The costly consequences of shopping addiction.
by Lea Wiviott, Editor-in-Chief
DECEMBER 21, 2009 4:41 PM
|Marissa Brown went to Macy’s today for a new pair of boots and pantyhose, but came back with four times more merchandise than she had planned to purchase. The tights will eventually find their way into drawers that are already stuffed with many tights and countless pairs of leggings.
Making room for new goods that are not needed has resulted in turning the attic above her bedroom into a makeshift storage unit. The downstairs closet has also turned into a burrow for extra jackets. Brown’s townhouse is immaculate, with the exception that there is clothing everywhere. “You will play tricks on yourself to get it and it becomes the most important thing,” says Brown, who does not want her actual name used due to the stigma of shopping addiction. She slides her mirrored closet door open, and stuffs her new Stuart Weitzman leather boots on top of a mountain of shoes before sliding the door closed.
This wall-length closet is squished with seventy-five jackets, along with around fifty pairs of jeans, in addition to the boots. Yet Brown feels such a sense of euphoria when she acquires anything new that she has trouble controlling her consumption. “When I see somebody with something I want, it doesn’t matter where it’s from or how much [it costs], I have to have it and I’m good, I always find it,” Brown explains.
Many people can relate to Brown. According to Terrence Shulman, founder of Shopaholics Anonymous, “a shopping addict is someone, male or female, who shops excessively in a manner that produces negative consequences yet refuses to or is unable to curtail or stop this behavior.” Shulman says shopping addicts are unable to control themselves despite negative consequences such as financial troubles, loss of time, changes in sleep or appetite, inability to keep relationships, or feelings from guilt to anxiety, along with an overall loss of control and preoccupation with shopping.
According to recent studies, nearly ten percent of Americans fall into the diagnosis of oniomania, the scientific name for shopping addiction, which is up from six percent in 2006. Shulman says this trend is only increasing and he cites the prevalence of bargains in the recession as the culprit.
Angela Wurtzel, another addiction therapist specializing in oniomania, sees a brighter side of the recession in that “more people are open and willing to address their own limitations around money and shopping, and deal with the deeper emotional issues that have to do with deprivation, fear of deprivation, emptiness, and self worth.”
In Brown’s case, deprivation is a common theme throughout her life. “My husband never shows affection,” she says, later adding that while she comes from a wealthy family, as a child money was never spent on items like jewelry or clothes so “it was like we were poor.”
When she moved to San Francisco she therefore felt entitled to her new BMW 325i and all the wonderful offerings that the unique city boutiques had to offer–even if she were purchasing them on credit. “It doesn’t matter if it makes sense financially, you just have to have it,” she explains.
Like nearly half of North Americans, Brown spends more than she earns annually. And while the recession has resulted in her losing a portion of her retirement, it is her overwhelming love for shopping that has plummeted her twenty thousand dollars into debt. (After today’s trip, that number increased by around five hundred dollars.) The result: she has had to take out a second loan from her house as well as take on extra shifts as a flight attendant. “And I haven’t been the best about saving,” she continues.
According to Wurtzel, transferring balances from one credit card to another is also a common practice of shopping addicts, along with “getting a large sum of money as a gift and rather than using the money in a way they ‘know’ they should, like to pay a bill, they ‘feel’ their way through the experience and go shopping and tell themselves they deserve it.”
Wurtzel has even heard of women donating their eggs to pay off bills and then using the rest of the money for more things they do not need but crave to the point of obsession.
While Brown says she would never donate her eggs to fulfill her love of shopping, her problem has led to extreme measures on other fronts. Not only is her house packed to the rafters, but her marriage has suffered from her spending practices; money disputes are one reason her husband and she have fallen into estrangement.
“The problem is, during times of stress, many addictions get worse,” says Shulman. “Many people who can ill afford to continue to shop often do so even more when under stress–it’s like a drug.”
Like drugs, there are many different kinds of shopping addictions. According to Shulman, compulsive shoppers shop to avoid uncomfortable feelings or situations; trophy shoppers need special items to stem an emotional vacuum; collector shoppers, like trophy shoppers, need more and more of a particular item (usually sets) to feel complete; image shoppers buy things they hope will project an image of power or perfection to stanch feelings of inferiority; bulimic shoppers buy and return items; co-dependent shoppers buy more for others than themselves to gain love, approval, acceptance; and, finally, spendaholics, or people who do not necessarily buy things (though they may overspend on a home or a car) go way overboard purchasing vacations, dining out, and other events.
