No one wants to feel bad. That is, we don’t want to feel defeated, frustrated, angry, resentful, or a score of other negative emotions. Feeling bad is a form of pain, something we all want to avoid. As a result, we try to numb our pain by seeking temporary relief in food, drink, sex, gambling, and other diversions. The problem is as we repeatedly do so, we may become ensnared in an addiction. And once an addiction grabs hold of us, we may find our success and everything we hold dear begins to crumble. Though most of us are probably not experiencing a crisis because of an addiction, it can be helpful to grow more knowledgeable about the subject. This article may provide food for thought, fascinating insights, and valuable tools. To introduce you to the subject of addiction, I cover three common ones: Compulsive Shopping, TV, and (because of a reader’s request) Pornography.
About 28 million Americans are addicted to shopping, and like gambling addicts, they experience a “rush” whenever they give in to their passion; but when it comes time to pay the bills, they feel remorseful and depressed.
Let’s compare shopaholics with overeaters for a moment. Overeating encompasses a broad range. At one end of the scale we have the morbidly obese, some of which are so huge, they cannot stand and are therefore confined to their bed. At the other end of the scale we have people who are just a few pounds overweight. Shopaholics are similar. Some have serious problems, others small. But large or small, a problem is still a problem. And small problems that are not nipped in the bud can slowly develop into major ones.
Some of us have a serious problem with overspending, and most of us have a small problem because we occasionally overindulge. So, before our small problem escalates into a bigger one, let’s consider over shopping, which when serious is called shopaholism, compulsive shopping, compulsive buying, or compulsive spending. The most popular term used by psychologists is now Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD). And those who have it are said to be suffering from a spending or shopping addiction.
Like drug addicts and alcoholics, compulsive shoppers realize their actions are self-destructive, but they feel powerless to stop. And unless they do, they may suffer severe consequences, such as bankruptcy, divorce, job loss, and depression.
There are three major factors that lead to over shopping. The first factor is TV. Imagine for a moment that someone is perfectly happy, but a hypnotist intrudes into his home and convinces him of two things: a) that he is now unhappy and b) that he needs many things that he does not have in order to regain his happiness.
Your TV is that hypnotist. Its purpose isn’t to entertain, inform, and educate you. No, its sole purpose is to make you consume more, spend more, and shop more. Congratulate yourself if you aren’t already overspending, because if you’re not, it’s a testament to your strong character.
TV exploits our natural desire to be happy by muddling our thinking and confusing our understanding of happiness. What is happiness? It simply is feeling good. Through its incessant brainwashing, TV convinces us we need things to make us feel good. For example, we need potato chips and ice cream to feel good, so we go out and buy some.
But we can see through the deception of TV once we have a clearer understanding of happiness. You see, it’s not merely about feeling good, but about feeling good ABOUT OURSELVES. So, eating sweets and shopping appears logical if one wants to feel good, but not if one wants to feel good about oneself; after all, we don’t want to grow obese or get into debt.
The second factor leading to overspending is the Internet. It greatly exacerbates the problem because the ‘shopping center’ is now open 24 hours a day. Also, stores that you could never shop at because of their remoteness are now conveniently sitting on your desktop.
The third factor is shopping has become a recreational activity. In the distant past, we went shopping only when we needed something, such as food, clothing, or tools. But now, thanks to TV and the rest of the media, we go shopping to ‘have fun.’
Behavioral Patterns of Shopaholics
Here is a list of the behavioral patterns of shopaholics. If it seems to describe you, carefully review the tips on overcoming compulsive shopping.
1. Do you have stacks of books you never read, piles of clothing you haven’t worn, or heaps of music CDs you haven’t played?
2. Do you go shopping whenever you are feeling bad, angry, or frustrated?
3. Has your shopping habits created problems in your life, such as causing you to worry about how you will pay your bills?
4. Do you hide from your friends and family how much you spend?
5. When you are shopping, do you feel like you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing?
6. Has your shopping habits caused conflicts between you and your spouse, a relative or a friend?
7. Do you make purchases with your credit card that you can’t pay for with cash?
8. When you shop, do you have mixed feelings of euphoria and anxiety?
9. After returning from shopping, do you feel guilty, regretful, or embarrassed?
10. Do you feel “lost” without credit cards?
11. Are you always thinking about money, how much or little you have, and go shopping again?
12. Have you tried to change and found you couldn’t?
13. Do you hide some of your purchases from others?
14. Do you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how you will pay your shopping bills?
15. Do you buy things you don’t need and can’t afford?
16. Would you be better off if you shopped less?
17. Do you buy several books, blouses, or pairs of shoes at a time?
18. Do you spend money you expect to receive before you receive it?
Tips on Overcoming Compulsive Shopping
1. The first step to solving personal problems is to admit something’s wrong. When we are engaged in self-defeating behavior, we are very good at denial and hiding the facts from ourselves. That’s why I’ve included a list of the behavioral patterns of shopaholics. When we come face to face with the facts, it may awaken us to the problem and spark a desire to do something about it. The remaining tips are actions you can take to rein in your spending and take control of your life.
