Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lies my mother told me, part 2

Growing up in a hoarded home, you internalize a lot of messages about how to exist and how to make your way in the world. As my therapist has pointed out, this means you learn patterns of behavior that help you survive your childhood. Unfortunately, the flip side of this means that if you're looking to create a healthy adulthood, there are a lot (a LOT!) of messages that you need to rethink and revise.

One of the biggest messages I received growing up was never actually verbalized. It had more to do with watching my mother's reactions to problems. For the most part, whenever an issue arose, her reaction fell into one of three camps. Option 1: Make no attempt to solve the problem. Stick head in sand. Repeat as necessary. Option 2: Attempt to solve problem via incredibly complex, complicated solution that is doomed to fail. Flagellate self ceaselessly when completely unrealistic solution doesn't work out. Option 3: Blame someone else for the problem. (This last one is very handy, as it totally preempts the necessity of examining your own contributions to the issue. Unfortunately, it also means you have a snowball's chance in Arizona of actually resolving anything.)

As an adult, these three choices seem to have melded into one giant, crippling shorthand. No matter what the problem is (and in my life lately, there have been some doozies), my unconscious reaction screams that "There is no possible solution to this problem!" I'm pretty sure this comes from the complex of issues that stem from growing up in a crazy, hoarded home, not least of which is the specter of learned helplessness that raises its ugly head all. the. damn. time. As I'm facing my own, new apartment that is still in chaos from a move, plus a variety of implosions in my personal life, it can be hard to remember everything I've learned over the past decade. Sometimes, no matter how far you've come, it's still hard to be a hoarder's child.


  1. my mom's response has always been to get so anxious over any decision that she is paralyzed and can't actually do anything.

    I struggled a lot with the same problem. What a revelation when my therapist suggested I start asking myself "what's the worst that could happen?" and answer the question realistically whenever I'm anxious about a decision. The answer typically is "nothing awful." Shocking.

  2. Oh my goodness, this sounds so familiar! Granted, I am not a COH but I live with one. He seems to have learned the same helplessness.

    A for instance? He'd rather yell at me about an XYZ being out of place, than put XYZ in its place. A twenty-minute tantrum versus a three-second fix? C'mon.

    Another? "NO! You can't throw that bread away! I'll compost it." Then he leaves town for days to tend to his late mother's hoard.

    Hoarder's Child, don't get overwhelmed. Just do one thing at a time, even if you don't do it perfectly. Just remember: like with like as you unpack.

    You can do it. Maybe try the Costanza.