As is the case with most shopping addicts, Brown mainly buys clothes to make herself feel beautiful, but she does so at the expense of her relationships and financial security. Nevertheless, she does not want a formal diagnosis. Still, whenever she travels to a new place–which, as a flight attendant, she does biweekly, she also collects Starbucks mugs bearing that city’s name and she buys souvenirs for her family… even when they have asked her to stop.
According to the experts, people commonly exhibit multiple oniomaniac behaviors, which many attribute to the prevalence in American culture of encouragements to shop. The average American is bombarded with three thousand advertisements daily.
“There may be many different theories on how we got to be such a consumerist society. I think advertising got more clever and pervasive. I think we began to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous more. I think the explosion of malls and stores and the Internet and Home Shopping TV all played a part,” Shulman says.
While it was not always called oniomania, this problem has been around forever. President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was one of the earliest documented Americans with this disorder. Yet over the past twenty years oniomania has received much more attention. Support groups like Debtors Anonymous and Shopaholics Anonymous have since emerged. Academic movements against the mainstream American dream of making money to acquire new goods have also come into light.
Still, Brown believes a shopping lover is who she is and she is not planning on changing. She has, however, recently been diagnosed with Attention Hyperactivity Disorder. And she, along with experts, believe there may be a link between the anxiety and boredom that sometimes characterizes people with ADHD and the need to shop.
“When people are anxious, they are vulnerable to turning to easy ways to temporarily calm themselves–food, alcohol, drugs, TV, shopping… of course, when the negative consequences and secrets mount so, too, does the anxiety, and then the vicious cycle begins–more shopping to cover up more anxiety… until there is a crisis or a discovery of the problem and then the bubble bursts and real recovery can begin,” Shulman says.
“My hopes for shopping addicts are that they find the way that works for them to develop and understand this destructive problem,” says Wurtzel. “I try to tell people that they will end up having more if they work through this and come to understand themselves, develop emotionally, and create a structure to live a safe and contained life.
“My hopes are that people, especially young people, wise up about the seductive dangers of overshopping and overspending not just in terms of lost dollars but lost time, lost focus, lost relationship, lost direction, says Shulman. “We need to develop a healthy, balanced, and realistic relationship with money, credit, things–just as with food, alcohol, relationships, work, anything.” [X]
» E-mail Lea Wiviott @ LeaWiviott@gmail.com
Hi Brett, thank you for taking the time to do a Q&A with me, Jennifer Hartnett, for Success Strivers! First of all, can you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I’m a published author, company founder and have a history of bringing unique ideas to life. My first company, Pursue the Passion, was a career education startup that took three friends and myself on two cross-country road trips to interview people about how they found passion in work. Since getting off the road, I’ve delivered over 100 speeches from Alaska to Miami Beach and authored the book, Pursue the Passion. I’m also the founder of an online marketing company in Scottsdale, where I create online campaigns and executes social media strategies for cutting edge ecommerce companies.
How do you set goals and how do you accomplish them?
In a very analytical way. It’s all about math. I set an objective. I then create as many tactics as I need to mathematically achieve that objective. Then I go do everything on my tactic list and gauge whether that objective will be reached.
What are your ambitions for your career?
I love marketing. I love working for myself. If I stay true to those two things, I think I’ll go interesting places.
How did you figure out your passion?
Oddly enough, on a cross-country tour I dubbed “Pursue the Passion.” I interviewed over 300 people about their career path and made some observations about each one of their stories. This tour also garnered a lot of media attention – we were driving a 28-foot RV around the country, so we were hard to miss. I think we made about 40 media appearances to talk about our tour. What I realized from the media and the tour was I’m passionate about inspiring movement – specifically through marketing campaigns. Because in the end, that’s what Pursue the Passion really was – a campaign to inspire people to think about, and go after what they enjoy in their careers.
What should everyone do to pursue their passion?