2. It is important to monitor and keep track of your spending. Each time we make a purchase, we conveniently forget about the amount we spent before going on to the next purchase. By the end of the month, when the bills come in, we are surprised by how much we spent. To prevent this from happening, carry a small notebook with you and record every purchase and the monthly total, and review your notes every day. You will be surprised to see how much you’re spending, and this information will increase the likelihood that you will cut back on your shopping.
3. Step 2 is taken after shopping with the hope it will cut back on future spending, but Step 3 is more powerful, for it is pre-emptive. In this case, you carry a small notebook with you and when you see something you wish to buy, rather than buying it, you add it to your list of “What I Wish to Buy Two Weeks from Now.” Write the date, what you wish to buy, and why you wish to buy it. This powerful step has two benefits. First, it cuts back on impulsive shopping. Often, merely by waiting, the desire will fade. Second, answering the question why we want it forces us to analyze our behavior and may cause us to decide to skip the purchase.
4. Use the power of questions to alter your behavior. This is an expansion of Step 3. When you wish to buy something, first ask yourself some questions and write down the answers in a little notebook. Ask yourself questions such as, “Do I need it? Can I afford it? In the long run, will buying it improve my life or will it add to my problems? Do I have the space to keep it? Will I be using it regularly or will I quickly tire of it. What are the pros and cons of buying it?” Taking the time to think before you act is often enough to get your life back on track. And, of course, this step is unnecessary whenever you are buying necessities.
5. Avoid temptation. Malls and shopping centers are not made for “hanging out,” they are made for shopping, so avoid them. When you want to “hang out,” go to the park or someplace where you will spend little or no money.
6. When you need to shop, first make a shopping list and only buy what is on your list.
7. Watch less or, better yet, stop watching TV.
8. If compulsive shopping is a serious problem for you, do not carry credit cards. They should be used for emergencies only. But if your problem is really serious, you may want to cut up your credit cards. After all, better to destroy them before they destroy you.
9. Don’t be a robot, automatically directed by your emotions. Rather, be aware of your feelings, and think before you act. For example, if you suddenly feel the urge to splurge, rather than allowing it to fester and grow overwhelming, divert it by doing something else, such as taking a walk.
10. Identify your motives. Do you wish to shop to feel good or to feel good about yourself? If shopping won’t make you feel good about yourself, why do you wish to do it? What need is it filling, and how can you fill that need in a positive manner. For example, a student not doing very well at school feels bad and goes shopping to feel better. But shopping is just a temporary fix that does nothing to help the problem of poor school grades, and over shopping only adds to the problem. Instead of trying to cover up the pain of poor school grades with the pleasure of shopping, far better to face the problem head on; admit there’s a problem; talk to teachers and friends to get help, and work on improving school grades. When this is done, the student will feel good about him or herself and no longer have a need to shop.
11. When we overspend, we later regret wasting money, but we seldom think about the time we wasted. Think about this for a moment. What is life? It is not money; it is time. How much time is needlessly wasted thinking about shopping, looking for things to buy, and travelling to and fro? How could that same amount of time been used to improve your life? Perhaps you could have been practicing the piano, studying another language, doing homework, improving your skills with a computer program that you use at work, jogging, taking a walk or working out at the gym.
12. Shopping isn’t necessarily bad; it’s over shopping that is. After all, we need to shop for necessities. And rewarding ourselves for a job well done can be very motivating. But the trick is to live within our means. One way to help us do so is to buy used or second-hand goods. For example, one of the reasons I can afford to have so many books is because I buy a lot of used or donated books at the library for just $1 each. There are often great deals on merchandise and clothing in thrift shops, garage sales, and flea markets. If we are going to buy something, why not take advantage of the bargains that are available? Also, instead of buying a new watch, perhaps you can just repair the one you have. Similarly, perhaps you can upgrade your computer instead of buying a new one. Speaking of computers and computing, the Internet will show you where you can get many things for free. For example, try visiting
Freecycle or Sharing Is Giving.
