I am a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders who has worked with people with disabilities and mental illnesses for over 10 years.
What Is Hoarding?
Television programming is awash with reality TV shows, and none have been more popular than shows about the disorder known as hoarding. Hoarding is defined as a compulsive need to keep things, even if the things they want to keep are broken, unusable, or unsanitary. Hoarders feel compelled to keep these things for a number of reasons, and when faced with the loss of hoarded objects, many hoarders feel intense anxiety and distress. They may explode with anger or even grief at the loss of control they feel when they are losing their precious objects.
Why do hoarders keep things? Hoarding disorder affects emotions, thoughts, and behavior. They may keep things because:
- They believe these items will be needed or have value in the future.
- The items have important emotional significance — serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets.
- They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save.
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value
- Excessive attachment to possessions, including discomfort letting others touch or borrow them or distress at the idea of letting an item go
- Cluttered living spaces, making areas of the home unusable for the intended purpose, such as not being able to cook in the kitchen or use the bathroom to bathe
- Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
- Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels
- Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant
- Difficulty managing daily activities because of procrastination and trouble making decisions
- Moving items from one pile to another, without discarding anything
- Difficulty organizing items, sometimes losing important items in the clutter
- Shame or embarrassment
- Limited or no social interactions
According to the new DSM guidelines, DSM-5, hoarding will be listed as a distinct disorder rather than under the umbrella of obsessive-compulsive disorder because many severe cases of hoarding are not accompanied by any other obsessive or compulsive behaviors.
Hoarding ranges from more mild disorganization to severe compulsive hoarding—to the point that people can no longer function or live in their homes. These homes may be extremely unsanitary, even filthy, and may be filled with rotten food, feces, molded items, or things that are broken.
There seem to be at least two different types of hoarders.
- Those who use item acquisition to cope with anxiety. Some have a shopping compulsion; the act of acquiring things makes them feel better. Compulsive shopping is a very damaging disorder. When combined with hoarding, individuals coping with stress this way can go through savings and fill a home very quickly. Alternately, hoarders of this type may find items in the garbage that they feel are still usable or valuable. While this may be easier on the checkbook, it is no less damaging to the living space or the family.
- Older and elderly people (mostly) who have just given up on life. This is perhaps the saddest type. Their homes and living spaces are mostly filled with garbage and trash. There may be items in the hoard that have sentimental value, but because of their inability or unwillingness to clean up, these items have been ruined. This type of hoarder generally doesn't display any true anxiety or rage when their things are removed. They are often very passive and don't seem to really care about anything at all, including themselves. This type of hoarder seems to be suffering more from depression and hopelessness than any true hoarding disorder. They don't seem to think they deserve better living conditions, or that it matters.
What Is Narcissism?
Pathological narcissism is defined by the DSM-IV as:
A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- requires excessive admiration
- has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
The DSM-V listing of criteria for narcissistic personality disorder expands on these criteria quite a bit as the older criteria—though accurate—were criticised for failing to describe the range and complexity of the disorder.
Sterile criteria from a diagnostic manual cannot describe what living with a pathological narcissist is like, however. Narcissists are unable and unwilling to care about the needs of other people. They believe their own needs are the only ones that matter, regardless of whether they are hurting or upsetting other people. It's all about them—literally. This is why trying to appeal to a narcissist by telling them how much they are hurting other people is ineffective: they don't care. They are incapable of caring. They will simply continue to insist that if they cannot have what they want, they are being mistreated. It doesn't matter how unfairly they are behaving toward others. All that matters to them is what they want.
How Are Hoarders and Narcissists Similar?
If the criteria for pathological narcissism is examined, many parallels between pathological narcissism and hoarding behavior emerge.
