The garage was stacked with thousands of dollars of merchandise still in original packaging. There were 100% cotton t-shirts studded with rhinestones (2 per package - $5.00), stacks of heavy knit sweaters in pastel colors (8.00), boxes of shoes and boots still wrapped in tissue paper ($10.00/pair). It was a yard-sale shopper's feast, distinguished by the fact that everything was new. It was also - as the niece running the sale explained - a display of her aunt's full-blown QVC shopping addiction.
How many days or nights had a probably sad and lonely woman sat in front of the television set, ordering two of these and six of those? How many UPS deliveries had arrived? What percentage of the purchases had actually been worn?
Closets of clothes with price tags still attached are one of the signs of compulsive buying. This one was hard to miss.
Much more common in women than in men, compulsive shopping often appears in a cluster of other addictions - alcohol, drugs, eating disorders. It can show itself as a symptom of depression as well as of bipolar disorder. It may also be associated with a trauma history or emotional deprivation in childhood. Like other addictions, compulsive shopping and spending initially makes a person feel better then ultimately much worse. When it comes to online addiction, what is frequently found is women shopping, men viewing pornography, and teens playing games.
Addiction is a way, as Anne Wilson Schaef has put it, "not to feel and not to deal." Sad, lonely, angry, tired? A brief, chemical blast of good feelings can be bought for the price of a sweater or a pedicure. Compulsive shoppers buy for the high, to alter their mood, but the behavior, initially a relief, brings a host of problems in its wake. Compulsive spenders wind up preoccupied with buying and with debt as well as by difficulties in their relationships at home and at work.
As with other addictions, denial is often the compulsive shopper's first line of defense. If you suspect that you - or someone you love - is spending compulsively, the first step is to gather information. One place to start online is the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery. Behaviors to look for include:
-Shopping when you feel disappointed, angry or scared
-Spending that causes emotional distress in one's life, for example arguments
-Feeling guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed after shopping
-Lying about purchases made or how much money was spent
-Spending a lot of time juggling accounts or bills.
A therapist experienced with addictive behaviors may be helpful to both the spender or - if (s)he isn't ready to look at the problem - a concerned family member. Another good source of information is Debtors Anonymous.
Compulsive shopping - I have a book about it in one of these boxes