to look through it, trying to get her mind off the recent unpleasantness. As she flips the pages, a beautiful tablecloth catches her eye. Thinking ahead to yom tov, she visualizes how magnificent her table would look. If only that hateful Mr. Swartz hadn’t specifically told her to take a break from spending! It’s just a tablecloth, after all, but if she buys it, he’ll see it on the credit statements. It’s just like being a child all over again, thinks Miriam resentfully. Why should I be deprived? Picking up her purse, Miriam leaves the house and heads for the Avenue. I’m not that child anymore, she tells herself. At the store, she picks up the tablecloth, and the matching napkins too. Reaching the checkout counter, she whips out her credit card, and waits happily for the sales assistant to ring up her purchase. Moments later, Miriam is stunned to hear the woman tell her the card has been denied. Denied! Filled with horrified shame, Miriam leaves the store and walks home, at last confronting the reality of her situation. It is at this point that many compulsive shoppers recognize that they need help, and finally seek counselling. While there are as many reasons to over-shop as there are over-shoppers, Shulman and Benson agree that compulsive shoppers shop to distract themselves from their feelings. Only in the past twenty years has specific and persistent inquiry into the disorder been conducted,but there is already evidence that addiction to shopping poses a serious and worsening problem that has its roots in early emotional deprivation. Children who are ignored or neglected during childhood often grow up with low self-esteem and feelings that they are not important as people. When toys are substituted for affection, the child grows up using toys to compensate for loneliness and as an adult simply continues the pattern. Unfortunately, buying the next pair of shoes, the next CD, the next anything will never permanently fill the emotional void in one’s life, and is likely to create more problems.

How does an impulsive buyer differ from a compulsive buyer?

An impulsive buyer identifies a need or desire for something new and (immediately?) buys it – one CD, for example, or a point-of-sale item from a display at the checkout counter. The compulsive buyer may buy ten CDs, or the same skirt in every color. Ultimately, if your shopping behavior is interfering with your life, consider counselling. A qualified counselor will be able to help determine why your spending habits are out of control and offer proven behavior modification techniques.

In therapy, Miriam learns that she has a financial disorder. She begins to explore her history, and at the same time, the therapist helps her put a behavioral plan in place. She learns what behavior she has to stay away from — uncontrolled spending — which is her “inner circle” (see diagram below), and which activities can lead to uncontrolled spending — like window shopping, reading fashion magazines, and online shopping. These activities become her “middle circle,” a category of behaviors that are not dangerous by themselves, but which often lead to the spending she is trying to avoid and are therefore hazardous to her recovery. She also learns to create a healthy spending plan as well as weekly and monthly budgets, and keeps a therapy journal — her “outer circle” of healthy behaviors.

Miriam realizes through treatment that her shopping is a mood-altering experience, like addiction to drugs, gambling, or other self-destructive behaviors. She becomes aware of the cycle. Her belief system is identified: She feels that money can protect her, make her feel important, take care of her, end her problems, make her feel less deprived. Today, Miriam has completed a year of treatment with a qualified therapist, and goes to Debtors Anonymous as well. These steps help, and she feels good. She has a sponsor to call when times are rough. She is also working on some dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) skills introduced by her therapist. When she’s using DBT, Miriam can stay in the moment and not react, but act, using her wise mind to make healthy decisions about purchases. She’s now debt-free and living a healthier lifestyle. When someone like Miriam determines what she really needs rather than what she wants, it goes a long way toward stabilizing her shopping habits. Feelings that trigger shopping binges include, but are not limited to, being sad, depressed, hurt, bored, inadequate, rejected, anxious, doubtful, angry, lonely, afraid, frustrated, guilty, ashamed, unattractive, or needy. Once a person has identified a triggering feeling, she can begin thinking about what need relates to that feeling and work on resolving it.

Reacting to anger by rushing to the mall and buying everything in sight to punish one’s spouse only compounds the problem. Finding a healthier way to manage those feelings allows a person to let go of them. Like drugs to a drug addict, shopping may numb the negative feelings temporarily, but is not a permanent remedy. Financial disorders have an impact on every level of society. Forty to sixty million people have credit problems and are on the brink of financial collapse at any given time. And yet, there is a steady stream of messages in the media and popular culture assuring us that “you can have what you want.”

In truth, spending money that we don’t have is not the key to happiness, but rather financial ruin and the destruction of our interpersonal relationships. It is up to each one of us to ask ourselves, what is it that we really want and need? With greater awareness of our real needs and our spending habits, we can free ourselves from the cultural mindset that money can buy happiness. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

If You Answer Yes To Any of These Questions - Book In Your Session With Me Today • Do you often go on buying binges? • Do you find yourself spending more time and/or money buying on the internet, in catalogues, or on the shopping channels than you want to? • Does money burn a hole in your pocket? • Do you go shopping because you want to make yourself feel better? • Do you sometimes feel that something inside you pushes you to shop? • Do you shop to avoid doing something else in your life? • Do you buy things because you think they will make you more like your ideal image? • Do you feel “high” when you go on a buying binge? • Do you go on buying binges when you’re lonely, anxious, disappointed, depressed, or angry? • Do you feel anxious, guilty, or ashamed after you go on a shopping binge? • Do you buy things even though you don’t need or can’t afford them? • Have you tried to stop over-shopping but been unable to? • Do you feel on edge, agitated, or irritable when you haven’t been able to buy something? • Do you worry about your spending habits but still go out and shop and spend money? • Do you find yourself making more and more use of credit? (acquiring more cards, increasing your limit, etc.) • Have any of your purchases ever resulted in problems with your bank or legal problems? • Has the craving to buy something ever caused you to miss a social engagement? • Is your job performance suffering because of your buying? • Are your relationships with family and friends suffering because of your buying? • Do you hide your shopping trips from family and friends? • Do you not know or not want to admit how much you shop? • Are you not opening your mail or not answering the phone because you don’t want to face the consequences of your buying?

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