Almost anyone who struggles with an eating disorder or really any addiction is familiar with how we can switch obsessions. If we are not drinking, we are eating. If we are not eating, we are smoking. If we are not working, we are drinking. On and on.
Spending is one of the favorite “go to” switches for those with eating disorders. In fact, some studies show that many seeking recovery from eating disorders have either alcoholism or sexual abuse in their childhood experiences. Because of this, poverty can be a stressor from growing up in an alcoholic family or, on the flip side, a family member may use gifts to secure illicit favors from their child victim. Compulsive spenders report feeling in power, getting a “high” as a stress relief, or needing to “escape” – all of which can be effects from feeling powerless as children. One woman said that, unlike gambling, at least she knew what she had spent the money on and had something to show for it.
Even when these are not factors, in our consumer based materialistic culture, money is probably one of the most misunderstood and emotionally charged experiences we have daily. Eating -but not weight-is a more socially approved disorder. Spending – but not debt – is a cultural daily demand. Both share the double-bind message that operates in addiction.
We know the symptom is not the issue. In other words, money is a reflection, not a cause, of financial distress.
The same issues that underlie eating or other drug of choice behavior underlie spending or hoarding behaviors.
We know that fear is under sadness, hurt and anger. We know that connection is an antidote to addiction. However I want you to consider how connection and money operate for those trying to recover from using. Using money to connect becomes a double whammy.
In other words, emotional insecurity is one of the key dynamics behind overspending or its other extreme, hoarding. Just as anorexia is one side of the eating obsession, hoarding is the other side of overspending. Money misuse is still the symptom.
Here is how it plays out:
Going Into Debt to Give
People-pleasing is one of the strongest reasons that someone can create debt.
It may seem contradictory, but a concern about how you are thought about can create debt. We give, not from extra money we have, but rather from spending what we don’t have.
Sometimes if we have a self image as a good person or a kind or giving person, we can get out of balance when we cannot refuse spending on someone in need.
You may be the kind of person who loves seeing people happy because of something you have given them. That’s great. But you may want to switch to services rather than things to express this part of your personality.
Trying to Buy Love
If you are one of the millions of people who were raised to please others to prove your worth, you are a prime candidate for trying to buy love. In this experience, however, a person may not be interested in the other person as in people pleasing. He or she may just want to gain importance, worth or value to the other person. The goal is to feel needed in order to feel worthy. Other’s needs and opinions are more important only in how it affects the person seeking affection, acceptance, belonging, recognition, or other emotional wound.
Being Unable to Say “No”
Similar to people-pleasing, lack of assertive skills or simple fatigue or feeling overwhelmed can result in spending. Children know this as they wear their parents down at the check out lane at a big box store or grocers. Sometimes people actually just want to be left alone and will say “yes” to stop being pressured. Lack of self care operates here as well. Women particularly are raised to please others and make sure their needs are taken care of before their own. And if they were raised with little emotional support, they may not be able to deny support to others because they remember the pain. This can mean not only spending when they don’t want to but beating themselves up afterward, which is similar to the addiction cycle. Saying “no” may create as much guilt as the overspending. But at least you still have the money.