- Lack of empathy. Paramount among them is the fact that hoarders seem unable to recognize or understand the feelings of the other people in their family. They simply just don't think it matters as much as how they feel. Even when facing the loss of their home, pets, marriage, or even their children, hoarders are unwilling to recognize that their behavior is destructive and hurtful to others—or to themselves. They blatantly refuse to "go without" (narcissistic entitlement) and perceive any insinuation that they should do so as a personal attack and a threat of losing control. The actual removal of the hoarded objects often provokes hoarders into full-blown rage. This angry reaction presents itself very much like classic narcissistic rage and stands in stark contrast to how they usually react to the loss of their families, homes, or children.
- Control is key with hoarding—and narcissism. Hoarders are attempting to exercise control over their environment and the people in it. Many are also attempting to express anger by making the living conditions in their home unbearable. Many, many hoarders talk about the hoard as a passive-aggressive attempt to hurt or get back at other people in the family. Hoarders are generally attempting to stave off anxiety by surrounding themselves with mountains of things they own - and therefore control. It makes them feel better. This is the same behavior we see with pathological narcissists, except they are attempting to manipulate and control other people. Perhaps then, hoarders are narcissists who feel unable to manipulate or control people, so they control objects and their environment. It is often the case that hoarding will begin or worsen after a loss of some kind. This could indicate that the loss of control over a person or situation caused the hoarder to resort to controlling inanimate objects. As is usually the case with pathological narcissists, it is often revealed that hoarders had a support system at one time but their overwhelming selfishness eventually pushed everyone away.
- Attachment of excessive importance to objects. The objects they own are theirs; they are an extension of the narcissist—and the hoarder reacts much the same way. To narcissists, the objects they own are just as important and just as deserving of special treatment as themselves. The objects themselves don't matter and are often treated very badly; they are allowed to rust, become dirty, or fall into disrepair. This is the same behavior seen with hoarders. The objects only matter as far as how they make the hoarder feel. This is parallel to the way narcissists treat people, and upon examination of the hoarder's life, it is often found that hoarders treat their families the same way.
- The sense of entitlement that hoarders always display is classic narcissism, and so is playing the role of the victim. Narcissists are unable to be grateful because to a narcissist, they are either owed whatever they are given (entitlement), or they are being hurt by it somehow (victimization). This is the same behavior we see with hoarders. Hoarders often do not say thank you to the people who attempt to help them, and many times, they do not help with any cleanup or organization. This is indicative of narcissistic entitlement behavior.
- Poor impulse control, poor decision-making skills, and emotional dysregulation. Everything is geared toward making themselves feel better, regardless of how it makes others feel. The needs and feelings of other people are totally ignored or minimized in the pursuit of filling the void they have inside of them.
- People who hoard animals are a very good example of the narcissistic aspects of compulsive hoarding. Animals are the perfect companions for narcissistic hoarders because animals make no emotional demands. They are not like people who will become angry or even leave if their needs are ignored or if they are treated unfairly. Animal hoarders claim that they are "helping" the animals they collect, but no real effort is made to see to the animals' well-being at all. The animals exist in the home solely to make the hoarder feel better; they fulfill the hoarder's needs while their own needs are totally ignored. This is made obvious by the fact that animal hoarders are usually completely blind to how badly their animals are suffering. They never even notice. It's more important to an animal hoarder to believe they are helping the animals than it is to actually help them. In order to actually help the animals they've collected, the hoarder would have to relinquish control over the animals, and they cannot do that; they would rather the animals continue to suffer than go to another home. The hoarder is putting their own emotional needs above the animal's health and physical well-being. The hoarder often treats their family the same way. This is not love, regardless of what the hoarder thinks. It's selfish and it's abuse. In a word, it's narcissism.
Are Hoarders Narcissists?
Upon careful examination of both disorders, we see that there are, indeed, many similarities and overlapping qualities between hoarding and pathological narcissism. There are some key differences as well, and not all hoarders are the same. However, the argument can be made that in many instances, compulsive hoarding is an attempt to alleviate the specific anxiety that is experienced by a person who places on the narcissistic spectrum.
