OCD and Shopping

by pong freedigitalphotos.net

By the time my son Dan entered a residential treatment center for OCD, he was barely functioning. Using exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy he tackled his hierarchy and slowly but surely regained his life.

During his stay, one of his exposures was to go on shopping trips and make purchases. All types of shopping proved difficult for him – buying groceries and necessities, clothing, etc., but the more expensive purchases, particularly if they were for himself, seemed to be the most stressful.

But he did it. And he felt the overwhelming anxiety. And he refrained from doing compulsions. Over and over again until shopping was no longer an issue for him. At the time I thought this fear of shopping was an odd obsession, but I have since heard of others with OCD who, for whatever reason, have difficulty shopping. For some people it might be about having to make the “right” decision, others might have an issue with spending money, and still others might feel something tragic will happen if they make a particular purchase. The list of possibilities goes on, but no matter what the reasons are behind a fear of shopping in those with OCD, the treatment is the same – exposure and response prevention therapy.

But what about the opposite of being afraid to shop? Hoarding disorder is very real and can affect both those with obsessive-compulsive disorder and those without. While it is related to OCD, it is considered a distinct disorder, and a complex one at that. Those who hoard form very powerful attachments to objects and for many, having to dispose of possessions makes them feel as if they are losing a part of themselves. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be effective in treating hoarding disorder.

As with most things related to OCD, it can get complicated. While my son Dan’s fear of shopping was tied into an obsession (and his compulsion before treatment was avoidance of shopping), for others with OCD, shopping might present as a compulsion. For example, a person with OCD might feel as if they have to buy a particular clock they saw in a store or something horrible would happen to someone they love. Or they might believe if they go ahead and buy the clock, something terrible might happen. In both cases, the obsession is something terrible happening, and the compulsion, which gives temporary relief, is buying (or not buying) the clock. Shopping as a compulsion might or might not be related to hoarding disorder as well. Yes, it can be confusing!

If you have OCD and deal with shopping (or fear of shopping) as an obsession or compulsion, I strongly suggest seeking good professional help with an OCD therapist. What it all comes down to, once again, is learning to not give in to OCD but instead accepting the uncertainty of life. Once this is accomplished, most people with OCD experience a level of freedom they never thought possible.

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6 Responses to OCD and Shopping

  1. It is amazing to me how many things OCD can wrap itself up in. Who’d have thought OCD and shopping could be mixed together, right? Blake struggles still with shopping. He has a difficult time allowing anyone else to shop for him (he will buy himself video games or board games); however, if I want to buy him some new clothes, or something for school, he has a very tough time with it. He worries about the cost and has a hard time feeling okay with someone spending money on him. We wanted to get him a new laptop for high school graduation. He went around searching for the least expensive one he could find. Many parents would be thrilled at having a thrifty child, but it’s difficult when you see your child not being able to let you spend money because their OCD says it’s not okay. On another note, I’ve had patients for whom shopping was excruciating because they could only buy if they had a “good” thought in their head. Any semblance of a “bad” thought and the item couldn’t be purchased, or had to be returned. The whole process could take hours and spread over many days. Oh, OCD….

    • Thanks for sharing Angie. I’m guessing a lot of people with OCD deal with the “good thought, bad thought” issue and wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of Dan’s problem as well. I really appreciate you bringing that to my attention…it was not on my radar screen at all!

      • Ursa says:

        I just found your blog and allready bought your book.I did think that There is no way,that anyone could have such form of OCD like me….and you or your writing took me by surprise.For me, going to a shop,just for milk, could be the battle of the year…which one should I take,in which store,should I take one,two….and So on.It often ends,that I come home,with no milk.It is just an example.I am afraid, that my purchase will harm anyone.I often have in mind,if I buy this item, this will happen to certain people,usually my family.And if anything happens,I go and connect in my mind,this is for sure my fault.So, thank you for letting me know,I am not the only one.

      • Hi Ursa,
        Thank you for sharing and not only are you not alone, you can recover from your OCD. It is very treatable if you are willing to work hard (using ERP therapy) and face your fears. I wish you all the best as you move forward and hope to hear from you again.

  2. Dayglo says:

    So far, this is all I have found on shopping and OCD. I have OCD. I think at times it manifests itself as just right OCD which causes me to shop for something that will make me fee “just right”, like magical thinking. An example would be: me thinking that I have to have enough workout clothes until I feel just right about it, before I can exercise. But once I spend weeks on end accumulating exercise clothes, and not exercising because I have spent all my spare time shopping for exercise clothes, I’m on to another Obsession and don’t have any interest in exercising. Because then I’m obsessing about, say, becoming organized, cuz the house is a mess, because I’ve been so busy shopping for exercise clothes. I then shop around until I find organizing folders, binders, pens, etcetera, until I feel everything will be just right. But by then, i am onto something else!. Often, I have an idea of what I want items to look like to make me feel a certain way. But then I have a NEW idea that I should have different colors, patterns, styles, or items to give me a different feeling to be able to finally do something, if that makes any sense? So the target to hit, to actually be able to do something, is changing frequently in my mind, so nothing is ever just right for me to accomplish what I need or want to do. Thus, i am constantly spinning my wheels, accummulating things that at first seem, “just right”, but then, are “just not right” according to my new thoughts, ideas, feelings. I dont know if this is normal? If its my OCD,. my OCPD, or my ADHD, or a combination of the 3? I guess it probably doesnt matter. However, i am curious, because it seems like it could be the “just right” part of OCD that contributes to my “shopping addiction”, or compulsion. Or maybe i should just accept the uncertainty, lol! 😉

    • Hi Dayglo, Thanks for sharing and in the “realm of OCD” everything you wrote makes sense. I hope you have a good therapist experienced with ERP therapy who can help you break this vicious cycle. Good luck as you move forward in fighting your OCD and I hope to hear from you again!

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