Curtailing Compulsive Shopping Starts with Understanding It

interior of  fashion clothes storeUnderstanding the endless pit of wanting that resides in many people who compulsively shop is an arduous and insightful process. Not only does this process take time and patience, it involves a persistent willingness to acknowledge, speak of, and integrate the impulses and behaviors of compulsive shopping.

At its core, compulsive shopping is a creative cure for an unconscious well of emptiness. By “unconscious,” I mean out of awareness in an emotional and psychological sense. The psychological unrest that is the driving force of compulsive shopping is the most important facet to understand and grapple with. While understanding how to curtail compulsive shopping behavior is also imperative, this comes to fruition with the psychological insight.

Without the emotional regulation required to contain compulsive shopping impulses, behavior is unlikely to change on a sustained basis. It is comparative to someone who wishes to lose weight “knowing” what to do yet having limited psychological resources to say no to themselves in moments of emotional hunger. When people who struggle with compulsive shopping begin to look at their patterns, they may begin to see that much of what is bought during a compulsive shopping spree typically goes into the back of the closet because the need was much less than the want of the object.

Learning to emotionally regulate impulses related to compulsive shopping can be likened to the process of weaning an infant from a bottle to a sippy cup, then to the next developmental stage, and so on. During these transitional stages, the infant may experience a great deal of frustration, and the caregivers are needed and expected to hold these emotional reactions for the infant and assist the infant in feeling soothed and contained. This is a delicate and necessary process for the infant to integrate because the infant then learns that his or her feelings of frustration can be tolerated and managed not only by others but, eventually, by himself or herself. When this pattern of weaning and transition is successfully integrated, the infant has a greater likelihood of becoming more emotionally regulated on his her own as an adult.

Many people who shop compulsively may have experienced truncated transitional processes in their development, and rather than feeling secure with their capacity to regulate and contain, they seek external objects to satiate their emotional appetites. At first, the newly acquired objects may fulfill the function needed for emotional regulation, but then the effect wears off and another compulsive shopping episode is needed to establish psychological harmony.

Many people who shop compulsively may have experienced truncated transitional processes in their development, and rather than feeling secure with their capacity to regulate and contain, they seek external objects to satiate their emotional appetites.

The emotional regulatory system exists in all human beings, in our brains. It is not specific to one feeling or emotion; it regulates all emotions, and when it is fractured in some way, it is faulty in regulating all emotional affects. So, when trying to understand the personal processes of emotional regulation, it is necessary to understand the personal practice of facing emotionally charged situations, which really just means how one feels throughout each day.

Each person has his or her own way of processing experiences and feelings, albeit unconsciously to some extent. By putting language to the story of one’s experiences, there is an opportunity to understand the more finite patterns of emotional regulation in everyday life. Then, awareness of one’s patterns can come to life and into consciousness, and small, even minute changes can be made toward weaning off of compulsive shopping and incorporating new emotional regulation skills that reside within oneself.

It is true that we can rewire our brains to become more adept at emotional regulation. However, it takes time and practice. We wish we could just flip a switch in our brains, as we would a light, but if it were that quick and easy, we would be doing it already.

There may never be enough, and having everything one wants may still not be satisfying. Through the process of developing more fortified emotional regulation skills, managing these feelings of deprivation and wanting become more tolerable.

The absence of feeling and emotion is not the goal with emotional regulation. The guiding principle of emotional regulation is to experience one’s emotional responses, manage them internally and fully, and allow these experiences to build the foundation of a stronger sense of self. The appetite for buying might never go away, but it might feel less intense, which would then lead to fewer episodes of compulsive shopping and a greater sense of awareness and tolerance.

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  • cheryl C

    cheryl C

    June 4th, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    I would then suppose that the same could be said of any compulsive activity like eating or even gambling? Doing something to fill a void in your life?

  • Lindsey

    Lindsey

    June 4th, 2015 at 4:27 PM

    I do have a problem with compulsive shopping and spending, and I think that it stems form my husband always being so distant that I want something to take that place of the love that I don’t feel like I can get anymore.
    It is all a big secret and I am seriously in over my head but I am so afraid to tell him.
    I know that he doesn’t love me the way that he used to so I know that this would send him out the door.
    I am so afraid of losing it all, but I don’t see anyway out of this mess now.

  • anon

    anon

    June 5th, 2015 at 1:47 PM

    I am scared of what other people would think of me if I were to be open and honest about it.

    I wear this facade of being so trustworthy and responsible and yet there is this thing in me that I can’t control

    I am always wondering what they would think about me then if they were to find that out?

  • aaron

    aaron

    June 6th, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Our financial lives have been sunk for a while but I still think that we will be able to overcome most of it.

  • Sydney

    Sydney

    June 8th, 2015 at 8:09 AM

    I don’t necessarily feel that there is something that is empty in me that I am trying to fill, but there is always something about shopping and buying new things that always makes me feel so much better until the bills roll in. Then I feel terrible and start to feel very anxious about how I am going to then pay for all of this stuff that in reality I didn’t ever need.
    There is this cycle of feeling low about all that and then the high of getting something new all over again.

  • Lee

    Lee

    June 8th, 2015 at 3:18 PM

    Am I wrong in saying this sounds irresponsible to me, and that this could be controlled?

  • William

    William

    June 9th, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    I have very little confidence that this could simply just be controlled, This isn’t something very minor here, this is a full on addiction for some people and they have just as hard a time controlling that spending as a drug addict does with not taking drugs. it can be a situation that not only harms the person but devastates the entire family.

  • Cason

    Cason

    June 10th, 2015 at 2:46 PM

    Having been in a marriage where I felt so alone and overwhelmed by life online shopping was truly the only thing that I could do to make me feel better.
    Sometimes I would just shop and shop and create bags of stuff online that I would maybe check out with and then again just the act of looking and placing them in a bag would make me feel better.
    Sounds kind of loony to some people, but when you are just searching for that one thing that will make you feel better, that will help mask that void that you have then you will understand what I am talking about

  • Carmella

    Carmella

    June 11th, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    It also helps to have a loving support system just like with other addictions and compulsions.

  • Thomas

    Thomas

    June 12th, 2015 at 1:36 PM

    It could be something really easy, like going for a walk or something to distract you when you feel this urge to overspend.
    I’m not saying that the cure is easy, but for a moment it could take your mind off of that action that you probably don’t really want to go through with in the first place.

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