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Please Help Fix My Mom. - Kenny

Question:

I’m really worried about my mom. She just can’t let ANYTHING go. This problem has always had the potential to be a major issue, but now that I have become independent, it is spiraling out of control. I’m an only child, and I think she is trying to compensate for the fact that I am no longer in the nest. The magazines, greeting cards, and old newspapers have always been a problem. Now she’s progressed to a level that is starting to scare me. She has over 2,000 beanie babies. Every time a fast food restaurant gives some little piece of chunk away with their food she will take it and save it. She’ll buy their kid’s meals until she has the entire collection. She’ll save every little trinket from a cereal box. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture. I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she always gets angry and says she doesn’t want to talk about it. Or she’ll call herself a collector and scream, " it’s my stuff", and then storm off. I really am not sure how to tackle this problem. I just found this site and thought it might not be a bad place to start. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank You for your time. KB

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Answer:

There are some problems that cannot be tackled because the person with the problem refuses to do anything about it. Sometimes the refusal has to do with a defense mechanism called "denial." In denial an individual does not see an issue even when it is plainly present. Your mom is in denial but the problems is worse. Let me explain:

The type of collecting you are describing results from a particular type of Obsessive-compulsive disorder in which the person is driven to collect and save. In fact, there are often other problems underneath the OCD. In any case, the drive to save is very powerful and attempting to resist it’s power is impossible. This is true even in the worst of cases where people are threatened with eviction from their apartments if they do not get rid of the trash. It is not that they do not want to cooperate, it is more that they just cannot cooperate.

based on this information, I would recommend that you do nothing about your mother. If a point of crisis is reached in which she is threatened with eviction, there will be more leverage to get her to seek treatment. Treatment would be in the form of psychotherapy and, perhaps, medication. I would urge that, if the time comes, she get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with medication.

The reason I am suggesting medication along with CBT is that the nature of the obsessional thinking is so powerful that change will not happen fast enough to avoid legal ramifications with therapy alone.

If she owns her own home and she is in violation of any health or fire codes due to the piles she has saved you may have leverage. However, you would need to alert the health and fire departments where she lives to do an inspection. Of course, your mom will become extremely angry with you.

One last possibility is to ask her to go to therapy for some other problems, such as depression and/or anxiety. If she is feeling badly enough, especially since you moved out, she may go for help. Then, perhaps, the problem can get addressed.

Basically, there is not much you can do at this time. If you continue to pressure her about this, she will continue to get very angry with you. Remember, behind OCD there is an enormous amount of anxiety.

Best of Luck

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