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Are You a Compulsive Buyer?

by Dr Eva Bell

The rampant consumer culture of the 21st century has been promoted by aggressive advertising and persuasive marketing of consumer goods. Our senses are bombarded round the clock through TV, online shopping, e-catalogues, magazines and newspapers. Artificial needs are created, and gullible people are tempted to go on buying sprees. Alluring sales talk, discounts and free gifts are difficult to resist.

“Live to spend, dress to kill, shop your way to happiness,” are some of the slogans that prove irresistible. Approximately two thirds of the population do splurge once in a while.

April Benson in her book “I shop. Therefore I am,” says, “Shopping is an activity that promotes self definition, even healing. But like any other behaviour, it can spin out of control.”
This is when buying becomes compulsive and gradually turns into an addiction, which can become as dangerous as drugs or alcohol.

German psychiatrists Jasper and Schneider call it a kind of neurosis. Shopping becomes a stress buster. Shopaholics claim that the very act of buying works as a temporary mood elevator. However, when this endorphin fuelled ‘high’ subsides, it sends the shopaholic scurrying out on more shopping expeditions.

This behaviour was first mentioned in 1900, by Eugene Bleulor and Emil Kraeplin, both students of Freud. They coined the word ‘oniomania’ derived from the Greek word ‘onios’ meaning ‘for sale.’ Bleuler called such people ‘buying maniacs.’ Compulsive shoppers are usually women from the upper and middle classes. Shopaholism is not known among the poor. Dr. Donald Black from the University of Iowa said there may be relatives with similar disposition in the families of shopaholics. Women with anxiety disorders or poor self esteem are more prone to compulsive buying. Housewives can manipulate their time schedules to some extent, allowing them enough leisure for their shopping sprees. Many like to blame this tendency on their genes, chromosomes or the environment.

Causes of Shopaholism.

1. Poor self esteem. While on the one hand women are competing with men for jobs in every sphere and have become a force to reckon with, domestic violence, infidelity, emotional abuse or sexual harassment have reached frightful proportions, and is not confined to any particular social group – rich or poor, illiterate or literate, cultured or uncultured. Many women are unable to deal with these problems. Shopping provides an outlet for their pent up feelings. A stable person with a fair share of self confidence is not likely to turn into a shopaholic.

2. Emotional deprivation in childhood.

3. Broken relationships.

4. Tension at home: Family disputes, difficult children, bossy husbands or unsympathetic in-laws may drive a woman to the streets to seek some peace and respite from her tensions.

5. Loneliness: Buying things makes them feel special.

6. Too much time and money on their hands. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” says an old adage.

7. Hormonal changes: Women begin to behave impulsively about ten days before their periods. This occurs in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Karen Pine researcher at Herefordshire University says, “The later women are in their menstrual cycle, the more likely to overspend. Those who are more stressed out or depressed, tend to go shopping to cheer up and regulate their emotions.”

Her study of the menstrual cycle of 443 women between 18-50 years showed that 153 where less in control over their shopping, during the later part of the cycle. Those who suffered from Premenstrual Syndrome showed a greater inclination towards compulsive shopping. Researchers say that this could be a way of dealing with their intense emotional tensions of PMS.

Another group suggests that women buy things of adornment like jewels, clothes, and shoes during the most fertile period of their cycle, which is anytime after ovulation. Unlike drugs or drinks, shopping is an acceptable way for releasing their emotions.

Consequences of Shopaholism.

According to Professor Larrin Koran, Stanford University, compulsive behaviour is due to a deficiency of serotonin in the brain. Buying things gives them temporary euphoria. But later, they are ridden with guilt due to the financial consequences of indiscriminate spending. They become secretive and depressed, and this sends them on another round of shopping. Thus a “vicious cycle of repetitive impulsive buying,” is set in motion. Marital conflicts, broken relationships, debts, deprivation in other areas of need, are the tragic consequences of shopaholism.

How to overcome shopaholism:

1. Identify the real cause of impulsive buying, and find ways of tackling it. If it involves husband or children or family, it must be brought to their notice, so that they will change their attitude towards the person who is suffering.

2. Find enjoyable hobbies to work off stress. Some women take to music, gardening, stitching, painting or yoga. The effort of spending time over their hobbies will take their mind off shopping.

3. Lonely and introverted people should cultivate friends. Every human being needs a friend to talk to in times of need. Ladies Clubs or Mahila Samajas help provide social outlets for women. Taking part in voluntary work can also give purpose to life and make one’s own problems seem trivial. But it is important to work with normal people and not with the depressed or sick or terminally ill patients.

4. Above all, there must be a desire to change. One must ask one’s self if what she is proposing to buy is really necessary. Almost 80% of people roaming the malls buy things they don’t need. Discipline is important if one is to control these destructive impulses.

5. Work on your positive qualities and strive towards harmonious interpersonal relationships.

6. Professor John Grant of Minnesota carried out trials of a drug called Nalmefene, which curbs the urge to spend and is used to kill other compulsive disorders like kleptomania or gambling. It prevents the drug-like rush of chemicals to the brain which gives shopaholics the feeling of euphoria.

Shopaholism is an ‘impulse control disorder,’ that can be overcome if one has the desire to stop. When you are weak, it is always better to avoid situations that tempt.

Comments for Are You a Compulsive Buyer?

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Mar 05, 2012
Are you a compulsive buyer?
by: Anonymous

Thanks Bala.
This seems to be a fairly common trait today.Surprisingly, it is not seen among the poor.
Men too seem to be free of the urge.
A normal person will think twice before wasting money on unnecessary things.


Mar 05, 2012
Are you a compulsive buyer?
by: Anonymous

Hi Isabel!
I'm sure all of us do splurge on occasions. It is only when the urge to buy becomes an addiction that we need to watch out.
Thanks for you comment.


Mar 03, 2012
full time job
by: isabel

I shop only to mark an occasion... One little piece of diamond or pearl jewelry once or twice a year. Only once I have spent 5x the amount for a very very special day. Now I spend most of my time crocheting and reading, I shop only when I need something necessary. Plus having a full time job helps a lot, you have only 2 days off a week. no extra idle moments to overspend.:)

Mar 02, 2012
Very informative
by: Bala

Thanks for a very informative article. I find some persons from my friends circle exhibiting this kind of behaviour and I used to feel sorry for them. It is not surprising to note that there is a psychological angle to their behaviour.

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