Hoarding disorder was recently introduced into the diagnostic categories of psychiatric healthcare. This variant of obsessive-compulsive psychology is characterized by a need to keep and avoid distress associated with discarding items. Such behaviors prompt accumulations of possessions that congest and clutter active living spaces and substantially compromises their intended use. Family members and friends often recall how inexplicably “messy” a house or living area might appear due to clutter, and may even deny ever having set foot in an old friend’s home or a particular room. There is a complex psychology behind hoarding behaviors, and in this blog, we will dive into that psychology with the aim of increasing our awareness and understanding of this disturbing behavior.
Numerous factors might drive persons to hoard items. In a 2020 study by Norberg and colleagues, it was found participants with hoarding disorders tended to anthropomorphize items they selected as a means to fulfill their unmet belonginess needs. They proposed individuals with hoarding disorder endured significant social estrangement and a lack of social belonging, thus prompting the collection of items to function as a compensatory mechanism to “make up” for what they lacked interpersonally. An earlier study by Brien and colleagues (2018)discussed how hoarding functioned as a defense against parting, separateness, and loss. This finding aligns with the findings from O’Connor (2014) who wrote hoarding was a defensive reaction against a typical mourning process that “seems to hold the connotation of a corrective, loss-defying or loss-avoiding, clinging” (p. 105). He continues to suggest hoarding allows the persons to feel a sense of omnipotence or control over loss and separation, with the hoarding of items being symbolic of sustained contact with, and the life of, a lost person. A theme arising from these findings is the maladaptive attachment with physical objects that occurs within those who endure hoarding pathology (Dozier et al., 2020). What may appear trivial or without-meaning to one person signifies a great depth of emotional and/or symbolic personal material to the hoarder, and thus, will not be relinquished with ease.
If you or a loved one experience significant distress over hoarding behaviors, please consider consulting with the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. Research indicates hoarders can be reluctant to seeking psychotherapy and may view it as the preamble to \ significant pain as they loosen the ties on their cherished belongings. If they can pursue and commit to a psychotherapeutic process, it is possible those with hoarding patterns can slowly learn to be less driven towards “having” the world and more invested in “being” in the world.
Brien, C., O’Connor, J., & Russell-Carroll, D. (2018). “Meaningless carrying-on”: A psychoanalytically-oriented qualitative study of compulsive hoarding. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35(2), 270-279. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pap0000100
Dozier, M. E., Davidson, E. J., Pittman, J. O. E., & Ayers, C. R. (2020). Personality traits in adults with hoarding disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 276, 191-196. http://dx.doi.org.portal.lib.fit.edu/10.1016/j.jad.2020.07.033
Norberg, M. M., David, J., Crone, C., Kakar, V., Kwok, C., Olivier, J., & Grisham, J. R. (2020). Determinants of object choice and object attachment: Compensatory consumption in compulsive buying–shopping disorder and hoarding disorder. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 9(1), 153-162. http://dx.doi.org/10.1556/2006.8.2019.68
O’Connor, J. (2014). To hold on or to let go? loss and substitution in the process of hoarding. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 16(2), 101-113. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13642537.2014.896023