Compulsive hoarding: profiling personality traits – Got Anxiety?
Mary B. Barmann, MFT
In our last article we discussed the profile of those who engage in compulsive hoarding, from the standpoint regarding the meaning (instrumental, sentimental, intrinsic) one places on their possessions.
However, there remains another important characteristic which helps to define the profile of those with a diagnosis of Hoarding Disorder — PERSONALITY TRAITS.
Seen below is a summary of the most common information processing errors exhibited by those who over acquire, and have great difficulty discarding their possessions:
Compulsive hoarders have difficulty staying focused on specific tasks, similar to individuals with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder.
With respect to possessions, those who hoard have a tendency to become easily distracted when contemplating whether or not to discard a particular item they own.
When deciding to keep or discard, the person becomes overly focused on several nonessential details concerning a particular object, such as its beautiful color, unique shape, a special memory associated with the object, etc.
The tendency to focus on too many of the item’s characteristics results in a “creative attentional bias,” making it nearly impossible to objectively judge the true importance of the possession.
This type of thinking not only results in a lack of discarding the item, but also plays a significant role with respect to the over acquisition of similar objects in the future.
It was once thought that compulsive hoarders were individuals who evidenced memory deficits, and thus had difficulty remembering if they acquired, and still possess, particular items of importance.
This is similar to the belief that those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder frequently perform checking behaviors due to their difficulty remembering if they had locked a door, turned off an appliance, etc.
Current research indicates that those who hoard (as well as individuals with OCD) do NOT have any specific impairment regarding memory functions.
Instead, what they do lack is self-confidence concerning their perceived ability to remember important events. The phrase, “out of sight, out of mind,” becomes the motto to live by, resulting in the use of clutter to help remember one’s possessions.
These individuals endorse the belief, “If I cannot see my possessions, I’ll forget about them.” Thus, if one believes he or she has a bad memory, he or she is more likely to keep possessions close by, and check on their existence regularly.
If a certain item is not found (due to clutter), this triggers the need to acquire/re-acquire that particular item which, of course, results in additional clutter.
Similar to the belief of having a poor memory, those who compulsively hoard also tend to believe that discarding written materials is synonymous with losing valuable information which may be needed in the future.
As a result, they typically decide not to discard newspapers and magazines until they have all been read, and completely (perfectly) understood.
For example, compulsive hoarders who also suffer from Health Anxiety, will often refuse to discard written materials related to illness and medicine, such as “Web-MD,” “Stroke Prevention,” etc.
As a result, severe paper clutter develops due to the fact that these periodicals enter their homes at a rate much faster than one can possibly read all of these materials.
INDECISIVENESS AND MISTAKES
Within our clinical practice treating those with anxiety disorders, we frequently ask our patients if they consider themselves to be indecisive.
When the answer is, “Yes, I’m indecisive,” then they are responding decisively about being indecisive.
In the case of compulsive hoarding, these individuals are extremely indecisive about many issues, but much more so regarding decisions related to discarding certain possessions.
Although many reasons are given concerning one’s indecisiveness for discarding, the primary issue appears to be due to a fear of making a mistake. Very similar to the trait of perfectionism, those who hoard place a great deal of meaning on mistakes.
To discard a possession that might prove useful in the future is perceived as a “missed opportunity.”
The default manner of behaving when feeling the need to make the “perfect” mistake-free decision is (can you guess…?).
If your answer was, “procrastination,” BINGO! When feeling anxious or guilty about discarding a possession, the attitude, “I’ll figure it out later” kicks in.
The mistakes feared most by those who hoard include:
Being unprepared for an important future event.
Misplacing a possession.
Not finding the “perfect” location for a possession.
Accidental discarding .
To state it simply, Indecisiness+Fear of Making a Mistake=Severe Clutter. Compulsive hoarding — the perceived solution, is actually the problem.
Barry C. Barmann, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Nevada and California. His wife, Mary B. Barmann, MFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. Visit anxietytreatmentinclinevillage.com to learn more.