Freud and the office hoarder
By Adrian Furnham
Financial Times; Jul 05, 2002
Remember the paperless office? One of the many unfulfilled promises of the internet was that snail mail would die, with all that expensively produced and unecological paper.
The internet seems to have piled more on to the office paper mountain. In addition to conventional post - both internal and external - businesspeople have to contend with hard copies of e-mails, as well as pages printed from the web. What to do with all that paper?
Psychologists have identified healthy and unhealthy responses to the influx of paper. The healthy response is supposedly to file, act or toss, while the unhealthy response is supposedly to pile, copy and store.
According to the gurus, the healthy approach is to decide first whether a document is important. Will you need to refer to it? If so, file it in a way that makes it easily retrievable. If you do not need to keep a copy but simply act on what it demands, suggests or recommends, just do it. Now. Then throw it away. Much of the paper you receive simply requires losing - immediately. Bureaucracy, bumf and balderdash need swift binning, even shredding.
People with an unhealthy approach do not prioritise paperwork. They pile incoming paper on the desk because they believe they do not have the time to read the material and make a decision on it at the speed it arrives. Instead, they leave it on the desk until they can get around to it. But the pile grows; things get lost; the urgent and trivial are not separated, and people become overwhelmed.
Worse still, certain papers are copied, cc'ed and re-distributed to increase the paper mountain - the urge to copy is an important factor in the unhealthy response to paper. The other significant factor is the urge to store, which is very different from the act of filing. Storing is about hoarding; filing is about classifying.
At its simplest level, the whole paper problem is about the psychology of hoarding. Hoarding appears to be apowerful instinct. Many animals do it for their survival. But here, too, there is a difference between hoarding and storing.
Pathological hoarding has been associated with an obsessive/compulsive personality syndrome. Hoarders, according to the theory, are likely to be very concerned with cleanliness, time-keeping and order.
Freudians argue that these attitudes start very early - at the potty training age, in fact. Further difficulties at this time can lead to opposite behaviours - both rather abnormal. Thus the obsessional hoarder and miser as well as the compulsive spendthrift may have had a traumatic power conflict over the potty.
Freud identified three main traits associated with people who had fixated at the anal stage: orderliness; parsimony; and obstinacy, with associated qualities of cleanliness, conscientiousness, trustworthiness, defiance and revengefulness.
The Freudian aetiology of hoarding theory goes something like this. The child's original interest in his faeces turns first to such things as mud, sand, stones, thence to all man-made objects that can be collected (such as paper), and then to money.
Children all experience pleasure in the elimination of faeces. At an early age (around two years) parents toilet train their children - some showing enthusiasm and praise (positive reinforcement) for defecation, others threatening and punishing a child when it refuses to do so (negative reinforcement).
Potty or toilet training occurs at the same stage that the child is striving to achieve autonomy and a sense of worth. Often, toilet training becomes a source of conflict between parents and children over whether the child is in control of his sphincter or whether the parental rewards and coercion compel submission to their will.
Furthermore, the child is fascinated by, and fantasises over, his/her faeces, which are, after all, a creation of his own body. The child's confusion is made all the worse by the ambiguous reactions of parents, who treat the faeces as gifts and highly valued, and then behave as if they are dirty, untouchable and in need of immediate disposal.
If the child is traumatised by toilet training, he tends to retain ways of coping and behaving during this phase. The way in which a miser hoards money and paper is symbolic of the child's refusal to eliminate faeces in the face of parental demands. The spendthrift, on the other hand, recalls the approval and affection that resulted from submission to parental authority to defecate. Thus some people equate elimination/spending with receiving affection and hence feel more inclined to spend when feeling insecure, unloved or in need of affection. Attitudes to money and hoarding are then bimodal - either they are extremely positive or extremely negative.
Families, groups and societies that demand early and rigid toilet training tend to produce "anal" characteristics in people, which include hoarding, orderliness, punctuality, compulsive cleanliness and obstinacy. Hence one can be miserly about time and emotions as much as money. These effects may be increased or reduced depending on whether the child grows up in a socialist or capitalist country, in times of expansion or depression, or whether one is part of a middle- or working-class family. Parents' belief in the Puritan or Protestant ethic may also alter money habits.
Is all this Freudian stuff merely embarrassing nonsense? If so, how can we explain the almost pathological hoarding that some people get up to? They know it is unhealthy and inefficient. They know the "file, act, toss" mantra is sensible. But they often feel powerless to do otherwise unless they get help. Hence the consultants who offer a mixture of bullying and psychotherapy seem best at helping the pathological hoarder, as well as the merely disorganised.
The writer is professor of psychology at University College London
довольно большая статья на английском, из financial times; собственно, поэтому и cut, а не ссылка. но советов, как бороться, всё равно не дают - на то, мол, психоаналитики есть...
забавно, что форнхэм был страшным критиков психоанализа в своё время, поливал его чем только мог. но в последнее время аналитики опять в моде, особенно в англии, и особенно среди менеджеров. вот и сдерживается плевок...