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The Underlying Causes of Hoarding

Written by Eli Crofoot
Published on October 7, 2023

Understanding Hoarding Disorder and its Complexities

While often stigmatized as simply strange behavior or a sign of laziness spurred by decades of often voyeuristic and unsympathetic media coverage, Hoarding Disorder is a very real condition. While still understudied and not fully understood, Hoarding Disorder has clear psychological effects and often – while not always – coincides with other mental health disorders like OCD and ADHD, and can often by spurred on or inflamed by tragedy or trauma in the same manner as many other psychological imbalances. 

According to Healthline and the International OCD Foundation, approximately 2-6% of people have some form of Hoarding Disorder, which has also been shown to be something often unfortunately passed down generationally, as people whose parents exhibited hoarding behavior, especially during their childhood, are far more likely than average to face similar issues as an adult. 

Though much more study and attention from the mental health advocacy and treatment communities is still necessary, there has been a steadily growing amount of options and resources for people struggling with Hoarding Disorder to receive treatment. For loved ones concerned about a friend or family member spiraling into hoarding behavior, being an non-judgemental, reliable presence on the path to recovery from chronic hoarding can be just as vital for those struggling as anyone suffering from substance abuse disorder or anything else threatening a person’s mental or physical well-being and happiness.

Disorders Linked with Hoarding

Symptoms of hoarding disorder often first emerge between the ages of eleven to fifteen, and often truly begin interfering with everyday life and function during one’s late teens to mid-twenties. Around 75% of people who have Hoarding Disorder also deal with a co-occuring mental health condition, most commonly Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with around 20% of people struggling with OCD (according to the International OCD Foundation). 

Hoarding is also often linked with extreme anxiety, often manifesting in worries about lack of possessions or a paralyzing inability to organize. People with Hoarding Disorder often anthropomorphize or place attachment on objects they own, with those relationships with inanimate objects often coming before human relationships, making it incredibly difficult to get rid of possessions even once keeping everything becomes hazardous to their own physical well-being. 

Chronic social anxiety is also a catalyst for hoarding behavior, with the home becoming something of a fortress against unwanted social interactions, leading often to suspicion or even hostility against anyone else in their home for the possibility of theft. In fact, hoarding is often used as a coping mechanism to bury painful or traumatic memories or feelings through collecting more and more objects. 

Environmental Factors Associated with Hoarding

More often than not, people suffering though Hoarding Disorder and hoarding behavior have had their compulsions inflamed through years of trauma, abuse, or childhood anxiety and instability. Crippling perfectionism, often stemming from a harsh upbringing or even emotional abuse, can be a major catalyst for hoarding – as well as childhood financial anxieties or neglect, which can lead to a belief in the absolute necessity of keeping everything you have, no matter what. 

These childhood experiences often feed into rationalizations for hoarding – while a childhood spent with one or both parents exhibiting hoarding behavior in their household can normalize and justify this behavior. There has been shown to be a strong, undeniable generational link for Hoarding Disorder, where having a parent exhibiting harmful hoarding behavior around a child makes them far more likely to engage in chronic hoarding as an adult.

Treatment and Recovery for Hoarding Disorder

For people struggling with Hoarding Disorder, early diagnosis and treatment can be incredibly important for ensuring the behavior does not progress to a life-threatening degree. Peer-led support groups, and in certain cases diagnoses for medications such as SSRIs for those with intersecting mental health struggles, have been shown to be quite effective – but in terms of clinical options, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been shown to be perhaps the most effective treatment strategy for Hoarding Disorder. Just as important as any healthcare, however, is the support of friends, family, and loved ones throughout the path to recovery from hoarding.

 If a close friend or family member you know is currently exhibiting clear signs of Hoarding Disorder, it is deeply important to encourage them to seek professional help, while also assisting in any reasonable way you can, discussing ways to make their space safer or emphasize the positive aspects of recovery. 

However, talking down to or attempting to take control of your loved one’s space or recovery journey can often lead to more harm than good – specifically, never forcibly remove items from the home of someone with Hoarding Disorder without real consent, as this can lead to massive distrust or even further trauma. Most importantly, encourage and acknowledge progress on the path to recovery from hoarding, no matter how small or slow it may seem – the first steps are always the most difficult, and providing guidance or simply being a non-judgemental person to talk to can go a long way in helping someone step back from a potentially life-threatening situation.

Seeking Help and Support for Hoarding

 O’Connor Professional Group provides family consultation and support services for families worried about a loved one with Hoarding Disorder, as well as help directing families to treatment paths which best accommodate the needs of a struggling loved one.

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