Monday, August 27, 2012

You Cannot Stop Pulling Until You Accept That You Cannot Stop Pulling

There is one central and seemingly paradoxical truth when it comes to recovery from trichtotillomania and until you address it you will be stymied in your efforts to recover:


Confusing? If you can't stop pulling then how can you, in fact, stop pulling? Or perhaps you are thinking, well of course I know I can't stop pulling or I wouldn't be googling hair pulling and I wouldn't be reading this blog. What I mean by the above statement is this.  People with trichotillomania (TTM) and CSP refuse to accept and to believe that the TTM and CSP are real disorders. Pullers continue to tell themselves that they "should" be able to just stop pulling and continue to attack themselves because they cannot stop pulling. We believe pulling and picking are the result of a some kind of psychological weakness and the reason we can't stop lies in our character.  This is entirely untrue. We can't stop puling and picking because our bodies and minds continue to produce intense urges and cravings to pull, many of which catch us off-guard, and in order to stop we have to face what is actually happening and respond to it.

The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM IV)  definition of TTM (and thus, CSP) aids in this self-deception. The description reads: The inability to resist the urge to pull out one's own hair.  (By extension, the definition of CSP would be the inability to resist the urge to pick at one's skin).  I would beg to differ here (and when the DSM V comes out, there will be changes made to the current description). I believe the definition should be:

Trichtotillomania/CSP: HAVING the urge to pull out one's own hair (or pick at one's own skin) to such an extent that despite multiple efforts to stop doing so, the constant presence of the urge and the constant urging by the body and mind to respond to the urge, makes it overwhelmingly difficult to stop doing so to such an extent, these conditions are disorders. 

If you believe you SHOULD be able to stop pulling you are denying the fact that this is a real disorder and you carry a great deal of shame, blame and even self-hatred. Continuing to tell yourself that "this is ridiculous" and that you  "should be able to stop" is the single biggest issue preventing you from doing so because it keeps you in denial. Until you get out of denial and accept that the disorder is real and NOT YOUR FAULT you simply cannot progress.


If you do not accept that TTM & CSP are "real" disorders but rather believe you "should" be able to "just stop" the following occurs:

A) Because you don't believe TTM is a real disorder but is something to be ashamed of, you spend more time hiding the symptoms of the disorder and finding ways to prevent people from finding out than you do dealing with the disorder.**
B) You blame, judge, chide and attack yourself for having the disorder daily which increases the desire to pull or pick.
C) You are filled with shame and believe that having this disorder makes you an inferior person
D) You don't get professional help because you're ashamed
E) You don't get support from friends or your partner (even if that means educating them about it) because you expect that they will have the same judgmental, finger-wagging, sense of disgust about it that you do***.
F) You minimize a problem that is large making it impossible for you to do what is needed to face this.
G) You are unable to slowly reduce your pulling & picking, the most effective and long-lasting way of stopping, because you decide any amount of pulling or picking is "wrong." With any other "real" disorder it would be obvious gradual improvement is exactly how to recover.  If you are depressed, you don't expect to go from feeling depressed to feeling great in one day.  You understand that you will do a little better each day, and eventually you will feel better. With pulling and picking, as you learn to work with your body (not against it) and gradually reduce your pulling and picking (allowing your body and mind to adapt) while at the same time learning to support, encourage, guide and soothe yourself as you go (because you are recovering from a real disorder not a moral failure).


That's the difference between trichotillomania (TTM) and CSP and any other illness or disorder.  People with other disorders do not have delusional beliefs that they should be able to cure their disorder without help. No one for example believes they should be able to manage diabetes or cancer by sheer power of will.  If they did, they'd have many angst-ridden years in which they attempted to use will power to effect an illness that won't respond to will power (but will, unfortunately, respond negatively to stress). It would become much harder to manage diabetes and reduce or eliminate the symptoms as long as one is saying to one's self, "I shouldn't need to inject myself with insulin, this is ridiculous," or "Diabetes isn't a real disease, I am sure I can just control it if I put my mind to it" or worse, "Stop being so weak and pathetic. Get your blood sugar down just like everybody else. Take control of things! Come on."

Telling yourself on a regular basis that you shouldn't need help and that you should be able to stop
makes as much sense as diabetics telling themselves they should be able to "just lower their blood sugar" without help or that people with OCD should "be able to just chill out and get over their germ phobia" or that people with Tourette's Syndrome should "just be able to 'shut up' instead of giving in to the verbal tics that cause some with Tourette's to say or shout things they don't want to say in public settings.

There are many things one can do to be healthy if one is born with Type 1 Diabetes but until you accept you have Diabetes, that you aren't weak-willed for having diabetes, you really can't do any of that stuff.  You would resist looking at dietary plans, avoid taking classes on diabetes and you sure wouldn't want anyone to know you have diabetes causing you a high level of stress in many situations.  If diabetes was like trich, you'd agonize over going on a camping trip lest someone find out. You'd buy a secret stash of diabetic food and take it in a secret compartment of your backpack so nobody would know. You spend the entire camping trip worrying about how to give yourself injections in private, how to swap your sugar-free diabetic snacks for the shared group snacks and doing everything in your power to stop others from finding out. Can you imagine how this would affect staying healthy and not allowing diabetes to overtake you?

My earlier posts discuss some of the things you will start to do to begin your recovery. Keeping track of  your pulling each day by scoring the overall pulling from zero to 10, zero being zero pulling, 10 being YOUR worst day. Changing your thinking (an ongoing process) described in the 2011 posts. Practicing internal self-soothing (self talk) wherein you learn to support yourself when you are sad, angry, or upset and rather than resist or deny these feelings, accept them, allow them, and tell yourself you will get through them (you will). Learning to transition from one task to another, learning to wind down and not just suddenly stopping after a busy day and expect your body to instantly relax. Pulling and picking may currently be your "transitional" behaviors. These can be replaced with very brief mental and physical relaxation exercises. Finally, mindfulness is important. Reminding yourself, Hey, this is a time I might pull, I just want to bring it to mind and see if I can be more aware rather than pretending each time you sit at the computer (or walk into the bathroom) that "nothing will happen" by not acknowledging the possibility.

However the number one most important step to your recovery is getting out of denial and accepting you have a disorder. It is not your fault you have a disorder but it is your responsibility (to yourself) to address the disorder and to do so with compassion and commitment, not judgment and blame. I have seen many MANY people recover and stop pulling and picking either completely or nearly completely, to the point it doesn't bother them. Every one has stopped the blame game and changed the self-talk and learned to support themselves through recovery. I did. And you can too.

*Pulling and picking can be thought of interchangeably in this post.  Skin picking is a body-focused repetitive disorder just like hair pulling and all the things I discuss here are as relevant to skin pickers as they are to hair pullers.  Skin picking (CSP) is a disorder just as hair pulling (Trichotillomania) is and it is equally true that you cannot stop picking until you accept that this is true. 

**I support you completely in doing whatever makes you most comfortable in covering hair loss or any skin problems you have. My next post will be on Hair Replacement & Scar Reduction/Elimination and will be up in the next week. 

***If your parents have that kind of response it's because they look at you as a reflection of themselves & they feel guilty and responsible for the problem, they want you to stop so they can feel better about themselves. Your friends and partner won't react that way. In 16 years  of working with TTM & CSP clients I would say that 98% of all friends and partners of people with trich and skin picking have responding positively and supportively to the problem.