I work with many clients with hoarding challenges. They have helped me to see and heal the ‘hoarder’ in me and others who come to see me NOT because of hoarding. I will use my own examples to clarify what I mean, and hope parts of this article resonate and are helpful for you:
I came from an academic background. ‘Researcher’ used to be my identity. Being someone skilled at conducting research still constitutes part of my self-value today, even though I have acquired a new identity as a therapist. Early this year I applied for a research grant to conduct a clinical trial on hoarding. However, my proposal was not funded, and the comments I received felt hurtful and hard to swallow. A week after getting these comments, I found myself saying yes and engaging in a dozen professional projects of various scales – I felt pride and heard my inner chatter saying, “I don’t need the useless grant to do what I CAN do!” Anger was with me.
After a month of ‘project and responsibility hoarding,’ my body started to experience problems. I found myself unable to breath properly and my stomach ached almost everyday. Finally it took almost fainting in my office while working one day for me to realize that something was not right.
So I asked my Buddhist teacher for advice.
“There are so many things I know I can do! I know that! I just wish there was an army of me so I could accomplish them all at once, NOW!” She asked me, “does doing all of these projects all at once spark joy?” with a playful smile signaling that I should be familiar with the question given the realm of my work. “No, not much joy, only anxiety and worries,” I said. She gave me a homework assignment to look at what’s underneath the wish to accomplish these projects all at once and soon.
So I studied my anxiety and worries for about a month. Here is what I found in ‘the soup’ of this urge and hoard, and what it boils down to:
In this soup I had anger and wounded self-esteem related to the setback in the grant application. I wanted to prove that I CAN do anything. I felt vengeful. Underneath the ‘I am capable’ image, what I was defending was an incredibly painful belief that ‘I am worthless without my achievements.’ Yes, one of the things it boiled down to was the fear of not being enough (to be valued, cared about, and remembered).
The soup was not made of all bitter ingredients, though. There was also excitement about the projects and collaborations to be built. I really felt (and still feel) called to devote my lifetime to bring about positivity for the world through these projects. However, worries of not being able to succeed were much more pronounced than the joy of working on them — my conception of self-worth and worthiness for love and connection were at stake.
Ahhh… No wonder it does not spark joy.
Many of those who struggle with hoarding challenges say, “I am not holding on to possessions because they spark joy. I am holding on to them because letting them go invites fear and worry.” A lot of the fear and worries I have had the honor to listen to come down to, “without _______, I am not enough”. And I suspect that “with _______, I am still not enough” may have also been there.
I wonder if any of what I have written so far resonates with you. Fear of not being enough seeps into many things we do, even the supposed-to-be-joyful ones. Like how having possessions is meant to be enjoyable, until it becomes something we feel uncomfortable, even fearful, to be flexible about. Fear of not being enough may be underneath some of our responsibility hoarding as well. Fear of not deserving may be underneath our drive to hoard intellectual or cultural knowledge. Fear (or straight-out belief) of not deserving love makes us bend over backwards in order to hold onto relationships. What else?
Like the physical space we have, our lifetime also has a limit.
The things we spend time doing, however small or large, take up ‘space’ in our lives. If you can relate somewhat to what I am sharing, I invite you to look into your ‘soup for hoarding’ and see what feelings and beliefs are in it. Maybe you have the key ingredient I have, fear of not being enough. Maybe your soup has completely different ingredients and flavors. Whatever you discover, taste it, be willing to look deeper and understand where it came from.
Finally, as what my teacher said to me in response to my realization: I wish we all knew how wonderful we are. I wish we all knew how to access the joyful life we all desire to live.