Q&A Session--Nature vs. Nurture

NOTE: I want to remind anyone reading here that I am not a professional--not an organizer, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. I observe and report what I see, and I try to blend my observations with (sometimes against) those who are "experts".

A friend recently sent me this email. We met via the internet after my mother's episode aired. I was touched with her ability to share and ask me about this, but I realized that she was probably not the only one who wonders about this issue. This is her email, and my response. I pray it may touch someone else too!

You have been in my mind the last few days. I will explain. I have been with my dad @ his home- he is now elderly & can no longer move around independant. He is simply- a hoarder- once removed.

See, his situation is a little different. His home is NOT dirty, not cluttered as far as immobile. I suppose you would term him an information hoarder, but most of it (all of it) is info for his former career. He wrote a lot of articles & such & has so much info for doing that.

I was helping him go through some of his files & I swear every letter he has gotten in the last (?) years he has in a sep file (sigh). He knows he will never use it again.... reluctant to toss some of it. He did toss a lot while I was there & I told him I was proud of him. The amass of papers & books that he has.... oh my. When he passes- the job we will have. It is NOT junk, I assure you that. Just the years of accumulation.

He has 4 (that I found) waffle makers, still in box. Several hot pots, still in box. The list goes on. Oh yeah- the boxes- from products..... but I do that too. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The 1 question I have in all of this????? How much of "my" behavior is hereditary & how much is learned? I am so curious.
Thanks for all that you do :)

You raised an excellent question! I don't think anyone knows how much of hoarding/cluttering that is passed from one generation to another is due to genetic predisposition (similar to how alcoholism is passed) and how much is simply learned behavior. I know that the nature vs. nurture question has been raised over and over in different mental health issues.

I know that there is notable differences in the brain functioning of those affected by cluttering behaviors. For instance, they have an issue sorting things into groups. You mentioned your dad having all those letters and each being neatly filed away...in its own file! That is one of the processing issues I've heard being key in the issue. There seems to be a processing issue where things are all unique, quite the opposite of how my earliest filing projects were--overgeneralization.

How much of your behavior is genetic (nature) vs. learned behavior (nurture) is really not as important as how you deal with it, I believe. If you know you have certain tendencies and you work to deal with them constructively, allow others to balance you out, the rest doesn't matter. I think grief plays a huge role in the progression of hoarding/cluttering, much as any other addiction.

I think of Paul in Romans 7 speaking of the good he wished he did but doesn't do, and bemoaning the bad he wouldn't want to do yet finds himself doing all the more! When we are aware of destructive possibilities in our lives, surround ourselves with people who truly love us and will be real with us, I think we take the worst parts of the nature and/or nurture issue out of the equation.

Even if your tendency to do things like your dad IS a genetic brain processing difference, the good news is that God offers us healing! If God can heal ten lepers, if He can make the blind see, then surely He can heal and release us from those tendencies! And if He forgave the Samaritan woman, the thief on the cross beside Jesus, then surely He will forgive us if our tendency is more of a learned behavior--bad habit.

Either way, we are washed in His grace! There is hope from hoarding!

Keep your chin up. You don't have to claim these issues or be bound to them. Healing and recovery are possible, even if painful...and I say that from personal experience and honesty.

Sending prayers, hugs, and blessings your way!


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