13. Buy for durability. This is my wife’s favorite tip. She’d rather spend 30% more on an item of clothing that will last twice as long, or longer, than cheaper clothing. Some of our high quality Japanese clothing is ten years old and look like we just purchased them.
14. For serious problems seek help; join a support group. Debtors Anonymous provides free support groups for shopping addiction and credit card overspending, which they call “compulsive debting.” For a chapter near you, click here.
15. Finally, if you need professional help, see a therapist. Some form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is probably best to correct your faulty thinking habits and emotional responses. Psychiatrists tend to dispense pills. They may prescribe Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, or something similar. These drugs are technically referred to as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and in tests with compulsive shoppers, their efficacy, or effectiveness, has been shown to be no better than a placebo. In other words, for compulsive shoppers, the odds that an SSRI will lead to recovery are no better than that of taking a sugar pill.
The good news is we have the inner resources to improve our lives. It may take a little work, but it is well worth the effort to free ourselves from the danger of crushing debt. The more difficult it is to turn ourselves around, the better and prouder we will feel after success; so for those in a tough situation, don’t get discouraged or give up. Rather than giving in to the urge to splurge, let’s purge our bad habits, and surge forward into an exciting an meaningful life.
Television is one of the greatest inventions of all time. For example, at 2:56 am Greenwich Mean Time on July 20, 1969, we were able to watch in our living room Neil A. Armstrong step out of the lunar module of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and haltingly walk on the surface of the moon. We were witnessing a milestone in the history of humanity. Such is the potential power of TV to inform, inspire, and unite.
Yet, in its current state, TV produces more problems than it offers blessings. The first problem is no matter how noble our intentions are to watch only worthwhile programming, once we start watching, it is all too easy to become entrapped in its almost hypnotic power to keep us watching regardless of the banality of the content.
I’m changing the subject for a moment, but there’s a reason for it, so please bear with me. Now and then, an insect will find its way into my home. No matter how small it is, once it’s spotted, my cat remains transfixed, and finally “attacks” the bug. My cat’s behavior is due to what is called the “orienting response.” That simply means that sudden movement grabs my cat’s attention. We, too, have inherited this primitive response; the purpose of which is to alert us to the dangers of possible predators. Ever jump in fear because of a shadow or cringe in horror when something unidentifiable quickly moved across your path? They are examples of the orienting response.
The rapidly flickering, ever changing colors and shifting contrast of the TV screen seem to have the same effect. That is, TV captivates and transfixes us. So, before long, we are watching not for the content, but for the contrast, change, and captivating swirl of images. That is the danger. We may decide to catch a one-hour educational program, but find ourselves immobilized by TV’s power and end up “watching” longer than we originally planned.
The behavior of many viewers supports the claim that we watch TV because of its power rather than for its content. The behavior I’m referring to is eating junk food and guzzling beer or pop while watching TV. What has this behaviour got to do with the reason we watch TV? Well, you don’t munch potato chips and drink beer while you’re reading a book, do you? So, why is it done while watching TV? The answer is because TV is boring, and snacking helps to while the time away. By the way, according to a 1989 study by Larry Tucker at Brigham Young University, “Men who watch television three or more hours a day are twice as likely to be obese than men who watch for less than an hour.”
TV also decreases one’s attention span and weakens one’s imagination. It weakens our attention span because we grow used to quick, short bursts of information. As a result, we grow impatient if it takes a while to make a point. TV weakens our imagination because everything is portrayed for us. All we have to do is sit back and observe someone else’s imagination. Books are just the opposite. They increase our attention span and help to develop our imagination. We need to be more like Groucho Marx who said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on I go into another room and read a good book.”
The mesmerizing effect of TV brings us to an interesting paradox. You see, after a day’s work, many like to regain some energy by first relaxing before the TV. But the “orienting response” and swirling TV images that I mentioned earlier result in information overload. This over stimulus of the brain sucks the energy right out of us. That’s the paradox, we watch it with the hope of reenergizing, but get drained instead. Compare this with going to the gym for a workout after a tiring day at the office. Instead of growing more tired, we become energized. So, if you want more energy, far better to engage in some activity than to plop down in front of a TV.
Besides the hypnotic like effect it has, another major problem is the way it is used by those who own and run television stations and networks. TV is not made to entertain, educate, or enlighten us. It is made to sell products and services. To quote Dr. George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenburg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, “Living with television means growing up in a world of about 22,000 commercials a year, 5,000 of them for food products, more than half of which are for low-nutrition sweets and snacks.” TV, then, is the throbbing heart of the monster called consumerism. Women are forced to go to work and children see less and less of their parents, all so we can buy more and more of the stuff TV tells us is indispensable for happiness.
