Am I a Compulsive Shopper?

Woman sitting in window sill

It is theorized that a shopping addiction can be an attempt to buy things that will increase our self-esteem.

The shopper feels a distinct difference between their authentic self and their idealized self which can be painful.

Acquiring high-end items that imply status, wealth or importance can temporarily prop up their vulnerable self-esteem and assist in constructing an “image” more like an idealized version of themselves.

Sunspire Health

Finding Enjoyment in Things

A former client, Beth, shared that she loved being in shopping malls and upper-end stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks, and Nordstrom.

She found that she felt more elegant, special and valuable just by being in the glamorous atmosphere and surrounded by so many lovely items that she could have at the simple drop of a credit card.

Lady Smiling with 3 Purses on Shoulder

It was intoxicating and a fabulous escape from her dreary work as a legal assistant in a stressful law firm.

Beth also found a lot of enjoyment in things! She relished her high thread count sheets and felt pampered and nurtured every night when she tucked herself into bed. Sometimes it was one of the high-points of her day!

After all, the rest of the day was spent schlepping folders around an office, hunched over cases with tight deadlines and a tiresome one hour commute to and from work in heavy traffic.

Makes sense – those smooth, cool sheets were likely the closest she came to self-nurturing all day long!

Indicators You May Have a Problem

In reviewing the 12 Steps of Debtors Anonymous, a few key points stood out as great possible indicators that you may have a compulsive spending problem:

  • Feeling compelled to buy unnecessary items because they are on sale.
  • Impulsively buying items regularly.
  • Leaving tags on items, in case you change your mind and decide to return them.
  • Hoping that someone will rescue you from your debt and you will get away with wild spending without consequence.

Beth certainly impulsively bought items she did not need or even want before she laid eyes on the suddenly irresistible item.

Garage Full of Stuff

She felt that wandering through the aisles of stores, in search of something to make her feel happy, was necessarily a spur of the movement indulgent and would no longer be fun if she tried to put parameters on her spending or frequency of these shopping trips.

Beth had many boxes of shoes, purses, and dresses in her closet that had not been worn and still had all the tags on the items.

She liked knowing she could likely return these items if she changed her mind.

Also, she liked knowing that she had special “brand new” items in her closet to be used whenever she needed an emotional pickup or some extra confidence. Sometimes, just thinking of these tucked away special items brightened her day.

Feeling Out of Control

Most sadly of all, Beth felt out of control and worried about her financial future. She realized that much of the spending would have been better used as savings or retirement planning, and it made her feel weak and vulnerable to not have a responsible financial plan in place in her life.

Man Screaming Out of ControlShe deluded herself into believing that someday the right romantic partner would come along (and, of course, they would be generous & loaded) and they would graciously pay off all her credit cards and provide a secure and decadent lifestyle that she aspired to.

Alas, many of us can relate to Beth and some of her behaviors and attitudes around spending. For most of us, we sometimes overspend, go a little crazy and buy something we don’t need but really, really WANT.

However, about 5.8% of American men and women engage in compulsive spending with severe consequences. For these individuals, help is likely necessary to overcome this destructive pattern of behavior.

For those entwined in a destructive shopping compulsion, there is hope. Support groups, individual therapy, and financial counseling can all provide the support and tools necessary to make changes and adopt a healthier perspective and behavior toward money and spending.


Compulsive Buying. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from
Estimated Prevalence of Compulsive Buying Behavior in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2016, from

About the author:

Jacquelyn EkernJacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC – Founder & Director

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions (such as gambling, sex, shopping, etc). Because she believes in holistic recovery that addresses all of the destructive patterns or behaviors engaged in by the individual, it became clear that it would be helpful to also have a site that deals foremost with addiction, for those that suffer from addiction as a primary concern.

Jacquelyn Ekern is a fully licensed therapist and she manages both the Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope organizations and websites.
Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 28, 2016
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.