Before you judge me too harshly, I do have some standards. You will never catch me watching anything like Toddlers and Tiaras or Duck Dynasty. But I love competition-based shows (for adults!) like Top Chef, Face/Off (a current favorite) and Project Runway. And there are candid reality shows like The Real Housewives that I find strangely compelling. I think it’s because I can’t believe some people will do shows like that and have absolutely no clue as to how utterly ridiculous they appear. On a weekly basis!
The shows I’m most fascinated by are Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive. Some of it is the train wreck aspect. For better or worse, we as humans can be attracted by the spectacle, however sad or depressing it may appear. Some of it is just because you can watch people who are truly suffering and in pain and realize that your life is really not that bad in comparison.
But there are two specific things about shows that feature hoarders. I see some link with hoarding and introversion* in that hoarders (most, but not all) seem to let things take the place of people in their lives. From my experience watching these shows, the hoarding behavior is almost always because of mental illness, deep depression, or some trauma that’s never been entirely dealt with; the hoarding is a side effect of other unresolved issues. In many cases, hoarders want to withdraw from a deep pain. It’s easier to deal with “stuff” (inanimate objects) than to deal with their own emotions — or to deal with other people and experience further hurt.
Most introverts, I think, can appreciate the desire to completely withdraw on occasion. We’ve all had that experience where we don’t want to deal with anyone for any reason. (I went to a conference a couple of weeks ago; I spent several blissful days entirely by myself after that.) Mostly, it’s just because we’re overwhelmed and we need down time. But we always go back to interacting again when we’ve rested. Because that’s what you do – it’s just not healthy to live any other way. It seems that for hoarders, that interaction is just too painful to endure.
The other thing that fascinates me is the people – the therapists and the clean-up specialists – who are there to help the hoarder. The incredible amount of emotional energy that these situations bring up seems overwhelming to me. Family members and friends are often involved and there’s usually a lot more pain and anger before a breakthrough and progress are made. I get exhausted just watching it. For those who are there to help, I can’t imagine what it must be like. I’m sure they have coping skills and are used to being in that kind of environment for hours on end. I have an enormous respect for them because I’m not sure I could do what they do.
It’s easy to look at shows like this and say that they are exploitative. But if they’ve brought even a tiny bit of awareness, then it’s worth it. If there is any lesson here, it’s that mental illness, depression and trauma cannot go untreated. If you know someone in pain, get them help.
*I am not a psychiatrist nor do I play one on TV. These are just my own personal feelings on watching these types of shows.