Some of the best advice we got on tour was to pick a costume, put it on, and be it. If that costume doesn’t fit right, take it off, put on another costume, and be that. You learn about what you’re passionate about through experience, and less by sitting in a chair. So go out and have experiences.
One of the best experiences you can have, by the way, is doing face to face interviews with people you want to be like. Those experiences will bring reality to fantasies.
Do you have a strategy for pursuing one’s passion?
It’s tough, which is why 70% of the American workforce doesn’t like what they do for a living. The minority of America enjoys what they do because the process is difficult to get to a place where you enjoy what you do. The strategy isn’t magic. It’s as simple as taking ownership on an idea, making calculated risks when necessary, and working hard until you get there.
What continues to inspire you?
Growth. I love seeing a concept of ours go from theory, to specific tactics, to tangible results. Since our marketing company deals so much with ecommerce business, I’m inspired by the growth our clients and our company experiences.
How do you stay true to you’re passion?
Money helps. When you get paid for doing what you love, it’s easier to stay true. But when I was working with no salary and redeeming vouchers for free Hot Pockets to survive…those are the times where you need a clear objective to continue on. Objectives give you significance. Tactics give you a way to measure how close you are to your objective. Both significance and measurability are things you need in your back pocket when you go on a journey.
What drives you?
I mentioned earlier that I like inspiring movement. If I had to sum up why I do what I do, I like being in a position where I can inspire movement to “the good life.” The good life is a better life than you’re living now. Our clients offer products that make lives better. That’s why our job as marketers is fun. We get to help people improve their lives. And of course, if we do our job well, our lives become better as well.
How do you stay motivated?
I enjoy seeing if stuff works or fails. Every day we get to try something new to see how people respond. That’s pretty motivating.
What advice do you have for the community to stay motivated?
Do stuff. Motivation stems from excitement. Doing stuff is exciting.
What would you recommend others do different?
Auditing. I majored in accounting in college. My first job out of school was being an auditor. The job is full of checks and balances to make sure the overall picture makes sense. I audit everything – finances, activities, focus – just to make sure things are going the way I’d like them to. It’s a great activity.
Is there a perfect way of living life? If yes, what is it?
If there is, I haven’t found it.
How do you influence people in a meaningful way?
Numbers is how I’m able to see if what I’m doing is meaningful. If I give a speech, I might include my email address on slides to see how many people email me afterwards. For an interview like this, I’d include a link to my website – http://markitors.com – and see if what I had to say here inspired people to go check out other things I’m up to. There’s always a way to measure influence, and measurements lead to meaning. At least for me.
What works for you to keep striving for success?
I think the answer is in the question. It’s to keep striving.
Will you write another book soon?
The last one took four years to produce. I don’t know if I have that in me again.
What advice do you have for Success Strivers?
Only advice for Success Strivers is to start building up that email list. That’s how people will stay up to date with you. Email is the best form of marketing delivery around.
More from Brett Farmiloe on his Ted Talk here:
(This video is embedded with permission)
That’s Jennifer Hartnett for Success Strivers, thanks for reading and thank you Brett Farmiloe for your time! Best wishes to the Success Strivers community in finding your passion if you have not already! If you have, please do share it with us! Learning from others can make all the difference in your success and the success of others! Thanks for reading, and we will be posting much more soon!
I don’t know how I just came across this interview with Joanna Lumley, but it’s so inspiring–especially for our young and establishing ladies!
Have you grown up? Are you true to yourself? I really encourage you to read Lumley’s take on “How to Live Your Life and Make it Glorious, ‘Darling'”
Lumley will help motivate you to be your best you, and we all need that at some point! Don’t waste your opportunity to hear from Lumley–I wasn’t looking for inspiration tonight, but I found it, and you always need to explore your opportunities no matter when they present themselves! Especially ones that help empower you to achieve your own greatness–from within you! What are you capable of?
I find it really interesting that people who have success and freedom in their holistic goals seem to have really similar perspectives: constant innovation, positivism, and teamwork–and they will ask for help when need be. Refer back to Leader Jim Fraser’s sound clip from 2010 (click here for it), and you’ll hear more about how these traits will make you stronger; and challenge you to accomplish great things.
Always be happy, just never satisfied!