This conclusion makes sense because borderline personality disorder (BPD) falls on the narcissistic spectrum, and there are some elements of BPD evident in hoarding as well; some hoarders may feel they have been abandoned and choose to surround themselves with objects because they know objects can never leave them.
Compulsive hoarding, pathological narcissism, and borderline personality disorder are all debilitating disorders. If someone you know is suffering from any of these disorders, please seek professional help.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Marianne on June 27, 2019:
I’m presently divorcing my Narc husband of 42 years. We own our own business which he runs. I haven’t been to it in 12 years. I was shocked when I went into it. So much crap saved and piled all over. He collects furniture that people put out for trash and puts it in his office. He saves empty food containers and empty vitamin bottles. You can barely walk in his office. I really do think the two disorders are related. BTW, filing for divorce is the best thing I’ve ever done!
zulawski on June 17, 2019:
Thanks for sharing Ralph - divorce her and get out of there. You don't want this and you deserve better.
Ralph on June 16, 2019:
My wife was an animal hoarder; rabbits specifically. She still speaks about how well they lived, but they didn't. I had to do all of the feeding and cleanup. When I would get sick, she would get annoyed at being asked to do anything, then dismissively say "I'll take care of it". After going to check on them I would find that nothing was done. I asked to hire some help because of my deteriorating health, but she refused. Later, she allowed me to hire a friend of hers to chop and stack wood in our backyard. I asked him while I was sick if he could take care of the rabbits. After he did, my wife angrily responded to me saying "We didn't hire him to take care of the rabbits. That's your job." A warning from the city is what it took to allow me to give away the rabbits.
She once made false accusations of DV against me because I gave her a choice: let me clean the house, or I'll call child services. She chose option 3, and I was still going to court on the false charges while my father died of cancer. I had recordings of her trying to provoke me to assault her while I tried to escape the house, proving her a liar, but I was never interviewed by the police. I was just summoned to court to answer the charges. I had never been to court before, but had to go for three cases in a year. One for child services, another for the false DV charges, and a third for our dog that she kept letting run loose. According to my lawyer, she made claims of abuse to get sympathy to get out of the child services case against her.
I'm broken now. We live in filth, and I live in fear of what she'll do to me if I try to do any cleaning. I tried getting a therapist involved, but was ignored by the therapist and mocked by my wife after each session. The therapist took offense to me "tattling" on my wife.
Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on May 06, 2019:
I don't know about other narcissists and hoarders, but my relative who is a narcissist is also a hoarder. He's the type who throws a tantrum if we try to throw away a useless broken object. He finally lets us throw away old gum wrappers and fast food wrappers collected around his chair, but the kitchen and bathroom sinks are unusable except by him. He is the only one tall enough to reach over the junk and turn on the water. Pity you if you knock a glass off the cabinet and break it in an attempt to do so. When we've made attempts to intervene, he told us that "we aren't normal." We are the ones with the problem.
TwoHawks on October 08, 2018:
This is our brother Sergio, he is the youngest of six and is a hoarder. He is also a pathological narcissist who is 53 and lives with his mother rent free. We are trying to evict him from her home in order to get the necessary care for our mother but its a nightmare in getting him out. He has two junk vehicles on her property, her garage is filled with his junk as well as the yard with rusting tools and used paint cans. The room he took over is wall to wall junk. Barely enough room in the bed. He painted the room black, looks depressing. Its all about him, he doesn't acknowledge our/his mothers' needs who is suffering from dementia. It took our family a long time to realize that our brother needs mental help. It doesn't help that our mother is an enabler either. So yes narcissistic hoarders do exist and they make life miserable.
mary stein on January 11, 2018:
my husband is narcisstic and also a hoarder our garage looks like a garbage dump he gets boxes from Costco the same size and stacks them up like file cabinets with paper everyway he will not throw away anything ever and if i do he knows and gets really nasty until i pull it back out of the trash i could go on and on horrible life with him
lily on December 19, 2017:
My ex Narc would never ever throw away old bottles of shampoo or soap. Either old paper rolls. They were left exactly where their use ended: in the baththube, shower or behind the W.C. He wasn't a real hoarder in other area or at some times and suddenly he was cleaning everything. But what really struck me was the thing with old bottle of shampoo. It seemed that the bottles just weren't there to him. Or a part of him, as well Because it wasn't the most complicated thing to clean or throw away. I always thought of it as a consequence of his mental illness.
