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What Is Hair Pulling Disorder (Trichotillomania) and How Can I Recover From It?

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What is hair pulling disorder (Trichotillomania) and how can I recover from it?

Research indicates that hair pulling disorder (a.k.a. trichotillomania) occurs in approximately 3 to 6 % of the population. Hair pulling disorder is a behaviour which falls under the category of a body-focused repetitive behaviour (BFRB) which is a repetitive self grooming behaviour that results in damage to the scalp or other areas of the body. It also causes distress and has usually been met with many attempts to stop the behaviour. It may interfere with day-to-day life. It may occupy seconds or several hours of the day. It may impact ones sense of well being and relationships with others. The toll it can take can be disproportionate to the actual cosmetic damage.

The cause of this behaviour is not well understood. The behaviour is complex and is experienced differently amongst people. Research suggests that millions of people across the globe share the experience of a BFRB. It can occur in a goal directed manner or it can happen out of one’s awareness. Overall it is a means to self-soothe when an uncomfortable internal state arises. It is likely that as long as people have had hair and skin they have pulled and picked at it.

Other examples of body-focused repetitive behaviours include skin picking, nail biting, lip, mouth and cheek biting. Body-focused repetitive behaviors can begin at any point in one’s life. Typically hair pulling disorder begins around puberty, age 11 or 12. Very young children may also experience hair pulling or sometimes it may begin into adulthood. Hair pulling disorder tends to be chronic in nature. Its course may vary in intensity over time depending on many factors. People who pull hair may pull from all areas where hair grows such as the scalp, lashes, brows, legs, beard and mustache.

Approximately 30% of people who pull hair swallow their hair. This could lead to stomach upset and in extreme situations could lead to a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. Hair Pulling behaviour is often associated with feelings of pleasure, relief and relieving boredom however it is often followed by anxiety and disappointment, shame, secrecy and frustration.

Behavioural therapies are among the most evidence-based treatment for the body-focused repetitive behaviours. The goal of this treatment is to improve your quality of life while developing tools to effectively manage your experiences. Energy that is drained by living with hair pulling can be freed for other purposes towards living well. The time and effort one puts into recovery can be thought of as an investment that will improve your health and well-being and increase your level of functioning in the world. It takes time and effort, patience, commitment and flexibility to change the behaviour. There is no time like the present to begin your process of healing!


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