Even though people who hoard things have received greater attention in the media due to certain reality shows and spotlights, there is still plenty of misinformation about this legitimate mental problem. Hoarding is a complex behavior and is usually evidence of deep trauma or imbalance that needs to be addressed with medical help and cognitive behavior therapy. If you are close to someone who has a tendency to hoard things, you should educate yourself on what behaviors indicate serious problems and what interventions are available to help prevent a hoarding problem from getting worse.
What are the symptoms of hoarding?
Because only extreme cases are brought to news outlets and television series, you may not think that your relative has a problem. However, hoarding usually begins small and starts to grow over time. In a course of years, those who allow hoarding behavior to continue unchecked will find themselves in extreme situations that are more difficult to remedy. Early signs of hoarding include:
- obvious difficulty parting with personal belongings, even if the belonging has no understandable sentimental value. One or two instances of keeping things for irrational reasons is not something to worry about. This behavior must be consistent and pervasive. People who hoard may also have difficulty returning items they borrowed from others.
- a fixation on collecting particular items in order to fend off anxiety or self-harm. Collecting becomes a need instead of a hobby and discarding therefore leads to emotional distress. Your loved one may buy or accept free things in excess.
- increased difficulty in removing things from a cluttered space. Those who have a true hoarding disorder may begin with a logical method of storing hoarded items, but once storage space is expended, items may move into the living space in an unorganized fashion.
- decreased ability to work or engage in social activities because of the hoarding lifestyle. For example, your loved one may feel stressed about leaving their things at home, or they may not want to leave the house.
What causes hoarding?
Unfortunately, there is no one cause that directly coincides with the onset of hoarding disorders. Sometimes, people may hoard as a defensive reaction to abuse or a past life trauma, like the death of a family member. Often, hoarding is used as an outlet to distract from deep emotional or mental wounds-- a fixation on things allows the person relief from confronting pain from their experiences. In some cases, obsessive collecting can help a person to feel like they are expressing themselves through their surroundings; it's a way of establishing an identity.
Common triggers for hoarding include depression, anxiety, moving frequently, having poor home life, or even guilt over wastefulness. Sometimes, hoarding can be genetic or learned from family members, as 50% of people who struggle with hoarding grew up in a home with another family member who hoards.
It's possible that a tendency to hoard things can be caused by other physical or mental problems. People with obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or who have brain trauma may exhibit hoarding tendencies as a secondary symptom of their condition.
What interventions are available?
Like any addiction, hoarding takes extensive rehabilitation because the cause of the problem must be discovered and addressed. For some patients, this process can be long and painful, as it forces people to confront the deep attachment and security they get from this behavior pattern.
The most common method of treatment is cognitive behavior therapy. Most people know CBT as counseling. Counseling is one of the first interventions that hoarders need because it will help both the mental health professional and the person being treated to better understand the experiences and feelings that are triggering destructive hoarding behaviors. When family members still live with the individual, family counseling or marriage counseling can also help family members to know how to respond to hoarding and facilitate recovery. Of course, depression, anxiety, and other underlying conditions that lead to hoarding may also require medication.
With the combination or medical interventions, support groups, and counseling, the road to recovery--while long-- is definitely possible for people who have hoarding disorders.
For more information on counseling,click here.