MajetaFernando on July 12, 2017:
Zulawski Thankyou for your kind comments.
zulawski on June 13, 2017:
George, you have to get out of there. You don't need another person to "rescue" you or "love" you - you need to do this for yourself. Your mother has trained you to feel as if you're powerless, but you're not - you're intelligent and brave and there is tremendous power within you, that's what she's afraid of and why she tries to control you. It's love but toxic love, that's destroying you. You deserve a future and you have to seize it with both hands. If you have a job, great - save up as much money as you can, ask friends or colleagues if any of them have a spare room or sofa you could stay on. Open your own bank account if you don't already have one. Look for an apartment to rent or a room in a shared house. Make sure you have possession of your personal ID documents etc. You have to draw boundaries between yourself and your mother, clearly and respectfully. Don't get too angry with her, just be firm and make it clear to her that you're taking responsibility for your life from now on. Hurting her emotionally doesn't matter, you can't afford to worry about that - you have to put your feelings and your wellbeing ahead of hers. And you could end up waiting the rest of your life for someone to come and rescue you, and no-one would. Your work is your own, your friends are your own, where you go is up to you. Tell your friends about the situation and they might be willing to help and support you. I believe in you, and more importantly, you believe in you. Go for it!
George Fernando on June 13, 2017:
Please Please help me. My mother is a hoarder but few outside my family know about it. And my extended family ignore it. She is not only a hoarder but also mentally ill---and my whole life has been terrible---i still live at home with her and i want out. She wants complete control of me and my room and the house---and where i go,where i work--who my friends plus i have had my own issues(cleaning Ocd,Adhd,anxiety and other problems but im beginning to think they were partly caused and exasperated by my parents. My father vanished when i was 14 and there is no contact--he disappeared. im 23 now and ive never left the state or even my city,never had a friend over,never had a birthday or christmas party--never this and never that. i cant even have a carpet. i want to move out but im scared---i know i have to but i do not want to hurt my mother--even thou she time and time again shows me that she cares nothing for me except to control me and she especially does not care for my well being,she is delusional but what is best for me/us-----so i need somebody to love me and care for me--really love me--and to clearly think what is best for me. i have little in my room--little of emotional value just stuff in bags and boxes--stuff that im not allowed to throw out or replace--i have some money for nice things---i want to be organized and tidy---i want somebody to really love me.
zulawski on February 03, 2017:
Tell the kids who grow up with severe asthma from growing up in a dusty, moldy house, being bitten by pests every night, or who have no place to study for school or do homework, or have to live in a caravan on the lawn (a real case in the UK), or have to break off their education and move into a homeless shelter (another real case in the UK) that "[hoarding] is far more hurtful to the hoarders themselves". Tell the pets that have starved to death or died of other forms of neglect under the "care" of animal hoarders that "[hoarding] is far more hurtful to the hoarders themselves".
I totally agree with everything you write about hoarding being a dysfunctional response to a traumatic life event and a manifestation of unresolved grief. There's a general consensus around that now, I think. I'm also not saying we shouldn't have empathy with hoarders. We should always have some degree of empathy. In a hoarding situation, everyone is a victim (including the hoarder), but only one person is the architect of the situation and is continuing to perpetrate it. Whatever trauma the hoarder has experienced, if they have children or dependents, their actions still have consequences for which they must take some responsibility. The ongoing or intermittent emotionally abusive behaviors that many hoarders demonstrate - rage, denial, passive-aggression, total disregard for the wellbeing of those in the care, to outright abusive treatment of others - can't simply be disregarded or passively accepted as an acceptable price because "they're suffering too". Hoarders place themselves and their feelings above the welfare of everyone else in the household. The denial is part of the narcissism - everyone in the household has to walk on eggshells and pretend everything is hunky-dory, and if the hoarding is even mentioned, a meltdown ensues. Tantrums are used to control others.
