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The psychology of compulsive shopping

The psychology of compulsive shopping

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The Christmas season is one unfortunately known for excessive spending. Many act impulsively, making purchases they often times end up regretting; experiencing intense buyer’s remorse; anxiety and depressive symptoms when the season is over; finances depleted and they are faced with the burden of the unpaid debts. It is very important that we are all prudent with our spending. The wise approach is to weigh the cost; prioritize; budget and make purchases that would not cause emotional distress.

Let us examine what is compulsive shopping and the effects it has on individuals. Compulsive behaviour refers to the continued repetition of a behaviour despite adverse consequences. The compulsions are fuelled by the obsessions (e.g., intrusive thoughts of contaminations). Compulsive buying is characterized by excessive preoccupation or poor impulse control with shopping, and adverse consequences, like marital conflict and financial problems.

Although it’s not officially described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it has been suggested that compulsive shopping disorder, also known as compulsive buying disorder, is either a type of impulse control disorder, a behavioural addiction or possibly even related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Characteristics

The characteristics of compulsive shopping disorder include:

  • Preoccupation with shopping for unneeded items.
  • Spending a great deal of time doing research on coveted items and/or shopping for unneeded items.
  • Difficulty resisting the purchase of unneeded items.
  • Financial difficulties because of uncontrolled shopping.
  • Problems at work, school or home because of uncontrolled shopping.

Research has shown that compulsive shopping behaviour is often accompanied by depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. People affected by compulsive shopping disorder often report an uncomfortable tension that is relieved, at least temporarily, by shopping.

Despite this temporary relief, many people with compulsive shopping disorder feel disappointed with themselves and depressed about their apparent lack of control over their behaviour.

Common items purchased include clothes, shoes, jewellery and household items, such as containers, dishes, etc., with many compulsive shoppers unable to resist items on sale, in particular. Most people who are affected by compulsive shopping disorder prefer to shop alone or online rather than subject themselves to potential embarrassment by shopping with others.

How to restrain the urge to spend?

The most effective first step in treatment is to identify why and how your shopping initially became a problem. A useful strategy is to keep track of your triggers (negative emotions such as family conflict, anxiety, or loneliness). And one needs to be reminded that additional material goods and services initially provide extra pleasure, but it is usually temporary. The extra pleasure wears off.

It is also helpful to emphasize the importance of managing credit cards or getting rid of credit cards. It is a known fact that the use of cash tends to reduce excessive spending, as when the budgeted amount is finished you do not go seeking, rather you stop spending.

Additionally, if there is a trusted person who can help you to be accountable then it is best that you rely heavily on that person as you work towards alleviating the problem.

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