In the book “Abandoned in the Wasteland: Children, Television and the First Amendment“ another paradox of TV is mentioned; mainly, “Every day, all across the United States, a parade of louts, losers and con-men whom most people would never allow in their homes enter anyway, through television.” That brings us to the next issue, TV violence.
Doesn’t the extraordinary amount of violence on TV have an adverse impact on society? Oh, I know intellectuals like to disagree with that point. For instance, Dick Cavett mocked the TV-violence debate by quipping, “There’s so much comedy on television. Does that cause comedy in the streets?” His remark makes a nice sound bite, but shows little understanding of sociology. We are socialized. We are taught how to think and feel by society, which consists of our parents, peers, schools, churches, role models, and, yes, TV. Of course it has an impact. To deny that is to say advertisers spend billions of dollars on TV ads that don’t work. That’s silly. TV ads influence us, and so does everything else that appears on TV.
TV creates great harm not only by its influence, but also by what it prevents. Marie Winn makes this point clear in her book “The Plug-In Drug.” She writes, “The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces - although there is danger there - as in the behavior it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities and arguments...” The three hours a day that the average person spends watching TV could be used in countless ways to grow. Want to master the art of digital imaging, write poetry, learn how to play a keyboard, study a foreign language, learn how to dance, or just get out and meet some interesting people? All that and more is possible simply by turning off the TV and using that time more wisely. There’s much talk about life extension. People want to live longer. A 20-year-old man who watches TV three hours a day until the age of 70, could have effectively extended his life six and a quarter years merely by turning off the TV. Shutting it off not only gets you to live longer, but to live BETTER.
I’m not suggesting TV is completely worthless. Yet, I am saying that even in TV’s finest moments, we could probably do better by turning it off. What do you think?
A reader writes, “I have a constant need to experience Beauty and develop my senses in order to experience life to a fuller extent. It is a constant struggle for me to experience more beauty. And sadly this has driven me many times to pornography. After that I experience great guilt, which of course ‘steals’ from my happiness and potential because of the time wasted!
“I see the female body as a symbol of beauty and can’t stay away from wanting to see a nude woman. I also see sexual intercourse as beautiful and often want to see it.
”My last question revolves around a soul mate. Do you believe in a man’s case, a woman is presented to him as an opportunity to develop a lifelong friendship? How do I know which woman is the right one for me? I also have a great need for love between man and woman. So, I would really like to develop great relationships with women and hopefully find my future wife among them.”
As a young unmarried man, without a sexual partner, you are torn between the desire for sexual stimulation and the belief that your current behavior is wrong. I sympathize with your overall feelings because through no fault of your own, you are caught in the vortex of your sex drive and the Internet sexual revolution.
To protect the species by procreation, nature has programmed us with a sex drive. So, you have inherited the feelings you are going through and they are perfectly natural. The problem is, however, in many parts of the world modern man may not marry until age thirty or beyond. Therefore, some may have to deal with sexual curiosity and frustration for fifteen years or longer.
To a certain extent, the relative absence of pornography in the past kept one’s curiosity and frustration in check. But the Internet now makes pornography readily available. Understandably, many turn to it to satisfy their curiosity and vent their frustration. But once they do, depending on their vulnerability, an insidious relationship with porn may develop.
One’s first exposure to porn may start innocently enough: sexual curiosity and frustration. But porn can never satisfy these drives, only actual experience can. Although porn may offer partial and temporary relief at first, it is usually followed by feelings of guilt or shame. So, to the pain of frustration we add the pain of shame. And as our pain rises, so does our need for relief, which leads to more and more exposure to porn.
Furthermore, each exposure desensitizes the individual, making it necessary to experience more explicit porn before he can get relief. As one moves from soft to hard core porn, guilt and shame increase, which result in more pain and need for relief. Each exposure, then, can become another wave that sucks one deeper and deeper into a whirlpool of ‘addiction.’ Also, each exposure reinforces the behavior, developing a habit that can be difficult to break despite its repercussions.
Counselors everywhere are familiar with bright students who are failing at school because of their obsession with pornography. Similarly, married men are placing their marriage and job at risk by allowing pornography to consume them.
