The thing about hair and eyelash pulling is that one feels so out of control. You can’t control the urges, you can’t control your actions, you feel powerless for so long that you can hardly keep at trying to do something about it, and eventually you just give up. So it’s hard to feel empowered in dealing with your condition.
But getting control is essential.
There are three steps to working through your hair and eyelash pulling:
You need to put a system in place to help get control of your hair and eyelash pulling. Just going from day to day and hoping that things will change, or that you can use will power will not be enough. Trich is a very real medical condition and you need to approach it as such; with a ‘system’ that you can follow and turn into habit.
Step 1 is to understand the condition, both as the medical condition of Trichotillomania, but also your own personal version of the condition.
Step 2 is to put Trichotillomania methods in place that work for you personally.
Step 3 is to prepare for setbacks and understand that beating hair and eyelash Trichotollomania is a ‘long game’.
Step 1. What is Hair Pulling Disorder, or Trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania, otherwise known as Trich, is an ‘impulse control disorder’. People who suffer from this hair pulling disorder have the uncontrollable urge to pull out hair from their scalp or other parts of their body and are unable to stop this behavior. It is more than just a nervous habit, which can be controlled through willpower or simply by deciding to stop. Trichotillomania is classified as an impulse control disorder. People who suffer from this hair pulling disorder have the uncontrollable urge to pull out hair from their scalp or other parts of their body. Hair pullers are unable to stop this behavior, even as their hair becomes thinner and results in noticeable bald patches. It is more than just a nervous habit, which can be controlled through simple will power. This repetitive behavior is often self-destructive and distressing to the sufferer. Hair pulling is not limited to the scalp. Hair pullers also tend to pluck eyelashes, eyebrows, or body hair. Most often patients pull hairs one-by-one, often targeting hair of a specific color or texture. Similar body focused-repetitive behaviors include skin picking, lip biting and nail biting. Despite the desire to quit harming their bodies in such a way, people who suffer from Trichotillomania have a hard time controlling these urges. This not only results in physical impairments but also significant emotional distress. It is by no means a patient’s fault for being unable to control such behavior. In fact, two to ten million Americans suffer from Trichotillomania and hair pulling disorders, and many more around the world.
Who suffers from Trichotillomania?
Hair and eyelash pulling is believed to affect 2-5% of the population and 80-90% of reported cases are women. The average age of onset is 11, however pulling can start at any age, although children under the age of 6 years old usually stop hair pulling after 12 months. The condition affects all types of people from very different backgrounds. Hair pullers can range from very emotionally troubled, to otherwise quite healthy people. Sufferers are very often successful in other areas and have a difficult time understanding why they cannot control this aspect of their lives.
The diagnosis criteria for Trich in the mental health field include a presence of multiple symptoms:
- Hair pulling that results in noticeable hair loss
- Relief and gratification during pulling
- Increased tension when resisting pulling
- Significant impairment in social functions due to pulling
Trichotillomania is a real, honest to goodness, condition
It is by no means a patient’s fault for being unable to control such behavior. Trichotillomania is more than just a nervous habit, which can be controlled through willpower, or simply by deciding to stop.
Research of causes and treatments of Trichotillomania are still in the early stages, but studies have shown evidence that indicates Trichotillomania to be a neurobiological disorder and may be linked to one’s genetic makeup. Hair pulling is often triggered by stress, anxiety and depression. People with Trichotillomania generally have a neurologically based, often genetic predisposition to pull their hair as a self-soothing mechanism. 80% of hair pullers also report an itch-like urge to pull and there may well be a cause similar to folliculitis (inflammation of the hair root) or an irritation to the very natural and normal skin yeast, Malassezia.
However there is growing research that points to a multitude of causes, such as low Estrogen levels, a lack of certain minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the diet, serotonin deficiencies in the brain and traumatic childhood events. Therefore it is very important for each individual to search for the treatment or combination of treatments that best suits his or her individual case.
Patients have a hard time controlling this obsessive compulsive behavior due to the vicious cycle of complications that stems from Trich. Hair pulling worsens the emotional instability that causes a patient to pull. Hair pulling momentarily satisfies patients but in the long run results in a serious emotional consequence, such as severe self-consciousness, poor self-image, low self-esteem, and other lifestyle setbacks. Individuals who pull tend to feel “freakish” or “crazy” because of the abnormal behavior and its effects.
There are three main phases to Trich:
- An initial experience of tension or stress accompanied by a desire to pull out some hair.
- Hair pulling begins and feels good, with a sense of relief, as well as some excitement. The sufferer may play with or eat the hair once the hair has been pulled out.
- Once the hair is pulled, the sufferer feels guilt, remorse, and shame. Attempts are made to cover the bald patches with scarves, hats, wigs, eyeliner and sufferers begin hiding at this point, or to feel intensely humiliated.
A multitiude of causes of hair and eyelash pulling
What causes hair and eyelash pulling? This is the question that every trichotillomaniac sufferer ask themselves. There is growing research that points to a multitude of causes, such as low Estrogen levels, a lack of certain minerals such as calcium and magnesium in the diet, serotonin deficiencies in the brain and traumatic childhood events. Therefore it is very important for each individual to search for the treatment or combination of treatments that best suits his or her individual case.
