How do the people behave in the 1st

Messie syndrome: filling holes in the soul


According to estimates by self-help groups, around 1.8 million people in Germany live with the “messie” syndrome. The external chaos is usually an expression of a mental illness.

They collect newspapers, electronic waste and yoghurt pots - their everyday life is dominated by chaos and disorganization. People whose lives are determined by the piling up of things and who can hardly find any space to live in their apartment have been referred to as "messies" (derived from the English word "mess", which means chaos) since the late 1990s. “The chaos is the most concise thing: the inner chaos that shows itself to the outside,” says Marianne Bönigk-Schulz (1) from the Association for Research into Messie Syndrome eV “It's like being blocked and paralyzed in a chair in the middle of it Chaos sits and simply cannot do anything. Those affected suffer from the fact that their thoughts revolve around coping with the simplest daily tasks, and they often experience a hopelessness of ever getting this problem under control. "
According to estimates by the self-help group “Anonymous Messies” there are more than 1.8 million people in Germany who live with such chaotic conditions. In the past, the phenomenon was mainly observed in older people, but it has now been established that most of those affected are between 40 and 50 years old. An estimated 80 percent are women; therefore, the popular specialist literature initially referred exclusively to the female sex (3–6). In 2001, Anita Jüntschke described the problem from a male perspective for the first time (8). The supply network of self-help groups has become increasingly narrow in recent years, so that there are currently around 120 self-help groups of the “Anonymous Messies” nationwide. However: Psychologists, psychotherapists, doctors or social workers who deal seriously and appropriately with the topic are rare. There are few scientific studies.
The most extreme degeneration of the compulsory collection is the "litter syndrome". In addition to the piling up of useless objects in the apartment, there is also general neglect from collecting rubbish. Domestic and personal hygiene are neglected and those affected withdraw more and more - to the point of complete social isolation. Often the dirty apartments have to be evacuated and those affected need long-term professional care.
Research on the “litter syndrome” by Dettmering and Pastenaci (2) showed that those affected often suffer from schizophrenia or affective psychosis. Dementia, borderline disorders and brain damage can also be causes of neglect. Dettmering describes three forms of littering:
c Apartments in which worthless objects are collected according to a "classification scheme". Sometimes a system of corridors exists here, reminiscent of the structures of rodents.
c Homes where things are hoarded without a system. They are more like garbage dumps, and the use of important utensils, such as stoves and sanitary facilities, is severely restricted.
c Apartments that have become uninhabitable because their hygienic facilities no longer work. Here, leftovers, urine and excrement can often be found in the living area.
From a psychological point of view, the causes of messie syndrome lie in the discrepancy between the outer and inner world of those affected. A messie does not manage to bring his own desires and urges into harmony with the external demands of the environment and seems to be constantly on the lookout for something he cannot name. Psychoanalysts speak of a narcissistic disorder or oral damage: those affected unconsciously try to plug the holes in the soul with externals - in this case with collecting and hoarding. Early childhood traumatic experiences of loss, attachment disorders and critical life events can lead to a restriction of emotional experience. An attempt is then made to compensate for this with possession: the inability to feel leads messies to choose “having” instead of “being” (according to Erich Fromm). Many psychologists, including Gisela Steins (9), see being a messie as an externally visible reflection of the inner chaos. An increased level of arousal (often fed by social fears, excessive demands on oneself and the sadness of not being able to achieve it) makes it difficult to control messie behavior. Studies by Renate Pastenaci (2) show that garbage can relieve those affected of emotional problems and that panic reactions can occur when the apartment is “emptied”.
What superficially shows up as messy behavior is associated with different clinical pictures in individual cases.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Collecting objects that have only subjective and no objectively discernible value can be an expression of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Compulsive messies find it difficult to break away from emotionally charged objects. The separation from the object is often experienced as a loss of part of one's own identity and is extremely fearful. Another reason can be extreme avoidance behavior in which the patient - for fear of doing something wrong - postpones all pending decisions and does not make a decision. Steins found that the majority of those affected do not have a classic obsessive-compulsive disorder, but only compulsive elements (9).
The messie phenomenon is more often associated with addictions. While the compulsive messies deal with hoarding and collecting in a structured, orderly and ostensibly controlling manner, the addicts have a pronounced loss of control. Their collection is unstructured, chaotic, without a system and can go as far as littering. Those affected react with messie behavior to losses they have experienced or wishes that have not been fulfilled. The classic addiction criteria “loss of control” and “inability to abstain” are often given (7).
There is consensus in the literature that messie syndrome can have elements of both compulsion and addiction. A precise assignment must be made in each individual case.
Often lonely, depressed people are affected by messie syndrome. However, it is rarely the main symptom, but rather a secondary problem. The lack of affection and also one's own lack of emotion require compensation. The materially tangible objects take the place of social closeness and briefly increase self-esteem. That is why there are more accumulations, but also ever greater frustrations. The depressive ends up in a vicious circle: the progressive isolation means that the true social deficits cannot be compensated for, and the depressive phases worsen.
Old age neglect
The neglect and "littering" in old age is often an expression of age-related illnesses or social isolation. Patients with dementia try to preserve their world symbolically (by hoarding): What they keep losing "in their heads" is materially retained or brought in. In addition, in the advanced stages of the disease, those affected “forget” to look after themselves and their home. Social fears in old age often lead to piles of rubbish piled up - as "protection" against the outside world. People who have little social contact in old age often only live in memory. Their only fulfillment in life is keeping old clothes, photos and packaging, as there is nothing else in their life that they can hold onto.
Other clinical pictures that can be accompanied by messy behavior are schizophrenia or affective psychosis. For example, a patient - absorbed by delusions - can isolate himself from the rest of the world in his trashed apartment. Mistrust of others or the disintegration of their own personality cause those affected to hoard and hold onto things in order to soothe fear and delusion. When the world and oneself disintegrate, known material objects can sometimes be valuable for the person concerned and offer orientation.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
In the past, ADHD was diagnosed primarily in hyperactive, restless, and learning-challenged children. Scientists now often assume that messie syndrome in adults can also be traced back to a metabolic disorder. The homeostasis of various biochemical messenger substances in the brain is out of balance, so that there is an inappropriate, chronic excitation in the nervous system. In the opinion of the doctor and psychologist Georg Wolff, if the disorder is not recognized in childhood or is not treated successfully, this can have a lasting effect on the adult's life. As a result, concentration and attention disorders as well as general restlessness can occur. More recent research also sees the active ingredient methylphenidate as an opportunity for those with messie syndrome. If the treatment works, those affected become calmer, more structured and can organize their lives better. However, drug treatment is only successful in a few patients because the causes are more often psychosocial.
The first step in overcoming the external chaos is the insight that you want to change something. It is not enough, however, to uncover the causes of messie syndrome, rather a change in behavior is required. An integrative counseling and / or psychotherapy approach that includes elements of behavioral therapy as well as psychotherapy based on depth psychology is helpful. Especially if there is depression, addiction, obsession or a psychosis, the person affected should be treated psychotherapeutically / psychiatrically.

