Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Talking Points for Children of Hoarders

Picture of Sidney Patrick
Sidney Patrick (as drawn by Jim Smith)
Preface: This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder for a painfully long time. Its roots lie in a conversation I had with Sidney Patrick last October, just before her appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss "Hoarding's Harsh Reality". Although she wasn't a child of a hoarder, she was very familiar with COH experiences, and she had become an incredible advocate for the COH community.

Many COH believe that the needs and experiences of the families of hoarders are inadequately recognized by professionals (a topic for another day). Sidney wanted to convey that perspective in her HuffPost Live appearance, especially since one of the other guests was Professor Randy O. Frost, arguably the most influential academic in the field of hoarding. At Sidney's request, I tried to identify a few key points that she might raise during the segment. The points are included below.

Sid did a spectacular job on the show. Tragically, she passed away at far too young of an age just a few weeks later. She is profoundly missed.

Talking Points for Children of Hoarders

As general awareness of hoarders and hoarding increases, the impact of hoarding on individuals beyond the hoarder is slowly becoming recognized.

For several years, children of hoarders (COH) have been comparing notes and sharing perspectives in a range of forums and formats, and a few recurring themes seem particularly important, at least in my opinion. I've tried to collect a few of these themes below. Perhaps they might serve as useful "talking points" for children of hoarders who find themselves being interviewed by media or who simply want to convey to friends and associates the seriousness of hoarding's impact on families.

Please feel free to use them, to critique them, or to add to them as you see fit. (If you have additional thoughts about these points, I'd love for you to share your feedback in the comments section at the end of the post. These points already have been improved immeasurably by the input of members of the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! Group.)

COH Talking Points
  1. Many children of hoarders grow up under conditions of serious neglect, isolation, and abuse.
  2. The impact of growing up in a hoarding environment can last for years—even decades—after a COH moves out of the childhood home.
  3. While hoarding appears most dramatically to be about "stuff", to a child of a hoarder, it's really about relationships, family dynamics, shame, and self-worth: many children of hoarders have been conditioned—consciously or otherwise—to believe that they are less important than things.
  4. As victims of serious, long term neglect or other types of abuse, many COH will require—and benefit from—equally serious support and counseling. Their needs are as important as the needs of the hoarders.
  5. Children of hoarders seeking support should visit ChildrenOfHoarders.com for more information, and healthcare professionals should read Dr. Suzanne Chabaud's article in Psychiatric Times, "The Hidden Lives of Children of Hoarders".
As a final thought, children of hoarders sometimes are portrayed as being inappropriately angry, impatient, or otherwise unsupportive of family members who are undergoing treatment for hoarding. Professionals, in particular, are reminded that many children of hoarders have suffered a lifetime of neglect and abuse and are desperately in need of support. In such cases, expecting COHs to be patient and respectful participants in the treatment of hoarders may be likened to expecting victims of sexual abuse to help their abusers to get treatment, without acknowledging the damage done to the victims, much less getting treatment and support for them.

In memory of Sidney Patrick.