The Psychology of Hoarding
The Psychology of Hoarding
Reality television has brought hoarding out into the public eye. Most television viewers have seen at least a few minutes of shows that highlight people who have stockpiled everything from unopened boxes of QVC vauder to trash, and dead animals. These shows tend to edit out the important counseling moments that happen behind the scenes while keeping the more dramatic scenes for the public to view. This article is written with the intent of helping people overcome their need to hoard.
Human beings are known for trying to control their environment. People like animals use their immediate environment as a buffer from the rest of the world. Hoarding is a psychological attempt to control something. When we view the person who hoards they are in a state of crisis where they are attempting to control their environment to relieve another situation that they are unable to control.
Hoarders become defensive of their objects as one might be about a child, in an effort to maintain the status quo. Objects in a hoarder’s life are given value that is not realistic. The hoarding environment creates a false sense of belonging to something greater than ones self. As that false sense of security is removed people who hoard go into a panic mode. There fears, insecurities, and tragedies are brought to the front and put on display. With this process comes a range of emotion that hoarders go through.
Most hoarders can recall a life changing event that preceded their hoarding such as a death, divorce, or even environmental events such as a fire or flooding. Traumatic events in a person life are handled in various ways. While many people may be able to pick themselves up and press on through a negative life experience, hoarders are not able to move on. Through hoarding a person sends up a cry for help. More often than not the hoarder lives alone and does not have close personal ties that would lend moral support.
Hoarding develops from unproductive internal dialogue. The person who hoards is trying to validate themselves through hoarding. The internal dialogue goes something like this “If I can buy this item, I will be ok”. In the beginning shopping may even be an escape from there situation, as time progresses that internal dialogue becomes a habit. Another internal dialogue that may be present is “I don’t ever want to need anything again”. This idea of stockpiling to avoid need usually stems from the destruction of personal property such as fire or flood.
To stop hoarding a person must change their internal dialogue and seek outside personal contact. Internal dialogue can be changed by repetitive positive statements that reinforce self worth. Hoarders need close personal contact with other people to reestablish a healthy life style. This can mean something simple such as going back to school, volunteering at church or other organizations. Hoarding takes the time and place of people in a person’s life, when they do not have close friends or family, that person has their things.
The obvious reason hoarding is dangerous is sanitation and the risk of personal injury. Overtime infestations are hidden below the piles of objects. This lack of sanitary conditions can lead to health problems for the hoarder. Almost every person who is a hoarder once led a relatively normal life. It is for that reason that it is difficult for me to consider hoarding pathological. People who hoard need to learn how to cope with life's unexpected downside. Through counseling and learning new coping skills hoarders can shed the need to hoard and lead productive lives.