Forced clearouts don't work. Endless softly-softly compassion doesn't either. Those are the two ends of the spectrum, the ones we see on hoarding TV shows in the US/UK. The third option is simply to walk away. This may feel like resignation but can often be the best option, as most hoarders are incredibly resistant to help as the condition is partly ego-syntonic. When you've done everything in your power to try and help someone in a supportive, constructive, empathetic way, and you still end up getting abuse thrown at you and your needs and concerns totally disregarded, what alternatives are you left with?
The best approach I've found is to non-histrionically confront the hoarder with the harm they're doing (while also being sure they know they're supported) so that they truly understand the consequences that their behavior has for other people and want to change. As you say, hoarding is about desperately trying to fend off further emotional loss - only when they realise for themselves that these behaviors are in fact going to cause them even more loss will they change of their own volition.
Kai naHura on February 02, 2017:
People with hoarding issues have retreated into these behaviors because of experiencing the emotional trauma of severe loss. They have become entrenched in sadness and paralyzed by loss of hope. They fill their emptiness brought on by despair, by finding ways to distract
Themselves from falling into the abyss. Symbolically they fill that abyss. Their behaviors become obsessive, and all encompassing. There is a great deal of denial, and difficulty seeing "reality". Of course each person is an individual with their own constellation of behaviors. Very often the hoarding behavior begins after a serious life event. There may be genetic and/or predispositions that activate the onset of hoarding inclinations. It can be seen as a maladaptive way to deal with deep abrupt or chronic emotional pain. ( shock reaction). Denial, compulsive behavior, emotional and physical withdrawal, and noncompliance,may be very frustrating to family and friends. It may appear narcissistic. It seems to me that it is a reaction of despair related to unresolved grief. Some of the comments relating hoarding to narcissism seem to me as narcissistic. Though the behavior may be odd, to non hoarders, intractable, resistant , among other things, it is too convenient to categorically place this behavior under that umbrella. At times hoarding causes great stress, and many consequences for family, friends, and the community, it is far more hurtful to the hoarders themselves. Lost souls may possibly find healing if treated with compassion, and the understanding of the challenge and courage it takes to face grief and disappointment. Narcissistic motivations may originally stem from neglect, and self esteem issues, causing them to lash Out, and control others.. Hoarders generally seek to protect themselves, almost in zombie like denial, from further emotional loss.
zulawski on October 01, 2016:
THIS is the missing link. I completely echo Hannah Macht's comment above and grew up in a very similar situation. For narcissistic hoarders (the majority, especially the severe cases), the objects are the sources of narcissistic supply. This is the key to understanding it - why they often take a bizarre pride in the stuff they hoard and in the state of their living conditions; why the condition is largely ego-syntonic; why they genuinely don't care at all about the impact their behavior has on other people, and have near-zero empathy or ability to see the situation from their perspective; and why there is aggression, abuse and massive resistance (narcissistic rage) when anyone tries to intervene in any way, or even just tries to carve out a space for themselves amid the mess.
