Compulsive Hoarding is a cluttery mess!!
What makes this happen?
Have you seen homes that look like this?
Does your home look like this?
Are you also a dissociative trauma survivor?
Compulsive hoarding, or disposophobia, is a psychiatric condition that affects millions of people.
Compulsive hoarding is an obsessive need to acquire and keep possessions, even if these items have little value, are unsanitary, or broken, or unusable. Numerous items are kept and not discarded. Instead of using the items already owned, or looking for items that are lost in the piles, new items are acquired repeatedly to the point that the clutter creates significant dysfunction in a variety of areas of the person’s life.
Compulsive hoarding is far more complex than it first appears.
It is connected to a variety of disorganized chaotic behavioral patterns and disorganized thinking patterns. It typically occurs in combination with other psychiatric issues, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, attention deficit disorders, addiction issues, trauma disorders, attachment disorders, etc.
There appears to be a biological base to this behavior as research is beginning to explore a genetic link to compulsive hoarding in generations of families. As children, many hoarders were raised by parents who were hoarders, so not only is it a learned behavior, but it could also be biologically connected. The area of the brain most significantly different for hoarders is the part of the brain that is responsible for focus, attention, and decision-making. According to research done at the University of Iowa, damage done to the to the right medial prefrontal cortex of the brain tends to cause compulsive hoarding.
Hoarders typically require external assistance, including professional assistance, to help with the cleaning and organizing tasks.
Feelings of emotional overwhelm, intense anxiety, and panic attacks can be paralyzing for the hoarder. These increased anxiety symptoms create an inability to make decisions, stir up friction and emotional outbursts, lead to fatigue and exhaustion, and repeatedly interrupt the cleaning process.
Letting the hoarder have control of the cleaning process and allowing time for the harder to build trust with the cleaning crew is particularly important to successful organizational efforts.
The clean-up process is intense and slow.
Forcing a hoarder to clean too quickly will not result in long-term resolution of the problem.
The problem is not just “clean up your house” or “throw this away”. The problem lies deeper within the person, and the struggles will manifest again in just a short-time.
How does compulsive hoarding relate to Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Compulsive hoarding is an issue separate from DID / MPD, but many dissociative survivors struggle with hoarding issues.
DID survivors have a variety of issues that overlap with hoarding behaviors: intense anxiety, deep feelings of hopelessness, fear of being out of control, problems with focus and decision-making, attachment issues, loss and grief, depression, the need for memory reminders, disorganized thought processes, disorganized behaviors, etc.
How many trauma survivors do you know that did not have safe people to attach to? And how many survivors of neglect were left alone, isolated with no one to attach to? When children spend too much time alone, they tend to attach to items, toys, books, stuffies, etc. Attaching to stuff is better than attaching to nothing. It is an adaptive behavior in a painfully difficult environment. However, when this continues over time, the potential for these behaviors to develop into a compulsive hoarding situation increases.
The emotional pain from not having deep personal relationships or the fear of being near people can add to the need to connect with physical possessions or animals instead of people. Building a personal relationship with stuff, and with animals can add to a compulsive hoarding situation.
Attaching to stuff can feel much safer than attaching to people.
With all the switching and amnesia that can happen with dissociative identity disorder, DID survivors can experience a lot of chaotic thinking and chaotic behaviors. It can be difficult to complete a task – you can be there, and then suddenly find yourself somewhere else five hours later, having never finished the task you started in the first place.
These kinds of disorganized behaviors can leave unattended messes and growing clutter all around your house. Do your child parts pick up the messes they leave behind? Do your teenage parts pick up their clothes? Did anyone remember to finish the dishes? What about the mess those angry parts made? Who wants to clean that up?
The “I didn’t do that, so I’m not cleaning that up” concept can get very difficult for dissociative survivors. You might not know who made the mess in the first place, or the part that did it might not be around anymore, you might not know how to call them back, etc. You might not know who to assign to completing basic household chores.
Developing system work and system cooperation can help, but in the meantime, there can be a lot of “that’s not mine” / “I’m not doing that” arguments. Clutter and external disorganization can build while you are sorting out these internal system issues.
- How many dissociative survivors have trouble remembering if they have something?
- Do you own one of those things?
- Did you buy that, or just think about buying that?
- Or was that last year?
- Do you still have that?
- Or was that way back then?
- Where did you live when you had that?
- Or if you know you have it, do you know where it is?
Sometimes it is easier to buy the item again than find it or remember if you have it. While this can be a dissociative symptom, this also contributes to the “Shop and Drop” behaviors found in compulsive hoarding.
Shop and Drop refers to a pattern of behavior where the compulsive shopper drops their packages and purchases in some unspecified place. Over time, the packages and purchases get lost in the piles of other clutter, and then when it is time to use the items that were purchased, the location of the dropped items cannot be found. It becomes easier to buy those items again, instead of finding the ones you had.
There is also the complication of accumulation by repetition. Compulsive hoarders will acquire and stash away numerous items that are basically the same.
What if you buy everyone in your DID system a stuffie? How many stuffies will that be? What if everyone wants their own books? And of course, many of the different insiders will have their own shirts, their own pants, their own shoes, their own socks, etc. While it is extremely important that the insiders have their own things, the sheer volume of each of the parts keeping their own stuff can add to the size of an ever-growing clutter problem.
The same as with compulsive hoarding, for DID survivors, things-possessions- items can represent memories.
For DID survivors, memory is a very complicated subject. Having items that trigger memories, or remind you of certain things can be a significant part of a growing clutter issue.
Loss and grief are hard emotions to process, and holding on tightly to the items that help you to remember certain people or events can be significant. It is particularly difficult to let go of an item that has emotional significance to you, especially if it feels like you won’t remember someone or something if you don’t have those correlating things.
Here are a few ideas for addressing compulsive hoarding issues:
- Decide your current life goals, and keep only items that match with those life goals
- Explore the various meanings that possessions have for you
- Consider appropriate medications for anxiety, OCD, depression, etc.
- Work hard in therapy to address your emotional pain and other emotional issues
- For DID survivors, work hard on developing better internal communication and cooperation so clutter issues can be prevented or addressed
- Address your fears of letting go, or letting go of control – what is that about for you?
- Be honest with yourself about what you really need, what you will really use, what actually works, what you can actually fit into, etc. Challenge delusional thinking.
- Get professional help if necessary, especially if clutter is affecting your life
- Consider taking pictures of emotionally important but logically unnecessary items. Photo albums can be less cluttering than keeping all the actual items.
- Donate your excess to those less fortunate than you.
- Consider new rules to live by: If you get something new, get rid of something old.
- Address your deep feelings of shame, embarrassment, humiliation, fear, sadness, etc.
- Work on building deeper and longer-lasting attachments instead of repeatedly discarding and replacing things (but keeping it just over there in case you want it again).
- Work on building meaningful attachments to people, learning to trust, and finding ways to connect.
- Find healthy, meaningful ways to fill the voids in your life by doing more, and keeping less.
Copyright © 2008-2021 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation