Oniomania: Attempting to Buy Well-Being


Most of us understand the pleasure derived from purchasing something we want. Our brain’s pleasure center loves novelty, and our positive anticipation of enjoying the item stimulates good feelings.

Having this experience helps us understand how shopping can become a compulsive coping behavior for some people.

What Is Behind the Behavior

Compulsive shoppers are those who feel compelled to spend money despite problematic consequences such as closets full of unnecessary items, mounting credit card debt, or unpaid utility bills.

Like any compulsive behavior, once it is performed the individual has heightened feelings of well-being. They frequently experience a temporary sense of relief from uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, anger, and sadness, or from an unnameable sense of internal pressure. Some compulsive shoppers spend money to relieve the discomfort of loss, childhood deprivation, or to bolster their self-esteem.

Shopping is also an expression of control and power. Compulsive shoppers may be struggling with issues of personal power or the desire to control their circumstances. There can also be underlying problems of depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, or hoarding issues.

Almost anyone you ask will tell you they have purchased items that they did not need with money they did not have. So, at what point does unwise spending slip into the realm of oniomania, or compulsive shopping?

Nine Compulsive Shopping Behaviors

People who observe three or more of the following behaviors may have a compulsive shopping problem:

  1. Shopping and spending money while feeling anxious, lonely, sad, or angry.
  2. Frequent arguments with family or friends about purchases or spending habits.
  3. Having to become increasingly creative or devious to pay the bills such as selling old Jewelry, using one credit card to pay another, finding ways to hide spending from significant others.
  4. Being dishonest with others about how much has been spent.
  5. Experiencing euphoria, an extreme high, when buying something.
  6. Feeling panic or lost without having credit cards at hand.
  7. Frequently returning purchased items because of shame or guilt over buying them.
  8. Buying things with plastic that would not have been bought using cash.
  9. When gift shopping for others, also buying a gift for one's self.

Why It's a Problem and Where to Find Help

All of us use coping behaviors to manage life’s stresses. Unfortunately, compulsive shopping is one of the more destructive ones because it undermines financial security. This is devastating not only for the individual but for those who support or depend on them as well. Plus, the deceptive behaviors necessary for compulsive shopping dissolve the trust that cements good relationships and eventually steals the shopper’s dignity and self-respect.

If you are a compulsive shopper, remember that you are not your behaviors. You are an amazing human being with strengths and weaknesses, struggling to feel good and enjoy life. The need is to find more positive ways of accomplishing that.

To get help with compulsive shopping, consider joining a support group, seeing a counselor or psychiatrist, searching out helpful resources, books, and online communities, or looking for spiritual assistance that is meaningful to you.

Source for nine shopping behaviors: The Hidden Problem of Compulsive Shopping

Photo by John Nyboer

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