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Monday, August 24, 2009

Shopping Bulimia

Recently, I was presented a question "If I shop and then return everything I buy, am I a shopping bulimic?" 

First of all, the question implies some level of insight because the person must understand bulimia, especially the process of taking in and then due to severe negative attacks on the self, the process of getting rid of. Bulimia has been defined in relationship to food, but because the process of hunger runs deep in the psyche; and compulsive spending and returning or better yet, purging everything, could be coined shopping bulimia. 

So, the next question is, "If I am, what should I do? I really like shopping and then returning everything. It gives me the thrill and the relief without doing real damage to my credit rating or bank account. It is just like being able to eat everything with out gaining a pound!" Of course, this part of the question is more troubling than the first because it demonstrates the addictive compulsion while at the same time a frivolous, self destructive attitude. 

Bulimia nervosa is a serious, life threatening eating disorder and most people who engage in bulimia realize at some point that they are not doing it to lose or maintain weight, but, rather, to relieve deep emotional pain. I would suggest that compulsive spending and returning appeases a similar deep seeded emotional discomfort. I would even go insofar as exploring the emotional regulatory effect that compulsive spending and returning provides. 

People with eating disorders and associated compulsions report being unable to tolerate and experience feelings and make sense of their emotional world. In fact, what has essentially happened is that the eating disorder or compulsive spending becomes the very thing that soothes them and helps them feel in control of their emotional life. This is very important in being able to help and understand someone struggling with a form of what I call a hunger disease. In this case, compulsive spending. When I can help someone see the emotional purpose behind what they are doing to themselves then an opening for therapeutic growth usually occurs. But, therapy does not stop with understanding, it continues on with building the bridges between sessions and the real world and neural connections between the intellectual and emotional parts of the brain through the process of talking and experiencing emotions.

So, is this person a shopping bulimic? Perhaps, yes, but I also try to stay away from categorizing people too much because like I told someone today who called me interested in learning emotional regulation skills because she suffers from multiple sclerosis, we all could learn to better emotionally regulate and get our left and right brains to communicate more effectively with each other. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Packing Tips: How to manage packing anxiety


Recently, the process of  "packing" has been a topic of discussion. The process of packing brings up issues for people who struggle with image and compulsive spending is directly related to image. Not that many people would readily admit that "packing" for a trip or a getaway is troubling, but for many, it seems to be. I thought this was interesting and considered as I am about to pack myself, what do I wear? what is the weather going to be like? do I have the right outfits? and, will what I bring fit?

These questions, like several thoughts we have, go unnoticed, unacknowledged and incorporated into behavior, sometimes maladaptive behavior. For instance, my friend has just enough money to take her trip and that is it, but as she considers her "packing" list, she finds herself wondering into Nordstrom to buy new jeans and the drugstore for a few travel size amenities. This is where her image issues affect her wanting and driving her to overspend with justification. Feeling the anxiety of not having the right jeans for her road trip, or having to live without her favorite hair product, is just too overwhelming to feel and relieving the anxiety requires buying something to solve the conflict which truly only exists in the mind of my friend.

Resolving conflicts on this level is very tricky because, for example, my friend, let's call her Tara, would have to realize that there is a conflict at all. Tara most likely realizes that she feels unprepared and troubled by her packing process and that she needs to rectify the situation. She does not sense there is a conflict between her anxiety around her image and her not having enough money to buy something to relieve the anxiety around her image. Tara would best suffice, financially and psychologically, if she just feels the feelings of anxiety around her packing issues and restrains from taking any action, such as buying new jeans, to get rid of the feelings. Most likely, Tara will realize that she can handle her anxiety, that she will survive it and test out new coping skills, which in this case is feeling her feelings, and develop the start of a foundation of security in her self.

Regarding her image, Tara's deeper issue is more related to her sense of self and how she perceives her self. A lot of what she may be projecting onto her packing list and feeling in the process will be more understood if she does not act out and buy new things to resolve her conflict. By buying new things in these kinds of instances, Tara thinks this is the solution where in fact, it is not, it is only a short term remedy.