Compulsive shopping disorder, also known as oniomania, is something that many people suffer from without knowing it. The problem with that is that it can slowly but surely ruin their lives, and they won’t notice before it is too late.
Do you just enjoy shopping, or are you at risk of being a shopping addict too?
Compulsive shoppers often buy things to feel better, and in fact to some extend experience “highs” when they buy something. On the other hand, they often experience buyers remorse later on.
And they often spend a lot more than they can afford – accumulating credit card debt and moving towards a financial disaster. Sometimes, in very extreme cases, shoppers even hide or destroy the things they bought, because they feel ashamed of their out of control purchasing behaviour.
Experts still argue about how to classify this condition. Is it an obsessive-compulsive disorder? An impulse control disorder? A mood disorder? An addiction? An impulsive-compulsive spectrum disorder?
But all of these distinctions are not really that important – what is really important though is that you find a way to change it, and replace it with something better.
There are many different possible causes of shopping addiction, and there is no one size fits all explanation. It is just the way some people deal with negative emotions like anger, stress, sadness, disappointment, and so on. They often experience the greatest emotional satisfaction directly during the purchase process, and just like everyone else, they want to feel that good more often.
And of course, there are the billions of dollars that corporations spend on advertisements that essentially suggest: if you buy this, you will feel happy.
What’s more: neuroscientists say that our brains are hardwired for shopping. Brian Knutson, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University did brain-scans with people and he found that there is one part of our brain that gets really active when we look at products and prices: the nucleus accumbens. And it taps into the same brain-circuitry that motivated our ancestors to go on food foraging sprees.
There are different approaches to treating shopping addiction. Oftentimes, people visit shopping addict support groups, and there is an organization that is called “Spenders Anonymous” – their program is similar to the popular Alcoholics Anonymous.
Sometimes also, all means that are required to make a purchase are taken away – which essentially means that the addict lets someone else manage and supervise their material life, and hands over their credit cards to them.
There are also things you can do yourself to be less tempted to shop. First of all, avoid the malls. A shopping center is a place designed to get you to buy stuff – and they pull out all the registers and play all the psychological tricks in their repertoire to make you buy stuff.
And if you go to a mall there are two things you can do to make overspending less likely: 1. set a fix budget for your shopping spree in advance and 2. plan beforehand what you want to buy.
Setting a fixed budget beforehand seems like the reasonably thing to do, but there is more to it: if you don’t set a fixed budget beforehand, it changes the psychological dynamics of your shopping experience. All of the sudden there is an element of uncertainty and risk: “Will I get the new ___?” It creates a kind of excitement that can lead to irrational purchases.
Also pay with cash instead of credit cards. Because when you pay in cash, your brain processes the purchase differently. Even though on a rational level you know it doesn’t make a difference whether you pay in cash or with a card as long as the amount is the same, the subconscious part of your brain processes this experience differently. Emotionally paying for something with a credit card is a lot less painful than paying in cash. Studies have shown that credit card usage often leads to more mindless purchases, whereas the visceral experience of handing over cash makes it more clear to people how much they are actually spending.
Another thing you can do is this: compare the price of something to the value of other things. For example, if you want to buy that new stereo system for $1300 instead of the lower priced one for $700, you could talk to yourself like this: “Well, that’s a $600 difference. Sure, I get better quality and more features, but if I save the $600 for a vacation I could make that trip I’ve been dreaming of for so long soon.” This helps you to realize: hey, that’s not just a bigger number, it actually makes a big difference in my life.
Also, if you want to overcome your compulsive shopping habits, it’s best to not combine this with other self-improvement projects. For example if you want to get in shape, overcome your shopping addiction, give up smoking and learn public speaking – well, it’s best to spread those projects out so that you can work on one at a time. If you spread your efforts too thin, there’s a risk that you’ll fail at many things instead of succeeding at few.
Psychiatrists sometimes use medication to reduce feelings of anxiety or depression, but there is a lot to be said about that – sure, one can avoid these feelings, but these drugs can create dependencies and do not help to solve the underlying problem. When patients stop taking these medications, they typically find that the very feelings they tried to suppress come up again, even more intensely.
It is nearly impossible to overcome a shopping addiction just with willpower. Because compulsive behaviours are outside of our conscious control. So in order to change compulsive behaviours, we need ways to access the subconious part of our mind. And that is where hypnosis comes into play.
With hypnosis, you can teach your subconscious mind that the automatic shopping behaviour is not adequate, and that there are better ways to respond to certain emotions and thoughts that trigger a shopping impulse.
This way, you do not have to rely on willpower as a compulsive shopping treatment. Instead, you can have confidence that your subconscious mind guides and protects you from negative behaviours and instead induces positive changes into your life.