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.


TC said...

Well written, Joe. My HP didn't abuse or neglect me but my upbringing has affected my life. I get frustrated and angry with people, even her own family, who get upset with me for not wanting to visit my parents more often. I agree that if my parents had physically abused me, people wouldn't act this way.

Hoarder's Son said...

Thanks, TC! Your comment is a useful reminder that there is a diversity of experience among children of hoarders, just as there is a range of severity in the condition of hoarding itself.

(For everyone else, TC is the author of the 2000 Things blog. Be sure to stop by and check it out.)

Anonymous said...

The timing of this is eerie. I follow the hoarding group on Reddit that is a blend of hoarders and COHs and a statement one user had made to another hoarder made the r/bestof group (and made the front page) which attracted the attention of the general Reddit community.

It was....at best....painful to watch, as the hoarder blamed her son for the condition of her home and the general community, not understanding hoarding, coddled her. There was also a lot of attention paid to other posts in r/hoarding and one woman responded that COHs should never be compared to children of alcoholics or batterers. I tried my best to counter her points (and other COHs weighed in), but the blatant "nope! Uh-uh! They are not survivors." response threw me for a loop.

This is a good resource to have, Joe. Thank you for this. --ETH

Anne said...

Thank you so much for doing this. And for dedicating it to Sidney.

I wouldn't be participating if it weren't for her inspiration. And yours - thank you both. We lost a really strong supporter, and a beautiful charismatic friend to all COH, when she passed. We're lucky to have you here continuing the good fight - thank you.

Thank you for mentioning the diversity of experience for COH. Unlike TC, my experience is on the other side of the abuse spectrum - it was severe. As you've said elsewhere, hoarding is on a spectrum, and our experiences are no different.

But an important point to consider is that there are some (not a lot, and certainly not adequate, but at least some) treatments for more conventionally accepted abuse, and I've been able to overcome a good deal of my abuse thanks to those treatments. But the consequences I've experienced and have lived with my entire life, and the ones I can't find help for, are the ones which are consequences of my HP's behaviour. When I first joined COH I had thought that I was a 'sort-of' COH, who also was a victim of abuse. Really odd, never-read-about-it anywhere else kinds of abuse. But since I've joined this group I've found that my experience is similar to many, many other COH, and I no longer believe that this is unconnected.

Your points are perfect - particularly your last point.

ETH, what you wrote makes me so sad. Sometimes the pain is too much and I have to step away from all things hoarding. Your post just broke my heart. You're right - Joe's post is timely. And so very much needed. Thanks for keeping up the good fight yourself.

Anne said...

I didn't explain myself well above. To clarify: in my experience there are commonly agreed upon and accepted treatments available for victims of 'classic' child abuse. However, there are no accepted treatments available for adult (or minor) children of hoarders, at least none that I'm aware of. Same thing with neglect, btw. That's why Joe's points are so important to get out there.

And ETH - the people who posted that were just flat out wrong. And I say that as someone who has been running a PTSD/Trauma Survivor support group for over four years. Whenever someone who's self-identified as a victim is trying to tell another victim that their pain isn't as valid, or painful, etc..., particularly if they aren't even trying to listen, they sure aren't wearing their victim hat, they're wearing their abuser hat.

ctsheehy said...

Brother called me last night re: Dear Mama" and her taxes. They're trustees together on my father's estate, and the HP is NOT managing things well, to say the least! May I forward this info to Brother to use as part of his fight to have Dear Mama' declared financially incompetent, please? One of MY talking points is, she can expect zero support from me and mine and must therefore make the estate last throughout her old age and declining health. Thanks for all you do, Joe.

Rachel Papworth said...

I'm sure what you say is true, Joe. As well as working with hoarders (and other people with a backlog of clutter to clear), I am often asked for coaching by people living with a hoarder. Of course, these are adults and able to make a free decision as to whether they stay in the hoarded house or not, but it really brings home to me what a huge impact hoarding has on those that live with hoarders. For sure, children of hoarder parents need support and protection.

Stephanie Patrick Richardson said...

Joe thanks for remembering her. It is always nice and a little healing to see someone else thinking of her. It is an awesome reminder of how many people she touched.

Classique Chem-Dry said...

