Disposophobia is the fear of losing things or an intense fear of getting rid of stuff. It is also called ‘Hoarding disorder’. Many people worldwide are known to be affected by this phobia and a recent survey has shown that Britons are number one in this list.
The word ‘Disposophobia’ has Greek origins. The root word ‘Dispos’ means fear of getting rid of personal belongings and ‘Phobos’ stands for the Greek God of fear.
This mental disorder causes the sufferer to save every small thing acquired including receipts, old magazines, worn out clothes, newspapers, old mail, lists, notes and so on. The illness has actually been around for centuries and yet, most sufferers are unaware of having it. Disposophobia can be further divided into Animal Hoarding, Book hoarding, as well as other specific object hoarding. In a majority of the cases, the phobic does not have any use for the objects he hoards, but his intense fear regarding its disposal causes him to keep collecting and storing those objects. Naturally, the phobic’s loved ones are severely affected by his behavior and are often unable to convince him to get help. Animal hoarding also leads to very unhygienic conditions and might compromise one’s health. A majority of the phobics tend to be socially withdrawn or lonely which only intensifies their need to hoard more stuff.
Causes of Disposophobia
Doctors in the field of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Research Program at the University of California in Los Angeles have determined that people with certain neurological conditions and diseases are more likely to turn ‘hoarders’. These include dementia, ADHD, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, certain addictions, developmental disabilities, as well as OCD. The study also showed that people with Disposophobia are more likely to have mild atrophy of the brain or unusual frontal lobe shapes. This part of the brain is responsible for making decisions and executing functions
Often, a past negative experience could trigger the fear of getting rid of stuff phobia- the person might have thrown something out, only to have regretted it later.
The fear of getting rid of stuff phobia can also begin rather early in one’s life and has even been seen in kids as young as 3 years. Animal or book hoarding could also have specific triggers in that; the person feels more secure by collecting books/keeping pets. This could have a link with a traumatic event or memory- physically/mentally abused children are more likely to show such signs.
Hoarding could also begin in one’s middle age; this is seen predominantly in women than in men. Core vulnerabilities like emotional dysregulation (anxiety and depression) occurring due to an emotional setback (loss of a loved one or job, divorce etc) could be the triggers. The phobic starts associating a particular object with human-like qualities and feels intense grief or fear at the thought of throwing that object out.
People who have the fear of getting rid of stuff phobia also fear that they will be wasting the object or losing out on the opportunity represented by that object.
Symptoms of getting rid of stuff phobia
People with Disposophobia often have trouble organizing things. They display intense anxiety and fear when asked to throw out old and unwanted/unnecessary stuff. They might show following sings of anxiety /panic attacks:
- Feeling restless, having elevated heart rate, rapid breathing
- Feeling like screaming, running away or hiding rather than throwing away the stuff
- Feeling extremely distressed, nauseated at the thought of getting rid of stuff.
The houses of Disposophobics are generally cluttered and there is hardly any living space. Animal hoarders tend to live in extremely unhygienic/unsanitary conditions; their living spaces are often home to bacteria, rotting food, vermin, rodents and even biohazard waste. They typically live alone and show signs of depression or obsessive compulsion disorder. The hoarded items are often stacked in passages and hallways and often moved to create space for more items. If there is no clutter, the phobics tend to feel restless and feel that they need to get some more stuff.
Needless to say, Disposophobia can deeply affect relationships and can drive away loved ones. Holding a job or having steady relationships can also become rather difficult for people suffering from this phobia.
Overcoming the phobia
The fear of getting rid of stuff phobia is a complex disorder and it is vital to diagnose the underlying conditions before prescribing therapy or medication.
In general, compulsive hoarding and Disposophobia have been treated and managed using anti-obsession medication as well as CBT or Cognitive behavior therapy. The latter specifically targets the characteristics of the phobia and gets to the root of the fear which the phobic possesses (about making wrong decisions about throwing away of items).
Mild Disposophobia can also be treated through talk therapy and other psychiatric interventions. It is vital to get professional cleaning services to help the phobic start living a healthier and cleaner lifestyle again. Additionally, one must pick up the threads of one’s life and try and rebuild bonds of trust with family and friends. The latter should also be patient and understanding about the phobic’s condition and try change the person with love and patience.
Disposophobia is a treatable condition- by taking these pivotal steps along with meditation, positive visualization and other self help therapies the phobic can set out on the road to recovery.