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Please Don't Tell Me to Stop Pulling Out My Hair

Body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) are like a mixture of an anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) without quite fitting into either category. The most common BFRBs are trichotillomania (hair pulling or picking) and dermatillomania (skin picking). BFRBs can happen consciously, where the person recognizes their behavior but cannot stop; or unconsciously, where the person doesn’t realize they are performing a behavior; or some combination of conscious and unconscious.

I have lived with an extreme case of trich for 14 of the 22 years of my life. I have lived with dermatillomania for longer than 14 that, but the derm I experience is mild comparative to the trich.

I am writing this post because I am fed up with people telling me to stop pulling at my hair.

Before I was diagnosed with trich, my parents would occasionally tell me to stop pulling at my hair. They didn’t do it a lot because I think they knew it embarrassed me to be caught doing a behavior I had been told was “bad,” “not normal,” etc. They no longer tell me to stop pulling at my hair because they learned that telling someone to just stop a behavior doesn’t actually work.

When you tell a person with trich or derm to stop a behavior, it often does more harm than good. Because our society identifies these behaviors as “abnormal,” many people with trich or derm hide them and then feel shame about performing them, even if they have little physical control over whether they perform them or not. When you tell a person with trich or derm to stop a behavior, you are calling attention to their disorder, acknowledging that you see them doing this behavior and that it is not good.* This is often shameful for the person and will not stop them from doing this behavior in the future; it may, however, encourage them to find new ways to hide this behavior.

Approaching someone close to you about a behavior you find concerning can be tricky (no pun intended). Like with any health disorder, knowing how to talk to someone you are concerned about isn’t easy. The two most important things, from my perspective, when speaking to someone about trich or derm are: 1) Let them know you are only pointing them out because you are concerned and want them to be healthy and 2) Ask what they want from you. Maybe they want someone to talk to who is empathetic, or maybe they would prefer to keep this part of their life between them and their doctor.

*This situation may be different if this person has specifically asked you to help them identify when they are pulling or picking.

Image via Thinkstock.

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