On Compulsive Buying: And Then There are the Holidays

We’ve been fortunate that Kathleen Gemmell, an eclectic  author and former compulsive buyer offered us a guest post about her own recovery journey which began four years ago, when her son, who could no longer sit by and watch his mother buy herself into oblivion, arranged for an “intervention.”  Kathleen Gemmell loves playing with written words. Currently penning for five online sites and magazines, Kathy is a storyteller, an animal welfare proponent, a psychology buff and a dreamer. We thank her dearly for sharing her story with us.




You can read Kathleen‘s post below:


On Compulsive Buying: And Then There are the Holidays


“Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”


Ah, the holidays! A time for gatherings of loved ones, for merriment and cheer. I’m listing in my mind ALL the gifts I can buy for family and friends. A wool coat for mom, and a television for my brother head up that memo. Oh, oh! A cruise for my son! Indeed!




I am a compulsive shopper. I must recognize the “what” and the “why” of this. I must recall all of what I have learned.


Beginning in my thirties, I first felt the elation, the “high” if you will, that comes when I purchased items. As it was exhilarating for me, I found myself in a tangled web. I bought, and bought some more.


Several issues made this buying an emotionally unhealthy pathway to walk down;

* I could not afford to  shop compulsively.

* The people that I so loved to give to were uncomfortable, and even embarrassed at times.

* I hadn’t the room in my home to place my items.

* I was aware, on some level, that my spending was out of control.

* The relief from anxiety that I got from buying did not last long.


Four years ago, my adult son held an intervention on my behalf. Compulsive buying is an addiction and he saw the pattern I had fallen deeply into. I had been an  overshopper for six years.


My son began by stating, “Mom, I love you, but I don’t like seeing you addicted to shopping.  Last Christmas was difficult for us all. You gave presents galore, leaving us feeling overwhelmed and concerned. One gift is sufficient, yet you bought each of us several expensive ones. Mom, you need to stop this and we’d like to help.”


As I looked at my loved ones who had come together to guide me, I felt a combination of relief, anger and shame.


I was relieved that there may be an end in sight. I felt angry that I was being told what I couldn’t do. I felt shame as I considered that maybe I did have a problem.


Each person talked in turn about my spending addiction. Several shared that they also had struggled with addictions. Goodness! I wasn’t an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler! How dare they!


My thoughts vacillated through waves of panic. Could I stop? Did I want to stop? Would I still be loved if I didn’t stop?


Back around to my son again… “Mom, I’ve made an appointment for you with a therapist who specializes in this disorder. Mom, I hope you go. I want you to go. I need you to go.”


I did arrive on time for that appointment. With Christmas just two weeks away, my anxiety was plentiful.  I so wanted to shop, and shop some more. Red, green, silver and gold goodies were everywhere! My home was decorated beautifully, but I wrestled with refraining from purchasing much of what I saw.


Dr. H was kind and sympathetic. She was, however, obviously on to me from the discussion she had had with my son.


“Kathleen, do you believe that your spending is excessive? Kathleen, do you want to stop? Kathleen, why do you think you spend in this manner?” The questions needed answering and so I tried.


“Yes, my spending is excessive and I am in debt. Part of me wants to stop, but part of me lives for the high I get. I don’t know why I do this.”


On the way home, I felt compelled to stop at a high-end department store. As if I were having a temper tantrum, I bought and bought. I bought items for myself, for family and for friends. Darn them! If I wanted to give them a bountiful holiday, I would! My son’s words fell on my deaf ears.


I had a miserable Christmas that year. It was my turn to hold the festivities. I decided not to give all the gifts I had bought, just four each. I over decorated my home with too many baubbles and bangles. The recipients of my bounty were uncomfortable. Try as he might to maintain a cheerful persona, my son was not only embarrassed; he felt that I had let him down. The picture was becoming painfully clear.


Yes, change was in the offing. I MUST see my way out of this weeded garden. I called Dr. H and made another appointment.


I had much soul searching to do.


And, my journey began.


“Sometimes, though, we let ourselves get so used to being ‘fine’ that we lose track of how ‘not fine’ we are.”
―Martina Boone, Compulsion


Kathleen Gemmell


By Carrie Rattle

Carrie Rattle is a Principal at BehavioralCents.com, a website for women focused on mind and money behaviors. She has worked in the financial services industry for 20+ years and hopes to inspire women to better prepare themselves for financial independence. Read More