“It’s never is about the stuff. The commonality that we had, it was the emotional trauma and the neglect and the lack of nurturing. It’s wasn’t the hoard,” Forbes said.
“It was the behavior around the hoard that was so damaging.”
-source/video: Group Reaches Out To Children of Hoarders
For/About Adult Children of Hoarders™
For many, growing up in an environment of constant chaos and disorganization means much more than not being able to have friends over. Our parents often hid behind closed blinds isolating themselves from the world outside.
Many of us hid behind those blinds with them, keeping the “secret.”
As adults, too many of us still do.
Adult children of Compulsive Hoarders just started in 2006 (view shared stories on our site in 7/06-1/09 archives), to use our voices to speak up about our experiences with parents who suffer from having a serious and very misunderstood disorder.
This is often the “elephant in the living room.” People who hoard often lack insight and will not admit, to having a problem at all. Children sometimes get blamed for the mess or told that the state of the house is their fault.
Many of us knew we were different from the other kids,
and had something to be ashamed of; we knew we had something to hide.
We only learned recently that our situation had/has a name. For most of our lives, we didn’t know other families out there were just like ours.
Even if it’s not true, to a child’s mind, it can appear that the parent suffering from this disorder values objects or animals more than the child.
Because this disorder is often fueled by anxiety, a Hoarder can express an extreme range of (usually negative) emotions when anyone tries to clean up, when things are touched or moved. This is difficult for a young mind to understand. In addition, unhealthy perfectionism is a large part of the hoarding disorder, and those standards are often hard to live up to.
Need for Control
Frost, et al found hoarding to be associated with an exaggerated need for control over possessions. Hoarders were less willing to share possessions with others or to have others touch or use their possessions. Unauthorized touching or moving of possessions can prompt extreme anger among compulsive hoarders. This need for control may be associated with other features. For instance, if someone else touches a possession, it may remove some of the safety signal value of the possession, similar to an object becoming contaminated. Because possessions are often believed to be extensions of the self, it may seem to the hoarder that he is personally being violated when someone touches his things.
It also has been suggested that hoarders have a fundamental belief that perfection is not only possible, but expected. For example, Frost and Hartl described a woman who reported two concerns when trying to discard newspapers. First, she was concerned that she had not read them thoroughly, and second, she couldn’t remember what she had read. She believed that it was possible to read the paper and remember everything “perfectly.” Failure to do so seemed a catastrophe. Saving the newspapers allowed her to continue the fiction (erroneous belief) that perfect paper reading was possible and to avoid the failure associated with not reading the paper perfectly.
-Chapter 23 HOARDING: CLINICAL ASPECTS AND TREATMENT STRATEGIES Randy 0. Frost, Ph.D., Gail S. Steketee, Ph.D.
It’s not just about a mess or piles of stuff.
Many COH report identifying with the Adult Traits of Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunction.
It is confusing growing up with an authority figure who has distorted beliefs about objects or animals. It is hard to understand getting in trouble for putting things in the garbage, being reprimanded after the item is retrieved. The reality at home often seems different from the reality at school/outside. Children struggle to process a lifestyle where they compete for a parent’s attention in a house overrun with animals.
Where hoarding is a symptom, often there are undiagnosed personality disorders as well.
Many of us held our breath at the sound of the doorbell-because we learned “you aren’t supposed to let people IN.” As adults, many of us still carry that shame with us, even though we’ve moved away. (phrase coined in our support group in ’06 for this: “Doorbell Dread.”)
Concern & Worry
Many of us worry about our elderly parents living in hazardous conditions that we can’t do anything to fix.
Most often, they won’t let us help them, or even let us in their home.
For those COH™ whose parents didn’t start hoarding until later in life, this can be particularly difficult, as they also adjust to the discovery/shock of the parent’s unhealthy living conditions.
The general public sometimes assumes that adult children of hoarders walk away from hoarding parents due to lack of concern …that we let them live in those conditions because we don’t care. It’s not that we don’t want to help them-often we try, desperately. Many adult COH™ have given up large amounts of time, energy, financial help-hoping to solve the problem. We don’t know how to help them…especially when they don’t believe they have a problem, don’t want any help, and vehemently oppose the suggestion.
However, sometimes the sacrifice is too much and we must put on our own oxygen mask. Sometimes, in order to cope, we must detach from our parent’s illness.
Many professionals tell us that “unless a person is a danger to themselves or others, they have a right to live the way they want.” We are told not to apply any “pressure” to improve the conditions in the home.
Often we must wait until there is a health crisis or their living conditions or animal neglect is reported by someone else. Only then are we allowed to even enter their home to help. It is a very painful thing that many of us must consider: reporting our own parents to authorities so we can help them.
When the time comes, the adult COH™ must carry the emotional and financial burden of cleaning up the accumulation. Cleaning companies can charge thousands per day to sort and clear out these homes. By that time, the homes are typically in disrepair and need major renovations.
Clearing these homes without professional help is extremely taxing, both physically and, emotionally. Seeing the conditions that the parent has lived in, can cause much guilt. We couldn’t force our parents to accept our help and professionals advise us not to do it, anyway. Still, we’re left wondering if (and outsiders often assume) we could have done something to prevent the situation.
Many of us don’t want to report our parents, the grandparents of our children, to authorities. We don’t want to forcibly intervene, cause unrest in the family, or petition the courts to have our parents deemed “incompetent.” These are very unappealing options, just so we can get them safe and out of squalor.
We need support in learning strategies to help our parents…and ourselves.
Our parents aren’t just “HOARDERS” on some television show, or “crazy cat ladies.”
They are family, loved ones, our parents who have a compulsive disorder.
Through this website, we hope to raise awareness about the impact on family members. Since 2005, Children of Hoarders™ (the organization-this site) has advocated for mental health treatment, support, and research that acknowledges the pain experienced by the whole family, but especially addresses the unique challenges faced for those children currently living with a hoarder.
These generalizations come from common experiences shared in our online support group for over 5 years, (2200 members-37,000 messages), 5 years of discussion on the (currently offline) forums on the COH™ website (3,019 members, 11,916 messages and 400+ “growing up” stories sent in anonymously) and may not in many cases, represent the experiences of all who have a parent who hoards.