Compulsive Spending Can Have Roots in Childhood

Sir Elton John, the celebrated English musician had a traumatic childhood which helped fuel years of addiction. Following the recent release of his autobiography titled, Me: Elton John Official Autobiography, he sat for an interview with Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air in which he spoke candidly about how he dealt with the stress of his early childhood.

Sir John: I dreaded my dad coming home because he would be around immediately. I would retreat to my room—look at my books, look at my records, look at my toys. And funny enough I found love in inanimate objects, um…because inanimate objects which I kept in pristine condition couldn’t harm me or talk back to me. So, I always loved collecting things.

Gross: What did you collect as a kid?

Sir John: Books, records, you know, toys—dinky toys. But mostly records and books which I never lent out to anybody. I still have my books.

Gross: You became an obsessive shopper later in life and you collected everything.

Sir John: Yeah, I’m an addict. It was the instigation of being an addict but it was because I felt safe with the objects and not with my parents.

Compulsions Can Take Shape in Childhood

Stress and emotional pain are a part of life and we learn coping skills to manage. With the help of family and other caregivers along the way we acquire sufficient coping skills to handle life’s stressors. In most cases our skills are healthy adaptations that serve us well into adulthood. However, when the very family in which we belong is the very stress to endure then our ability to cope may be compromised due to the overwhelm of our emotional load.

Maladaptive coping skills also involve self-medicating behaviors using food, chronic masturbation, or porn. In time the self-medicating can become its own compulsion or addiction that needs to be addressed later in life. Compulsive patterns can involve work or money but are often overlooked because society respects and sanctions hard work.

Compulsive spending is a way to alter self-esteem or is done to escape reality. .

Financial therapy is a process that brings together therapeutic and financial competencies to help people work through their emotional, psychological, behavioral, and relational challenges with money. This includes but is not limited to problems with debting, spending, saving, working, money obsession, and deprivation.

Not all financial therapists are financial planners and not all financial planners facilitate therapy. For example, I have a long and successful history in the financial services sector but I do not offer financial planning services. Rather, I help my clients delve into their overt and often covert underlying beliefs and past experiences that drive their current day patterns.

Getting Help With Financial Therapy

Harriet and Glenn were finally ready to confront their destructive cycle of compulsive spending and debting and sought help with financial therapy. By their own admission, their spending and borrowing had almost ruined them financially. “We’re financially broke and our marriage is almost over. Even if we divorce we know this pattern has to change.”

Harriet and Glenn learned that their destructive cycle of compulsive spending and debting began in the stress of their individual childhoods and families-of origin. For Harriet, she watched her mother go on buying sprees in retaliation of her father’s infidelity. Glenn’s own father died when Glenn was young. He was raised by his step-father and never found the approval he needed to feel equal to his step-siblings. Glenn’s need for approval drove his conscious “succeed-at-all-costs” approach to business.

It was easy to understand how their carried credit card balances mired them in chronic and crushing debt. Although his spending was out of control Glenn justified it with the belief that he was working hard to save his struggling business. In our sessions, the couple explored their unconscious fears formed in childhood and current money and work habits.

Compulsive patterns can involve work or money but are often overlooked because society respects and sanctions hard work.

When Is It Time To Get Help?

It’s important to note that there is a difference between emotional buying and the joy we derive from an occasional purchase. Buying for our self or another feels good and is pleasurable. Compulsive spending is a way to alter self-esteem or is done to escape reality. A common expression jokingly refers to this behavior as “retail therapy,” but the consequences can be serious. The behavior may ultimately escalate to a point of interfering with a person’s responsibilities or relationships. When that occurs, it’s best to consult an expert for help.

Sir Elton John found safety and soothing with his possessions. This ultimately led to his compulsive spending and addiction.

Harriet and Glenn’s compulsions also formed in childhood. They eventually turned their financial situation around by following a strict budget and spending plan. They attended Debtors Anonymous and continued with our financial therapy sessions. Their greatest lesson was how they learned to regulate their emotions without using a credit card or compulsive spending.

If you think that your shopping, spending, debting or work patterns are cause for concern get help. Call today to schedule an appointment.