I've known three hoarders in my life - my mom, an ex-boyfriend, and a guy I shared a house with in 2005. Of the three, all had elements of narcissism or codependent/covert narcissism to varying degrees, and all were depressed, socially isolated and had some kind of loss in their past. The latter (Andy) was the least severe care, he was a depressed hoarder whose room got into a terrible state after a bereavement. I cleaned it out for him one day while he was at work and (unlike a narcissistic hoarder) he wasn't mad at all, instead thankful and a little embarrassed (and none of the junk returned). A full-on narcissist would have been furious. Andy was a guy who was quite codependent and had trouble standing up for himself or attending to his own needs, and was in a dysfunctional friendship with the third guy who lived in our house, who was domineering, abusive and aggressive in a very OCPD way (and who was the reason I moved out shortly after all this happened). Because Andy had trouble looking after himself and the other guy was so controlling, they were unfortunately a toxic match for each other. Even when I tried to stand up to the bullying guy on mine and Andy's behalf, Andy would be totally passive and not back me up at all. He was so conflict-averse and with low self-esteem that he preferred to stay in the house and be bullied and ordered around by another guy his own age than to find somewhere better to live. I lived in the house for 4 months before I got a new job and apartment in a neighbouring city, and I was really glad to leave.
My ex-bf of 2012-3 was, at the very least, honest about his hoarding to the extent that he discussed it with me a number of times and told me he'd been to the doctor about it and taken therapy courses, but that these hadn't helped. I massively respect people who are this proactive in combating their problem, as it's a rarity - most hoarders are in denial (either total, resolute denial, or admission that there's a problem but denial as to the severity) and massively resist any outside help. So it was great that he was so open about it and had taken practical steps to try and overcome it. Unfortunately, none of that stopped the situation from getting worse. He would make great efforts to get the living room clear so his friends could come over for his birthday - with success - but then the mess would come back worse than ever. The hoarding then spread to one half of his bed, so as well as his friends not being able to visit anymore, I wasn't welcome there either because there was nowhere to sleep. He used to save the tubes from the middle of toilet paper rolls (he had about 20 standing on top of the cistern), and every time he went to the bakery he would save the paper bag that his bakery item came in. It was when we discussed his bakery bags that I noticed how ego-syntonic his hoarding actually was. When I said "Why don't you just throw them away?", he replied "Because I might want to use them again!" with a great deal of pride and superiority in his voice. He took a sort of narcissistic pride in not throwing anything away, even if it drove me and his friends away. He also told me that his domestic life and his regular clean-up attempts were governed by self-defeating "rituals", that he always had to do things a certain way, so there was definitely OCPD in there too.
My mom, who I moved back in with 2 years ago to help care for her and my father (who has since been placed in a care home), unfortunately is the worst case. Two times recently, she threw a tantrum (tears and aggression) after I disposed of something of my own, something that didn't affect her at all. One was an old table in my room that I'd stopped using. We'd both talked about it and agreed that it could go. When I unscrewed the legs and brought the table downstairs for us to take to a second-hand furniture shop, she ran off to the bathroom and had a crying fit, then started screaming abuse at me about how she hates having to "share a kitchen" (which is almost unusable) and "share a bathroom" (the one room in the house she has always kept clean) with me. Every time something changes in the house, even if it's a change that doesn't affect her (like me getting rid of my old table), she has a sort of panic attack followed by rage.
The second instance recently was to do with items she took out of the trash can in my room. As a kid, I never had any emotional space and always just felt like an extension of her and overwhelmed by her. Now that I've moved back in again as an adult, she still sorts through my trash and "saves" things from it due to her anxieties and her obsessive recycling fetish (another common feature of hoarders - they elevate recycling to a religion and look down on people who "waste" things as morally inferior). I had a restaurant receipt in my wallet that I threw in the trash can in my room; without me knowing, when she sorted through the trash, she found my receipt (for a pizza) and saved it "just in case" and put it in her handbag. A few days later, she was sorting through her handbag in the living room and I was surprised to see the receipt from my restaurant visit, and said "That was in my wallet". Cue the most almighty tantrum - she starts shouting "I HAVE NOT BEEN IN YOUR WALLET" and "I HAVE NOT BEEN STEALING FROM YOU" while physically shaking, even as I try and reassure her and repeatedly say "I'm not accusing you of that! I never said you had been! I threw it in the trash!"
Her hoarding began when her parents died, when I was about 7 years old. Instead of clearing out their house properly, she simply transported all their possessions into our house. A lot of it went into my room - so from the age of 7 to 15, I grew up with two-thirds of my childhood bedroom packed floor-to-ceiling with my dead grandparents' possessions, leaving just the bed and a narrow aisle for me to reach it. To her credit, she dealt with this 8 years later, when I was 15 and needed a proper place to study as well as a computer. However, a small number of her parents' possessions remain in my room to this day. I could say more about my mother but that's it for now.
The denial, rage, lack of insight, resistance to any and all help, and abusive and controlling behaviors of many hoarders are classic narcissism - especially the way they go off the rails at the slightest provocation or when anyone bursts their bubble, so you literally have to handle them with kid gloves and walk on eggshells. I'm glad my mom isn't like this all the time, but it's like Jekyll and Hyde.
Lydia Workman from Canada on June 15, 2016:
This is an interesting look at the behaviours behind some very peculiar behaviours. I have never looked at these things from this perspective. My own childhood was spent with a very challenging parent who was a hoarder along with my grandmother. My grandmother displayed signs of hoarding because she grew up during the depression. There was a constant fear of not having enough. Some people have said this behaviour is not uncommon for people who grew up during that time. My mother also was a compulsive shopper at secondhand stores. Many people have told me that she sounds like a narcissist whenever I discuss some of the things I went through growing up. Not only was she a hoarder, but she was also morbidly obese. This meant she never did much of the things a normal parent would do with her obesity always being an excuse. Her behaviour escalated in abusive treatment as I got older. It is such a challenge to cope with these things because they are not obvious as abuse until we are older and able to look back and examine the situation.
Lena on June 03, 2016:
I learned everything I could about hoarding disorder, try to understand my hoarding family member. When it was suggested, that her disingenuous childlike innocent act was a form of narcissism, I started looking into NPD. (I'd always associated narcissism with arrogant, loud-mouth, bully types.) I realized that she fits all nine criteria for NPD. The first eight strongly, the arrogance she tries to hide from most people, but it comes out around the family. Recently I realized how much she tries to control people around her, the hoard is just one way she does that. As a hoarder she doesn't understand the value or worth of anything. Not just objects but money, events, time relationships, needs, etc. So, decisions on just about everything are based solely on what she wants...what she thinks will make her feel good. That is the only way she evaluates worth; nothing else matters. Yes I believe that real hoarders are narcissists. I think that HD is a form of NPD.
The Little Shaman (author) from Macon, GA on April 11, 2016:
@JustMe: If your mother took very good care of her pets, it is my experience that she would be the exception, rather than the rule when it comes to animal hoarders in general, yes. However, as I stated, people are all different.
Also... sadly, though it doesn't happen every time, it is not uncommon for people who have been the subject of narcissistic abuse to "catch" narcissism themselves. Since their needs are so egregiously neglected and they are so constantly hurt, they start focusing mostly on themselves in self-defense, especially if they are children when it happens. One could hardly blame them, of course. Narcissistic abuse is very damaging.
There is also a subtype of narcissist that is the complete opposite of what we think of when we hear the word "narcissistic." These are often the hardest to detect. Instead of wanting admiration or endeavoring to appear superior, they want sympathy, pity and endeavor to appear broken and needy (not that they aren't, of course; all narcissists are, inside). That is how they control: through pity, sympathy and displaying crippling insecurity. It is often very difficult to recognize this type of narcissist because what we perceive as insecurity is actually manipulation designed to control:
"I can't stand not knowing where you are. It worries me to the point that I can't do anything else."
"It hurts me so much when you are angry with me. I'm already beating myself up enough. I just can't handle more."
These are statements disguised as insecurity which are designed to control the other person through guilt, pity and shame. They mean, "Report to me where you are and what you are doing every second" and "Stop trying to make me take responsibility for my actions."
There are also what are known as inverted or covert narcissists, which are slightly different than classic narcissists and the two other kinds described here in this comment. They are generally very submissive and very insecure, doing whatever is asked of them. They will often unknowingly seek out classic or overt narcissists to have relationships with.
