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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. 

2 comments:

  1. thank yo so much for this article. i am a full-time student and find myself doing this shopping thing when i am under undue amounts of stress. today a shop owner yelled at me and i felt so ashamed and embarrassed. i didn't know what to do, but leave. i was actually exchanging something, because the behavior got so bad, i limited myself to only exchanging for size not to ever actually returning. this one limitation has changed my life. But, i see the exchange for size as the same thing and now i have to modify that behavior too. I see this as a real life-stealing issue and wish i had someone to speak to about it. i really appreciate your hope and your post.

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