How do you know if you are shopping too much? With the holidays just over the horizon, excessive shopping seems to be the norm for the next few months. Many of us are left feeling empty, and overwhelmed with bills, afterward. How can you assess your shopping patterns and decide whether they are healthy or harmful? And once you decide, what do you do if your shopping is out of control?
Research has revealed that men and women equally shop compulsively, a condition also called Shopaholism, or Compulsive Shopping Disorder. (see LM Koran et al. Estimated prevalence of compulsive buying behavior
in the United States. American Journal of Psychiatry 2006
An honest self-assessment is the first step. Ask yourself these questions:
1.Do I buy things I don't need when I am bored, lonely, or feeling down? Does buying something make me feel better?
2. Does the urge to shop increase to the point that it drives all other thoughts out? Do I begin to feel so agitated that I have to buy something to relieve the tension? Do I feel good when I am doing it, but soon let down?
3. Do I spend money I don't have? (using credit cards to the max, or putting off paying bills to shop and reasoning that those bills can be paid when the next check comes, for example)
4. Do I hide the amount of money I am spending from others or feel defensive when the subject of how much I have spent is broached by my spouse? Have I lied about the amount of money I have spent?
5. Do I hide my purchases and bring them in the house in secret? Have I discovered that they are piling up and that I have no particular interest in the purchases once they are home? Do I have a stockpile of items I don't need, want, or use?
6. Am I obsessed with watching items on auction and in winning auctions, even past the value of the item? Have I ever won an auction and realized that I can't pay for the items? Once the excitement of the auction is over, have I ever found that the actual purchase is a let down?
7. Do I hide my shopping behaviors as closely as a state secret? Have I lied to my spouse when I am on the computer shopping? Would I rather be sitting in front of the monitor shopping than be with friends, eat a meal, play with my kids, or follow through on my activities of daily living? Does shopping make up for the lack of social contact, sex, etc.?
9. Have friends or a significant other stopped contacting me or told me that my shopping disturbs them? Have I lost a job, had to seek credit counseling or file bankruptcy over my shopping behaviors? Have I floated checks or shoplifted when my credit cards are maxed out?
“'Compulsive shopping, also known as compulsive buying disorder, can be just as addictive -- and as destructive -- as alcohol or drugs', says Dr. James Mitchell, chairman of the department of neuroscience at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences and lead author of a study on cognitive behavior therapy for compulsive buying disorder.” (MSN Money, “Are You a Compulsive Shopper?”)
"A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapy based on modifying cognitions, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors, with the aim of influencing disturbed emotions. The general approach developed out of behavior modification, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, and has become widely used to treat various kinds of neurosis and psychopathology, including mood disorders and anxiety disorders. The particular therapeutic techniques vary according to the particular kind of client or issue, but commonly include keeping a diary of significant events and associated feelings, thoughts and behaviors; questioning and testing cognitions, assumptions, evaluations and beliefs that might be unhelpful and unrealistic; gradually facing activities which may have been avoided; and trying out new ways of behaving and reacting. Relaxation and distraction techniques are also commonly included. CBT is widely accepted as an evidence and empirically based, cost-effective psychotherapy for many disorders and psychological problems. It is sometimes used with groups of people as well as individuals, and the techniques are also commonly adapted for self-help manuals and, increasingly, for self-help software packages." (Wikipedia, keywords Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
All behaviors exist to fulfill certain needs we have. Using eating behavior as an example since most people are familiar with eating disorders - we eat and food tastes good to us, which makes us do it again and again, necessarily, since we need to nourish our bodies. We also include food as a component of social activities, to soothe ourselves when we are agitated or lonely, and to reward ourselves for other behaviors. At the far ends of the continuum of eating behaviors are disorders such as anorexia, bulemia, and overeating. Once an eating behavior becomes extreme and harmful, it requires a behavioral intervention to rein it in. This can be true of shopping, drinking, gambling, exercising, and almost any behavior you can think of. The good news is that the behavior modification protocols developed through research have an excellent success rate .
Here are some suggested actions to begin to change your shopping behaviors:
1. Take out a piece of paper and pen. Think about when shopping is a problem for you: write down Who What When Why and Where and fill in the blanks. Keep track of the urges to shop and how you feel at the time for a week in order to begin to break the behavior down into manageable components. Armed with this information, you can see what situations you need to avoid. If you have trouble with computer-based shopping, remove your credit cards from the vicinity of your computer, move your computer to a public area such as the living room, and put up some roadblocks to acting on the shopping compulsion. As with eating, we cannot stop doing it completely, because we have to shop to buy things we need to live. Shop only from a list. Learn tricks to delay the urge to shop spontaneously Don't window-shop when the stores are open. When you feel vulnerable, don't shop alone or with other compulsive shoppers. Reward yourself in another way- not with a shopping spree.
2. Substitute a new, healthy behavior when you feel an urge to go shopping – exercising, yoga, repetitive hobbies like knitting, beading, building models, reading, sports, socializing, etc.
3. Contact your local mental health clinic for help (yellow pages) to discuss your concerns. Shopping disorder is still a controversial subject, and if the first place you call is not helpful, don't give up! If they do not have Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy available, they can refer you to where you can get help.
4. Join a support group such as Debtor's Anonymous (website at www.debtorsanonymous.com has a list of local meeting groups, by state). Talk to your mental health agency about developing a support group for compulsive shoppers if there isn't one in your area.
5.Tell someone you trust about the problem. Once the problem is in the open, it loses its power as a secret activity. The purpose is not to create a watchdog situation, or introduce guilt and shame into it either. You can decide how the friend can help you and ask for the help you need.
Confronting the problem is the first step, seeking help is next, and maintaining your progress is what you do after that. If this information is helpful to you, please vote for this guide. Thank you, and the best of wishes.
The author of this article has a Master of Counseling Psychology Degree from The State University at Albany, NY. This article is a follow-up to a similar one that was intended to be humorous, but revealed a need for information about the subject.
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