To change for the better, we first have to acknowledge our weaknesses. Next, we have to want to change. Our first tries at change usually meet with resistance. And our subconscious is adroit at inventing excuses why we cannot change. Our reader, for example, wrote because he wants to change, but his subconscious is trying to leave the door open for more of the same by claiming that it (he) needs beauty. Let’s get real here. He doesn’t need beauty, but needs to be sexually stimulated. Pornography is not about the beauty of women, but of the lust of men.
Often this need for sexual stimulation goes beyond the need for relief of frustration. For the powerful surge of sexual energy is often used to numb pain. For example, acclaimed author Susan Sontag wrote, “What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn’t sex but death.” After all, what better way to remove the sting of death from our mind than by drugging it with opiate-like pornography?” In fact, this is what our reader seems to be saying when he writes, “I have a constant need to... experience life to a fuller extent.”
Since our reader raised the subject of beauty, I’ll share a few thoughts on true and superficial beauty. Comparing the two is like comparing baubles with diamonds. The true beauty of men and women is their inner beauty. When a woman is generous, kind, loving, and joyful, for example, she is beautiful. She has inner beauty. Such beauty increases with the passage of time, but physical or superficial beauty fades with time. Not only does pornography focus on the physical, but it idealizes it, portraying a false image of women. Result? Men are unjustifiably disappointed in the appearance of their partners, especially as they age.
Porn also stunts one’s emotional growth because it’s focused on self-gratification rather than mutual gratification. As a result, heavy users of porn are less likely to develop successful, long-lasting, committed relationships. In contrast, the emotionally mature have discovered each is pleasured by the act of pleasuring the other.
My advice to our reader is give up pornography now, while he still can. Rather than spending time ON pornography, spend time learning ABOUT it. There’s much to learn, such as what are the harmful effects and how does one overcome ‘pornography addiction’? The Internet may be a prime reason for the explosive spread of smut, but it is also a fertile ground for useful information on how to free you from porn and other addictions. You can begin your studies by checking out this site.
Time spent on pornography is not only wasted, it also reinforces the behavior of withdrawing into yourself, which hinders your social development. The time is much more wisely spent taking classes, joining clubs, and participating in group activities, all of which will help you further develop your social skills, meet new friends, and keep your mind off porn.
Now that I’ve touched on the subject of meeting new friends, I’ll answer your question about lifelong friends and a soul mate. Yes, nearly everyone we meet presents the opportunity to make a lifelong friend and many of them could easily become our perfect life partner. No, there is not one ‘soul mate’ that you are destined to meet, but many wonderful people from which to choose your partner.
The idea of a soul mate can be harmful in two ways. First, it may cause people to ignore great opportunities because they insist on waiting for that extra special person that they fantasize about. Second, it may encourage people to get married too quickly, resulting in a relationship that later falls apart because it was built on a fantasy.
So, how will you know who is ‘Mrs. Right’ for you? At first you won’t. That’s the fun part. That’s what makes life an adventure. All you have to do is enjoy the ride. You do this by making friends and going on dates with anyone who is willing to do so. Yes, anyone. After all, you’re not getting married; you’re just making friends, gaining experience, and learning about others. Love isn’t a planned event. It is a surprise. You won’t know who ‘Mrs. Right’ is until the last moment.
Love is based on knowledge and knowledge is accumulated by comparing the people you date with each other. The comparison is not made in a cold-hearted, calculating fashion, but merely answers the questions “Whose company do I enjoy most and why?” To find ‘Mrs. Right,’ date as many people as possible. The more you date, the clearer you will understand who will be your future wife. It’s not someone that you sit down and think about and logically pick. Rather, it is someone that you find yourself admiring, respecting, and longing to be with. You keep dating others until you are so overwhelmed by someone (that you have been dating for at least a year) that you have no choice and can no longer bear to be without her, so you stop seeing others, propose, and live happily ever after (my wife and I have been doing so for 51 years).
Once you have achieved your goal of finding the perfect wife for you, how do you make sure she remains faithful, treats you with respect, and supports you in every way? You do so by remaining faithful to her, treating her with respect, and supporting her in every way! It’s just common sense and an application of the law of life that states we have to give away what we wish to receive.
With some patience and effort on his part, I’m sure our reader will be able to solve his problem, and I wish him great success and happiness.
Rewired: A Bold New Approach To Addiction and Recoveryby Erica Spiegelman
by Steven M Melemis
The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction: A Guide to Coping with the Grief, Stress and Anger that Trigger Addictive Behaviorsby Rebecca E. Williams and Julie S. Kraft MA
Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addictionby Jack Trimpey
© Chuck Gallozzi
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