Hoarding: Unlearning the Motivational Strategies of Behaviors

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					                                            Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 1


               Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies of Behaviors

                                  Robin Wood-Moen
                                  Walden University
                                  M.Sc. Psychology

                                 November 14th, 2007
                                                       Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 2

                       Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies of Behaviors

       Hoarding behavior is categorized under the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) diagnostic

umbrella (American Psychological Association, 1994). The motivation behind hoarding behaviors

seemingly contradict typical OCD, due largely in part to the lack of personal hygiene, sanitation

practice, and overall disregard for safety (Frost, Kyrios, McCarthy, & Matthews, 2007).

       Typical OCD conjures images of the frequent hand-washer, repetitive motions, high-regard for

cleanliness, and avoidance or precautionary measures pertaining to individual safety- not collecting of

needless things and obsessing over items more suited for the garbage. Hoarding poses a prominent

problem (especially of animals) to firefighters, animal control professionals, and could

ultimately keep those living in tight quarters from escaping or receiving much needed assistance in the

case of an emergency (Frost, Kyrios, McCarthy, & Matthews, 2007).


       While hoarding is considered an obsessive-compulsive type disorder, there are unique self-

regulation issues to this area of the disorder alone (APA, 1994). Hoarders have a complex reaction to

stress regarded as "emotional shock" disturbances (Heim & Buhler, 2006). This is a chronic dysfunction

that self-regulates an individual towards maladaptive goals and compulsive behaviors. Certain

individuals carry a type of genetic predisposition for hoarding, yet do not present the compulsions until

an emotionally-charged event (ie. stress or trauma) occurs. For instance, the cognitive processes manage

to create fixed ideas that can translate into the distortion of drives and motivations- relaying hoarding of

unnecessary items into a motivating factor towards a maladjusted goal center (Heim & Buhler, 2006).
                                                       Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 3

Hierarchy of Needs

       One theory about hoarding behavior indicates that the individual suffers from a skewed sense of

fulfillment pertaining to psychological needs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) (Reeve, 2005).

Anticipation of needs pertaining to physiological and social areas for this individual are highly

compromised or even disregarded due to rumination and obsessive thought patterns (APA, 2004; Frost,

Kyrios, McCarthy, & Matthews, 2007).

       These behavioral patterns and collecting of unnecessary items can consume the individual's daily

life and disable them- keeping them from living productive lives. The threat of exposure about the

behaviors from family members can also lead to discord, which essentially leads the individual to push

back against others causing them to become overly protective of the behaviors and potentially recluse

(Frost, Steketee, & Williams, 2000).

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

       The intrinsic and extrinsic reasons behind hoarding can be the sense of immediate gratification

and accumulation of items (Frost, Steketee, & Williams, 2000). The individual feels empowered by

having control over needless items in their possession, where power may be lacking in areas related to

resourcefulness and helplessness. The hoarder's mastery goals are set on protecting not only their

collected items, but the secret life that secures the ability to keep the behaviors going (Reeve, 2005).


Performance-approach goals for the hoarder are also considered slightly a skewed (Reeve, 2005). Fears

pertaining to performance-approach are often indicated by the great lengths the individual will go to in

order to continue and protect this behavior. Positive behavioral reinforcements will need to be
                                                       Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 4

implemented in order to change patterns for this individual (Reeve, 2005).Performance-avoidance goals

are highly indicative with the motivation to avoid others' in social interactions in order to maintain

collecting behaviors. It would seem "easier" to avoid other people altogether, than to alter personality

traits that are becoming a state of homeostasis for the individual (Reeve, 2005).


       Hyper-arousal creates a stimulus/ sensation-seeking hoarder (Reeve, 2005). Without the benefit

of other means of relieving stress or anxiety, this individual can find stimulation in collecting "things",

and lead to neuroticism (Rosenbaum, 1990; Reeve, 2005). The hoarding becomes a lonely, yet comfort-

driven activity where the individual will experience extreme high and extreme low moods. As seen with

an addiction, a tolerance level is experienced and goal achievements become dependent on the amount

of items collected (Rosenbaum & Jaffe, 1983; Rosenbaum, 1990).

The Role of Emotions

       According to the biological perspective on emotions, content is derivative of genetic materials

(Reeve, 2005). Baseline emotions encountered as humans are similar to those of our animals. If this

theory produces an explanation for hoarding behavior, it would translate into a proposal that we (as

humans) areacting on our animalistic needs to hoard things out of fear and necessity to survive (Reeve,

2005).This theory would also define the abnormal collection of objects or animals as the need to gather,

or stock up in the event of a catastrophe.

       In light of sequences pertaining to an emotionally-charged event (ie. going without for

longperiods, starvation, recession) such behaviors could very well indicate that we(as humans) respond

with hoarding and pillaging items out of fear that we will be left with nothing (Reeve, 2005).The

cognitive perspective indicates that not only that these baseline or "biological" foundations of emotions
                                                      Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 5

exist, but that there are also new emotions that form out ofthe corresponding neuronal activity to

biological reactions (Reeve, 2005). Biologicalresponses can translate into more psychosomatic physical

ailments to includepsychoneuroimmunological disorders and chronic disease (Reeve, 2005; Kady,


         For example, the emotions that "fuel" motivation in humans are happiness, pride, hope,

love,compassion, and at times, a hint of anger (Reeve, 2005). However, when too much anger, fear,

sympathy, guilt, and shame floods the appraisal of self, what results is devastation emotionally (Kady,

2006). The individual becomes overwhelmed by negative emotions and can slip into not only a lack of

motivation, but the doldrums of depression. Psychosomatic symptoms, and neuroimmunological

disorders, and chronic disease naturally follow. Learned helplessness becomes a matter of survival, in a

skewed attempt at regulating the self and the neurotic mind (Folkman, Lazarus, Gruen, & Delongis,


Proposed Treatment Options

         Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been the primary approach to curbing hoarding

behaviors (Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, Inc., 2007). This has shown to be successful in many

cases of reported hoarding, encouraging individuals to decrease clutter, improve decision-making skills,

and become organized through sorting methods (OCF, Inc., 2007). However, most cases of

hoarding remain unreported, until such a time that a fire destroys a family home, an entire block, or the

animal control department is called for gross negligence of animals on the individual's property.

         What is proposed here is an additional element expanding not only the treatment network, but the

social network of community service agencies. Ethically, as professionals, no one wants to re-traumatize

an individual, or remove precious things from a residence. However, reality or existential approaches to
                                                      Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 6

therapy and clean-up could serve as a relatively non-evasive measure to assist the individual. The health,

safety, and sanitation concerns are topics that should be addressed swiftly. A compassionate movement

to help and support this silent population would be a wise idea.

       Promoting a "Project Clean-Up" in communities may encourage families to

interact on a local level, could generate revenue to support needy families, and would help address the

reporting of potential problems. An alternative to fines may be a strong motivator to individual

admission of problem behaviors. Emergency response and animal control personnel may have resources

to draw attention to this high-risk population, and could offer public safety messages and citations when

entering a home for an attempt at an emergency response that poses a considerable risk.
                                                     Hoarding: Unlearning Motivational Strategies 7


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