The OCD hoarder does not focus on the treasure. Far from it. In fact, often there is no focus at all other than the steady refusal to discard worthless items. As a result, these folks tend to accumulate massive amounts of clutter.
What type of clutter? Could be virtually anything: gum wrappers, stacks of magazines that fill entire bedrooms, clothing that is worn out or no longer fits, empty soda cans that are never recycled, etc.
The fear that most hoarders have is that once they throw something away they will, sometime later, find that it was needed. An even more compelling reason many hoarders give for not throwing items away is that the object has sentimental value. The problem here is that hoarders become sentimental about many items. For example, a hoarder may keep the fast-food bag that contained hamburgers from their junior prom date.
Many hoarders will also admit that when they throw things away it provokes an odd sense of being incomplete. A feeling that they are missing something essential in their life.
Their solution for avoiding such discomfort is to hang onto things that others easily discard.
The end result of hoarding is a life that becomes smaller and smaller. The OCD hoarder’s home becomes filled with items that give him, or her, little pleasure. Disorganization is the norm, so as the collection of hoarded items grows so does a depressive sense of chaos and lack of control.
Eventually, the hoarder finds it difficult to navigate his/her own home due to the massive number of objects that clutter the floor, and are stacked ceiling-high against the walls. Friends are not invited overdue to embarrassment about the state of the home. A sense of helplessness and self-reproach is common.
The last subtype of OCD we will look at is the ‘obsessors.’ Some might think that this type of anxiety does not really fall under OCD because it often lacks the traditional compulsive solution that momentarily resolves anxiety.
That is, unlike other types of OCD where a specific ritual, behavior, or thought, is performed and anxiety subsequently resolves, the solution for obsessors is often not quite so clear.
The ‘obsessor’ OCD individual becomes anxious when various thoughts come to mind. These may be random, and nearly always are meaningless. It may be that after reading a news report of some tragedy the person thinks “What if that happened to my child?” An image of their child in that tragic situation briefly forms whereupon the obsessor thinks “I wonder if I want that to happen to my child?” This question then proceeds to haunt the obsessor, and a sense of nearly unbearable guilt/shame frequently follows.
Such intrusive thoughts are not limited to themes of violence but also include sex, impulsive behaviors that break societal norms, and activities that go against the person’s deepest held beliefs regarding right and wrong.
The response to having these intrusive thoughts, as noted before, is to question one’s own integrity and virtue. It is as if the unbidden thought (which most people would discard as being an odd and meaningless neuronal hiccup) holds dark secret truths about one’s mental state.
The person will normally proceed to dwell on the thought, examining it from every angle with the hope that by doing so he, or she, will discover that the thought does not mean what they fear.
This compulsive behavior generally provides little relief, and what it does provide is short-lived. Other common reactions include repeatedly praying, silently counting, repeating a specific phrase or word, and seeking reassurance from a trusted confidant.
Patterns Of Anxiety
Before going further, it is important to briefly look at how OCD related thoughts, feelings, and behaviors work together in a way that makes it difficult to stop worrying.
I want to start by pointing out that each of the OCD subtypes we just looked at share one fundamental similarity. Namely, some event or thought triggers an intrusive thought which gives rise to anxiety that in turn is responded to with a compulsion (through behavior or thought) which eventually creates a sense of relief.