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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Treatment Tuesday - Compulsive Shopping Disorder?

This week’s assessment is the last in a series for Chas. His novels are about former angels/demons-turned-human. Let’s look at Cynthia.*

Cynthia is an angel in the virtues Squadron. She fought a lot on Evelyn’s behalf during Evelyn’s first days on Earth. She was crippled when she fell in love with Jean-Michel, a grad student and choir director. She was afraid that “angels shouldn’t fall in love with humans.” Later she learned that she was really just afraid to be vulnerable. She eventually gets over her fear and is married to Jean-Michel. But she uses her compulsion to shop to cover up her insecurities and her timid heart. She wants to be stronger in areas of trust, but she still needs to learn how to trust God and her spouse more openly.

* Names have been changed to protect the fictional.

According to Chas, there is no background on why Cynthia has difficulty being vulnerable. She was never “duped” in the past, as she’s never had any other relationships. Her real
fear stems from her insecurity. How would she handle the possible rejection of giving her human heart to a man?

And what woman (or man, for that matter) hasn’t wrestled with that? Rejection comes part and parcel with loving someone. Even once you’ve committed yourself to someone and married them, there is still the possibility they might hurt you or reject you. You place your trust in them much the same way you put your faith in God. But because humans are fallible, you don’t exactly get the same return on your good faith.

So on one hand, Cynthia has good reason to be concerned about loving Jean-Michel. Love is a risk (and a battlefield, according to Pat Benatar). And seems to me a Virtues Squadron angelic being should have some experience with this battlefield thing. So perhaps your angelic counselors could reframe love for her. It’s kind of like investing in mutual funds…they dip and rise on the short-term reports, but the long-term outcome is worth it. You’re better off taking the risk than you would be nursing your fear.

Now, to address her shopping compulsion. The extreme popularity of Sophia Kinsela’s Shopaholic series attest
s to how much people (mainly women) relate to this concept. But there is some debate about Compulsive Shopping Disorder actually being a disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), though, it's not a disorder.

There IS such a thing as an Impulse-Control Disorder Not Otherwise Specified—NOS—(meaning, the impulse control issue doesn’t center around certain more prominent disorders like gambling, hair pulling, fire starting, and stealing). The DSM leaves the NOS specifier (or specification, in lay terms) for when a person’s problem doesn’t quite fit into the other, better-defined disorders.

That said, psychiatrist Gail Saltz (author and frequent contributor on the Today show), recognizes it as a true disorder on her website. There are certain similarities (or symptoms, depending on how you want to look at it) that “shopaholics” have. Likely they have credit card debt beyond management, legal problems, bankruptcy, and marital/friendship problems as a result of lying about their compulsive shopping. Saltz says people with CSD may also suffer from anxiety and depression and often shop in hopes of reducing their tension or elevating their mood. Of course, shopping is a short-term solution and many feel worse later due to the consequences of compulsive spending. These people may shop for the same thing over and over (shoes, or clothes, or home goods), and the objects might never get used. There may even be emotional “blackouts” where they can’t remember their shopping excursion at all.

You’ll have to think about how far you want to take her compulsive spending. But think about the reason behind the spending. You mentioned earlier it was for Cynthia to hide her insecurities and “timid heart,” so figure out how exactly shopping will be a “balm” for these unwelcome feelings. And her character arc will need to include other ways for her to work through her timidity instead.

Now about that. When I think of timidity, I think of a passive, non-confrontational type person. But that doesn’t seem to fit a former Virtues Squadron angel-slash-soldier. But if on the off-chance it does, then I would suggest assertiveness training. You can Google this, of course, but the general idea is that assertiveness lies in between passiveness and aggressiveness. It’s the ability to speak your mind without a running commentary on the other person’s actions. The therapist would teach Cynthia how to use I-messages (e.g., “I feel/felt X when you do/did Y and I would like Z to happen.”) instead of You-statements (“You are always late.”). It would be much better for her to say, “I felt let down when you weren’t on time. In the future, I’d love it if you could make more of an effort to value being on time.”

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Chas, it’s been a pleasure. Hopefully you’ve got some good fodder for making those therapy sessions come to life. Email me with any other questions, and I’ll do my best.

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to

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Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

This is one thing I don't struggle with, thank goodness! I tend to not even go window shopping, because it just makes me want to buy and I can't!!!! It just makes me miserable. (and I don't like wearing my cranky pants!)

Stephanie Faris said...

I thought that after the Shopaholic series became so popular. I've seen people who would qualify as being compulsive shoppers but usually it's more of a symptom of something else. It's just more fascinating to see it manifest as it did in the Shopaholic series!

Jessica Nelson said...

Hmmm, interesting. And weird. Like Sherrinda, I'm glad I'm not a big shopper. LOL!

I wonder if it's just a lack of self-discipline coupled with selfishness? And I'm absolutely not trying to be harsh because I have my own discipline problems. Snort! But the lying I would think stems either from guilt or just not wanting to hear people get on to the shopper.

I'll be interested if it turns into a legit "disorder" in a few years, as other things have.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

good for you, ketchup girl and jessica! glad to know you're not compulsive shoppers. i'm going to be very interested in whether this crops up in the next DSM manual coming out in 2012.

Katie Ganshert said...

I am so not a shopper. I've always been a "only go when I absolutely have to" type of gal. Like when my shoes have holes in them or the hem falls out of my favorite jeans...that sort of thing. I need to read those books you've been raving about!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

katie - you might not find them as funny as i do...if you can't relate to ANY compulsion to shop! :)

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Hm, I’m not sure I would consider “shopaholic” an actually disorder, but I think it is a symptom of bigger problem. As you said, buying things can make us feel good so it can mask a hurt momentarily. Often low self-esteem is the common thread. I guess in that way it’s a lot like any other addiction…although, let’s face it, a shopping addiction is more often the subject of humor than serious discussion. ;)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I was almost frightened to read this! But alas, I feel relieved, I don't think I fit the title. But I was seriously worried I was heading in that direction.

Jessica Nelson said...

I can't find your comment button on your post about Expectations, so I'm doing it here. :-)

Basically, I think I'm realistic but I've also noticed that when we expect people to be good or do the right thing, they often do. There are some things I have lowered my expectations on, esp. with a certain person, but I felt like I had to otherwise I was being shocked and disappointed all the time. As well as hurt and worried. But I agree with you that seeing the worth, best and potential in people is better. And I can't even get on to the school system. That's a rant in and of itself. LOL

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.