“Meaningless Carrying-On”: A Psychoanalytically-Oriented Qualitative Study of Compulsive Hoarding

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Abstract

With compulsive hoarding now forming a discrete diagnostic category, there has been a recent increase in its visibility in both the clinical and the cultural milieu. However, understanding of the meaning and possible emotional underpinnings of hoarding lags behind. This qualitative study reports findings from in-depth interviewing of 5 participants using a psychoanalytic interview method and analysis, in an effort to integrate and convey conscious and unconscious responses to the process and provide some insight into the participants’ internal worlds and their object-relating. Three themes emerged from this data: In Two Minds, Covered-up Shame, and Meaningless Carrying-On. The interrelated themes are offered as an entry into thinking about key intrapsychic conflicts in hoarding behavior. These are discussed in relation to relevant psychoanalytic concepts, particularly Bion’s Container-contained function, and the contention that it is the primary goal of the person to maintain a good object in the world and to sustain relations with this. Implications for further research and for working clinically with people who hoard, including aspects of treatment engagement, are considered.

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