So I was surfing about reading a bit about hoarders after posting that last article, and came across something. It's this idea:
That hoarders appear to love their stuff more than their children.
I see this one a lot these days; sure, it's good that hoarding is getting attention as a thing, finally. That extends to the various hoarding TV shows out there, which I have not actually myself seen, as I just know they will send my brain to a bad place. I still have the occasional dream, you know, where my father is back here, sitting in the living room (the same room I now have my home office in, i.e. where I work) with the TV on very loudly and I know that nothing, nothing will move him. They are horrible. It feels like being crammed back into this tiny little box, this tiny little box that was my life before my father had his stroke and went into a nursing home.
I don't like to think about what it was like then. I avoid the TV shows, like I said; I have also avoided reading Randy Frost's book on hoarding, though I am very tempted to get it and do a chapter-by-chapter deconstruction of it (or, rather, a chapter-by-chapter excoriation of the author and his conclusions. Dr. Frost is not very well-liked in children of hoarder circles). That I have gotten enough distance from living under my father's hoarding that I can barely remember what it was like sometimes is, I think, a very very good thing.
So as I said I'm glad that hoarding is finally getting attention first as a thing that exists in this world and secondly as something serious, some form of mental illness. That's all good.
But it's only a start. Because right now the common wisdom on hoarders is Oh no those poor people suffering from such a debilitating mental illness!!! Well, that, and a bit of voyeurism, too—plenty of people are still happy to laugh at hoarders because they're crazy, right?
Fair enough, I'm not a psychologist. The only formal 'training' I've had in the subject was a couple of classes in high school and college, which I'm pretty sure don't actually count, especially since the college course was on Freud. (Incidentally, the most succinct description of old Sigismund I've ever heard is 'dickhead', since that is all he ever thought about.)
But that doesn't mean I don't have valuable experience with hoarders, or, more specifically, decades of experiences with one hoarder in particular, my father. And from what I have heard hanging around on a children of hoarders support group, my father was bizarrely enough both very extreme and very typical. And yes, there are support groups for children of hoarders. Because it's abuse.
And that is what the current narrative on hoarding is lacking. That for the family the behavior of the hoarder is abusive. Children living within a hoard are being abused. By definition. Look up the definition of hoarding, and then the definition of child neglect. They overlap quite neatly, really. One factor in qualifying as a hoarder is that basic needs cannot be met because of the accumulated stuff—i.e. the fridge is broken or full of rotting food and can't be used, the kitchen can't be used for preparing and/or eating food, the bathtub is full of books, &c., and then that's before we even get to the common hoarder behaviors of letting the plumbing break and then never fixing it. That wouldn't seem to strictly speaking be part of the hoarder thing—after all it's not about saving things per se—but it is frighteningly common behavior for hoarders to never fix things once they break. And all that, the broken plumbing, the bathtub that isn't accessible, the fridge that can't be used, is also one definition of child neglect. So let me repeat: if someone meets the definition of a hoarder, and there are children in that hoarded environment, those children are de facto being abused. Period.
And of course it's barely, really, about the hoarding itself. The need to save things is just the outward symptom. Underneath it are almost always issues of control. Well, that, and a sort of narcissism that means that since the hoarder doesn't see things as a problem no one else possibly could. And that's part of what's wrong with that 'common wisdom' narrative; that hoarders are suffering from the hoarding.
As far as I can tell, they almost never are.
I do think from what I have seen that there are a variety of causes that lead a person to be a hoarder. Sometimes, yes, something happens and a person just spirals into something and they no longer care about their environment. But that's a little different, I think. I'm not sure I'd quite call that hoarding, though the end result may look the same. But for the most part, from what I've seen with both my own father and the countless accounts of other hoarding parents on that support group, hoarders are like sociopaths. It's simply, in most cases, a fundamental brokenness in the brain. It can't be fixed. I'm not even sure it can be mitigated, any more than pedophilia can be. Yes, that's harsh. It is also, as far as I have ever been able to see, true.
And as far as I can tell, hoarders like the hoarding, and they like the hoard. To them it's a good thing, a worthy thing, a righteous thing even, like in my father's case. It makes them feel good.
It's like an addiction in a lot of ways, though I don't personally see it as an actual addiction. It's destructive behavior that brings them some kind of comfort or control. And there's a narcissism there, a selfishness there, that means they don't see or don't care that their behavior harms others.
So that brings me back to that first statement, that common wisdom one:
Hoarders appear to love their things more than their children.
It is said, I think, with good intentions; however I call bullshit on it. And bullshit of a particularly nasty kind. Because not only is it flat-out not true, it snidely puts the onus on the children to be more understanding while pretending to offer said children sympathy.
I mean it sounds nice, right? It sounds sympathetic—Oh you poor children to grow up with a parent who seems to care about the stuff more than you. That must have been so hard.
But it's right there in that word appear. Because the implication is that But of course your hoarder parent loved you. True, it doesn't look it. But if you, the child, could get over your [of course unreasonable] anger and really look at your parent with compassion you would of course see that your parent did love you. Of course they did. That's what parents do.
I really, really, hate this crap.
Without even going into the crap assumptions that all parents are good which given the statistics on child abuse is kind of an obvious no it still doesn't work. Love isn't complicated. It can complicate situations, sure, but the idea itself isn't complicated. I've found that if you have to do any kind of linguistic or emotional gymnastics to define something as love then it isn't.
But anyway love isn't measured in words; it is measured in actions. If a hoarder can't get rid of the junk for the sake of his or her family, then yes, that hoarder loves the junk more than the family. If someone cannot change their behavior when they know said behavior is harming their family, then yes, they love the behavior more than the family. And it's not like hoarders don't know their families are suffering. Trust me, families and children complain. A lot. Hoarders are not ignorant of the effect their hoarding has. In fact I'd say in a lot of cases that's the whole point. Because it really does come down to control. And for a lot of hoarders out there, making their families miserable is the very best type of control they could ever have.