Compulsive Shopping Disorder and Complex Post-Stress Disorder

It’s that time of year when people around the United States overspend, trying to make their Christmas perfect. Folks run up their credit cards, wrap up their finds, and offer them as gifts.


However, for some survivors, this time of year is challenging because they have compulsive buying disorder. This article will focus on this mental health issue and, ultimately, list some things you can do to help yourself.


Please keep in mind that if you have dissociative identity disorder, you definitely also have complex post-traumatic stress disorder.


What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder




To make how complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) and compulsive buying disorder (CBD) go together, we must first tackle what the two disorders are.


First, let us examine CPTSD. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition caused by repeated child abuse of any kind. Some types of child abuse are sexual, physical, emotional, narcissistic, and neglect.


Since, unfortunately, childhood trauma is not rare, it is estimated that 70% of adults in the United States have experienced some childhood trauma. In addition, 90% of children who experience sexual abuse, 33% of those children exposed to community violence, and 77% of children who are involved in a school shooting will develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (the National Council for Behavioral Health).


Adults who grew up experiencing repeated abuse have many problems associated with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. CPTSD rarely affects people alone as several mental health problems accompany it, such as depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse disorders.


Symptoms that are found with complex post-traumatic stress disorder include:


Negative self-perception. Seeing oneself as not worthy of love and, in some cases, feeling unworthy of life. The person may also suffer from imposter syndrome, where they feel they are faking, and someday someone will figure that out.



A lack of emotional regulation. Having a problem with explosive anger and ongoing sadness. It should be obvious how CPTSD causes harm to a person’s employment.


Difficulty with relationships. People living with CPTSD avoid others and often mistrust them. These folks may also not understand how to interact with others and fear forming new relationships.


Changes in consciousness. Those who live with CPTSD often feel dissociated (detached) from their emotions and body, causing them to stare off into space and look disinterested in their surroundings. Changes in consciousness often cause memory problems, which make their situation worse.


What is Compulsive Buying Disorder



Compulsive buying disorder (CBD) occurs when someone has an uncontrollable need to shop and spend, leading to distress or impairment. CBD negatively affects not only the person doing the shopping but also those around them as money is often spent that they do not have.


One research paper describes CBD as follows: “Compulsive buying is chronic, repetitive purchasing that becomes a primary response to negative events and feelings and may include symptoms equivalent to craving and withdrawal.” (Lejoyeux et al., 2010)


There are many reasons why someone shops compulsively, including the following.


  • Having an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety
  • An uptick in boredom or stress
  • Trying to cope with negative emotions.


Childhood trauma has been associated with many types of self-regulatory difficulties in adults, including compulsive buying behavior. Research performed by Sansone et al., 2013 used a self-reporting method on a sample of 370 patients, asking about five types of childhood trauma before the age of 12.


What the researchers found is that there were strategic correlations between childhood trauma and compulsive buying disorder. Their findings were that various forms of childhood trauma, particularly those who were found to have witnessed violence and emotional abuse.

Some of the symptoms of CBD are as follows:


  • Obsessing over making purchases daily or weekly
  • Shopping to cope with stress
  • Steal or lie to continue shopping
  • Feeling regret over purchases but find they cannot stop
  • Buying unnecessary things that go unused
  • Feelings of intense euphoria or excitement after buying something
  • Maxing out credit cards or opening new ones without paying them off
  • Being incapable of paying off debt incurred by compulsive shopping
  • Trying and failing several times to stop the shopping


It is easy to see how distressing compulsive shopping disorder is to those who have it and the ones they love.


Are Compulsive Buying Disorder and CPTSD Related?



Having complex post-traumatic stress disorder and overspending go hand-in-hand in that compulsive buying disorder is used as a method to self-soothe. Sometimes, people who have experienced childhood poverty use shopping to improve their self-esteem.


Research has shown that the compulsion to shop and spend money is connected to childhood trauma, especially witnessing violence and emotional abuse. As we have stated, complex post-traumatic stress disorder is also caused by exposure to childhood violence. Thus, the two are connected and have similar symptoms.


Other disorders associated with compulsive buying disorder include:


  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Mood disorders
  • Poor impulse control
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders


Having both CPTSD and compulsive buying disorder is hell on earth.


Four Stages of Compulsive Buying Disorder



Compulsive buying is not just an action; it has predictable stages that occur before, during, and after spending. The four stages are explained below.


  1. The person living with compulsive buying disorder begins to have thoughts and cravings to go shopping. The person may focus on the act of shopping, or they may have a specific item in mind.
  2. Preparation to shop. The person with CBD searches for sales and rebates to qualify their shopping and decides to go.
  3. The thrill of shopping for bargains begins giving the person with CBD euphoria while doing it.
  4. The person will buy something or sometimes many things, and the person with CBD feels remorse that the shopping has ended. They may be disappointed about the money they have spent only afterward.


Compulsive buying disorder may follow disappointment, stress, fear, or anger. This person may feel their shopping is out of control but is powerless to stop it from happening.


The diagnostic criterion for compulsive buying is an over-preoccupation with buying and distress because of their shopping.


Clearly, someone with compulsive buying disorder needs help to end their cycle and end the pain and suffering overspending causes.


The Treatment for Compulsive Buying Disorder




Ceasing buying cannot treat a shopping addiction, as people must buy what they need to function. However, one method to treat CBD is for someone with the condition to turn over control of their money to someone else.


Perhaps a better treatment choice is cognitive behavioral therapy or individual counseling with a mental health professional. In these two types of therapy, the person with a shopping addiction and people with a compulsive buying disorder learn impulse control and how to identify their triggers.


If the shopping addiction is from deeper emotional problems such as a mental health condition, some types of medication intervention may help. Only a mental health professional can determine if you need medication.


The purpose of treatment is to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle of shopping addiction by facing the issue and developing new, healthier ways of thinking, acting, and feeling their emotions.


Some people receive help from 12-step groups, but while they offer support, they are not suitable for everyone.


Ending Our Time Together


Shopping addiction is a severe condition that should not be ignored. If you suffer from compulsive buying disorder, you are not a failure, nor are you evil. You have an addiction, and, like other addictions, you need help to heal.


Don’t bog yourself down with guilt if you have CBD. Instead, you need to realize that you are a victim of a mental health disorder and not to blame. However, if you do not seek help, you are to blame for your lack of funds and responsible for any bills you may incur or that go unpaid.


If you need help, please seek out professional help immediately. If you don’t know where to go, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. The call is a confidential and free resource available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The service is offered in English and Spanish.


You can also visit the online treatment locator or send your zip code via text to message: 435748 (HELP4U).


Another excellent resource for finding help is to contact your insurance carrier and ask them for a referral.


“Don’t allow your own insecurities to keep you away from the career or lifestyle you believe you deserve.” – Germany Kent

“Look beyond your current circumstances to future happiness, wholeness, wealth, and new beginnings.” – Germany Kent



Lejoyeux, M., & Weinstein, A. (2010). Compulsive buying. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse36(5), 248-253.


Sansone, R. A., Chang, J., Jewell, B., & Rock, R. (2013). Childhood trauma and compulsive buying. International journal of psychiatry in clinical practice17(1), 73-76.




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