Compulsive shoppers buy items to fill a feeling of emptiness or loneliness. They use it as a coping method for dealing with painful life experiences and as a way to overcome feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. One of the characteristics that distinguish a compulsive shopper from a non-compulsive shopper is their inability to stop shopping. Even when faced with skyrocketing debt, family conflict, and loss of relationships or employment, compulsive shoppers are unable to regulate their emotions and the behaviors they use to cope with those emotions.
This behavior can have devastating consequences on individuals. Compulsive shoppers themselves may be in financial ruin, and may risk the financial security of their family members and even friends. To better understand what motivates this compulsive behavior, and what people do to manage it, Sang-Hee Sohn of the Department of Consumer Science at Seoul National University in Korea conducted an online survey of individuals with compulsive buying tendencies. The participants described their shopping behaviors, emotions, stressors, and consequences of shopping. They also reported the coping strategies they used to minimize their destructive behaviors.
Sohn discovered that several common themes emerged from the data. First, the participants reported overwhelming feelings of deprivation and used their shopping to decrease those feelings. They were stimulated by shopping channels, media outlets, and culture in general, and were impulsive when these factors triggered their compulsions. They also appeared to be hypersensitive to stress. Situations like family problems, raising children, and maintaining careers increased their stress to the level of discomfort, and increased anxiety. They used shopping as a way to deal with the anxiety. But that behavior ultimately increased guilt, regret, and depression. Sohn did find that strategies like journaling, eliminating credit cards, turning to religious organizations, and engaging in physical exercise helped some of the participants. Sohn noted that in sum, the participants’ goal was to regulate their emotions surrounding stress and develop more adaptive ways to cope with their feelings. “The alleviating factors of compulsive buying derived from this study should prove useful for education programs directed at compulsive buyers,” said Sohn.
Sohn, Sang-Hee, and Choi Yun-Jung. A model of compulsive buying: Dysfunctional beliefs and self-regulation of compulsive buyers. Social Behavior & Personality 40.10 (2012): 1611-624. Print.
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