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Confessions Of A Compulsive? Impulsive? Shopper


We often use the words interchangeably…compulsive and impulsive. Curious, I looked them up to decide which word best described my former shopping addiction.

They both do.

A behavior is compulsive when you have the urge to do it repeatedly, until a feeling of anxiety or unease goes away. A behavior is impulsive if you do it without forethought and without considering the consequences.

I would buy frivolous, unnecessary stuff repeatedly to soothe my soul pain. I would also do it without considering the consequences.

It’s curious that with all of the mention about addiction that compulsive/impulsive money spending is not mentioned more. While it may seem mild compared to smoking meth, shooting heroin, drinking until you black out or feeding a gambling habit, it can still be very destructive. And frankly, all of these addictive behaviors come down to the same source: soul pain.

I remember one impulsive/compulsive purchase specifically. I was living on extremely limited income following my divorce. In fact, I was just barely able to buy food and pay the utility bills after paying rent. Somehow, I got it in my head that I needed a new pair of reading glasses. I didn’t. My current pair were just fine. The prescription was still current and the frames were in perfect condition and still stylish.

But I wanted a new pair. So I marched down to the trendiest, most expensive eyeglass store in the mall and I ordered me a new $700 pair of glasses. I knew that I didn’t need them. I knew that I couldn’t even come close to affording them. I even knew that buying them would leave me without the ability to pay rent that month.

So why did I do that? What evil force was working within me to get me to do something so utterly stupid? Something which would bring me way more pain in the end than pleasure? How could I possibly make such a destructive move?

I wasn’t really after the glasses. I was desperately seeking to numb out to the pain in my life through any means possible. Even the fleeting thrill of picking up and wearing those new glasses, if only for a few days, was irresistible to me. At least for those few days while I was excited over my new glasses, I could ignore the pain in my soul.

This is exactly the reason why people drink and dope, game and sex, overeat and gamble, even despite the severe damage these behaviors can wreak on their lives. It’s not like anyone sets out to be a drug or gambling addict, an alcoholic or a compulsive, reckless spender. We do these behaviors because, for just a moment, we are able to numb out to the pain from our unresolved emotional injuries.

It’s interesting. I got off the doctor prescribed opiates that had also kept me numbed out to the pain. I invested over a solid year in solitary meditation deep in a forest, working on myself. I put the effort into resolving my old hurts and healing my pained soul. Once I did this, I no longer needed opiates or frivolous purchases.

I still don’t completely trust myself, even though I am 100% more pragmatic now. I still worry and have anxiety over any purchase I have to make. I labor over it. Is it necessary? Can I live without it?. But really, I am healed. I have no more debt. I don’t buy things on credit. I don’t clutter my home with a bunch of unneeded bobbles that I’ll be bored with in a week. I buy things because I truly need them now, and much of them are secondhand. I don’t need the fancy stuff, because I’m not pouring them all into the insatiable mouth of my pain, hoping they will somehow soothe me.

One practical way I tamed the beast is kind of by tricking myself. If I see something on line I save it to a “love it” file, without buying it. That way I don’t get the anxiety that comes with thinking I might really want this and if I don’t buy it now, it will be gone forever. What’s funny is that I almost never buy anything saved to that file. Turns out I can happily live without it all.

As long as humans are suffering from unresolved emotional pain, guilt, still in victim-mode, or still subsisting in a life that slowly extinguishes our true flame, we are going to find a way to numb out to the pain. We are going to overeat, engage in risky behavior, over shop, over drink, over game, over everything. Give us about two weeks of engaging in these behaviors that provide us with a quick thrill and relief from our pain, and what do you know? We are addicted.

Avoiding addiction or self-harming behaviors is not a matter of who has the will power. Falling victim to addiction is not a character flaw. It is a result of unresolved emotional pain that we just have to numb out to, one way or another.


Elisa Christensen is an author and poet that resides on top of a mountain in California with her two teenaged sons, plus a Boxer and a yellow lab.

Elisa writes on parenting and addiction, and how to transform from victim into warrior.


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