Almost every woman is a potential shopaholic. Sometimes the urge to spend madly cannot be controlled. It gives one a momentary thrill, and then subsides just as rapidly. Author April Benson calls it “an activity that promotes self definition, even healing.”
Many women confess that splurging on a new dress or a pair of shoes puts them in a better mood. By the time they return from their shopping spree, they have forgotten the frustration or disappointment that had bothered them.
Neurotic symptoms can occur in normal people from time to time. In a given population, this can be as high as 815 per 1000 people. However, when this behaviour spins out of control, it leads to irrational compulsive buying. Shopping at the slightest provocation becomes an obsession.
Almost 60% of people wandering around shopping malls buying things they don’t need, are shopaholics. “In extreme cases, this could be as addictive as drugs or alcohol,” says April Benson.
About 90% of compulsive buyers are women with money to spend. Shopaholism is seldom seen among the poor. Many women today feel unhappy and unfulfilled in their roles of wife and mother. Lack of appreciation by family members, loss of personal freedom, inability to cope with domestic problems, fault finding husbands and unsympathetic in-laws can build up stress to such an extent that they can find release only through reckless spending. Besides, housewives can manipulate their time schedules to give them enough time to shop. They step out on buying sprees, travel long distances in search of discount sales, jostle and fight over bargains, and saddle themselves with unwanted baggage.
Buying sends the neurotransmitters in the brain into overdrive, releasing adrenaline into the blood stream. This causes an emotional high. The heart palpitates when a good bargain is made. The shopaholic feels ecstatic and forgets her problems for a while.
But the mood elevation is temporary. Back home when she assesses the damage to her pocket, her self- esteem dwindles and feelings of guilt increase. Wasteful spending eats into the family budget and leads to deprivation in other areas of need. Sometimes extreme guilt can drive a shopaholic to suicide.
Parental neglect in childhood leads to low self esteem.
o Environment: Conflict between parents or parents and children can cause insecurity.
o Character: A stable self confident person will be able to meet life’s challenges. But those who are too timid to fight or too shy to show hurt or verbalize their frustrations resort to neurotic behaviour.
The influence of relatives or friends with similar buying tendencies can encourage the shopaholic.
This is an era of lavishness, ostentation, and competitiveness. There are many factors that encourage excessive spending for instant gratification.
o Aggressive advertising of consumer products.
o Discount sales and enticing malls.
o Affluence and shallow values.
o Desire to keep up with the Joneses. The more materialistic a person the greater the possibility of stress and depression.
o Credit cards increase the pleasure of buying. Studies show that people spend 20-30% more than if they were paying by cash.
o Online buying and financial ignorance. The limit of the credit card is not what one actually has in one’s account. It merely shows the limit to which the card can be used, and is therefore deceptive.
However, only about 10% of shopaholics are obsessive compulsive buyers. German psychiatrists Jasper and Schneider believed that this kind of neurosis was due to stress or depression. In the1900s, Emil Kraepelin called it “Oniomania.” ‘Onio’ in Latin means ‘price.’ Robert Galatzer-Levy says this disorder is caused by “ordinary pleasures of living getting out of hand.”
Shopaholism is not a disease neither is it a psychosis, as the person is never out of touch with reality. It is just a ‘faulty response to an inner conflict.’ It is sometimes known as the “Madame Bovary Syndrome,” after Madam Bovary who lived a lavish life style and indulged in compulsive spending, to overcome her boredom as a housewife and boost her self esteem. Unfortunately it led to bankruptcy and then to suicide.
Ways to overcome shopaholism:
o Understand the real problem and find ways to tackle it. If it involves the behaviour of husband and family, bring it to their notice so that they can change their attitude. A wise husband will willingly cooperate, as this could ease the burden on his pocket.
o Understand your role as wife and home maker. It is a God-given role with in-built core competencies to fulfill that role. Take pride in it.
o Find enjoyable hobbies to work off stress. Music, gardening, painting, writing, yoga are some of the activities that can take your mind off stress.
o Cultivate friends who are lively and happy people. Gloomy company should be avoided at all costs. Many organizations provide social outlets for women. They arrange for constructive activities among the sick, elderly, disabled, abandoned children or single mothers. Engaging in social work will make your own problems seem trivial.
o Take stock of the useless stuff piled up in your house and the wasteful expenditure you have incurred. Make a conscious decision to stay away from the shops. When you feel the urge, postpone it for twenty four hours, by which time it would have disappeared altogether.
o Draw up a budget and stick to it.
o Avoid credit cards. Pay by cash only.
o Stop and think before you buy anything. Check the urge to buy for wrong reasons. Is the item needed or not?
o Work on your positive qualities. Strive for harmonious interpersonal relationships both at home and with friends.
Where there is a will to change and a determination to discipline oneself, shopaholism can be overcome. Some compulsive shoppers may benefit from a visit to the psychiatrist, who will give them a nudge in the right direction.