Shop ‘Til You Drop – Really?

We’re all familiar with catchy T-shirt slogans and jokes about women and shopping.

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping. ~ Bo Derek
I like my money right where I can see it – hanging in my closet. ~ Sex and the City

For millions of women (and quite a few men) overshopping is no joke. A few weeks ago, Dr. David Tolin, Ms. Jill Chivers, and I were interviewed by Bridgette Raes on BlogTalkRadio, about shopping addiction and about a new show being aired on the Oxygen network that aims to explore the world of the overshopper. “My Shopping Addiction” features Dr. Tolin and another psychologist interacting with women who suffer from compulsive buying disorder, an addiction every bit as serious as alcoholism or a drug habit.

Dr. Tolin and I shared our perspectives as doctors who treat this condition, and Ms. Chivers shared her experiences as a former shopaholic.The notion of a shopping addiction is minimized and even glamorized in our consumer society. After all, it’s a pleasurable activity and it’s good for the economy. It’s often called “the smiled-upon addiction.”
Bridgette Raes and Dr. Tolin discussed the first episode of “My Shopping Addiction,” which highlighted the fact that a shopping compulsion has nothing to do with the amount of money spent. The negative consequences in the lives of both women interviewed were strikingly similar, even though they came from vastly different economic backgrounds (one shopping at the 99 cent store and the other paying $16,000 for a single handbag). Both women had lost all perspective around buying, were causing themselves financial harm, isolating themselves from productive pursuits, and were vehemently denying those facts.

Ms. Raes and I talked about the fact that underneath the compulsion to shop, there is always an unmet need, such as the desire for love, or acceptance, or self-esteem, or autonomy. These are all legitimate needs: they must be met, but shopping doesn’t do the job. Overshopping not only buries, sidelines, and ignores those real needs; it also erodes the life of the compulsive shopper. Someone caught in the web of a shopping addiction spends so much time, energy, and money on shopping, that there is no room left for the things that would really bring joy, such as hobbies, friends, taking courses, using talents, traveling, or being a part of community groups.

The first step in facing any problem is cultivating an awareness that the problem exists. Ms. Chivers described the moment when she first realized she had a problem and then told her listeners about the actions she took to wrest her life back from the cash register. Once she moved past her compulsive behavior, “It was like a heavy burden was lifted from my shoulders.” To listen to the interview, click here. If you think you may have a shopping addiction, take the confidential self assessment found on the homepage of this site. The homepage also features self-help resources and referrals to professional help.

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