Hey thanks for publishing this I understand that Hoarding syndrome is a serious public health hazard. It may pose risk of fire, falls, infestation, and bacterial growth. Homes inhabited by hoarders can be dangerous, unhealthy, or both. A good rule of thumb is that if you haven't used an object in over a year—say, you didn't even know it was there until you found it on the bottom of a pile—you probably can live without it. Extreme cases like filth and debris from hoarding, fecal matter, bodily fluids, excessive trash, expired food, odor, boxed items, mould, mildew, etc., require the services of trained professionals. Check out http://bio-cleanse.com.au/hoarding-management/ for any advice regarding extreme hoarding.

marc said...

Reading articles like this helps me to understand my customers a bit more, since we do hoarding cleanups

Elf Ahearn said...

My father had strong hoarding tendencies, but they really manifested in my sister after he died. She kept everything of his that my mother couldn't sell--so basically a lot of trash. The accumulation was so bad couldn't see the front door to her house. She'd created a storage shed out of black tarps under which she kept all of her "treasures." Then she started raiding the garbage dump down the road, bringing home more stuff that was too valuable to get rid of -- broken strings of Christmas lights, mangled stage sets, discarded lumber. Unsavory neighbors used her home as a dumping ground, and her "social worker" left several cats in my sister's care, plus got her a roommate who was so lazy she didn't bother getting off the couch to remove her tampons.
The house was so packed with junk one had to turn sideways to walk through the piles, and the mold, mildew and cat hair were everywhere.
Finally, my mother spirited my sister away for a vacation while me and another sister cleaned up the mess. We combed through over 100 boxes of random papers from which we'd extract pictures of us when we were kids, a college dipolma, a social security card -- all tossed in the same box containing travel brochures and 100s of copies of the same document.
By the time the place was clean, we'd filled three giant dumpsters.
My sister was livid when she came home. Her feelings of betrayal will probably never abate and my confusion and guilt probably won't end either. Everyone suffers from hoarding. Everyone.

Anonymous said...

Hoarding should be classified into levels. Some are not as bad as others. My mom comes from a large poor family. I think it hurt her emotionally when she had to pass down her favorite possessions to younger siblings and things had to be sold to pay the bills. Now she collects and keeps everything to compensate for a loss that was never addressed when she was younger. She will never admit these things because her pride is larger than life. We do not speak of it to her and avoid upsetting her because we will cause more damage than fix the problem. We the children are actually thankful for her mess because we can't stand anything out of place and yes we do collect things to but we are neat, organized and very clean. My love of beautiful antiques is owed to my mother. She taught me much. She drives me crazy, makes me depressed, caused many of my relationship issues but at the same time she never abandoned us, never let us live in a dump, never beat us. Yes it is a struggle to live with her but I refuse to live like a martyr over it when I have so much to live for. Do what you can but when it threatens your mental health try to look at it differently. I had to focus on the tasks, find inventive ways to get cooperation, learn where the line was drawn. Yes we are children of hoarders but we are special. We have stories that only we can understand, laugh or cry about together. I am determined to say the least to any improvement made is great. Any supporter is welcome and appreciated. As long as you understand the line we walk with our parents and try to help by understanding our rules that we must live by daily to keep them from falling into the mental insanity they can't escape either. It just takes a gentle trusted hand to help. Not anger, disgust, or embarrassment for those that hoard.

Bill said...

I think that a lot of children do not know what to label that type of behavior and thus they may not even realize that their family has a problem until much later in life.

It seems that there is more awareness about hoarding in general in more recent years. I think that young people can benefit from watching television shows about hoarding so they will know how to recognize it and perhaps go to someone that can help them.

Izabelle Winter said...

This is extremely thought provoking. I an the daughter of a hoarder who was given the opportunity LAST WEEK of having one room cleared for a TV documentary. It was cleared but he did not throw anything out so it all came back in. The TV producer interviewed me then thankfully told me he was coming across as a lovable character and I was coming over as the evil daughter. I think we sorted that out. I have written a blog about all the struggles I have had with him. I have tried to give it a lighthearted edge. Thank you everyone for being there and being like me. :) My blog is on www.hevsblogs.blogspot.co.uk I hope it is ok to mention it here. I want to share it and help as many others as I can.

Anonymous said...

i can especially relate to that last sentence in this post...
my dad always gives me this reproachful look when i loose patience with my hoarder mother...
coming from him it hurts really, he just doesn't get it, i guess...

Anonymous said...


FataMorgana said...

Hey, after 20 years and I found this. It is a sickness.