In one of my videos, I took the term »relapse« to describe the ups and downs of minimalism in my life—for lack of a better word. But it felt wrong instantly. The same goes for the term »shopping addiction«. But I hear more and more minimalism influencers makes use of it these days.
Maybe this can be a good opportunity to discuss how often medical terms are actually misused today. It seems to be a problem especially in the self-help bubble.
As someone who has worked in the medical field for quite some time, this irritates me a lot. I think that identifying with a disorder you do not really have can be more harmful than helpful.
The problematic use of terms such as »addiction« / »shopping addiction« and »relapse« in the context of minimalism content
I find it pretty odd, when minimalism influencers use the term »addiction« to describe their former shopping habits. But calling your bad fashion choices compulsive makes you seem less like a wasteful person and more like a victim. It is more than beneficial to ride that train rather than being truthful about your mistakes.
But first of all, addiction is not the same as compulsion. And secondly, medical terms are not casual labels. They are not free to be used by anyone who wants to add some depth to their normal everyday struggles.
I definitely don’t want to line up with that crowd. I am not trying to compare addiction to bad shopping habits at all. But that does not mean that you don’t have an issue or you might benefit from professional help. If you are struggling in life and with everyday decisions, therapy might be a great idea. You deserve help with your problems just like anybody else. But that does absolutely not make it necessary to »diagnose« yourself with some medically incorrect buzzword.
Most »struggles« influencers portray to you are clickbait anyway
Most of the time, I believe that influencers are exaggerating anyway, not to say: lying. What do you think gets more clicks as the title of a YouTube video:
- Recovering from shopping addiction: How I overcame consumerist patterns – or:
- Overcoming my bad shopping habits: How I dealt with my everyday struggles
I personally would love to change that last one into the more explicit version of »Overcoming my bad shopping habits: How I dealt with my stupid and wasteful behavior, which I had full control over at any time, because I am definitely not a real addict who needs drugs* just to get out of bed«.
Yes. It is just that ridiculous to me. It itches me when some twenty-something who has never seen what a patient with withdrawal symptoms looks like, starts talking about their »struggles«, which to me, are at the lower end of mediocrity, worth being called »inconveniences« if I am being fair. But I guess, this kind of thing just makes for great YouTube content…
Struggling with ≠ suffering from
So, I would like to pose a contrast to this new trend of over-simplifying and using medical terms to point out that you’re going through something. Terms like trauma, crisis, addiction and OCD are well-defined terms that were created by medical professionals for use in the medical field. Not for influencers to be misused as clickbait.
Also, even if terms such as compulsive buying disorder exist in medical publications, it does not mean that those are well-established (and frequently used) in the clinical day-to-day practice. Or that they should be used lightly, especially if there is a better terminus. In fact, this example is probably a pretty rare thing to be found in a chart. You would probably find an umbrella term like OCD or another personality disorder there.
Medical diagnoses are not at all made so that you as a patient can identify with them. Their purpose is not that you can find yourself in them and have a cool label. They are made so that medical professionals know what they deal with. Meaning, they serve as further orientation for how to design your treatment.
Diagnoses are in not made for the patient but for the one working on the patient. And they are not an identity to help you fit in somewhere. Or worse: an explanation to give yourself for why you feel bad. First comes the analysis, then the diagnosis. Not first the diagnosis, then matching your story to it and play the victim on a privilege-overload Hawaii vlog.
Being in recovery from shopping addiction sounds more relatable than saying you realized how wasteful and problematic your lifestyle was
Yes, I am saying that most likely the majority of influencers doesn’t even have clinical intervention-worthy mental health issues. What is more likely is that they are using those terms knowing they make more clicks. So, if a subject seems exaggerated into something oddly over the top to you… it probably is.
My experiences and also my understanding from discussions with experts in the field are in harsh contrast to this scheme. What I hear influencers say about »addiction« simply does not align with my observations from work. In most clinical environments, stripping mentally naked in front of a camera and being »vulnerable« are not desirable qualities. In fact, the majority of patients with addiction feel shame, not pride and the need to distribute a message. That would be a very small fraction of this population, usually the ones you see in the media. Real-life addiction looks much different, and much less glamorous.
