On the last track, we discussed three factors that exacerbate a compulsive spender’s habits. These factors included: denial; social pressures; and contradicting personalities.
On this track, we will examine the various motivations that shop-aholics have for compulsive spending. These motivations include: substituting for love and affection; gender-related motivations; and thrill seeking.
3 Motivations Shop-Aholics Have for Compulsive Spending
#1 - Substituting for Love and Affection
The first motivation is substituting for love and affection. Compulsive spenders have found that their main motivation behind their behavior is the inability to express love without purchases. Sam, age 32, used gifts as a replacement for genuine affection towards his wife Shelly. Shelly stated, "Last Christmas, he bought me three shirts, two sweaters, five necklaces, four rings, and seven pairs of earrings. It was too much! I didn’t want all of that stuff! Honestly, I would have been happy with a good book, because it would have shown me that he understood where my real interests lie."
Sam stated, "I just want to show you I love you. Is that so bad? Everything I bought for you was because I thought you might like it. Apparently, I’m just not appreciated around here." I asked Sam how his parents showed him affection. He stated, "Whenever my dad came home from a business trip, he would bring us back gifts. It was nice because when he left again, and sometimes for weeks, those gifts would remind us of him." I then stated to Sam, "I think that your need to express your love comes from the fact that your father was often absent and unable to express his love for you physically. Instead, he left you with things, items that you soon interpreted as a substitute for love."
Think of your Sam. How would you explain to him or her the concept of substituting love for affection?
#2 - Gender-Related Motivations
The second type of motivation is gender-related. Although men and women are just as equally likely to become a shop-aholic, I have found that the motivations behind their compulsive spending varies. Women, on one hand, buy products that will enhance their physical appearance. Sharon, age 23, found herself in huge credit card debt after buying thousands of dollars in clothes, makeup, and jewelry. Sharon stated, "You don’t understand. When I look good, people look at me! Being young and beautiful comes with a price. You have to be willing to pay for it."
On the other hand, men use purchases as a testament to their masculine prowess. Greg, age 32, spent most of his life savings on big cars and electronics. He stated, "Whoever has the biggest, fastest toy is automatically the bad ass in the room. Little car means little dick. Big car means, well, you know. Ultimately, though, it’s just a way to pick up chicks, but the more chicks you bang, the more of a man you are." Obviously, these are generalizations. Not every female client buys things to make her look more beautiful. Likewise, not all male clients make large purchases to appear more masculine.
Think of your compulsive spending client. Does he or she fit into these generalizations?
Technique: Compulsive Spending Phases
To help clients like Shelly, Greg, and Sharon become more aware of their compulsion, I gave them a list of compulsive spending phases. I asked them to look it over and the next time they entered a store, to be mindful of all these steps. Listen carefully to the following phases and consider whether this sounds much like your own client’s experiences. What is the same? What is different?
5 Phases of Compulsive Spending
Trigger: This may be a one-time experience (good news or a stressful event) or accumulated feelings of anger, loneliness, or boredom.
Consent: Desire and decision merge as you quickly identify what you want and give yourself permission to get it.
Action: Often in a matter of minutes, the money has been spent. There’s seldom enough time to think about withdrawing your consent. This phase is usually marked by a brief euphoria.
Reckoning: The momentary high has passed and you’re overcome with feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hate. How could you do this again? Won’t you ever be able to control yourself? Your partner will have a fit when he or she finds out!
Letdown: You’re right back where you started, feeling unhappy, empty, and depressed. Not only that, but you’re now deeper in debt, and you may be afraid your partner will be disappointed and lose respect—and love—for you.
Think of your compulsive spending client. Would he or she benefit from this exercise? Would playing this track to your client be beneficial?
#3 - Thrill Seeking
In addition to substituting for love and affection and gender related motivations, the third motivation is thrill seeking. Clients who are thrill seekers tend to enjoy living on the edge, pushing life to its limits in order to test how far one can go. Stock brokers and compulsive gamblers often fit this mold. Daren, age 36, had driven himself into serious debt with his gambling addiction. He stated, "Life feels fuller when I’m putting my financial life on the line. It’s much safer than hang gliding, but you get the same rush. When you make it, there’s no high like it in the world. When you fail, you want to get right back in there. It doesn’t matter how hard you fall."
Thrill seekers like Daren are difficult because they do not see the resulting debt as an incentive to quit. The debt, in fact, is another thrill that they can experience. I have found that the only way to treat a compulsive gambler is if he or she willingly asks for help and is remorseful for his or her mistakes. Think of your Daren. Is he or she a thrill seeker?
On this track, we discussed the various motivations that shop-aholics have for compulsive spending. These motivations include: substituting for love and affection; gender-related motivations; and thrill seeking.
On the next track, we will examine techniques to incorporate a shop-aholic partner into their therapy. These techniques include: destroying inhibitive myths; hoarding questionnaire; supportive detachment; and increasing affection.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Bennett, D., Sutcliffe, K., Tan, N. P.-J., Smillie, L. D., & Bode, S. (2021). Anxious and obsessive-compulsive traits are independently associated with valuation of noninstrumental information. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 150(4), 739–755.
Brien, C., O'Connor, J., & Russell-Carroll, D. (2018). “Meaningless carrying-on”: A psychoanalytically-oriented qualitative study of compulsive hoarding. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(2), 270–279.
Fradkin, I., Adams, R. A., Parr, T., Roiser, J. P., & Huppert, J. D. (2020). Searching for an anchor in an unpredictable world: A computational model of obsessive compulsive disorder. Psychological Review. Advance online publication.
Szechtman, H., & Woody, E. (2004). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a Disturbance of Security Motivation. Psychological Review, 111(1), 111–127.
Taylor, S., McKay, D., & Abramowitz, J. S. (2005). Is obsessive-compulsive disorder a disturbance of security motivation? Comment on Szechtman and Woody (2004). Psychological Review, 112(3), 650–656.
Woody, E. Z., & Szechtman, H. (2005). Motivation, time course, and heterogeneity in obsessive-compulsive disorder: Response to Taylor, McKay, and Abramowitz (2005). Psychological Review, 112(3), 658–661.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
What are three motivations that shop-aholics have for compulsive spending? To select and enter your answer go to .