themighty logo

Please Don't Tell Me to 'Just Stop' Picking My Skin


My fingers are my greatest victims. In the last 10 years, I don’t recall a single instance where the skin around my nails has not been marred in some way.

I pick at my skin without even realizing it. Usually, I don’t notice until someone tells me to stop, and then I feel the shame overwhelm me. I want to stop picking at my skin.

Dermatillomania” is a word I discovered when I was 15. My best friend and I were looking through her mother’s copy of the DSM-IV. When I stumbled upon the term, the realization was monumental. It was a documented disorder. Somehow, that made me feel better. I wasn’t alone.

I know it’s relatively “normal” to pick at acne and at scabs, but it’s not normal to pick at the skin underneath your fingernails or to have a raw piece of skin that hasn’t healed in four years. It’s not normal to spend 10 or 20 or 30 minutes staring at yourself in the mirror while you pick. It’s not normal for your cuticles to be raw because you peel away any skin that sticks up. It’s not normal to make yourself bleed because you accidentally tore up a layer of skin.

I don’t want my hands to look raw all the time. I don’t want to have acne scars. I don’t want to pick at any bump in my skin that I come across.

This is something I have struggled with for years. It’s impractical to wear Band Aids over my fingers all the time. I definitely can’t wear gloves all the time. I try to keep my nails cut short so I can’t pick, but I somehow find a way.

Even now, I’m picking at skin on my thumb, and I hate myself for it.

Whenever someone tells me to stop picking at my skin, it takes all my self-control to keep myself from spewing profanities at them. Don’t you think if I could stop myself, I would?

It happens when I’m not paying attention, when I’m bored, when I’m anxious, and when the bumps on my skin are just irritating me. That last one is more my conscious self’s fault, I know, but the rest are subconscious impulses.

So, to anyone who tells me to stop picking: I know you mean well, but trust me, this issue won’t just go away because you tell me to stop. I appreciate your intentions, but you’re really just making me feel like I have failed again. You’re embarrassing me because now I know you noticed my “bad habit.” You may be trying to help, but you’re not helping.

Instead, if you can, maybe give me something else to do with my hands. That would be helping.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by lolostock