There are three main compulsions for hair pulling
It is important for the individual to work to recognize what ‘motivation’ causes them to pull in order for them to become completely self-aware, a state that is essential for treatment:
Many sufferers feel better when they pull because pulling reduces other stimulation, allows the mind to focus on the act of pulling and thus the individual experiences a kind of soothing of the nervous system.
Boredom can also be a culprit and pulling can provide the stimulation that the nervous system craves.
Sufferers of Trichotillomania may also be perturbed by the smallest imperfections and spend hours examining their eyelids trying to ‘fix’ them or pulling out hairs of different colors or textures in an attempt to obtain the perfect hair.
Understanding YOUR VERSION of trichotillomania
There are many different causes and symptoms of hair and eyelash pulling. It manifests itself in different ways, in different people and can wax and wain throughout your life. So understanding your personal version of Trich is the first step in putting together a specific treatment that will work for you.
First, identify when you pull. Is it when you are watching television? Working in front of your computer? During a bout of insomnia? When you start paying attention you will begin to see a pattern in your hair or eyelash pulling.
Second, identify your mental state. Are you bored? Stressed? Ddepressed?
Using tools like journaling will help you identify when and why you pull. Once you have this noted you will naturally start on the path to self-awareness, which is the first step in getting your hair pulling under control.
Step 2 Putting your own treatment for hair pulling in place
Once you have begun to understand your own personal trich condition you can begin to put actions in place that are tailored to you.
Since every case of hair pulling is very personal, trying many different treatments and putting together your own program for what works best for you and your lifestyle will give you the best chances for long term success. Putting together a combination of hypnosis, visualization, journaling, therapy and other techniques for self-awareness are essential steps.
Natural remedies for hair and eyelash pulling
Using aromatherapy, homeopathy and natural oils to stimulate hair growth, encourage healthy follicles and relieve the ‘itch’ associated with pulling can be beneficial. What is more, using these natural remedies can be enormously beneficial in cognitive behavior therapies, allowing you to replace pulling with stroking.
A sound foundation
Paying attention to your lifestyle and putting healthy habits in place are also an important foundation in your hair pulling cure. Pay attention to your sleep habits, your alcohol consumption, how much exercise and fresh air you get and your diet. Cut down on chemicals and processed foods and beauty products, and try different vitamins or amino acid supplements which are known to have a positive effect on hair and eyelash pulling and other body focused repetitive disorders.
Step 3 Be prepared for a ‘long game’
As difficult as it may seem, embracing your hair pulling as a part of your unique story is an important step forward. However you want to look at it, whether stemming from a lesson to be learned, something given to you to overcome, or just as genetic bad luck, it is key to see your condition as part of your life. Only then can you see it for what it is – a medical condition that you can treat- and then put together a system, just as you would do with any other medical condition. You may even want to see it as a challenge that you have been given to help you grow to be a stronger person. And perhaps one day, once you have conquered your hair pulling condition, you might turn around and help others with theirs.
Being an ‘Ex’ Hair Puller
It is essential to understand that someone who has quit pulling is an ‘ex-puller’ and will never be a ‘non-puller’. I sometimes equate it to being an ex-smoker. That means hair pulling will always be a part of you and your history, and thus you will always have to remain self-aware and careful. Sometimes little urges will start to pop up and you will need to center yourself again. This situation will get easier to deal with over time, but it will never completely disappear. Therefore you must be conscious you have this weakness and be continuously mindful of it. While this might seem terribly heavy on your consciousness, it actually becomes easier and easier to cope with as you remain pull free. Soon it will merely be a fact that you are aware of, but that does not weigh too heavily.
It is vital to have a strategy prepared in case you do temporarily fall back into hair pulling patterns. In these cases you must not get discouraged, but forgive yourself for your momentary weakness and deal constructively with the setback.
Setbacks and How to Deal with Them
One word on setbacks: setbacks are a normal part of the process and you should be prepared for them. Aim for gradual healing rather than a radical cold turkey approach, which will only cause frustration and loss of confidence. Retraining the neural patterns as well as putting healing systems in place takes time, so allow yourself the time to heal. When you experience a setback, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, remember the gradual nature of recovery and start again. Understand that having been able to make any progress at all shows that it is possible. Now it just needs to become ingrained behavior, which it will, with enough time and practice.
One simple change can change your life
There is a theory that Charles Duhigg discusses in his book ‘The Power of Habit’ that explains the effect that just one simple change can make on your entire life. It’s a compelling and powerful lesson and one that hair and eyelash pullers can embrace as they move daily through their hair pulling treatment. Gradually put habits in place (I say gradually so that you aren’t too demanding on yourself, setting the bar so high that you are doomed to fail) in just a few areas.
Action is the key to success
Picasso was right, action IS the key to success. Take action now, even if it is a small step forward. A little bit everyday will set you on the path and make it easy to make progress every day. Don’t just do this for your hair pulling condition. Do this for every part of your life. As you move forward, the better you will feel about your accomplishments, and the more self confidence you will obtain.
Kindness and hope
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Accept that hair and eyelash pulling is indeed a medical condition. You are not alone and you are not weak or to blame. And as a medical condition, there are actions and treatments that you can put in place to improve your condition. And that is my most important message. The one I want every ‘trichster’ to understand; while difficult to cure and deal with it, IS POSSIBLE to beat hair and eyelash pulling.