Whether any of these things have any bearing on the situation you are describing of course, only you would know. I just thought I'd mention them because they aren't really explained in this article.
JustMe on April 11, 2016:
First of all, those TV shows are *extreme* cases and/or DRAMATIZED to the max. It's show biz, folks! Anyone who thinks those cases are "typical" needs their OWN head examined.
I have my experience. My mother was a hoarder and was the VICTIM of two flaming NPD-ed individuals, her mother and her husband. My mother was the SCAPEGOAT in her family and had suffered sexual and physical abuse. She was warm, loving, affectionate and wouldn't hurt anything or anyone intentionally. She DID acquire a lot of animals, but they all had excellent veterinary care and were well taken care of. Perhaps she is the exception rather than the rule.
I do believe that the poster above who stated that hoarding is more of a symptom rather than a distinct disorder may be onto something.
Hannah Macht on September 22, 2015:
I have parent who is both a covert narcissist and a hoarder. Just on that basis I'd go ahead and take the question mark off your article title. Or I might reframe the question this way: If some narcissists are hoarders, are all hoarders narcissists?
My intuition suggests no, not all hoarders are narcissists, although I think many are. I'd go even further and downgrade hoarding from a primary disorder to a behavioral symptom of multiple other disorders, the same way a fever is not itself a disease but a symptom of many different diseases.
For what it's worth, my narcissistic parent hoarded not only things purchased in during unnecessary shopping sprees but also other family members stuff, especially stuff with sentimental or personal significance to that family member - photos, letters, and significant paperwork were always risky to have anywhere accessible. I used to think of that as hoarding memories - equal parts denial of any other persons right to 'own' anything and denial of any other persons right to 'own' any emotions, except when the narcissist allowed and would benefit. I have no idea how common this behavior is among narcissists who also hoard, but I'd bet that one could identify a number of quirky hoarding acts or variants arising from the need of the personality disordered individual to exert control and manipulate. Depressed people who also hoard probably have their own quirky subtypes that serve the needs of the depression, and so on...
Liv Carradine from Los Angeles, CA on June 15, 2015:
Awesome! I thought I was the only one who considered hoarding being tied in with narcissism. The way they react to their families with such entitlement- I can't even believe it. I get especially upset when people have their children living in filth or have lost their children because of the filth yet refuse to clean so the child can go home.
poetryman6969 on June 14, 2015:
While I don't claim to be able to use the psych lingo properly, if you ever watch one of those hoarding shows it becomes obvious, at least in the case of people who hoard non living things, that they care much, much more about themselves and what they are thinking and feeling than others and what others are thinking and feeling. Otherwise, all those family members who want to get close but can't because of the junk that gets in the way would sway the hoarder. That they also have some sort of illness is exposed when some maggot infested vitamins are uncovered and the hoarder thinks that in some universe the maggoty vitamins can be salvaged. That's a short between the head sets for sure. In most cases, with very, very few notable exceptions, maggots are natures way of telling you that you are doing something wrong. Rat feces and cockroaches bear the same message.
Mary from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet. on June 14, 2015:
Great hub, I have always felt as if most hoarders possess somewhat of a narcissist personality. They are very controlling and get way too attached to material possessions. I have never been one to value any article of clothing or other material possession. I usually give away stuff that I don't use, or clothes that are too big.
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on June 13, 2015:
Excellent, informative, and thought-provoking article, SinDelle. Your top-notch writing skills and presentation made it easy to read and understand.
I think you may be on to something by pointing out the parallels between hoarding and narcissism. It makes perfect sense as we see the commonalities in criteria and symptoms. Years ago I read that at the core of depression lies a self-centered component that causes depressed persons to disconnect from others as all revolves around them. I believe your theory is in the same ballpark. Brilliantly done, voted up, useful, and interesting. Also shared and tweeted.