My husband and I are very worried about our female relatives. Her extreme hoarding and self-neglect has reached new levels (rod infestation, not using the refrigerator, not managing the household finances, self-neglect/not doing laundry) and is very worrying to us. We have tried to help her over the years (and it’s been going on for a long time) by hiring a skip, helping with laundry, replacing appliances, but nothing. It doesn’t seem to have any effect and only seems to make the situation worse.
She has been caring for her (highly controlling and narcissistic) mother for years and feels intense anger at having her freedom taken away, but ironically, she also feels “being bossy and being told what to do.” I miss being told what to do.”
We have written and phoned her GP, but when he visits, she manipulates the situation so well that the GP has not seen the whole house (no rooms are (unusable and full of stuff). She sleeps and eats in a dirty room.
We are at a loss and constantly worry about her. She is single and very isolated within the community as no one enters her house and her garden is overgrown. Nothing we say seems to have any effect and we’re running out of ideas. We have offered to pay for counseling, but she is either not interested or makes excuses as to why she can’t attend. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
It seems like your concern for your relative is spot on and she has reached a point where she doesn’t care about herself or her environment. It’s right to consider counseling her because her behavior is likely related to her underlying medical condition or negative experiences in her childhood, such as a controlling mother. The common route for help is through your GP, but given your own escalating distress, it might be worth trying again.
Your general practitioner will also be aware of any cases that require investigation, such as OCD or other mental illnesses, but if they have already diagnosed your relative and found nothing unusual, then the course of action is your relative’s choice. You may have to accept that. In this case, you need to adapt your own reaction. Another option to consider is to express to your relatives your own emotional distress due to this situation and let them know that you and your husband are seeking professional help in this matter. You can also invite her to join to help you. That way, your relative may also be able to offer a less embarrassing way to participate (check out family therapy options at familytherpayireland.com).
Many people who hoard are aware of how it appears to the outside world and feel humiliated and ashamed, which leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. You too are feeling this helplessness right now and are at risk of getting stuck in emotional stagnation. She relies on you to provide support and care while your relative is isolated. If it can be offered easily and freely on an ongoing basis, there may come a time when she is willing to accept your help. This requires you to be alert but unfazed by her situation and ready to take action when she wants or needs her intervention. She is likely to encounter a crisis such as food poisoning or illness due to lack of hygiene, and this will be an opportunity to include her general practitioner and others in her overall care.
Invite your relatives for a walk or coffee. Her cleanliness may take her to another world where she takes it for granted.
Of course, it’s extremely painful to watch someone you love intentionally make their life miserable, but when you’re emotionally overwhelmed, your ability to help is diminished. In addition to seeking support from a family therapist, you may want to consider calming activities such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. This will allow you to be aware of your reactions and come to a calm place on your own when faced with difficult situations.
Sometimes the most difficult response is to do nothing, but having the patience to continue working despite frustration may be the response we need right now. Get your husband to support you in this effort, and the two of you to learn calming exercises together so that one of you can always calm down when the other is feeling desperate or angry. You can also. Invite your relatives for a walk or coffee. It may transport her to another world where her cleanliness is the norm.
You don’t want to embarrass her, so do this carefully and try drinking coffee in a quiet outdoor location first. This will give you something to do, but don’t get upset if your efforts are wasted. The advantage is that you can demonstrate continuity of care, which is always valuable.