Debbie's Story

        “My shopping compulsion started probably 25 years ago. I’d shop in the malls pretty much every weekend or more to get away from a very bad marriage. It was my escape--looking for that “great bargain,” that perfect pair of shoes, outfit, etc., something to make me feel better about myself and my life. It was a case of “instant gratification” that just escalated.  I’d see something in a fashion magazine, and I’d be on the “hunt” for that item or something similar to it. I shopped when I was down, when I wanted to celebrate, when I was bored—it was my form of recreation.”

       “It extended to catalog shopping as well as on-line shopping too. I describe it as “point, click, and buy!” The excitement of having packages arriving like it was Christmas all the time. I think I was addicted to the excitement of buying and perhaps owning something ‘special,’ something that no one else I knew owned. I could easily spend over $1500 a month or more. I also realized that the cost of the items I purchased was getting more and more expensive. Although, most of the purchases were returned for credits, I found myself spending a great deal on shipping charges, too. At its worst, I would place 2-3 orders in a day sometimes 2-3 days a week and have 9-12 orders in transit and a like amount being returned for credits.”

       “It had become exhausting, expensive, and totally out of control.”

The Feeling-State Addiction Protocol

        The first step of FSAP is to identify the exact behavior that is the compulsive behavior. Possible behaviors include the process of buying or, as Debbie stated it, “the hunt.” Another potential target is how the particular purchases made her feel. Two other possible targets are the actual spending of the money and the receiving of the purchases in the mail. While all of these targets were exciting for her, only one of the targets was actually the core of the desired feeling-state. 

       The first step in identifying the feeling-state was to ask Debbie to imagine the process and the feeling of buying specific items. This allowed her to determine the specific aspect of her behavior that seemed the most emotionally powerful to her. The feelings Debbie identified was how the purchases would make her feel. Her compulsive behavior focused on buying items that other people would not necessarily own and that would make her look good. The feeling Debbie identified with this “buying” behavior were ones of success and high status. Embedded in these feelings is the apparently positive belief “I am successful” which was linked with the buying behavior. So the feeling-state causing the compulsion was composed of the combination of buying the items that made her look good and the feeling of being successful. 

       Before beginning the eye movement processing, Debbie intensely visualized herself purchasing shoes and experienced the feeling of being successful that was linked with it. After 2 sets of eye movements, the PFS had dropped from 9 to 1. The same procedure was followed using a purse and then a blouse as targets. At the end of this process, when asked how she felt, Debbie said that she didn’t feel any different; she just wasn’t as excited about shopping. She wasn’t even sure that anything had really changed, which is a common reaction for clients to have after the first session.

       After each session, homework is given with the purpose of triggering the compulsive urge. Activation of the feeling-state is necessary in order to evaluate what needs to be processed. Debbie’s homework was to browse her usual shopping sites on the internet and the catalogues she usually read, in order to trigger the compulsive desire to shop. She was to take notes of what triggered her and bring the notes and catalogues into the next session.

      At the beginning of the second session, Debbie reported that, while the shopping impulse was much easier to control, some items were still triggering the impulse to buy. The feelings linked with the items were analyzed in order to determine if there was an additional image she had associated with the impulse to shop, other than the success and status image. In this instance, there were no additional feeling-states identified. Using these new items in the imagery, the modified EMDR protocol was again utilized. At the end of the session, Debbie was once more assigned the homework of seeking out triggers of the shopping impulse.

       At the third session, Debbie reported that her entire approach to shopping had changed. She no longer felt that she had to shop, and it was easy to stay within her budget, which was something that hadn’t happened for a long time. During this session, Debbie was able to identify the negative belief underlying the shopping compulsion: “Nothing I do makes any difference.” The positive belief to be installed was “I can do things.” Once again, her homework was to do whatever she could to trigger her shopping compulsion.

     Three weeks later, in the fourth and last session, Debbie reported that she was still not interested in shopping --; the behavior just didn’t hold her attention anymore. She was saving a lot of money and time. The focus of this session was to identify and process the negative beliefs resulting from her compulsive shopping behavior. The negative belief identified was “I can’t help myself.” The positive belief chosen to be installed was “I’m strong.”

       Contacted by phone six months later, Debbie reported that her shopping was still no longer a problem. The money saved was now going into a retirement account.

   © Robert Miller 2012