How this article is cited:
Dtsch Arztebl 2002; 99: PP 419-420 [Issue 9]

1. Bönigk-Schulz M: What are messies? (only on the Internet: www.femmessies / txt / wassind.htm).
2. Dettmering P, Pestanaci R: The litter syndrome - theory and practice. Eschborn: Dietmar Klotz 2001.
3. Felton S: Step by Step out of Chaos - Workbook for Messies. Moers: Brendow 1998.
4. Felton S: In chaos, roses will bloom - tips and tricks for messies. Moers: Brendow 1995.
5. Felton S: I'm queen in chaos - everyday survival training. Moers: Brendow 1994.
6. Capital W: Behind every addiction there is a longing. Freiburg: Herder Spectrum 2002.
7. Capital W: Addiction without drugs. Frankfurt: Fischer 2003.
8. Jüntschke A: I'm the king in chaos. Moers: Brendow 2001.
9. Steins G: Investigations to describe a disorganization problem: What is the Messie phenomenon? Journal of Clinical Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychotherapy 2000; 48: 266-179 [Booklet 3].

Author's address:
Dipl.-Psych. Werner Gross
Psychological Forum Offenbach, Bismarckstrasse 98
63065 Offenbach / Main, phone: 0 69/82 36 96 36
Fax: 0 69/82 36 96 37, email: [email protected]
Messie syndrome: filling holes in the soul

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