Loving a Hoarder

Followers of the Lord Jesus Christ have the greatest opportunity to love people who are unlovable for one reason or another.

Before we get started, I would like to recommend a short prayer to you.  We should always confess our need for God to give us wisdom, understanding, knowledge and revelation in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ better through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, you are awesome in all of your ways.  Please give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ more and more as I read this article.

Part 1 of this Series God and Mental Illness
Part 2 of this Series Loving People with Mental Illness

Please note: this article is not intended to be a replacement for the care of a mental health professional and should not be interpreted in this manner.

Why This Topic?

In this article, I would like to offer encouragement to those of you in a position where you find yourself loving someone who seemingly loves everything else other than you.  In the first article of this series, I stated that the Word of God provides insight into every Mental Illness known to mankind.  Not only does it provide insight specifically about Hoarding, but it also provides encouragement for those who have been appointed by God to love people who have found it difficult to deal with life’s traumas and as a result are living with the Mental Illness known as Hoarding. If you would like to read a Christian book written to help walk you through dealing with life’s traumas, I recommend the following book.

Recovery – Understanding and Dealing with Life’s Traumas

written by Chief Apostle Dr. Clifford E. Turner

God’s Promise

My objective in this article is to present you with an alternative perspective or vantage point.  I want you to know that even though this is an extremely hard place, there is a way God has provided for you to honor Him in this relationship.  Please consider the following promise from the Word of God.  This is a promise from God Himself that promises that through His love and faithfulness toward us, our sins and the sins of those we love can be forgiven through His son Jesus Christ.  God doesn’t stop there, He also promises that if we purpose in our hearts to have a reverent attitude toward Him and the Word of God, we can prevent evil from visiting our homes and our families.

Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil
Prov 16:6 (NIV)

Clinical Insight

Before we see what the Word of God says about the hoarding mental disorder, let’s see how dictionaries define the person that hoards.

The dictionary defines a hoarder as someone who accumulates, stores, lays up, hides and keeps private large amounts of animals or inanimate objects.

Now let’s see how Mental Health professionals define hoarding as a mental disorder and what type of things trigger hoarding behaviors.

Hoarding Triggers

  • An inability to appropriately process traumatic life events
  • The fear of discarding valuable items that might be needed or useful someday
  • The fear of losing important information
  • The fear of making a mistake by discarding unused items
  • The fear of being wasteful
  • The fear of losing something that reminds a person of a loved one
  • Not being able to do things as completely or as well as one would like

 Hoarding Behaviors

  • The acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless, of limited value, more than is needed or can be used
  • Anxiety or distress experienced at the thought or confrontation with regard to throwing away possessions
  • Avoidance of throwing away possessions not being used
  • Avoidance in decision making
  • Avoidance of putting possessions in appropriate storage areas, such as closets, drawers, or files.
  • Pervasive slowness or lateness in completing tasks.
  • Living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding
  • Reluctance or inability to return borrowed items; as boundaries blur, impulsive acquisitiveness could sometimes lead to kleptomania or stealing

Hopefully, after taking a close look at the triggers and behaviors that professionals use to identify this particular mental disorder, I trust it provides you with insight from industry professionals into either yourself or the person you’re in relationship with.

My Observations

I would like to draw your attention to the first Hoarding Trigger, not being able to process traumatic life situations.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever watched the show Hoarders on the A&E cable network (here’s a link to the web site where you can watch full episodes Hoarders).  I think it’s obvious that each show features very extreme cases of this mental condition.  I would like to offer a few observations I’ve made after watching each episode.

  1. If you listen carefully, you will discover that the hoarder in each episode has an event that they clearly identify as the trigger of the hoarding behavior (home invasion, losing a loved one, divorce, separation from loved ones, the death of pets, etc…)
  2. If you listen carefully, the hoarder usually identifies the emotional hurt, whether actual or perceived, they’ve felt from family members.
  3. The hoarder doesn’t seem to be able to connect emotionally or love the people in their lives.
  4. The hoarder seems to have more of a relationship with their possessions than with the people in their family
  5. The hoarder seems to have lost their grip on the reality of their living conditions and the strained condition of relationships in their lives
  6. The hoarder always communicates a desire to have a strong family unit, but doesn’t seem to know how to make it happen and when faced with choosing between family and possessions, struggles to discern which is more important
  7. The hoarder openly struggles with feelings of being violated and shame when others see the extent of what’s been hidden for so long
  8. There is always an elevated level of anxiety with family members of the hoarder, as the result of not feeling loved by the hoarder
  9. Family members clearly have a hard time understanding the mindset of the hoarder and why loving them a being loved by them is such a hard thing.

God’s Perspective

Now that we’ve looked a bit at the hoarding mental condition and the associated impacts to families, I would like to share with you what the Word of God reveals about this mental condition and what should be done to walk in total recovery.  Now, I am not suggesting that someone dealing with this mental condition should not seek professional help.  However, I am saying that the Word of God contains the diagnosis and the spiritual solution to the condition.

Consider the following passages of scripture:

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life
Prov 4:23 (NIV)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life
Prov 13:12 (NIV)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”.  The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)

who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment
1 Tim 6:17b (NIV)

The first passage commands us to guard our hearts.  This truth is critical to understanding the mental disorder of hoarding.  It’s critical because our ability to love others, have an appropriate attachment and perspective toward animals and inanimate objects and our ability to properly process traumatic events in our lives are all governed by the condition of our hearts.

