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Epidemic and Cure

In a consumerist society, compulsive shopping is one of those oft snickered at “psychological disorders.” It’s a punch line. Probably even a Seinfeld episode. And didn’t the President himself once say that spending is our patriotic duty?

Yet, for every two people who are treating the habit as innocuous, there is one whose well-being and relationships are being compromised by the effects. Let me repeat that: One out of three habitual shoppers are slowly dismantling their life with debt and deception.

Surveys throughout the Western world are showing that compulsive shopping is becoming an epidemic, especially among the younger generation set. And while experts are somewhat divided over the causes, most agree that it is a symptom of something much larger than materialism or lack of discretion in financial matters. And most studies have identified “shopaholics” as having a lack of peace and well-being, weaker senses of self, and a shrinking sense of control.

Only you can say whether or not you are suffering from any of these conditions. But for those of you who are squirming just a little bit in your seat, there are a few simple questions, which if you answer honestly, can help you decide if you need to make some changes in your life.

First, take a moment to truly check in with your feelings when you are shopping and then when you get home. Are you experiencing a heightened sense of euphoria and anxiety at the same time? If you are, your intuition may be telling you that something is out of alignment, in which case, proceed with these additional questions:

Do you find yourself suddenly desiring to go shopping whenever you feel anxious, disappointed, angry, or scared?

Do you ever feel compelled to lie or make excuses about items you’ve purchased?

Have you noticed yourself unusually defensive in your stance on those purchases, often getting into arguments with your partner or parents about them?

Do you feel a loss of personal power when you don’t have your credit card(s) on your person?

Answering yes to more than a couple of these could be an indicator that you’re experiencing a “vice” and therefore in a cycle which will only deepen with time. If you doubt this slippery slope, just ask anyone in a twelve step program.).

Now, regardless of your degree of addictive tendencies toward shopping, you can enjoy the pleasures of shopping again with a little bit of care. In fact, you can create new ones as you will see below. The bottom line is this: You have some choice in the matter… just so long as you choose.

Because vices are essentially about creating illusions of control (satisfying random compulsions), the first step is to re-design your shopping experiences to give you—not the illusion of control, but true control. True control will lead you to a greater sense of self and a greater sense of power over your emotions then even the biggest shopping binge; and once you do it a few times, you will enjoy a mastery of living like never before which will spill into every facet of your life.

Here is how a personal friend of mine is transforming her shopping addiction into a genuine kind of “shop therapy.”

At the moment Jennifer decides that she wants an item, she pauses and considers the fact that in that very moment, she has more options available to her than at any other time. She can purchase the item as before. Or, she can put the item on lay-away. She can also come back when it is better-priced. She can also put it back and come back with a friend who might enjoy trying it on as well and getting one herself. Or, she can put it on a wish list for an upcoming birthday or holiday and let go of the outcome entirely. For Jennifer, this is more exhilarating and more empowering than taking the item home on impulse. Why? It affords her genuine control over her urges, whereby she gets to own her compulsions—and not the other way around!

Other common tips I’ve gleaned from ex-shopping addicts include:

1) Find a shopping buddy with whom you take a specified day and a small, specified amount of money, and focus on having more fun with each other than with your creditors.

2) Postpone your shopping urge until the mall closes and enjoy a peaceable, thoughtful walk in the spacious surroundings doing casual window shopping just for the beauty of it, and the precious sensation of solitude.

3) Journal. There is something powerful about pinning down your anxieties on the page and not having to distract yourself from them with vices. And if not a journal, why not write a letter to the feeling itself, or to the person who incited the feelings that make you want to escape, and then simply throw it away?

Bottom line, shopping is fun and we should be keep it fun. And if your own anxieties are preventing you from fully enjoying it properly, your intuition may be telling you it’s time to take some action. And to hopefully recover what is surely one of the true joys of living… shopping!

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