Today, we appear to be suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. Indeed, in an increasingly individualistic and competitive world, human connections are conspicuous by their absence and single-person households are on the increase.
Although being alone isn’t necessarily synonymous with emotional loneliness, in reality, we’re social beings. It seems that this absence of meaningful ties leads some people to hoard objects to fill that void.
As a matter of fact, this is a trend in which most of us are immersed. We’ve become increasingly consumerist and the Internet and new technologies facilitate our acquisition of goods from the comfort of our own homes. Therefore, instead of spending quality time with other people and building and nurturing strong, meaningful relationships, we spend increasingly more time shopping online.
Compulsive buying behavior (CBB) has increased worldwide during the past two decades. However, not all of us are affected equally by this trend. So, what is it that makes us more likely to replace affection and company with material goods? Let’s find out.
The tendency to accumulate and hoard
The predisposition to hoard and accumulate is quite common in the animal kingdom. The human brain is also programmed to do so, especially when we can’t rely on a safe and regular availability of supplies. In fact, to some degree, we all enjoy having a full larder and multiple items of clothing or decorative objects. That said, some of us take it to the extreme.
People with hoarding disorder tend to hoard objects that they can’t part with. Indeed, the mere idea of doing so causes them enormous anxiety. This is either because they feel they might need them in the future or because they attribute an emotional meaning to them. Consequently, the objects end up filling the entire space of their homes and become a significant source of discomfort.
These individuals generally have fewer and poorer quality social relationships. Moreover, they often have difficulty relating to others and use their possessions and collections as a way to bond with a happy past or to cope with loneliness.
Why loneliness leads to hoarding
So why do some people choose to fill their social and emotional voids with material goods? A study conducted in 2018 provides some interesting information in this regard:
The study claims that one answer is found in anthropomorphism, the tendency to attribute human characteristics and qualities to non-human entities. Just like the child who claims that their doll has feelings or the protagonist in the movie, Castaway, who becomes attached to a ball he calls Wilson.
People who live lonely lives with a greater need for affection and company may anthropomorphize animals and objects. This makes up for the lack of warmth that they achieve from social contact. From turning to a stuffed animal for comfort to naming technological gadgets, there are many ways we inadvertently attribute will, opinions, or emotions to objects. It’s been proven that the loneliest people do it more frequently.
On the other hand, it seems that those who have greater difficulties in tolerating anxiety are more likely to acquire and collect objects. This intolerance to distress is due to the lack of adaptive coping mechanisms.
In these instances, when facing adversity, the individual resorts to guilt or rumination and feels both overemotional and overwhelmed. Consequently, they find comfort in objects (and their acquisition) in the face of these negative emotions that are unbearable and uncontrollable.
The tendency to acquire and collect objects excessively is also found in those with anxious attachment styles. These individuals experience negative emotions more frequently and intensely and feel less able to cope.
In addition, they tend to have emotional deficiencies and a need for connection and emotional security. That’s why they attribute human qualities to objects to cover their unsatisfied social needs. They may even find in excessive buying and hoarding a kind of sense of belonging that they really crave.
Hoarding and loneliness
Research on this issue suggests that collecting, acquiring, or becoming attached to objects helps certain individuals make up for their lack of social connections. Therefore, it can be a help to them at any given time. However, this isn’t healthy and they should seek support to learn how to build and sustain significant human bonds.
Finally, the results of the research suggest that, if we want to combat a tendency to excessive accumulation, working on anthropomorphism and intolerance to anxiety can be a good starting point.
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