The second passage helps us understand that not guarding our hearts is one way the heart is attacked and exposed to sickness.  When we trust others to love us and they violate us, this is hope deferred.  When we have unrealistic expectations that we place on others, and those expectations are not fulfilled, this exposes our heart to sickness.  There are many others situations that expose our hearts to damage.  However, the following passage reveals the strategy for protecting our hearts against sickness, hardness and indifference.

Please note the commandment of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In particular, please note that our love is to first be directed toward God Himself with everything we have and all that we are.  Remember the promise I mentioned at the start of this article?  Our attitude toward God is the provision God has made available to help us endure difficult relationships and prevent the forces of darkness from destroying our relationships.  Secondly, we are commanded to love other people as we love ourselves.  Note that all of our love is to be directed toward God, people and ourselves.  Jesus never mentions loving things or animals (although the Word of God does make it clear that caring for our animals is right see Proverbs 12:10).  Jesus commands us to love this way because He knows that if we dare to obey His commandment, His Father will embrace us in the same manner He embraces Jesus and they are one and nothing can harm the Lord Jesus.  As we agree with God’s will, nothing will be able to harm us when our lives are hid in Jesus.

Next please note the two conditions that stand opposed to one another.  They are mutually exclusive.  In other words, you can either have one or the other, but not both.  I do not understand this to mean that God does not want us to enjoy things in this world, because the fifth scripture makes it clear that God has put all things in the earth for our enjoyment (of course things that don’t bring harm to us or others).  If we choose to direct our love toward the world and/or things in the world, the love of the Father is not in us.  I ask you to ponder on this truth for a moment.  God knows the deceitfulness, emptiness and unreliability of the material goods in this world.  God doesn’t want us disappointed once we find out things don’t actually fulfill the empty places in our hearts the way they seem to promise.  According to this passage, this is the reason someone dealing with a hoarding mental disorder finds it difficult to love and be emotionally attached to people as opposed to their possessions; misdirected love.

So, according to the Word of God, if we don’t guard our hearts, we expose them to sickness. Once the heart is exposed to sickness, a door is opened that attempts to direct our love toward inappropriate things.  This then begins to erode the fabric of the life of the person, the people around the person and the persons relationship to God.  Ultimately, directing our love toward things other than God and people causes the love of God to be squeezed out of our hearts.  Without the love of God dwelling in our hearts, it’s impossible for us to love God, others or ourselves.

If you’re wondering why some people choose to hoard as oppose to loving others and facing hurtful emotions, I would like to suggest that loving animals and things is less risky when it comes to the pain that is often associated with loving people and wanting to be loved by people.  So in a way, deciding to love things shields an individual from loving people, which translates into a way of protecting against further emotional damage.  However, this “guarded wall around the heart” approach always results in greater emotional damage to everyone involved.

God’s Provision

The scriptural resolution to both protecting yourself against the mental disorder of hoarding and walking in total recovery from hoarding, is protecting our hearts by properly handling life’s traumas and redirecting our love from possessions to God, the people in our lives and ourselves.

Now, as we identified earlier in this article, the prospect of separating a hoarder from their possessions can cause extreme distress and anxiety.  This is where mental health professionals come into play.  They are trained to assist individuals deal with the overwhelming emotions and separation anxiety that accompany a hoarding mental disorder.  Especially when faced with letting go of possessions that have provided a false sense of emotional security for so long.

Dealing with mental disorders can be one of the most challenging and emotionally draining experiences a person can face.  That said, it’s probably wise for the person loving the hoarder to also receive professional counseling.  The combination of not understanding the nature of this particular Mental Illness combined with the day to day challenges of continually reaching out in love to someone who seemingly can’t or won’t accept the gesture, is enough to warrant professional help.

For years, the spiritual leader of the church I attend has taught us that “hurt people hurt people“.  The impact of the Hoarding Mental Illness breeds a continual cycle of hurt, if intervention doesn’t occur.  The family of the hoarder sees the outward results of the Mental Illness and attempts to help the person living with the Mental Illness by attempting to force them to change.  This approach, although well meaning more often than not, causes the hoarding behavior to accelerate.  The person living with the Mental Illness doesn’t possess the power, in and of themselves, to bring about the change, so the cycle of hurt on both sides goes round and round.  My encouragement to you, if you find yourself in this situation, is to first learn as much as you can about the Mental Illness, and then seek professional help to learn how to love the person living with this Mental Illness in a positive way.   By loving in a positive way I mean a way that doesn’t cause further hurt to someone who is already seeking safety and an escape from hurt in hoarding animals or inanimate objects.

My confidence in God’s ability to do well beyond what we could think or hope for is extremely high.  The Father loves the people He created after His own likeness, and if He was willing to give His only begotten son to die for you and I, how much more will He not move on behalf of His people in the earth.

BE ENCOURAGED!

As usual, I recommend a brief prayer to you:

Lord Jesus, you know all things and are familiar with every temptation and sin that entraps me and my family.  Lord Jesus I ask for your forgiveness for my sin and the sin of my family.  Jesus, I invite you into this relationship, situation, marriage, family and help us all love in the way you’ve commanded us to.  Jesus, I also ask that you have mercy on me and those in my family as you work in our hearts to repair damaged relationships and our relationship with you.  I love you Lord Jesus and entrust my heart and the hearts of my family to your care because I believe you care for us.  I thank you for loving me and my family.