I am finally starting to realize that I have a big problem. I seem to be a compulsive spender. I used to stop by a store on my way home from work just to pick up a little something. After a while, I noticed that my financial situation was becoming grave. I, to my credit, was able to stop the “happy-hour” shopping habit. While I am not in the store anymore, I see that I didn’t actually shake the habit because I am now using online shopping instead! And it is actually much worse because I will stay up late to browse or shop, and I will order more expensive items because they deliver it, so it makes the more expensive items more approachable.
I really don’t want to go to therapy for this because it is so expensive, and part of my problem is that I am trying to spend less, not more!
-Click ‘N Pay
Dear Click ‘N Pay,
Wow, look at you, facing a problem in such a matter-of-fact way! This posture is going to help you overcome. So many of us have such feelings of shame around our weaknesses, yet here you are, recognizing a pretty serious weakness, sharing it and wanting to change it. I don’t pick up self-blame, shame, or beating yourself up. Better yet, I don’t hear any of the flip-side of shame either. I don’t hear you blaming others for it or any tight defensiveness around this.
You own it. You have a problem. You are not able to stop yourself from shopping. And that’s that.
I am very impressed with your knack towards mindfulness. I can tell that there is a lot of hope for you to overcome.
And I totally hear how it is counter-intuitive to spend money on therapy when your problem is that you are already spending too much. I will say that if you find a good therapist, this money is an investment because it will help you spend less outside of the therapist’s office. But I don’t know how dire your finances are, so let’s try to see some other options.
There is something called a behavioral therapist. This is typically not a weekly thing. A behaviorist uses fully researched based approaches and will give you some tools (typically small and pretty painless) to help prevent the unwanted behavior and help increase the wanted behavior. This is an extremely effective approach when followed. Plus, since you do not have to meet so often, it is much more cost effective. Make sure to use a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) if you choose to go this route.
Another method that is completely free is a 12-step program. This is a program for people with addictions who join together for meetings and follow 12-steps toward sobriety and serenity. I do caution you with this approach though. It has worked for many, however the research on 12-step programs has shown it to be insignificant in its efficacy. You are welcome to check it out, but I would advise you to use it more as a support group than an actual method.
You may want to read Jean Chatzky’s book, Money Rules for quick tips to spend less. I think you would also benefit from cancelling your credit card and PayPal accounts and mobile banking. Because last I checked, the Internet doesn’t accept cold hard cash. You may also want to spend 8 hours in a department store without your wallet, or 8 hours browsing online with your credit card out of reach.
If the behavior changes don’t do it, go deeper.
Is this an escape? Is it security? Is it to numb something? A notable therapist, George Faller, speaks about alcoholism in a compelling way: “Everybody is talking about the drinking, but nobody is addressing the thirst.” When it comes to compulsions, this statement is applicable. From drinking to shopping, from snooping to gambling, if it is a behavior that happens even though you don’t fully welcome it, we can safely say that there is some need that is behind it, that is driving it. When we can figure out what that is, we are more than half way there.
You have already come so far in simply noticing that this is a compulsion. So now you can just continue with what got you so far.
Simply notice. Notice what is going on for you right before you turn to amazon.com. What is it that you are thinking? What is it that you are feeling? Did anything actually happen right before?
And when you notice it, don’t judge it. Just report it. This sort of mindfulness slows us down, and brings us to higher levels of awareness. That will help bring you closer to what’s driving you. And I have a feeling that it is going to be a painful discovery. But you are brave. You can face it.
Aviva Rizel, MA, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Aviva maintains a busy private practice in Cedarhurst, NY where she sees couples, families and individuals. She previously served as the Clinical Director of The Five Towns Marriage Initiative. She is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), the most effective, research-based model for strengthening couples’ connections. Aviva is also active in educating therapists and laypeople about EFT. Mrs. Rizel and her husband, Meir Rizel, MS, a Mental Health Counselor, enjoy co-lecturing across the tri-state area together almost as much as they enjoy raising their three children together in Far Rockaway, NY. To reach Aviva, email AvivaRizel.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 347-292-8482 To find out more about Emotionally Focused Therapy, go to iceeft.com.