Most addicts don’t glamorize their addiction or brag about their recovery
Most addicts refuse to share their struggle until it’s too late for low-level clinical intervention and hospitalization becomes necessary. They don’t share it with a therapist, not with relatives, let alone the public. That is precisely why I see all of this from a very critical perspective.
It is a red flag, if someone constantly talks about their »addiction«. Especially if they provide no background or details to any of it. And that is precisely what a lot of these influencers do.—They just drop the phrase »shopping addiction« and their young, gullible audience does not question it. And sorry, I am just not the biased type of fan-girl. I’m an adult woman with clinical experience in working with addicts. And these people make me cringe.
I also think that it is totally disrespectful to call some mild occasional case of »shopping too much« a disorder. Let alone naming it an addiction*. Even more disrespectful is to claim that you »can’t compare« these things. Comparing them, as in outlining the qualitative difference and not as in making it the same—How again is this wrong?
Of course you can compare different diseases, both in severity and their characteristic clinical properties. And often you have to. Things can and should to be put into perspective. First of all, to assess the patient as a professional. Secondly, because the patients also needs some feedback and a prognosis. That is healthy, sane and normal. And it is required in every medical profession, including psychiatry.
It is weird at best to treat some everyday problem like a chronic illness (such as substance* abuse). Addition is an illness a lot of people factually die from. I think, it is a good thing to remind influencers of the severity this term is usually associated with. Eat some figgin’ humble-pie, will ya?
So, are you a shopping addict?
But what can be a good solution to this misunderstanding? Obviously some influencers really believe they have overcome some sort of addiction. And there might be similarities here, of course.
Well, in order to verify the that you have a »shopping addiction« you first need talk to a professional. Someone who can diagnose you properly. And here is the thing: A good therapist will probably not tell you that diagnosis to your face. Because it is not relevant or good for your progress in therapy to know that. It’s only relevant for your health insurance company, so they can file it properly.
So do yourself a favor and stay away from chasing diagnosis and labels. You don’t need them. What you should do instead is try and be authentic and honest with yourself.
Being honest about your mundane and boring problems won’t make you famous, but it definitely makes you a better person
What does being authentic get you on social media? Yes, probably not so many clicks. But you stay true to yourself. You stay yourself. And most of all, you won’t get caught up in a carousel of lies like so many. So many people that share their »healing process« or some »deep life struggle«. There is simple no coming back from that. Even if they un-woke themselves from their over-complicated ideological epiphany, their audience will not get it. If you use these terms all the time, people will take it seriously. And it that will lead to such language being normalized over time. I don’t think that this is a good thing. It takes way more strength to put up with misconceptions you have created and nurtured than avoiding these misunderstandings in the first place. This is why I wrote this lengthy statement.
Annotation 1: Shopping addiction vs. substance addiction
I am aware that not all addictions include substances. That was not the point. I am just pretty certain that most influencers who use the term »shopping addiction« have in fact never dealt with compulsive buying disorder either. That would be the acceptable diagnosis, but it also doesn’t align with not “occasionally buying a bit too much”. I think that most of them have in fact never been diagnosed with anything like this.—Because if they had, you can be sure they would have shared that piece of information in every single video along with their adorable little vulnerability show.
No, I don’t believe that the average twenty-something minimalism influencer who “recovered from shopping addiction” did almost go bankrupt because they went on buying binges for days. Their lives did at no point become unmanageable because of their addiction-like (still not the same) compulsory behavior. And they didn’t lose contact to friends and family because they were so deep in it that they were pushing everyone away. People who go through this kind of thing would either disclose it to be fully understood, or they would not share it because it is such a shameful experience. But just dropping a buzzword and saying you had this or that, that’s just a huge red flag and proves nothing.
Annotation 2: Keeping people anonymous
I did not include any bigger influencers here because firstly, the one I am thinking about only used this term twice in older videos and doesn’t anymore. I also like her content and don’t think that she is, well… »super problematic«, just a bit too spiritual for my taste maybe… but still not a problematic influencer overall. Secondly, it doesn’t really add to my point, because it is just the general problem and not a specific person I have a problem with. I don’t want to make some ad hominem argument here.