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Mother with Hoarding Disorder Is Tearing Up the Family

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From Croatia: I’m 21-years-old, and my mother is 51. My whole life I’ve been witnessing her being just crazy about collecting everything, from cans to old, warn-out clothes. As I grew, I always was the strongest one to confront her and not let her ruin our lives. But she is very manipulative when it comes to being her way. Our apartment is filled with unnecessary things, she literally has empty cans in her closet. She collects newspapers and hides them under her bed or in the basement.

We never had a special bond. We have been in conflict 90% of the time my whole life. I can’t live like that, I can’t let her torture me like this forever. She is making the lives of the rest of us miserable, and it should not be like that. She denies the problem. She manipulates the conversation about it to avoid the subject. She threatens us if needed (not with violence, but still psychologically sometimes very intense). There are times when I want to rip my skin, that’s how I feel about her disease. And I can’t do anything, because I live with her, she pays for my college and food and everything else. Is there a way to make her go to a therapist? I’m starting to lose my mind and more importantly, resent her.

Mother with Hoarding Disorder Is Tearing Up the Family

Answered by on -

A.

Hoarding is a complicated problem. Many people who hoard have powerful attachments to their stuff and strong beliefs about its importance. They assign value and meaning to things that other people can’t understand. Often their identity is tied up with their belongings.

You can’t “make” your mother go to therapy. You can’t “make” her get rid of her things. If you try to dispose of anything, she will be angry and upset with you and will probably become even more protective of her stuff.

However, you may be able to talk to her about how her home has become unmanageable and how her stuff is getting in the way of her relationships with the people who love her. If you fight with her, she won’t be able to listen. Instead, you need to stay calm and loving while you ask her to help you understand how the items she collects help her and what they mean to her. You may then begin to work with her to find ways to carve out some spaces in the house that aren’t overwhelmed by her collections.

A book you may find helpful is Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. In it, the authors describe their work in helping people who hoard begin to sort and organize their possessions and even let some of them go.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Mother with Hoarding Disorder Is Tearing Up the Family

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2018). Mother with Hoarding Disorder Is Tearing Up the Family. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/12/24/mother-with-hoarding-disorder-is-tearing-up-the-family/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.