You might be a shopaholic if ...
Is your closet overflowing with never-worn clothing,
the price tags still waving in the breeze? Is your attic bulging
with boxes and boxes of shoes that have never touched pavement?
Do you buy new makeup weekly or compact discs by the fistful?
You might be a shopaholic.
Studies estimate that as many as 17 million Americans,
better than one in 20 of us, can't control our urge to shop, even
at the expense of our job, our marriage, our family and our finances.
Not that funny
In the land of conspicuous consumption, compulsive shopping
is the smiled-upon addiction, the butt of countless sitcoms and
Sunday comics, one of the few disorders that it's still OK to laugh
at. Shop till ou drop. The one who dies with the most toys wins.
Heck, President Bush even called it patriotic to splurge. Where's
Manhattan psychologist April Benson, author of "I
Shop Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self,"
has seen firsthand how destructive compulsive shopping can be.
"One patient of mine got fired because she was
compulsively shopping on the Internet all day. There are other people
who neglect their children and park them in the mall constantly
because that is what they need to feed their habit. Lots of marriages
break up over compulsive buying. In fact, we don't call it compulsive
buying unless there is some significant impairment in some aspect
of your life."
5 myths about shopaholics
Not only is compulsive shopping tacitly condoned by our
materialistic society, it is just as widely misunderstood.
For starters, according to Dr. Donald Black, a University
of Iowa psychiatry professor who specializes in obsessive-compulsive
disorder, compulsive shopping isn't a true compulsion at all, but
instead an impulse control disorder.
"A compulsion is a behavior that is produced
to counteract an upsetting thought; for example, I'm contaminated
or dirty, therefore I will deal with that anxiety by washing my
hands more," he says.
"There is no upsetting thought prompting compulsive
shopping. It is a very pleasurable impulse and people act on those
Nor is compulsive shopping a modern-day "designer disease."
According to Black, a German psychiatrist published the first clinical
description of the disorder in 1915.
Famous shopaholics in history include Marie Antoinette,
Mary Todd Lincoln, William Randolph Hearst, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis,
Imelda Marcos and Princess Diana. Their addictions ranged from clothing
(Jackie O, Diana) to art and antiques (Hearst) to shoes (the heralded
Marcos collection) to gloves (Mrs. Lincoln owned 84 pairs of them).
"Now maybe it's more prevalent now because you
clearly need available goods, a market economy and disposable income,
and those elements haven't always been around," he notes.
Men are 'collectors,' women
While research suggests that nine in 10 shopaholics are
women, Benson says it's a common misnomer to tag this as a female
"People who are part of their studies are psychiatric
in- or outpatients, and women self-refer for these problems much
more so than men. Recent studies coming out of Europe suggest that
more men are beginning to have these problems. In addition to the
fact that they don't self-refer for the types of studies on which
these statistics are based is the fact that society often calls
men who are compulsive buyers 'collectors.' It gives it a refined
and slightly highbrow image."
The same is true of the misconception that compulsive
shopping is a malady of the privileged class.
"We say that money is an equal opportunity mood
changer," says Benson. "There have been a few studies
linking socioeconomic class with compulsive buying and no significant
results have been found. I had a colleague who had a guy on welfare
who compulsively bought."
As long as we're exposing myths, Black suggests we
discard the notion that shopaholics are unaware of their problem.
"They are perfectly aware of what they're doing.
Intellectually, they know that their closets and maybe their attic
is full, but then they will be in the store and think, well, maybe
I do need this one blouse or this will come in handy or I don't
have one in this particular shade so I'll buy it. They usually hide
it from their husbands. They do have feelings of guilt."