If you’ve ever watched the popular shows Hoarders: Family Secrets or Hoarding: Buried Alive, you’ve probably found yourself experiencing myriad feelings ranging from fascination, frustration, disappointment, anxiety, sadness, and, in some cases, even excitement at the end.
According to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), hoarding is a compulsive disorder. It used to be categorized as a symptom of obsessive compulsion (OCD) or obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), but researchers found that not all people with hoarding behaviors experience OCD. The good news is the American Psychiatric Association has now designated hoarding as a specific diagnosis, which means finding a treatment provider who understands the complexities of hoarding behaviors will likely become easier. Additionally, this should help increase resources and available information for loved ones struggling to understand the condition.
What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding is the behavior of excessively collecting and saving items to the point it creates problems and dysfunction in all areas of life. Excessive collecting does not simply refer to messy or cluttered homes, but rather to the collection of items that are both useful and not useful to the collector. In these cases, excessive collecting creates chaos and danger wherein rotting trash and debris are sometimes among the items saved.
A diagnosis of hoarding may be rendered if criteria are met and if symptoms are clinically significant, which means functioning is impaired due to the excessive collecting and saving. For example, if a person with hoarding behaviors experiences relationship problems because family urges him or her to discard items not being used, this means the problem is clinically significant.
Why Does Someone Who Hoards Excessively Collect?
Generally speaking, there are two types of saving:
- Instrumental saving
- Sentimental saving
Instrumental saving is keeping objects that have a specific purpose, such as trash bags (eventually you’ll need bags for trash). Sentimental saving is saving objects that are extensions of us, such as pictures and mementos. For people with hoarding behaviors, there is no differentiation between instrumental and sentimental saving because all items have utility and all items are meaningful, making it difficult to discard them. People experiencing hoarding behaviors tend to obsessively worry about losing items that may be needed in the future.
The fear of losing anything develops into distorted beliefs about an object’s importance, regardless of its function. Hoarding behaviors come from a place of anxiety, where collecting helps neutralize it. Even if your loved one doesn’t experience OCD, he or she may be experiencing obsessive thoughts about being prepared for even the most unlikely of events.
What Can I Do for My Loved One Who Hoards?
Often, people with hoarding behaviors are unaware of the enormity of their issue. When people lack insight, they are less likely to seek treatment, and, in the case of hoarders, they may even be less likely to benefit from conventional talk therapy. This is why it’s important for loved ones, caring third parties, and even landlords to understand hoarding.
Your loved one exhibiting hoarding behaviors is likely unable to see the vast and far-reaching effects of his or her behavior, so don’t be afraid to make your concerns known—but in an appropriate way.
It’s important to note that interventions may not be well received despite your best intentions. However, it’s important to bring your concerns to your loved one’s awareness because, as we’ve established, they might not truly see how bad things have become. Remember, you can’t change the person’s behavior, which you’ve likely already figured out if you’ve had any previous interactions centered on his or her hoarding behaviors. If this is the case, all you can do is offer support. Refrain from insulting, criticizing, or demeaning, as it may lead to your loved one shutting down and pushing you away.
If you are seeking help for an immediate or extended family member, options to consider are individual, couples, or family therapy. Seek a therapist who specializes in hoarding to get the help you and your loved ones need. I encourage you to be honest about your concerns and don’t minimize the problem. Your loved one exhibiting hoarding behaviors is likely unable to see the vast and far-reaching effects of his or her behavior, so don’t be afraid to make your concerns known—but in an appropriate way.
© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Erica Zadakis, Marriage and Family Therapist, MFTC, therapist in Thornton, Colorado
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